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Monday, May 17, 2010

My two favorite kinds of money to make? That's easy...royalty and reprint checks. Collecting royalties means that one of my books has “earned out,” or made back its advance, and that I’m now actually making money every time someone buys a copy. Yeah! But reprint sales run a close second because I love getting paid more than once for an article.

Last year, I made $6800 from selling reprint rights to articles. Yet I've found most writers ignore reprint possibilities. Sure, most reprint markets don’t pay that well, but the work involved is minimal…and marketing reprints takes little mental effort. I’m going to make it easy for you by giving you a simple, five-step process to follow to sell your stories more than once:

Step 1: Negotiate Better Contracts

When I started freelancing fulltime 13+ years ago, contracts were more writer-friendly. Now more publishers than ever want all rights to your work, which precludes you from reselling that story—forever. (You can always write about the topic again for a new market, but that's an entirely new piece, not a reprint of your original piece. That's what I call a "reslant," and I'll talk about those in another post.)

When you sign an all-rights contract, you’re done as far as reprints go. Even contracts that aren’t all-rights may contain exclusivity provisions which preclude you from selling reprint rights for a certain time period, for example, or to a certain type of magazine. So you’ve got to read your contracts closely…and negotiate better ones when you can.

Even when an all-rights contract is forced on me, I always try to add a provision that lets me retain nonexclusive reprint rights to my work; I've had even the most demanding publishers agree (albeit grudgingly) to that. Sure, the publisher is still going to do whatever it wants with my work for no extra money—but at least I'm free to resell it on my own if I want to. And I do!

Step 2: Locate Reprint Markets

This is the big time suck when it comes to selling reprints. Just who is going to buy them? Start with a market guide like Writer's Market, but don’t stop there. Publication directories like The Standard Periodical Directory list thousands of markets, divided into subject categories, that may be possible markets. I’ve had the best luck selling to regional parenting, regional health, regional bridal, and regional women’s magazines. (Notice a trend? Smaller-circulation magazines are more likley to buy reprints than their national counterparts.)

Step 3: Maximize your Sales

Here's the thing: I don't try to sell one story to one market at a time. It's not worth it. But because I specialize in health, fitness, nutrition, and psychology topics (though I do cover other subjects occasionally), I’ve created a master list of work that lists several hundred stories, organized by category. Then when I contact an editor, I include the categories I think she would most likely be interested in. (If I’m not sure, I send the entire list.)

As a result, I often sell more than one story at a time, even to a new reprint client. Better still, the size and scope of my list means that editors think of me when they’re looking for a piece on a particular topic. (Last month, an editor from an overseas publication contacted me to see if I had a piece on organic food. I did, and it sold for $300 U.S. Not bad for about 15 minutes’ worth of work.)

I do customize my initial contact letter to fit the magazine I'm pitching. Here's a sample letter to a regional bridal magazine:

Dear Ms. Smith:

I’m a full-time freelance journalist whose work has appeared in more than 50 national magazines including BRIDE’S, Bridal Guide, For the Bride, Wedding Bells, Fitness, Fit, Shape, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, and Marie Claire. Over the past decade, I’ve developed an inventory of “evergreen” bridal stories which I offer to regional bridal markets like yours that looking for well-written, informative articles for their readers. Currently I have stories on the following topics available (approximate word count is shown as well):

“50 Health and Fitness Tips for Brides” 1,865 words
[rest of 20+ story list with titles and word counts is included]

Please let me know if you’d like to see any of my work or are interested in purchasing one-time reprint rights to any stories. And keep in mind that I’m always happy to rework a piece so it better meets the needs of your readers.

Thank you very much for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kelly James-Enger
[contact info]

Note that I highlight the benefits of buying reprint stories to the editor—she can acquire well-written, informative articles at a reasonable price. Note too that I say "purchase reprint rights," so it's clear that I expect to be paid for the articles. (Some magazines offer to print the stories "for the exposure" rather than for money. Um, people die from exposure. I prefer the latter.) Finally, I specifically mention "one-time reprint rights" so the editor knows that this article has appeared before—and that she is only purchasing the right to reprint it once.

Step 4: Make your Editor Happy

One of the reasons that I’ve had success selling reprints is that I try to always keep the editor’s needs in mind. What do I want? To sell a story as many times as possible and make even more money. What does my editor want? A story that will benefit and appeal to her readers. That’s why I often “tweak” my reprints.

For example, I had a weight-loss piece that had originally run in a women’s magazine. By rewriting the lead (so it was about feeling beautiful as you slip into your dream gown the morning of your wedding instead of feeling confident in a swimsuit this summer) and making a few small changes throughout the piece, it became aimed at engaged women in their 20s and 30s, not moms who were struggling with leftover baby fat. The idea is to give your editor a piece that appears custom-made for her market—being willing to take that extra step (which only takes a few minutes) makes me much more likely to make a reprint sale. It makes me more valuable to my editor, too.

Step 5: Keep in Touch

It’s much easier to sell to an editor or market that has bought from you before than to constantly search out new markets. Every three months or so, I update my master list, making a note of the newest additions, and send it off along with a brief email to editors who have purchased from me in the past. The hour I spend doing so always results in a few more sales, and keeps my name in front of clients.

For example, I have an editor at a regional magazine that has been buying reprints from me since 2000. She only pays me $75/story, but in the last decade, she’s bought more than $2,000 worth of work from me. She emails when she’s looking for something in particular and it’s win-win—she gets a well-written, informative piece for her readers, and I get some extra cash.

As long as your story topic is still relevant and the information it contains still accurate (I do confirm the latter before I send a story out), you can resell the same piece as many times as you like. My “best-sellers” have included a story on avoiding legal problems as you plan your wedding (sold nine times so far), a piece on reducing your risk of breast cancer (sold eight times so far), and a story on why women should date shy guys (sold six times so far…good news for all those conversationally-challenged men!). I married one, so I know what I'm talking about.

If you write for specialized markets or on esoteric subjects, you may not have as much success with reprints. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the opportunity they present. Developing reprint markets that will buy stories from you on a regular basis is an easy way to boost your bottom line without the time and hassle of researching and writing new stories—making more money in less time.


  1. Thanks for this. I like the way you lay it out in your intro letter. I'd never thought of approaching it that way.

  2. Yes, the idea is to sell the editor on reprints and show what's in it for her/him.