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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 However, another bridal piece on the latest trends in wedding videography has never resold--because it was outdated pretty quickly after it was published.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! 


  1. Kelly, where do you find markets that will accept reprints? What is the "etiquette" involved in how much time must pass after the first magazine ran it to try and sell it to a different one? Do the following magazines need to be in different localities, or not competitors of the original one?

  2. Thanks, Kelly, for such a confirmation. I love writing for regional parenting pubs for this exact reason. I need to extend my writing to regional women's mags.

    Have a super day.

  3. Hi, Leslie--
    See my post on reprints from May 17, 2010 for more on finding markets. As long as you don't have exclusivity provisions in your contract, you're fine marketing your reprints as soon as they're published--and the publications don't necessarily need to be in different markets. However, I can tell you that many reprint markets request exclusivity--such as not appearing in another parenting magazine in Connecticut, for example--which I'm happy to grant.

    Hope this helps! And Jan, you're welcome. I don't have as many regular reprint markets as I used to, so I'm always looking for new ones. :)


  4. HI! Yes, it's me, the queen of the regional parenting reprint (self-proclaimed, by the way). The 4th edition of my ebook is out soon, and I'm only including paying markets this time (including most of the huge women's markets). It's an AMAZING reprint market, the regional parentings. You are inspiring me, like Jan, to move on to the national women's mags by spinning some of my kid pieces to more "family" section friendly pieces. Sorry to plug my stuff in your comments section, but you already wrote about me once, so I figured you wouldn't mind!

  5. Kelly, my challenge is not finding evergreen topics or negotiating the rights (though the latter can be challenging), it's finding markets that want previously published work. When I first went full time, I had a page on my website that listed my available reprints and I sent out TONS of emails to the editors of regional magazines trying to get them interested in my reprints. Occasionally I'll sell a reprint, but I found that I just wasn't making enough from reprints for that to be a major focus. Is suspect part of it is that much of writing appears online, so it's easy for readers to find that way.

  6. Kerrie, I don't mind at all, and thanks for the update. Susan, I agree that finding reprint markets takes time, so I do try to look for ones that will buy from me more than once. (That's another benefit to specializing--editors thin of me if they need something, say, health- or fitness-related). There is a lot of stuff available online, but print pubs need to fill their pages every issue and some are willing to purchase reprint rights to articles that are well-researched and well-written (which a lot of online work may not be, IMO).

    Thanks to both of you for your comments!