Reselling: how to increase your freelance mileage

Story Board recently had a request from a reader for a post on the etiquette of reselling stories in the digital age. It’s a golden question for freelancers, isn’t it? How do you take something you’ve already written and squeeze a few more dollars out of it?

I checked in with a few Canadian writers to get their take on the challenges of reselling. The consensus is that it certainly isn’t as easy as it used to be. But there are still ways you can maximize on the work you put into a published story.


A resale success story

Toronto writer and editor Jocelyn Laurence made a successful resale recently when she sold an old column she’d written for the now-defunct Homemakers magazine to Garden Making.

“I had to augment and tweak it a bit but it was win-win for both of us,” she says.

Laurence says that while writers have the right to resell their work — unless they’ve signed a contract that forbids it — editors generally don’t want to pay for stories that readers might have seen elsewhere. She recommends waiting five years before trying to resell a story but says that such a time lag can lead to other problems.

“No editor wants a stale story, which eliminates the majority of magazine pieces simply because they’re timely — which is what sells magazines. Too much can change between first and second publication, to the point where a new story is called for.”

Laurence concludes that trying to resell stories is rarely worth the effort in the internet age.

“The only pieces that might qualify are service pieces (though facts can change over time) and personal stories such as mine for Homemakers. But personal writing is very, very hard to place,” she says.


Digital rights

Derek Finkle of the Canadian Writers Group agrees that reselling stories as-is is “virtually non-existent” now, with only a few opportunities left in places like educational weeklies or Reader’s Digest.

“Updating works with some stories, service related stuff especially. But it’s pretty hard to take an original piece of journalism and resell it somewhere,” he says. “Unless you repurpose it, it’s very difficult because if somebody puts something on the internet, the whole world can see it. The only real way to resell something, in my experience, is to prevent it from getting on the internet.”

Finkle mentions the case of Patricia Pearson, who went up against Rogers for violating the digital rights laid out in her contract. He says for writers with certain types of stories — a juicy piece of breaking news, for example — digital rights can turn out to be very lucrative.

“It’s all about electronic rights these days,” says Finkle. “Hold them back and then publish an ebook.”


Trade publications

Journalist and author Angela Murrills has another strategy when it comes to making the most of her ideas.

“Even pre-Internet, secondary rights to stories never paid much so I didn’t bother,” she says. Murrills aims to use the information she gathers to sell several different stories.

“To me, casting your net widely when you take notes still makes more sense than trying to sell a story you’ve already written when it’s probably out there on the web anyway.”

She offers a tip to writers specializing in a particular field: “look to trade publications as more likely markets than the dwindling number of mainstream magazines. I once wrote a feature on how French supermarkets display their wares (chips and snacks for instance are sold alongside aperitifs because that’s when you consume them) and sold it to a Canadian grocery mag.”


Niche publications

Vancouver food and wine journalist Tim Pawsey says that a few years ago, he found reselling articles “pretty straightforward.” Lately, though, things are changing.

“My gut feeling is that niche publications are beginning to come back. But the bottom line is that the bottom line is shrinking.”

Pawsey, like Murrills, always tries to get more than one story out of every idea he has.

“The general rule that I was told (and have lived by) was to use everything at least twice, if not three times. I’m talking more about content, as in facts here, rather than creative elements. So, yes, I would plan for newsprint in a couple of areas and at least one magazine piece,” he says.

“My best advice is to focus even more on your content, to write with authority and be extremely open to multi-media contracts.”



Multi-media is also writer and broadcaster Don Genova’s key to reselling ideas.

“Folks stand a better chance these days at making a living by being able to multiskill in various media,” says Genova.

“The secret of my success is being able to take one story and sell it to radio, TV, print and the internet. I had training in radio to begin with, but ‘picked up’ TV and writing for print as I went along,” he says.

“These days it’s easier than ever to record and edit audio and video; the trick of course is developing a market for that kind of material. Mostly the CBC, but there are other outlets out there!”


Have you had success reselling stories or ideas to different publications or media? Leave us your comments in the box below.

Posted on August 9, 2012 at 8:12 am by Rachel · · Tagged with: , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Sandra McKenzie
    on August 9, 2012 at 10:02 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I remember one of my first writing mentors telling me that he considered a piece of research to have earned its way when he was able to use it at least five times. I’ve tried that, and was more often successful than not. What worked best for me was being able to rewrite a story that had originally appeared in a Canadian magazine so that it could be resold to a US mag. That was easy; interestingly though, it was hard, possibly even impossible, to interest a Canadian editor in a story that was originally written for a US mag – even when the subject was Canadian.

  2. Written by editor
    on August 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Wow, five times… that’s a number to aspire to. Thanks for your input, Sandra. Good tip on rewriting Canadian stories for U.S. magazines. I wonder if the difference might be that U.S. magazines attract a Canadian readership, whereas Canadian magazines don’t tend to sell as much in the U.S.?

  3. Written by Omar
    on August 10, 2012 at 7:42 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Thanks for the story, Rachel. I guess reselling stories is about as rare as user-requested content, but as you’ve shown, both are still possible.

    I have been trying to wring several stories out of each interview now and I’m surprised by how well it’s going. Despite the Internet having squandered editor’s interests in pre-published articles, it’s given me access to more publications that I could peddle to than I ever thought imaginable . So, in that sense, one could say the web has increased my work opportunities.

  4. Written by editor
    on August 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    There are definitely pros and cons to the continuing evolution of our profession. Sounds like you’re making good use of all available resources. Thanks for the story request! It’s a great topic, of interest to a lot of Story Board readers.

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