Do you send your article to many publications at once, hoping for a taker? Or do you target one at a time and wait for a response before you peddle it elsewhere?
It depends, is my answer.
WHEN YOUR ARTICLE HAS NICHE APPEAL…
Say your story is “specially focused” toward a particular, niche audience. In that case, you’d be best advised to send it to one publication in that niche at a time.
For example, a story that springs to mind is one I wrote when starting out. It was about shopping for antiques in Dublin. (By the way, I hadn’t actually planned a story – I was hunting for an old-fashioned lampshade for my old-fashioned country cottage.) I went into an antiques shop so crowded with bric-a-brac that it was like entering some kind of crazy Aladdin’s Cave. So crowded you could barely move. You could understand why the owner had a sign above the doorway saying “Short and Skinny Customers Preferred.”
Wow! This would make a great article title, I thought. So I visited more antiques shops, did some research on things like 18th-century silver dish rings, and then sent off an article to one of the UK’s major antiques magazines. I was confident that once the editor saw my “Short and Skinny Customers Preferred” title, she’d almost certainly read it. Happily for me, it got accepted straight away.
In my view, it wouldn’t have made sense to send the same article at the same time to the UK’s two or three other antiques magazines. It’s like fishing in a very small pond. All the antiques publications that I knew about carried very similar articles. They all had at least one “destination piece” focusing on antiques. And if one editor liked my story, chances are the other editors would like it too.
By not sending multiple submissions, I was keeping my future options open for another article about Irish antiques with a competing magazine. Not that I’ve ever written one, but the possibility is still there.
Now, as for our student who wrote the humorous take on deer problems in the Midwest:
When you think about it, “a humorous view of deer problems” seems to be a single-shot story. A niche-appeal story. And, like antiques publications, newspapers in the state of Missouri are effectively a niche market too.
If they have a similar readership and carry similar off-beat features, multiple submissions could be a mistake. Should one editor want the article, there’s a good chance his or her competitor will want it too.
HOW TO SELL THAT NICHE STORY AGAIN
Now, let’s say you’ve sold your niche story once — just as our reader did her “deer problem” article. Now what? She sold First North American Serial Rights to one local paper. Can she get more income from this article?
First, it could be resold exactly as-is to a publication willing to buy Second North American Serial Rights. What sort of publication? Well, while the other local papers might not want to reprint it, another newspaper in another market might. That is, if this story has universal-enough appeal, if it makes sense for the readers in that other market.
Another option would be to rewrite the article somewhat. The thing is, with some stories, you have to accept the fact that you’ll only be able to write and sell them once. You’ll never be able to change at least 40% of the content — which is what you need to do to sell a story as “fresh” and sell First North American Serial Rights again.
To put it in artistic terms, what size of canvas are you working with? Have you got enough material from your travels to paint a mural — or only enough for a single cameo?
That said, articles about countless travel subjects and destinations can be rewritten.
I’d guess that a humorous take on deer problems in the Midwest is a cameo. It’s the kind of thing that is probably extremely difficult to rewrite — and thus resell as a new story to a local editor who demands First Rights.
If she can’t find an editor who’s willing to buy Second Rights, I’d say the best way for our student to get more mileage from her story is to move those deer and their peculiar problems elsewhere. Deer problems in Scotland… deer problems in the west of Ireland…. deer problems in New Zealand.
Only she knows the answer, but by changing the setting, would the story still stand up in a foreign publication? Or could the “problems” be transferred to kangaroos and the story pitched to an Australian publication?
For all I know, many other parts of the United States may have deer problems too. This could, in fact, be a story with universal appeal. But to sell First Rights to another U.S. publication, she’d need to tweak the story enough to make it look brand-new.
[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.]