The 3 R’s of freelancing: Reuse, Repurpose, Resell

By Sandra Phinney

You’ve heard that clichéd line, “the gift that keeps giving.” I’m starting to view my stories that way. If I resell an article I’ve written, or repurpose the story and sell a second or third rendition of that story, I am gifting myself—and putting extra money in the bank.

I’ve already done the leg-work, research and interviews, so using the same material more than once is a smart thing to do.

Pierre Berton, master re-seller

Here’s a great story that Silver Donald Cameron told a group a journalists. As Silver Don recalls, he first heard it from Harry Bruce.

It goes like this: “Pierre Berton began writing about the Klondike early in his career. He wrote newspaper columns about it, then radio talks, then magazine pieces, then TV stuff, a children’s book, finally a non-fiction book.  He sold it to mainstream publications and offbeat ones like travel magazines or outdoors magazines. I don’t recall the details. In those days of course there were no such things as educational CDs, web sites, video games and so on, as there are now. If there had been he probably would have sold it in all those forms too.”

In the end, Burton had sold the same story in 11 different venues—and was peeved because he couldn’t think of any way he had not sold it, and he wanted to make it an even dozen. After pondering the challenge for some time, he sold a piece to Writer’s Digest on how he’d made an eleven-way play.

Don continues: “I met Berton at a The Canadian Writers Union meeting ten or fifteen years later, and I asked him about the story. Was that actually the way it happened? ‘Close enough,’ Pierre grinned. ‘You’re authorized to keep on telling it that way.'”

Over the years, Silver Don’s become a resell guru himself. For example, his “living beach” project began with a radio spot that he wrote for the federal department of Energy Mines and Resources. He turned it into a radio talk, and then a magazine piece for Canadian Geographic. Using that CanGeo piece as a proposal, he then sold it to the CBC as an Ideas series and they gave him some travel money.

“With the travel money, I took a cameraman along on a trip down the east coast doing interviews, and we spun the Ideas piece into a TV show for Vision TV and then released it as a home video.”

And then he wrote the book, which prompted the CBC to make another TV show. “I just missed doing a children’s book as well, and also an instructional CD.  So that’s an eight-way play which could have been ten,” he says.

Make your research work for you

Now you see what I mean about the gift that keeps on giving. We can make our research and words “work” for us, over and over. That’s how we make a living as a freelancer. This is what we have instead of a pension and a medical plan.

Don tucks in, “That’s [also] what subsidiary rights are all about. And that’s what the Chronicle Herald wanted to take away from us. Although the Herald says that their right is non-exclusive, make no mistake about it—if somebody else co-owns the rights, nobody else will buy it. “

Sobering thought, but true. We’ll look at the copyright issue in more depth in a future column but, for now, give some thought regarding how you can get more mileage from your stories.

Although you can resell a story after the fact, by planning ahead of time, you can often figure out where you want to sell your idea before you get involved in the research/interview stage. That way, you can set up your interviews to cover more than one area of interest, which in turn will open the possibilities for various outlets.

For example…

For example, I will be in Ottawa in November for a few days including Remembrance Day and staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in the Karsh Suite. (One of the perks of belonging to the Travel Media Association of Canada is that you get to know people in high places.)

With a little preliminary research, I discovered that the Chateau is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2017; that it has a tradition of inviting veterans for lunch after the ceremonies at the War Memorial; that Yousuf Karsh and his wife lived in an apartment in the hotel for 18 years and his photography studio was also in the hotel; that the National Gallery is the repository for Karsh’s works and it also has the largest collection of fine art photography on the continent; and that the gallery will be mounting a major exhibition of early American photographers early in 2017.

Result? I’m pitching a story to EnRoute loosely titled “Sleeping with Karsh and other Ottawa pleasures.” But there’s also a story for Canadian Business magazine. How does a grand hotel survive (and thrive) for 100 years?

Then there’s the historical aspect. I’m hoping that Canada’s History Magazine will be interested in a feature about the hotel’s origins and its distinguished career and I should be able to profile a vet for The Legionnaire Magazine.

As well, I’ll approach an American magazine or newspaper about the upcoming exhibit of early American photographers at the gallery.

The gift that keeps on giving

My goal is to sell five stories based on this visit. Clearly, they will be quite different. But, in some cases, by changing the lead and ending, using different quotes and a slightly different angle, you can sell the same story about the same person, place or topic over and over to different magazines.

Once I’ve sold five stories related to Ottawa, my goal will then become how to reuse, repurpose and resell those stories. Caution: just make sure the publications don’t have the same readership or compete with each other.

There you have it: the gift that keeps on giving—your stories. Takes a little planning and a lot of thought, but it’s all possible.


Sandra Phinney pens stories from her perch on the Tusket River in Southwest Nova Scotia. She’s pretty chuffed about this Ottawa trip and is trying harder to practice what she preaches. Silver Donald Cameron’s her hero.


Posted on August 5, 2016 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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