hat if every time you came up with an article idea, you could turn that effort into multiple assignments, doubling or tripling your earnings? Successful freelancers do it all the time, and you can too. The secret is to repurpose your articles.
Repurposed articles are spin-offs or variations of your original work. You re-slant or change the form of your articles to suit a different readership. I've heard of an editor who says most of the successful freelancers she knows resell each piece they write, in some form or another, about five times.
While you'll need to write a new article each time you repurpose, you'll already be familiar with the topic and have much of the research at hand. Creating several works from the same information is an efficient use of your valuable time. Additionally, as you write about a topic more than once, you begin to establish yourself as an authority on the subject.
How do you repurpose an article that you've already written? It's a fairly simple process of taking your article idea and coming up with a somewhat different way that you can pitch it to another market. You find a new angle, another approach, or a different audience for what you've written about previously. Here are some examples:
~ Alter the original work for a larger or smaller market. You could take a local-oriented piece and broaden it for a regional or national market. Conversely, you can take a national article concept and tailor it to several different regions or cities.
~ Explore new demographics. Re-slant the contents of an article for women to appeal to men; alter an article for parents to apply to grandparents; change an article that's geared to an intermediate or expert into one for a beginner; revise a trade piece to interest the general consumer. Consider different types of magazines (business, health, animal, travel, hobbies, etc.) and think of ways to use the information from your original work to appeal to each of those target audiences.
~ Switch genres or styles. Expand a tips piece into a full-length feature; use an article topic to create an essay or editorial; condense an article into a filler or front-of-book piece; write articles based on chapters of your book; revamp an essay, turning it into a how-to article.
~ Get creative. Take a serious approach if your previous piece was humorous, or vice versa; give different advice or argue the other position from your original stance; pull out one fact or section from your original article and take a brand new direction.
To come up with more repurposing ideas, ask yourself who else might be interested in the ideas or information contained in your original article. Brainstorm as long a list as you can, including ideas that may seem silly at first. Then, go through your list and find at least five new projects to work on.
Let's look at some actual examples to further motivate you to get more mileage from your writing. Here are some ways that successful freelancers have made re-purposing articles work for them:
*Freelance writer Margaret Littman wrote a business story for a trade magazine about a kid-friendly wine bar (with milk tastings for the kids) in her city. She wrote about the wine bar a few more times for consumer magazines, including several wine publications, and a local magazine. (Source: Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelly James-Enger)
*Freelancer Roberta Sandler wrote an article about converting a spare room into a personal fitness center and sold it to one of her local newspapers. She added advice from a doctor and an aerobics center and sold the article to a fitness magazine, and later to a magazine for older consumers. She then expanded the article for a magazine for mobile-home owners, and also narrowed the focus to how to buy an exercise bike, which she sold to one of her local newspapers. (Source: The Writer, July 2005)
*Roberta Sandler also wrote an article about how to childproof your home, which she sold to a newspaper. With an additional interview, she was able to customize the article for a regional magazine. With small changes, she also sold it to another regional magazine and a home ideas magazine. Finally, she re-slanted her article toward grandparents and sold that article to a maturity publication.
*A writer took the information from her essay on a humorous camping trip experience and changed the focus several times, selling how-to's, anecdotes, travel advice, and more to seven different publications. (Source: Writing for Dollars, article by Kathryn Lay)
*Freelancer Donna Bear sold a how-to article based on her yard sale experience to her local newspaper. She rewrote the piece with a new angle (getting your house in shape for the summer) for a home magazine. She rewrote it a second time for the teen market. (Source: The Writer, June 2007)
Got it? Now you're ready to turn one article into multiple projects, just like the pros.
The inspirational cases above illustrate one of the main concepts of repurposing: re-use the research you've already done. The best advice is to save everything, always. You may need those facts, statistics, links, and scribbled notes for additional creations. It's important to include fresh material, but there's no need to reinvent the wheel with each new undertaking.
Take a look at the information you've already compiled for other assignments. You probably have more than you needed for the original articles. Is there a different part of your research that you can use for a new article? Is there a great fact, quote, or story that you didn't put in the first piece? These can be starting points for a re-slant, and a quick way to earn more money.
You can also plan ahead to create multiple articles from your research. Shirley Kawa-Jump, author of How to Publish Your Articles: A Complete Guide to Making the Right Publication Say Yes, recommends over-interviewing and over-researching with the intent of developing future articles. "If you think you have an article idea that can fit many markets, sit down and make up your potential market list before you start your research, slotting different angles for each publication. Then write a brief synopsis of each angle and outline the piece so that you know early on what additional material you will need to write the article."
As part of this planned research, you can ask interviewees extra questions so you'll have fresh quotes for several different slants. Since you've already determined your potential markets, consider the various kinds of readers and what they would be interested to know. Be sure to obtain permission from your interview source whenever you intend to use the interview for more than one publication.
As you start to look at your work with an eye toward revising and re-selling to new markets, you may wonder just how different your new articles need to be from the originals. Can you simply change the lead paragraph or cut a few sentences? Do you need all new quotes?
Expert opinions vary as to just how much alteration is enough to make the second (or third) piece a new article, and not a reprint. Most agree, however, that the new article needs to be considerably different from the first one. This usually means using different words and expressions, and more often than not, fresh quotes.
You can occasionally use a few of the same quotations in the new piece, but this works best with a change in the article's direction, so that you've got a completely different readership base. However, Kelley James Enger, author of Six-Figure Freelancing, says that she never reuses a quote when re-slanting an article, and she usually relies on different expert sources. "The exception to the rule is when there's an expert I need—because he or she has conducted important research in the field. Even then I use fresh quotes—I don’t want to reuse the exact same material in an original piece."
In Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, author and freelance writing instructor Moira Allen states that changing a few words, adding a paragraph or dropping a sentence isn't enough to turn a reprint into a new, original piece. "The best way to test whether something is rewritten sufficiently to be considered a new article is to put yourself in the reader's shoes," she says. "If you read the two articles in two different publications, would you think they were different articles? Or would you regard them as being the same? If you would regard them as being the same (or regard one as being an excerpt of the other), then they are, essentially, the same."
There are some cases where you may need to make only small changes to an article, but this is really a reprint sale. For example, an article geared to mom writers may contain information that could also appeal to dad writers, or to writers in general. With some minor alterations, such as changing the mother references to parent ones or removing the parent references altogether, you could re-sell it—although not as a new article. Author Kelly James-Enger calls this sort of change a "tweak." As another example of this, she altered a diet story she wrote for a women's magazine for publication in a bridal magazine, simply by rewriting the lead and some other sections.
Repurposing your articles is a great way to build your expertise and earn more money from your writing. Just customize the information you've already got for another publication, and you've got a new sale. There are very few stories that fit only one market, so brainstorm all the possible angles and get busy.
MARCIA PETERSON is a writer from Northern California. Her work has been published in The Contra Costa Times, The Willamette Writer, WOW! Women on Writing, and SavvyGal.com. Recent awards include first prize in the SouthWest Writers International Monthly Writing Competition and first prize in ByLine magazine's short article contest.