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Article on Writing
Everything Old is New Again (or How to Recycle Your Writing and Get Away with it)
© Christina Hamlett

"Working smarter, not harder" is the catchphrase of today's successful non-fiction writers. Instead of writing 10 articles completely from scratch, you can creatively recycle them into 10 new paychecks in surprisingly little time and with very little additional effort.

Here's a look at how:

Know Your Rights

When submitting freelance work for publication, pay close attention to the specific rights that are being granted. Here are the ones that you will see most often, along with their definitions:

First Serial Rights: the first rights to publish an article.

Second Serial Rights: non-exclusive rights to purchase a previously published article.

One-time Rights: single-use licensing, including simultaneous publication.

All Rights: the forfeiture to re-sell the article to someone else.

Obviously "one-time rights" will give you the most freedom to resell exactly the same piece as often as you wish. "All rights", in contrast, are the most limiting, though it should be remembered that the language generally applies only to that particular version and not to the entire subject. (Sample exceptions, of course, would be exclusive interviews or topics protected by prior licensing or copyright.) Many writers are unaware that the issue of rights is sometimes negotiable with editors; i.e., bargaining for first serial rights as opposed to relinquishing all future claim to the material.

Suffice it to say, you also have more latitude with first and second serial rights than you may have imagined. Once a piece has debuted, for instance, you are often free to resell immediately to publications which invite reprint articles or are considered non-competing markets.

Internet e-zines offer additional caveats to consider; i.e., electronic archive rights for one year. Each publication is different in their rules, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Same Material/Different View

If you've done extensive research on your chosen subject, it's highly likely that you won't be able to use all of it within the space constraints of a single article. Word to the wise: don't let all those copious notes go to waste! Even in situations where you have granted all rights to a specific magazine or newspaper, you probably have enough leftover material to construct similar articles which either approach the same topic from a different slant or focus on a different aspect of the total picture.

Let's say that you've just written a generic travel piece about sightseeing in Washington, D.C. By reconfiguring the highlights, you can rewrite the article to appeal to budget-minded families with young children, romantic couples, or solo businesswomen, emphasizing those historic sites, accommodations, and entertainment venues which will be the most pertinent to the respective travelers/readers.

Timing is Everything

In my years as a playwright, I've frequently encountered the curious situation where a script that didn't work one season because of budget or cast restrictions could turn around and sell fabulously well in the next. Although I've always had the propensity to hang on to things to the point of clutter, it has served me well in the case of putting certain projects on ice until the market called for them. While this obviously won't work with those projects that have a short shelf life, it's nonetheless wise to never throw anything out that could potentially have a useful purpose in something else.

One of my funniest examples of this was when I was under contract with a major publisher and assigned to an editor whose IQ I often compared to paste. After she had proceeded to red-pencil an especially sizzling chapter in one of my romance novels because it was "too daring," I took all of the extracted paragraphs and saved them under the generic name "sex file" on my computer, opining that they were much too good to simply be deleted. Two novels later, I pasted them into a new scenario, changing only the names and the location and nothing else. (Since the settings were, respectively, Seattle and Scotland and it was cold and rainy in both places, I didn't even have to adjust the weather.) To my amusement, the scene's insertion in the new work raised nary an eyebrow with the same editor, leading me to believe that (1) she ran out of time to actually read it, (2) it all sounded vaguely familiar and she, thus, assumed that she had signed off on something similar in another book, or (3) given the fact she got married between book #2 and #4, maybe she finally understood what I was talking about and was accordingly titillated.

Go figure.

Condense and Expand

A good two-part exercise that will not only sharpen your editing skills but also open the door to more income is the following:

Take a 1,000 word article on any subject. As you read it, yellow highlight the most important elements of the text. Now, rewrite the same article to fit a 500 word framework. If you've never tried this before, it's an intimidating exercise at first. With practice, however, you'll soon become adept at weeding out the superfluous and writing a tight, to-the-point article. (This technique also works effectively on fiction projects, too!)

The second part of the assignment is to take the yellow highlighted version and now expand the content to twice its original length. This is when all of your back-up research comes into play, enabling you to elaborate on those sections which were previously limited in their scope.

The end result? You now have three distinctively different articles instead of just one.

So what are you waiting for? Get selling!


Copyright © Christina Hamlett


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