Reprints and rewrites can be big freelance money for a lot less work!


Once your article has been in print, why not sell it again and again? Or use the same research and rewrite it for other publications? It’s commonly done, perfectly legal, and can increase your income remarkably.

(This is section #11, of 16, about “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.” Welcome aboard. There is more at our free newsletter too, plus three free reports!)

If your article appeared in a magazine, say, you can use the same material in newspapers or a book. And if the original publication circulates only in North America, why should the rest of the world be deprived of your rapier wit and literary charm?

Professional writers seldom have to be convinced of the wisdom of these practices. They want to know how each can be done—so none of those extra sales slip away!


Reprints are second-rights sales. (The terms “reprint rights” and “second rights” are identical.) They almost always mean that a publication bought your article on a first-rights basis, it was printed, and you subsequently sold it to another publication.

You can sell those rights again and again the moment your first-rights sale hits the stands. You needn’t ask the editor who bought the first rights for permission or a release. He used what he bought. First rights means “one-time (first) use,” with those rights automatically reverting to you when used.

Even better, there is no exclusivity to second or reprint rights. They are simply a reprinting by anyone at any time, with your approval and their payment, of an item that’s already been in print. (There are no third or fourth rights.) You needn’t change a word in the original and you can offer it simultaneously to any publication you think will buy it.

When you offer second or reprint rights you must tell the potential buyer (1) where the piece first appeared in print, (2) the date of that appearance, and (3) that you are offering second or reprint rights.

One way to hawk seconds is to cut and paste the published version of the article and make clear copies of it. Send a copy to each possible buyer with a cover letter or note. You can even offer the same piece to competing publications—but if both buy and use it, though they should have known that there was no exclusivity, they’ll both be mad at you, which could close both markets to future sales.

To sell reprints you use a full cover letter—you’ll see an example in a moment. Start with a couple of lively paragraphs telling what the manuscript attached is all about. The letter is a tease to get the editor to read the actual piece, so do it up right—how many will read the paste-up unless the letter makes it sound irresistible?

The third paragraph tells what you are selling: second or reprint rights to an article that first appeared in X Magazine (or Newspaper) on Y date. If you have additional material that would enhance the sale, such as photos or sidebars, mention it that in the fourth paragraph. Finally, in the fifth paragraph, offer to send the original manuscript as an e-mail attachment so they can use it without further typing.

Most of the reprint buyers pay on publication, so offering to send the piece electronically alerts you to their interest and reminds you check now and then to see if it was used and you were paid. If you send it by snail mail rather than e-mail, don’t forget to include an SASE.

Here’s an early cover letter, somewhat updated, that I sold repeatedly as a reprint, so you can see what an actual reprint cover letter looks like. (It was one page long.)

Sample Reprint Cover Letter
P.O. Box 845
Novato, CA 94947
(415) 884-2941

Month xx, Year
Mr. Sempre Compra
Editor, Reprint Magazine
3456 Pulaski Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611

Dear Mr. Compra:

Until recently nobody in their right mind, including Reprint Magazine readers, went to visit Paraguay with enjoyment, peace, or comfort in mind. Its dictators kept the fiefdom decidedly unfriendly (and newcomers under constant vigilance), not much unlike the days when they simply killed the locals who tried to escape.

No more. The last of the tyrants fled ___ years back, the gates are open, and the California-sized home of the Guaraní Indians in South America is now ready to share its seldom-seen riches.

I just returned and published the article enclosed, to show your readers what they can expect during their future visit. It first appeared in Surprise Magazine last month, and is now available to you as a reprint. I can also provide copies of the photos shown, plus 40 more captioned JPGs at my website ready to download and use on a one-time rights basis, if interested. (See

Why would your readers want to go to Paraguay? To visit the second oldest city in the Americas (Asunción), trek through the desolate but intriguing Jesuit missions (subject of the recent movie The Mission), swim at the hemisphere’s largest hydroelectric dam, tramp through the forested interior providing most of the Americas’ exported wood, and gape at the magnificent Iguassu Falls where Paraguay joins Argentina and Brazil.

I’ll gladly send the original manuscript as an attachment, if you wish.

Me as the author? In addition to writing The Travel Writer’s Guide (published by Prima) and eight books, I’ve had 1,500 articles in print, mostly in travel. Alas, the enclosed article tells all. Just let me know if we’re in business!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett


Rewrites are properly titled: they are the original article rewritten. They have their own identity. They are new, different articles that can be sold like any other article, with all rights, first rights, as simultaneous submissions, and so on.

A rewrite will likely use some or all of the research material used for the original. But it will do so in such a way that the resulting article will have an identity of its own.

The original article might talk about the Chicago Cubs since 1876, when the National League began and that team won the first pennant. About the team history the past 135+ years—mostly, of late, without a pennant!

But a rewrite might talk about 1876 only, or that team only, and that pennant only. A different rewrite might focus on Anson, Spaulding, and the luminaries of that year; another might discuss the greatest Cubs from 1876 to the present.

When are rewrites most commonly done? When you have sold all rights to an article and you want to spin off more sales from the piece and its research. Since an editor buying all rights only has bought that copy (those words), not the idea, you can reuse the idea in different ways, as well as any additional information about it, for as long as that topic generates sales.

The question of how much one article must differ from another to have its own legal identity is hard to answer. Surely if you change the title, lead, conclusion, and quotes, that ought to be difference enough. Another approach is easier—changing the angle or slant. Come at the topic from a different tack. That will require a new title. The old lead won’t work, and since the conclusion is intimately linked to the lead, it too must change. You could even use some of the old quotes, since they refer to a different base.


Unlike the standard “reuse-it-as-it-is” reprint, you may wish to rewrite the reprints to squeeze some additional yardage out of them.

Let’s continue our baseball example, slightly altered. Say it’s early 2001 and you write an article about “The National League Since 1876,” taking advantage of the 125th anniversary to write a funny, fact-filled article about the heroics and foibles of that organization. You sell it as a simultaneous submission to sports magazines and newspaper weekly supplements. So far no problems. If everybody buys the same reprint manuscript, bingo!

Alas, nothing is perfect. A Cincinnati regional publication, let’s say, lauds the article but says it needs a stronger local orientation. Read: modified reprint. More material about the Reds of now and yesteryear must be woven into the basic article that others bought. You have 80% of the research completed and copy written, with 20% to add, mostly from sources you’ve already used. Is it worth the extra time and effort to custom-wrap a general piece for a particular editor?

That’s your decision, but if the pay is worth the additional hassle, modified reprints can be a lucrative, efficient path to salvaging otherwise lost sales.

You might even offer modifications when you pursue resales. If you write an article that you suspect is close to an editor’s interests but not quite usable as is, suggest in your cover letter with the paste-up of the original printed article that you would gladly provide the material “as is or with modifications you suggest.” The ideal is to sell reprints as they are, to try to get as much mileage out of a sold manuscript as possible. But better than no sales is selling reprints altered to fit a different readership’s needs.

A modified reprint, if sufficiently altered to create a distinct piece, has all the virtues of a rewrite. There’s no reason it can’t be sold to the publication on a first-rights or lesser basis, then resold later as a reprint once it has appeared in print. It’s a reprint of a rewrite, really. Remember, a rewrite is a new manuscript with its own rights. Even it can have reprints!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. Stay tuned. #12 talks about a writer’s favorite topic: getting paid!

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