Repurposing What You Already Own

Repurposing content is a fancy way of saying “rewriting stories.” If you remember, in the very beginning of Chapter 1, you learned about the idea that magazine writers are content providers. Repurposing the content that you've already created is simply a way of providing that content to more than one client at a time. Report once, sell multiple times. It's a formula for financial success and, in many cases, business expansion.

If you intend to use repurposed content to expand your magazine-writing business, you need to make sure you keep detailed notes about all your interviews and story research. You will need all the extra information you can get when it comes time to rewrite an article, and your new editors may want fact-checking information that your previous editors did not.

Opening New Doors

The idea behind repurposing content is that you can use what you know from one part of the magazine-writing universe to open doors at additional titles. Let's say that you're an expert on the climate of the Arctic and that you write frequently for environmental magazines about things like icebergs, polar bears, and global warming. You probably have accumulated thousands of pages of independent research and interview notes on the subject matter, and you've written countless articles for all of the major magazines in your field.

When you decide to repurpose that content, you are essentially saying that you want to rewrite your stories using all the same (or perhaps slightly updated) Arctic environmental information so that it will appeal to a different readership. Some examples of ideas might include:

  • An article about polar bears for a children's magazine

  • An article about polar bears for a wildlife magazine

  • An article about the best cruises you can take to see icebergs for a travel magazine

  • An article about the science behind the icebergs on popular tours for a travel magazine

  • An article about how global warming has affected local fishing economies, for a fishing magazine or local Alaskan magazine

  • The idea here is that you already have (in your head, or in your notes) most of the information required to write these articles. You simply have to rewrite it and package it in a way that fits with the new magazines' formats.

    How Much Revising Is Enough?

    Sometimes, you won't have to revise your articles at all. A magazine editor may read your work in another publication and decide that it would be great to use all or part of it in his own magazine. In that case, you would sell him a straight reprint and be done with it. The only finger you'd have to lift to earn a second paycheck for the same story is the finger that presses the “send” button on your e-mail with the Word document attached.

    “Reprint” is the term used for an article that is sold more than once without any substantial changes to its content. A “revise” is an article that is sold more than once, but with enough changes made to the content that it is essentially a new work. A derivative work, yes, but a new work overall.

    In other cases, and perhaps more commonly, you will have to make at least some revisions to an article before you can sell it a second time. Some editors want total rewrites or even new pieces based on what you wrote previously, while other editors are happy to print slightly modified articles that have new leads or structures more in keeping with their own magazine's tone. It will be up to you and the new magazine's editor to decide how many changes you need to make in the copy in order to sell the repurposed content, and you will need to keep in mind the contract that you originally signed when you created the article in the first place.

    Remember What You Sign

    In Chapter 8, you learned the difference between first North American serial rights and work-for-hire contracts. When you decide you want to repurpose content that you wrote for another magazine, you enter the legal terrain for which those different types of contracts are designed.

    Who can sue you if you resell an article whose rights you don't own?

    Both the magazine in which the article first appeared, and the second magazine you sold it to as original content. If you signed a work-for-hire contract, the first magazine owns the story. It can sue you — and the second magazine — for copyright infringement, and the second magazine can sue you to recover its expenses.

    If you signed a first North American serial rights agreement when you originally wrote the article, then you should be able to resell it without making any changes to it (assuming the second magazine's editor doesn't mind running the same exact copy as the first magazine). However, in many cases the second magazine will ask you to sign a new contract that promises the content you are delivering is original. This means that you may be able to use your original article as the basis for a story in the second magazine, but you will have to rewrite it and perhaps add new information to it in order to comply with the second magazine's contract.

    Because reporting a story is often more time-consuming than actually writing it, many writers choose to completely revise every article they repurpose for a second sale. This allows them to put the article into the new magazine's preferred tone and style and also to avoid any possible confusion about who owns the rights to the copy.

    All of this actually sounds more complicated than it really is. Think of the example given earlier in this chapter, about a magazine writer whose expertise includes polar bears in the Arctic. If that writer can sell stories about polar bears to adult and children's wildlife magazines, then he can probably outline them and structure them in exactly the same way. He'll just have to use shorter sentences and more visual references for the children's version, something he can do by writing the adult version and then revising it instead of writing an entirely new article.

    What Should They Pay?

    When you repurpose content, you often can expect to be paid full price, just as if you were writing an entirely new article. This is the case when you do enough revisions that the piece is essentially a unique creation, even if it's all based on previous reporting and research. You should earn what you would if you set out to write the article anew, even as much as a couple of dollars per word.

    If the editor specifically buys a reprint of an article that does not require revisions, then you should expect to receive less pay. The particular amount will depend upon the magazine's budget for reprints, but usually, an article that is 1,000 or 1,200 words long won't bring in much more than about $500 in reprint fees.

    Still, that reprint fee is $500 that you didn't have before, and it's money you didn't have to do any new work to earn. Not a bad deal if you can get it.

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