One Article, Many Checks: Selling Reprints

By Kelly James-Enger

Want to boost your freelance income overnight? Start selling reprints and you can get paid two times, three times or even more for the same article.

I've made thousands of dollars on reprint sales in the past couple of years. For example, I sold a story on what secrets brides and grooms should share to Bridal Guide for $750; the story ran in November 1998. Within six months, I'd reprinted the story in a women's magazine for $250 and in another bridal publication for $275, bringing my total paycheck for the story to $1275. A dating article that originally sold for $100 has netted another $250 in reprints while a business story that first brought $800 has been reprinted for $250 and $500 during the past year.

Read on to learn how you can snag more than one paycheck for an article:

Step One: Negotiate Better Contracts

You must OWN reprint rights in order to sell them. If you sign work-for-hire or all-rights agreements, you're giving up your right to ever resell the same work in the future. Read publishing contracts carefully before signing them. Some magazines demand a 90-day or 6-month exclusivity provision that precludes you from reprinting the story in any media during that time frame; others may expressly prohibit you from reprinting the story in competing publications.

When selling rights to any work, remember that the fewer rights you sell, the better. For print magazines, the least you can sell is one-time rights (although magazines often want FIRST serial rights); most web publications want non-exclusive online rights for a limited period of time. Invest in your future income by negotiating contracts today.

Step Two: Review your Work

Take a look at the articles to which you currently own rights. Do you have a lot of parenting pieces? Travel stories? Technology articles? Make a list of all available stories, their titles, subject area, word count, and special features like sidebars and quizzes. Write down when reprint rights will be available for stories you're currently working on, and review and update your possible reprint list every three to six months.

Step Three: Scout for Markets
Keeping your available stories in mind, begin looking for potential reprint markets. Because I write mostly health and fitness, diet/nutrition, and bridal and relationship stories, I'm always on the lookout for smaller magazines that cover those subject areas. Writer's Market includes listings of magazines that buy reprints. Smaller circulation publications, regional magazines and newspapers, and trade publications all may be interested in previously published material. Check their guidelines to see if they purchase reprinted stories.

Kathy Sena, a freelancer in Los Angeles, has developed a network of regional publications for her parenting and health stories and resells most of the articles she writes. "About 40% of my income comes from reprints," says Sena. "The checks aren't that big -- maybe $50 or $75 a story -- but they add up quickly!"

By calling major newspapers in neighboring states, Melanie McManus, a Madison, Wisconsin freelancer, found new markets for her regional travel stories. She often resells stories to non- competing publications and has reprinted one story five times.

Finally, don't overlook the Internet -- web sites looking for content may be interested in electronic rights to stories, especially if you have a lot of articles in a particular subject area available. I've recently sold web rights to fitness, health, and business stories that originally appeared in print publications.

Step Four: Make Your Pitch

Next, contact your potential reprint markets. If I'm sending only one story, I write the editor a short letter describing the article and why it will appeal to readers; I also note where and when it was published. I close by asking if the editor is interesting in purchasing reprint rights to the story and include a copy of the article.

If I think that the market may be interested in more than one article, I send a letter that includes a story list describing relevant articles by topic and word length, along with several clips. I then follow up by telephone in four to eight weeks to determine if the editor is interested in any stories.

Step Five: Set Your Price

In some cases, magazines or web sites will offer a set amount for reprint rights; other publications will ask what your usual reprint fee is. Don't set your rates too low, but keep in mind that regional publications usually have smaller budgets and will offer less than national magazines or well-funded web sites.

Step Six: Consider Syndication
Working with a syndicate -- an individual or organization that offers reprint rights to your work to various media -- is another way to net additional income from previously published work. Syndicates often pay a flat fee for rights to your work for a fixed time period; less frequently, they may share any sales proceeds with you, usually 50/50. While syndicate rates vary, the L.A. Times Syndicate paid me $100 to $125 for exclusive worldwide rights for one year to several bridal stories.

I've also worked with two individuals who specialize in selling articles overseas and have made as little as $50 and as much as $250 for reprint rights to a story. The one-man syndicate I currently work with has found markets for my work in Denmark, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia -- and I've made $900 this year on stories he's sold. To find a syndicate, check Writer's Market or ask for recommendations from other writers.

Step Seven: Keep It Up

Continue to develop your list of reprint markets and consider those potential sales when you accept assignments. For example, I may accept work that pays less than my usual rate if I think I'll be able to sell reprint rights to the story at least once or twice. And don't forget to offer new stories as they become available to your current reprint markets. Invest some time and energy into selling reprints, and you'll be on your way to netting multiple paychecks for every article you write.

Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at:

© 2007 Kelly James-Enger All Rights Reserved. This article was originally published in Inklings. Used with Permission.