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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Portrait of an Evergreen--or, What Topics Have the Most Resale Potential?

I was surprised that according to this year's Freelance Income Survey, a mere 3 percent of freelancers produce income by selling reprints (or more accurately, licensing reprint rights to articles they own). That's a mistake to me for several reasons. No, reprints won't make me rich--usually I sell them to markets that pay as little as $35 to as much as $300/story. Yet I try to retain rights to my articles for several reasons: 
  1. It takes little effort to sell reprints once I've found a potential market. These days, most of my reprint sales come from markets I've sold to before. For example, earlier this month, an editor contacted me asking if I had a story about a particular topic she was planning to cover. I did, and sent it to her. She bought it--for $100. My total time? About five minutes. 
  2. Reprints continue to build my platform. As a book author and ghostwriter, the more people who know who I am and what I do, the better--whether that's an editor I sell work to, or the people who read her publication. 
  3. Reprints are fun! The checks may be small but they add up--and getting mileage out of a story I wrote more than a decade before is gratifying. They're not true passive income (there is some work involved) but they're pretty close to "free" money. 
However, not every article has reprint potential. First, if you haven't retained rights to your work, you can't resell it. And a quick glance through my reprint sales reveals that my biggest reprint sellers have all been "evergreens,"what editors call stories with timeless appeal. 

For example, my piece on how to talk to your future spouse about money has sold eight times to a variety of regional bridal magazines, and it's easy to see why. The topic--talking about money--is one that will affect every newlywed couple, and the advice about it isn't likely to change much over the years. However, another bridal piece on the latest trends in wedding videography has never resold--because it was outdated pretty quickly after it was published. 

To give you an idea of what evergreen topics include, take a look at some of my biggest reprint topics and where they've sold:  
  • How to read body language (women's magazines, both U.S. and international pubs)
  • How to avoid gaining weight over the holidays (women's and fitness magazines)
  • An essay on the benefits of having an open adoption (parenting magazines--this piece often appears in November, National Adoption Month)
  • How to avoid legal problems as you plan your wedding (bridal magazines)
  • How to get along with your future in-laws (bridal magazines) 
  • How to walk off extra pounds (women's and parenting magazines)
  • Easy ways to eat better (women's magazines) 
I define an "evergreen" as a story that's always of interest to a publication's readers and on a topic about which information doesn't change rapidly. So, for example, a parenting magazine will always publish articles on children's health. A piece on helping your kids avoid getting colds? Evergreen. A piece on new medications to treat childhood asthma? Not evergreen--or at least not for very long.

Thinking, "well, that's great, but what about pieces that are quickly outdated?" Here's the thing--you can always update articles to improve their reprint potential. So, when I recently resold a piece on the importance of sleep for good health, I updated some statistics and tweaked the lead to make it appeal to the publication's readers. That's what I call a "tweak." It's a reprint, yes, but with a little extra work. And I often find that a little extra work turns into a check--and a new market. That's work the extra effort. 

So if you don't write evergreens, consider it. And when you do, make sure you retain the rights to your work. Getting paid once for a story is great. Getting paid for it two, three, four times or even more is even better, I promise. 

***I'm going to keep spreading the word about my new series of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name. They're geared toward new freelancers and take the same approach I do with this blog--practical, proven strategies to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. Please recommend them to your friends!