If you’ve had a good article in print, why not sell it again and again? To do that you need a cover letter to send to the second editor.
These are full-page letters sent to editors who buy reprints (same as second rights)—usually editors who pay on publication. If you sold first rights to the original purchaser, this gives you an opportunity to sell the same text again and again, each non-exclusively! The letter accompanies a copy of the manuscript that you want to resell, in print as it appeared in the publication that bought first rights or as a digital attachment. (I used to cut up the printed article and paste it on mimeo paper to be read in consecutive order, with photos as printed pasted last or where they fit. Most important was that the article was readable, so sometimes it was necessary to copy it at 150% or more.)
That probably seems like using a crank to start a car! Now I send the cover letter and include either a link to the article I want to sell, or as an attachment (though many editors won’t open attachments).
I give details about this process in a digital report called “25 Professional Query and Cover Letters” from which this blog’s query letter was extracted, which is also available from Kindle or Nook). Details as well in the Travel Writer’s Guide.
Here is the format I generally use: (1) two paragraphs selling the idea in prose similar to the article enclosed; (2) the third paragraph discusses rights: I’m selling reprint (or second) rights or I can rewrite it for a first rights sale; (3) the photos are again available for purchase, plus others not in the article that I’ll gladly provide for possible use; (4) how the original (or rewritten) text can be sent, for their selection, and (5) a bit about my writing background, with a kicker closer. Include an SASE, a return postcard, or at least your email address in the cover letter.
What follows is one of my favorite cover letters, because it sold a lot of reprints! The process has hardly changed at all, and I’ve modified it where it has. Use this as an example, if it will help.
December 1, 1995
Your readers are my kind of people: history buffs. A date doesn’t make them swoon. Then-and-now mental leaps don’t give them cramps.
So they should particularly enjoy a fun, fact-filled article about life exactly 100 years ago. The year 1896 provides a perfect mirror to see how far we’ve progressed in a century: the only plane flying then weighed 28 pounds; Ford’s car, his first, was a two-cylinder “quadricycle”; there were three permanent movie theaters in the world; I.B.M. and annual stock balance sheets were brand new; Marconi was yet to send his first radio transmission; gold was rumored on the Klondike; a balloon crashed trying to be the first to fly the North Pole, while the South Pole remained unseen; the first modern Olympics began that year; radioactivity was discovered, and violins cost $2 at Sears.
First rights to the article attached were sold to ______, which published the piece two months back. I am offering you second rights to the text as is. Or I can significantly rewrite it to emphasize, through anecdote and quote, the historical anomalies and odd similarities between that time and now. Just let me know.
The photos you see in the article reproduction are also available on a one-time rights basis. Or I can send you some 50 choices to select from, to give your rendition its own visuals. If you use jpgs, please explain how you want them submitted.
The actual copy can be sent two ways, if interested: (1) you can simply use the article as sent, or (2) I can attach it to an email. Just tell me which works best for you, _____.
Me? Some 1,600 articles in print and author of a dozen books, including How to Sell More Than 75% of Your Freelance Writing and The Travel Writer’s Guide. Would you let me know your verdict in the enclosed SASE or by email (address above? I hope you and your readers are up for a fun century-link!