When I was much more active selling magazine and newspaper pieces, my hidden moneymaker was the simple reprint cover letter. I averaged about three reprints for each first sale then (though sometimes that took a year or two and a long list of publications that bought second rights).
The process was straightforward. I’d write a full query letter and send it out to top magazines, one at a time, until an editor bought it. Then I’d wait until it actually was in print and on the stands for a couple of months. I’d write a short cover letter (like the one below) and send that out to many second-rights-buying editors (often six or eight at a time), each cover letter accompanied by a clear copy of the original article as it looked in print. I’d include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (a small #9 envelope so they wouldn’t return the package). Sometimes I’d include a short bio too.
It was a fishing expedition, frankly, but it caught enough fish to be fun. These secondary magazines usually paid 1/2 or 1/3 that I got from the first rights sale, but so what? I wasn’t in any hurry and none of these articles were very timely, so speed wasn’t important.
What follows is a vintage reprint letter I found in a pile yesterday from a book that I wrote a fair time ago. It struck me as a good blog item since few writers mention reprints any more.
Notice that it is short and mostly draws the editor to the printed article accompanying it. I let the main article (and its research) carry the freight here. If the first rights buyer did a good job with it physically, that helped the reprint sale too.
The process is still valid but it’s harder to find second rights folks that buy now on a non-exclusive basis.
Your readers are my kind of people: history buffs. Dates don’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 the historical anomalies and odd similarities for your particular readership 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.
[This I'm updating to 2011.] I’ll gladly send you the digital master of this article, plus I can show you the 50 photos in thumbnails that you can magnify and just download. Reply by email and I will do the same. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 if this works for your pages? I hope you and your readers are up for some 100-year magic!