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Selling Reprints
by Moira Allen

Return to The Business of Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

You've probably read other articles on the wonders of selling reprints. A lot of them sound something like this: "I've sold the same article 462 times, and netted thousands of dollars!" Such pieces tend to make one feel like a total slouch for having sold a piece only once.

Are reprints really an untapped goldmine for writers? Can you make your fortune reselling work you've already published? The answer often depends on who you ask -- and also on what you write. The following questions and answers will give you an idea of the basics of the process.

What is a reprint?

Publications consider an article to be a reprint if it has been previously published and remains substantially unchanged from that previous publication. Many publications do not accept reprints at all. Others pay a lower fee for reprints than for original material. Within these broad guidelines, however, you can find a host of variations and exceptions.

When is a reprint not a reprint?

When you sell simultaneous, nonexclusive, or one-time rights to a piece of material. "Reprint" terms apply when you are marketing to publications that use "first" or "second" rights. When you sell first rights to your article, typically any subsequent sale would be of "second" or "reprint" rights. However, in some markets you can sell the same material to several different publications, either simultaneously or sequentially, by offering "one-time nonexclusive" rights. This gives every publication who buys your work the right to use it once, but not the right to use it "first," and not the right to be the only publication to use it. A good example of this type of use would be a column distributed to several newspapers or similar publications.

When can I sell a reprint?

If you have sold first rights to an article, you generally cannot offer (or sell) reprint rights until that material has actually appeared in the original publication. "First" rights means the publication has the right to use it first, so if you were to sell reprint rights before the first article appeared, you could be in violation of your original contract. Once the article has appeared in print or online or wherever, however, you are generally then free to offer reprint or "second" rights to other publications.

How do I market reprints?

Some people send out photocopies of the original article, as it appeared in the original publication. Others send out a manuscript copy, with information on where and when the material originally appeared. Regardless of which approach you choose, be sure to indicate when and where the material was first published, and the rights you are authorized to sell. (Some publications, for example, want subsequent users of the material to acknowledge the first publisher with a line such as "reprinted with permission of XYZ Magazine".)

Where should I market reprints?

The most important rule to follow when looking for markets for reprints is to look for "noncompeting" publications. If two publications serve the same market or audience, each is unlikely to accept material that previously appeared in the other. For example, the magazine The Writer is not likely to purchase an article that formerly appeared in Writer's Digest, and vice versa. The key lies in finding a noncompeting market -- either a publication that addresses an audience with different interests, or a publication that has a very different regional distribution.

Many authors do well selling reprints to noncompeting regional publications, such as magazines that serve a single city, county, region, or state. Even though the general "focus" or content of each magazine might be substantially similar, the audience is limited to a particular region, and therefore the publications are "noncompeting." By the same token, it is often possible to sell reprints of your work overseas. Print publications will sometimes accept material that has appeared electronically, and vice versa.

If I rewrite an article, does it cease to be a reprint?

There is no hard-and-fast rule about how much "editing" or "revision" is required to change a reprint into a new, original piece. The keyword is usually "substantially" -- i.e., the piece needs to be "substantially" different. If you just change a few words here and there, add a paragraph, or drop a sentence, this generally isn't enough to make a piece "new."

Rather than selling reprints per se, many writers prefer to tailor the same information to several different markets. For example, if you were writing a piece on relocating to a new city, you could slant one article to a business audience, another to a financial publication, another to a woman's magazine, and yet another to a parenting publication. Each piece would have a focus specific to the market you're targeting, each would qualify as "original" -- yet each is drawn from the same pool of research information. This is often the best approach, as many publications prefer that material be tailored directly toward their audience.

What rights can I sell?

Whether you can sell a reprint at all depends first and foremost upon the rights you sell to the original article. If you sell "all rights" or produce an article as "work for hire," you cannot sell reprint rights, as you no longer own those rights. This doesn't mean that you should never sell all rights; however, if you do, be sure you are sufficiently compensated for the loss of potential future reprint income -- or that no likely market for reprints exists.

