My writing roots are grounded in magazine journalism, and I still spend a good bit of my time each year writing articles for a variety of publications. I have a monthly gig writing an article for a trade magazine, and I try to write a variety of articles related to my interests and to the books I am writing and trying to get published. (I do the latter as a way to build “platform” and expert status.) My pieces are published both locally and nationally. I consider myself a fairly successful journalist.
However, I have failed miserably at one aspect of my journalistic career: reselling my articles. Journalists, as well as essayists and any writer producing work for newspapers and magazines, can make a huge amount of additional money on each piece they sell if they simply make the effort to resell their articles to additional publications.
Michael Sedge, author of Marketing Strategies for Writers, provides a phenomenal example of a writer who has mastered the art of reselling articles. In this blog post he offers some really valuable advice on how to ensure that you can, indeed, resell your work once you’ve written and sold an article to a publication. Pay close attention to what he writes…and don’t ever look at an article you write as a one-time sale again. You might even want to spend part of November trying to resell some of the articles you’ve had published in the past. (I think I will…)
How to Earn More and Work Less by Managing the Rights to Your Articles
and Considering the World Your Market
By Michael Sedge
Twenty-nine years ago, I walked out of my last job, determined to be a writer…and have been fulfilling that role ever since. I’ve published thousands-and-thousands of articles, 10 books, written four TV documentaries, advertising copy, and children’s plays. I have been a free-lance editor in one form or another—i.e., contributing editor, travel editor, managing editor, senior editor, European correspondent, war correspondent, Mediterranean and Africa editor—to over 40 publications and news agencies. I have turned my writing into a number of successful spin-off businesses–Markets Abroad Newsletter, Strawberry Media stock photo agency, The Sedge Group, Michael-Bruno, LLC—serving such clients a The Associated Press, Newsweek, Time-Life, National Geographic, Mobil Oil, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Discovery Channel, MCI International, Department of Defense and Department of State.
All of this and, according to my friends, I only work half-a-way. While that may be misconception—they do not see me at the computer in PJs at midnight or 4 a.m.—it is possible if one approaches their writing career with two key principles: (1) it is a business and (2) the world is your market.
While at the height of my writing career, I only produced 23 articles a year (while working on books, documentaries, and other activities). That is fewer than two articles per month. At the same time, however, my byline appeared approximately 207 times in global publications while my annual article income exceeded $50,000.
The secret? I was selling each article an average of nine times to publications in various countries and languages, around the world. Put into mathematical terms: 23 articles a year x 9 sales per article = 207 published articles. I received an average of $250 per article x 207 = $51,750 annual income.
You, too, can make more and work less if you learn to work smart, manage the rights to your articles and consider the world your market. The following is an except from my book, Marketing Strategies for Writers, that will get your started.
Sometimes I feel that writers intentionally make an effort to fail as business people. Take, for example, the thousands of freelancers around the world who write articles. They produce a feature, sell it, see it in print, and then begin work on another story. It too gets written, sold, and printed. Then a new article is begun. It becomes a vicious circle.
Now some would say that this is a pattern of success. I am here to tell you that it is a blueprint for excess work. below-average income, and ultimately, writer burnout. Why? First, given that the average article of one thousand words sells for approximately $375 in the United States, writers need to produce and sell eight articles a month if they want to earn an annual income of $35,000. Writing this many quality articles every thirty days is a huge task. Then, of course, because freelance writers are independently employed, they are required to spend a large percentage of their annual income on social security taxes, health insurance, and income taxes. After all these taxes and insurance payments are made, most writers—even those selling articles regularly—find themselves walking the tightrope of poverty.
If they would only approach writing as a business, however, this dire situation could probably be avoided. Let’s imagine for a moment that you are not a writer, but the franchise owner of Dollar Rent A Car. What are your products? Cars and vans, of course. Now what are your goals? To rent as many vehicles as you can, for as much as you can, and for as long as you can.
Now let’s apply these same business characteristics to writing. What are your products? Articles. What are your goals? To sell as many as you can, for as much as you can, and for as long as you can.
