Rewrite and Recycle: How to Get Paid Twice for the Same Story
You’ve written a travel article and it’s brilliant–there’s no way you can improve it and sell it again.
Hogwash. There’s always more than one way to write about a destination. Obviously you can use the slice and dice approach (in other words, write about different aspects of a place for different publications), but this doesn’t always work for a festival or an event.
But with a bit of creativity, recycling these one-off experiences is possible. You just need to approach a story from a different angle.
Although few people would call me environmentally friendly, I hate letting things go to waste. And that includes one rainy-day ordeal in the Emerald Isle.
In Ireland, the last Sunday in July is known as Garland Sunday.
Although it’s almost always raining, it’s traditionally when thousands of pilgrims clamber to the summit of Croagh Patrick. This is the country’s “Holy Mountain” from where St. Patrick reputedly banished the country’s snakes.
A few years ago, I was struck by a moment of madness. I thought the Garland Sunday pilgrimage might interest a U.S. travel editor…
As you may guess, scrabbling up mountains isn’t how I normally spend Sundays–or indeed, any other day. But especially when you’re starting out, you sometimes need to abandon your usual comfort zones.
Pulling on a newly-purchased pair of hiking boots (the cheapest I could find), I half-suspected that climbing mountains wasn’t my forte.
I was right.
It was just as tough coming down. Exhausted, sodden, and with horribly blistered feet, I staggered into Murrisk’s pub vowing to get more than one story out of the wretched mountain. And, of course, more than one check.
The following are all openers for three separate stories on the pilgrimage.
#1 Climbing St Patrick’s Holy Mountain
“It’s a long way to go to say your prayers,” grumbled my teenage daughter as we drove along county Mayo’s coast road into Murrisk.
#2 Stairway to Heaven
Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, Murrisk village is just another scattering of houses running the gauntlet between County Mayo’s mountains and the ocean. An outpost on the western edge of Ireland, it faces the winds that shriek in from the Atlantic, bringing layer upon layer of billowing gray clouds. The rain falls on the abbey ruins and oyster beds, drenching the stone walls and the tiny, boulder-strewn fields that were carved out centuries ago.
#3 Pilgrim’s Progress
“Are you sure about this?” asked my husband. “You know you’ll be complaining of sore feet.”
The first is from St. Anthony Messenger, a Catholic magazine. The second is from the Washington Post. The third from The World of Hibernia, a publication that celebrates all things Irish.
I sold all of them under First North American Serial Rights, which essentially means that I sold each publication the right to publish my article for the first time in North America. This is important—here’s why…
You see, although selling reprint rights is an excellent way to generate extra income, reprints don’t generally bring in oodles of money.
The best-paying publications in North America buy First North American Serial Rights. So I had to change my story around a bit to get the most money from it.
You can only sell First North American Serial Rights once, so it’s important that you change your story — and also vital to choose your publication wisely.
As I put a high price on suffering–my suffering–I initially sent the story to the Washington Post’s travel section. Naturally I was thrilled when they published it…but it was only one check.
My next move was to sell the exact same story to the Melbourne Age, an Australian newspaper with a travel section. This was fine–I wasn’t illegally selling first North American Serial Rights (FNASR) for a second time. Being an Australian publication, they naturally purchased First Australasian Serial Rights.
(If you haven’t given away All Rights to a publication, you can do this with any travel story. Sell North American rights, Australian Rights, British Rights, etc. And you don’t have to change a word.)
But I was greedy for more U.S. dollars. And getting juicy amounts of them meant rewriting at least 80% of my article in order to sell it as FNASR.
For the Washington Post, I started with a “set the scene” description. I also included lots of history and folklore, and not too much of myself.
When I rewrote the article (and sold it for something like $600 to St. Anthony Messenger), I took a different approach. This time the focus was on the mountain’s spiritual aspects for today’s pilgrims.
As you can see, I opened with a quote. If your first story starts with a descriptive paragraph, changing the style in this way can be a good approach to tackling a rewrite.
I could also have started with a fact or a question. For example: “Why do 50,000 Irish people spend a rainy summer’s day on top of a mountain?”
Then again, I could have started with the view from the summit. Or used a quote from a barefoot elderly pilgrim, a priest or the village inn-keeper…
I find it’s better to let a couple of months go by before doing a rewrite. This allows time for your mind to let go of phrases and descriptions–even adjectives–you’ve already used. You’ll come back to it refreshed.
Looking at the World of Hibernia article, it’s something of a mish-mash of history, spirituality, and my own suffering in getting to the summit. But it’s a completely new story–I wrote it almost a year after the one published in the Washington Post.
By the way, don’t get too bogged down in the need to change around 80% of what you’ve initially written to sell a piece as new. Obviously it’s impossible to change facts. In this case, the height of the mountain…the date of the pilgrimage…the tie in with St. Patrick.
(And the endless Irish rain.)
If you haven’t got a new story planned, you’ve got nothing to lose by spending time on rewriting. Whether it’s been published or not, take another look at your favorite piece. It may turn out to be the key to your own little gold mine.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]