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.