Yes, articles, are products. To succeed, you need to make as much money as possible from these products. The more use—in the form of sales—you get out of each product, the more money you will make. This requires that you set your own rates, control the rights that are sold, and expand your market opportunities beyond domestic borders.
As a businessman, my goals has always been to make no less than $4,000 a month—damned good pay for an article writer. To accomplish this, I am required to bring in $1,000 a week. This leads me to the $1-a-word rule (yes, I have rules for just about everything). Quite simply, if a publication is going to pay me $1 a word, that publication is entitled to exclusive rights to my work f or a period of one year. Thereafter, all rights automatically revert to me, and I am free to sell the article elsewhere. As with every rule, however, there are exceptions. If, for instance, a publisher wants a work-for-hire arrangement—whereby the publication owns the work forever—my base fee ranges from $1.50 to $2.00 a word.
So what about the many, many magazines and newspapers that do not have budgets sufficient to pay such rates? Very simply, the rights that a publication receives should be directly proportional to the price paid. I’ll even go one step further and say that the rights purchased must never exceed the needs of the publication. An excellent example is the Army Times Publishing Company, based in Virginia. The company’s primary market is Department of Defense employees and members of the U.S. military. So, when travel editor Cindi Florit offered me $225 for a feature on Italy’s sunken city of Baiae, I gladly accepted. When she asked for all rights, I pulled back the offer and said Army Times could have exclusive rights only in the Department of Defense and U.S. military market, to which she agreed.
The point here is that many editors, it seems, have been trained—primarily because they too began as freelance writers—to believe that all rights or first North American serial rights are theirs for the asking, as long as they have offered some pittance of compensation. I, for one, would like to know where this absurd thought came from. Army Times Publishing Company had no more need for all rights than does the Prague Post in the Czech Republic.
This morning, a reader of my Writer On Line column, “Going Global with Mike Sedge,” sent a message in which she said: “You suggest that authors establish their own rights, rather than wait and see what an editor offers. It’s a concept I’ve never heard of but find quite compelling and it makes ever so much sense.”
Of course it makes sense. It makes good business sense! A major part of guerrilla marketing is not to let the excitement of getting published blur your business vision. That is, you must be fairly compensated for your work and the rights you are selling. The key to rights is that you give each publication what it needs, within the legal boundaries of eth sale. For example, if a newspaper published in New York State is going to publish your article, it has no need for all North American rights. In this same respect, a national publication has no need for world rights. If I am working with a periodical that insists on more rights than are necessary, I immediately up the price of the article accordingly.
Recently, Scientific American Archaeology asked me to write a piece, but insisted on all rights. I realized that they had plans for an international as well as German-language edition of the magazine and, thus, planned to reuse my material. I therefore quoted a price of $1.25 per word, with the agreement that they would take at least two more features. They agreed to the deal. In this case I had sacrificed some standard per-word fee—for all rights usage—in exchange for additional assignments.
Granted, you might lose a sale by doing this. But, in the long run, you will end up making more money by being able to sell your articles again and again. Despite what editors and individuals involved with the New York publishing industry tell you, there are publishers that aggressively resell articles once they have all rights. Buzz magazine goes so far as to advertise the resale of articles. A recent issue, for example, carried an ad reading, among other things, “Reprints of any article are now available from Reprints Management Services. Call today.”
About the Author
A native of Flint, MI, (walking distance from Michael Moore), Michael Sedge has lived in Southern Italy for the past 36 years. “From my office window, I look across the Bay of Naples and see Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast.” He admits that he is living what most would consider a dream life. Aside from his successful writing career, Sedge is a valid businessman and former regional president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy. “One of the ventures I am most proud of is the Dolce Vita Writers’ Holiday, which I conducted in Tuscany for several years. Great fun, great food, great people, and writers came away with a new approach to selling their work around the world.” Today most of Sedge’s time is dedicated to being president of Michael-Bruno, LLC, a company he formed in 2003 to provide architectural design, engineering services, and construction management for the US government in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. “I got to where I am through my writing. I’ve used it as a stepping stone to a number of fascinating careers. As long as I keep having fun, I’ll keep doing it,” he said.
Sedge can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org