4 Ways to Earn a Bundle by Writing Multiple Stories From One Idea

Do you have trouble coming up with fresh story ideas?

Even writers who usually have scads of ideas come up empty sometimes.

But we need to keep eating, even in those dry spells.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can get more mileage out of the ideas you do have.

Ideas are not copyrightable, and can be reslanted, re-sourced, and resold over and over.

Here are three ways you can earn more by reusing story ideas:

1) Resell to many regional publications

If you’ve written for a city magazine or daily paper about a trend that’s taking place in more than one city, you can resell the idea to publications in those other cities.

For instance, I once wrote for the Seattle Times real estate section about how the down economy was prompting the sale of $1 million homes ‘for sale by owner,‘ to save on the real-estate broker commission. That certainly wasn’t happening only in Seattle — I could have pitched it to every major-city newspaper in the country and likely gotten many more assignments.

By interviewing at least one local $1 million+ FSBO homeowner, I would have “localized” the story to that new market. I got $300 for the first piece, and probably could have earned that fee or near to it several more times for other city mags or dailies. I’ve always kicked myself that I didn’t have the time to retool that one! Think it could have gotten many more assignments.

Local publications don’t have readers in common with similar publications in another city, so you’re free to resell the exact same idea.

2) Sell to non-competing national markets

Sometimes, mixing up the type of market you sell to allows you to recycle ideas. For instance, I’ve written quite a few times about a method of understanding your business’s cash flow called ratio analysis. It’s a basic principle for understanding whether your business is thriving over time or headed for financial trouble.

Over the years, I’ve sold it to an online business magazine, a national print business magazine, an association newsletter, the small-business blog of a major website — even the Facebook fan page of a major telecommunications giant! I’ve earned several thousand dollars from the idea over time.

Trade publications are a great example of national, non-competing markets. You could sell a story about, say, “How to Market Your Small Business Online,” to a trade publication for each industry — accountants, lawyers, jewelers, massage therapists, and so on. Their readerships are completely different, so you’re in the clear.

With the rise of brand journalism, company websites have become another great place to resell ideas. Their audience is unique — the company’s customer base — and if time has passed, it’s unlikely their readers have seen your previous piece on the same topic.

3) Recycle over time

This works best with “evergreen” topics, such as “how to get ready for tax season” or “how to hire your first employee” or “how to organize your office space.” Create a calendar of when you wrote the story — then, a year later as the time for that topic nears again, take it out and find a new market to sell it to.

4) Switch up the format

If the first version of this idea was written as a reported story with multiple experts, this time make it a Q&A with one expert, a blog post, or the story of one real person and how this issue affected them.

It could also become a “how to” piece with a bulleted list of tips. Or turn it into a “charticle” that’s heavy on graphics, or breaking news with an update. The fresh format and approach makes it a new piece, even if much of the information is essentially the same.

How to avoid plagiarizing yourself

When you start reselling, be clear about whether you are creating a new article, or selling a reprint of the exact same article. If you’re selling reprints, make sure you have the right to do that. If there’s any doubt in your mind, ask the editor of the original article to be sure.

Reprints don’t usually pay much, so I’ve preferred to sell new articles on the same topic.

If you’re creating a new article, really do that. In this age of Copyscape, don’t ever think you can get away with self-plagiarizing a previous story. The editors will find out.

You can use some of  the same experts, but not the same exact quotes they used. Usually, you’ll want at least one brand-new source in the story to freshen it up. Rewrite each sentence in the old story, including those in the narrative paragraphs, until you have a completely unique, new article.

If you want to resell ideas, create a tracking system to remind you when articles first appeared and in what market, and where else you’ve pitched them. That way you can easily see what additional markets you might pitch, and when.

Be the queen of evergreen ideas

If an editor calls looking for ideas, pull out your old file and see if there’s anything you can present again. There may be recent news that refreshes one of your ideas and makes it relevant again.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that already having written on the topic makes you in-demand to write it again, rather than convincing the editor the subject has already been done.

In fact, many magazines write the same topics every couple years, and may think of you to do it again if you’ve proved you can put a fresh spin on evergreen topics.

At one point, I wrote pretty much the exact same story — how to research a franchise — for the same print magazine three years running! Often, publications have an annual list or chart they run that needs a related story, and they might use you to write it again and again, once they see you have a flair for refreshing a topic.

More recently, I took that exact same topic and turned it into a quick blog post for another business magazine.

How have you earned more reselling your story ideas? Leave a comment and add your tips.