If you sell "first" rights of any kind (e.g., First North American Serial Rights [FNASR], First Electronic Rights, etc.), you can then sell "second" rights to the same type of market (e.g., a North American publication), and in some cases you can sell "first" rights to a different market (e.g., a British publication). For example, if you've sold FNASR, you may be able to sell the article as a "first" to an overseas publication (although you'll find that many do prefer to handle such material as a reprint anyway). If you've sold first print rights, you can still sell first electronic rights, and vice versa. Regardless of the actual rights you've sold, however, many publications will still regard previously published work as a "reprint" (and treat it as such) even if some area of "first" rights are still available.

When selling the reprint itself, you will generally offer nonexclusive "second" rights or "one-time" rights. "Second" serial rights can be sold over and over; the term simply indicates that the publication is no longer "first." (In other words, you don't have to worry about keeping track and offering "43rd serial rights.") Most reprints are sold "nonexclusively," which means that you can sell the same reprint to more than one publication, often at the same time. Sending out "simultaneous submissions" of reprints is also a little more acceptable than sending out simsubs of an original article; just be sure that the reprint isn't going out to competing markets.

When offering a reprint overseas, be sure to address issues of regional rights and language rights in your sale. For example, you might want to sell a reprint to a British publication, but hold onto the rights to sell the same material in English to another European country, as well as the rights to sell the material in other languages.

Do all articles make good reprints?

Some articles have good reprint potential; others don't. If you have tailored an article toward a specific audience and publication, it may be difficult to remarket that material elsewhere without doing a substantial rewrite. If you're writing for a very narrow market niche, you may not find many markets for reprints. If a small number of publications are competing for the same market share (as is common in the pet magazine market), you may find it difficult to find a "noncompeting" market to buy a reprint.

Time-sensitive articles generally don't work well as reprints. If the subject you're covering will be old news once the article hits print, if the material is outdated, if things have changed substantially, or if interest in the topic has waned, your chances of reselling the material are low. Similarly, material of purely local interest may be difficult to resell to a different regional market. The focus or slant of your article may also hinder its resale potential.

How do I find markets for reprints?

The first step is to identify likely customers. It's actually a good idea to consider this step before you actually start writing your article; then, you can determine whether you need to gather additional information for revisions and retailored articles while researching the original. Brainstorm the potential markets for your topic, and jot down any ideas that come to mind. For example, if you're writing an article on natural healthcare for women for a major womens' healthcare magazine, consider the potential for reselling the same article (or a retailored article) to other markets, such as:

  • Womens' healthcare magazines in other countries
  • General womens' magazines
  • Magazines targeting specific age groups (e.g., teenagers, older women)
  • General interest publications (especially if you can develop a newsworthy slant)
  • Local and regional publications (especially if you can link the material to a local source or expert)
  • Local, regional, and major metropolitan newspapers (target their "lifestyle" sections)
  • Publications that address some subset of the topic, such as herb publications, natural health magazines, or New Age/spiritual magazines
  • Online/electronic publications in any of the above categories

Once you've developed a list of potential markets, start hunting down information in the latest Writer's Market or online. Use an online newsstand or a guidelines database to gather more information about potential markets. If you can't find out from the listing whether a market accepts reprints, send a brief e-mail the editor and ask, or make a very brief, courteous phone call. Choose the markets that offer the highest pay potential first, and work your way down the list.

How much time should I spend marketing reprints?

That's up to you. As you build a collection of material, you'll probably find that some pieces are more appropriate for reprint sales than others. Don't waste a lot of time on those that aren't -- and don't waste too much time on those that are! For example, you may not want to invest the same amount of time and money on "sample copies" for potential reprint markets as you would when researching markets for original articles; the return on your investment often won't be worth the effort.

Reprints can provide a viable source of income. However, to be able to market reprints successfully, you must first build a supply of "original" published articles. Never spend so much time trying to resell old work that you stop writing new material!

Find Out More...

The 20% Solution: How Much Do You Need to Change an Article to Make it Original?, by Moira Allen

Can I Sell a Previously Published Article? by Moira Allen

Making the Most of Your Inventory, by Dana Cassell

One Article, Many Checks: Selling Reprints, by Kelly James-Enger

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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