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15 comments on “4 Ways to Earn a Bundle by Writing Multiple Stories From One Idea
  1. Looking at a story from another person’s perspective could actually provide a “fresh” story. Using the example HSBO example, wouldn’t it be an interesting story if you can approached the story from the point of view of how it affects real estate brokers and what a particular broker is doing to profit from it?
    Chimezirim Odimba recently posted..Perfect Customer Life Circle Marketing

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great point — I could also write that for a real-estate trade publication — how realtors are signing up FSBO sellers. And sometimes they DO…people get tired of trying to market their house, they don’t get any takers, and then give up and hire a pro.

  2. Carol

    Recycling stories is, of course, great for readers too.

    Let’s say, as you mentioned, you rework a story 2-3 years after it first appeared in a publication or on a website. The readership would’ve changed quite a bit by then. That means many would not have seen the original and would miss out were you not to cover the topic again.

    As for those who’d already read the article, most would’ve forgotten it anyway, especially if you’ve put a new spin on things.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted..Get your website in shape for 2013 with these 3 New Year copywriting tips

  3. Actually, it’s the whole “don’t sell to another competing market” that confuses me a bit. Perhaps I don’t have a clear idea what a competing market would be.
    Luana Spinetti @ Writer’s Mind recently posted..Can I Really Make Money Blogging? – Jane Sheeba Tells You HOW In 5 Ways (In Her New E-Book!)

  4. Thanks for these great tips, especially how to avoid plagiaring yourself. That is very easy to do without even realizing it.

    I can see tremendous benefit in reworking evergreen ideas since popular magazines roll out the same seasonal topics every year. You would think that we don’t need another new year’s story about decluttering or easy ways to lose weight, but obviously we do.
    Flora Morris Brown recently posted..Here’s A Chance to Be in My Next Book

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know, but it has to do with how readerships turn over, and with sponsored content advertisers want.

      Magazines such as Brides assume their readership is all new 2 years later, so they can do the exact same topics again.

      And at Entrepreneur, every year they do a Top 500 Franchises list…and it needs a package of content about getting into franchising, every time. Two examples of why evergreen topics keep recurring.

  5. Glori Surban says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Carol.

    “Running out of ideas” isn’t really an excuse is it. Putting a spin on the same story or topic pretty much solves this problem. One just has to be creative.
    Glori Surban recently posted..7 Online Writers I Follow and You Should Too

  6. Gabi says:

    Carol – this is outstanding. What a great thing to run at the begin of the year when we all have a fire under our butts to get more pitches out and start the year out right!

    Even though I do this all the time, having this tips in one place is like a checklist. You write a query and then run through here and see where else you can send the same idea or a close but differently angled version.

    One important thing I want to point out is that you are also making extra money because you are saving time. By reusing research you already have or using parts of the same research for two pieces you are working on at once, you are saving big on overall research time.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, GREAT point! When you reuse research it is a huge time-saver that makes you more efficient and really ups your hourly rate.

      I always feel like I should spend more time recycling my ideas…but I tend to be short attention span theater and love moving on to the next topic!

  7. A idea is not a story and can indeed be split into many of them. Tons of articles are available discussing the same idea. So it’s definitely possible to resell ideas. And your tips have been very helpful, thanks!
    Daphnée Kwong Waye recently posted..The Art Of Planning A Blog

  8. Hello Carol,

    Your last tips on the list is great “Be the queen of evergreen ideas!”

    This is one quality I always like to employ when creating a copy. Having evergreen ideas helps you to write compelling and epic copy which goes a long way in driving home your points and also increasing your ROI.

    I will make good use of the tips, the are really awesome!

    Thanks for sharing…
    Jackson Nwachukwu recently posted..50 Questions That Helps You Define Your Target Market

    • Carol Tice says:

      My pleasure!

      The trick with evergreen topics is that they still need some new spin that makes them fresh and something you want to read again. There have no doubt been previous stories about restaurant revenue, but the new data gave this topic a reason to be done again.

      BTW, speaking of headlines, the one you’ve linked with your Commentluv has a grammar error. You want to watch out for those! Can really kill readership. Don’t feel bad about it though — Problogger had a headline with one earlier this week (though I saw this morning they’ve fixed it now).

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "4 Ways to Earn a Bundle by Writing Multiple Stories From One Idea"
  1. […] Because these pieces are so different, both in terms of subject and tone, I didn’t feel obligated to notify my editors. I’m not alone here. Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing shares a similar story: […]

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