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(By Paul Lima)

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Finding New Markets
& Recycling Articles...

Note: Be sure to read the postscript!

On Feb. 5th, 2003, at the Northern District Library, PWAC held a seminar on Finding Markets and Recycling Articles. About 40 people came out to hear Toronto writer Paul Lima and London, Ont.-based freelancer Mark Kearney speak.

Paul Lima has more than 15 years of experience as a freelance writer, editor, and workshop facilitator. For more information, visit his website at www.paullima.com.

Mark Kearney has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years. He's the co-author, with Randy Ray, of six trivia books. Mark has recycled newspaper articles into books, and his books back into numerous newspaper articles. For more information, visit his website at www.triviaguys.com


PAUL LIMA:
Paul Lima's three-point strategy for finding new markets:

1. Research and read:

  • Internal Research: Decide how you'd answer the following questions: Who are you? What is your background: employment, education, significant life experiences? What are your hobbies and interests? What are you passionate about? What turns your crank? What do you know? What don't you know (but would like to find out about)? What would you love to write about? What would you like to write about? What can you write about? Why? Why you?

  • Periodical Research: Don't rely on the Web. Go to a good library and immerse yourself in periodicals. Go to a good bookstore and read every magazine on the racks. Find magazines and newspapers that are covering the topics and issues that are close to your heart, your brain, your life, your work, education and interests.

2. Learn how to write dynamic query letters:

  • The query letter demonstrates that you have thought about and researched your article idea, that you've read and understood what the publication (and it's readers) are about, and that you can write. Don't write on spec. How do you know how many words the editor wants? How do you know that the idea hasn't already been assigned?

3. Follow up on query letters:

  • You can wait for the editor to call, and complain when the e-mail doesn't arrive or the phone doesn't ring. Or you can take action and follow up...

I worked as a freelance writer for about a year and was querying like crazy but not hearing back from editors, or hearing back for weeks or months after submitting queries. In desperation, I took a deep breath and followed up on a pitch I had sent to Computing Now. I identified myself and said I was following up on the query. I heard the rustle and rip of an envelope. It was obvious he was opening the query as we spoke. "Hmm ... nope. Can't use any of your ideas, but ... clips look good. I'm looking for a columnist to write a monthly 2,000 word feature on...." I wrote a dozen articles for Computing Now over the next year (and recycled most of them when I landed a gig with the Star's tech section).

So follow up. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen? The editor can say "no thank you," which means you are free to pitch your article idea somewhere else.

Trying to break out of a pigeonhole? 

Your query letter has to go beyond exceptional. It has to be as brilliant as the article will be. I am known as a technology and small business writer. But go to www.articles.paullima.com and look under "Life / Arts / Etc." to see just some of the articles I have written since the dot-com and tech/telecom meltdown. And I have continued to find homes for new and recycled business and tech articles.

Here's a query letter sent to the National Post (Toronto Section) that reads like an article, but you will see that it is not the article:

If you find Toronto an unfriendly city, then get a dog.

Toronto is known as a city where you cast your eyes down when you pass a stranger on the street. Not only is this acceptable behaviour, it is expected. I've lived in Toronto all my life and never thought anything of it. It's part of the culture of this city and, quite frankly, I rather enjoyed the urban isolation--finding solitude in a crowd.

Then we got a dog.…

In the last two months, since the Giant Schnauzer puppy arrived in our home, I have spoken to more strangers on streets and in parks than I have in the 45 years in which I have lived in Toronto.

At first, I was quite taken aback by the sudden familiarity. It felt like an invasion of privacy. I even told my wife I was going to create an FAQ--a sheet with answers to frequently asked questions:

· Kohl - Spelled k-o-h-l
· Giant Schnauzer
· Four months old
· 27-inches and about 100-pounds, when he's full grown...

I am getting used to what feels like celebrity status, even if the dog is the centre of attention. I did not know this could happen in Toronto. But if I had talked to other dog owners, I would have discovered it is a common phenomenon.

Would you be interested in an article on my recent dog walking experiences in Toronto? To examine the phenomenon, and the reasons behind it, I will talk with other dog walkers and a psychologist at the University of Toronto.

Concluded with 'bout me' bumf.

What am I doing here? I'm really, really trying to sell the editor on my ability to write an article that is outside my beat, but I am not writing and submitting the article. I am writing a query letter. By the way, I didn't have to follow up on this one. The editor called me two days later and I filed the full article three days later.

Recycling: I don't know what to say about recycling ideas and articles, other than to sound like a Nike commercial: DO IT! Here are leads from five articles I've sold over the last couple of years:

Your Office 1999:
Barry Lewis has a dog-eared passport. Over the last year, the computer and network security expert has been to Slovenia, Zurich, Brussels, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Chicago and New Orleans, as well as half a dozen Canadian cities. While on the road, the president of Cerberus ISC Inc., a Toronto-based security consulting firm, conducts security-related seminars and consults with financial institutions, manufacturers, government agencies, and other clients....

Toronto Star Tech Supplement, 1999:
Barry Lewis has a dog-eared passport. Over the last year, the computer and network security expert has been to Slovenia, Zurich, Brussels, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Chicago and New Orleans, as well as half a dozen Canadian cities. While on the road, the president of Cerberus ISC Inc....

BellzInc, 2000:
Barry Lewis has a dog-eared passport. Over the last couple of years, he has been to Brussels, the Netherlands, Chicago and New Orleans numerous times, as well as Slovenia, Zurich, Luxembourg, and half a dozen Canadian cities...

Toronto Star Fast Forward, 2000:
Barry Lewis has a dog-eared passport. Over the last couple of years, he has been to...

Home Business Report, 2002:
Barry Lewis has a dog-eared passport. Over the last couple of years, he has been to...

I rest my case. Each article went someplace different, but they all had to do with travel, technology and business. Recycling lets you do more in less time, therefore you make more per hour. Conversely, if you have your lead already written, you then have more time to research, update and write the rest of your story.

Added since the seminar: In reply to a late spring query, a National post editor who had hired me a number of times told me she would not be reviewing any queries until "the fall." So, a few days after Labour Day (technically it was not yet fall), I sent her my late spring query again. She replied with "I'll take it and can you write an article on...." The second article was on Canada's new privacy act. Didn't even know the act existed. 

I did some web research, started a chat about the act on a business list serv I belong to, and replied with "Darn right. I'm an expert on the act." Busted my buns on the article -- 5 interviews; 900 words; $350. Filed, then immediately pitch Profit, BellzInc, Costco Connection and 7 other publications that were targeted at small and medium enterprises or that dealt with marketing issues. Sold articles to the first three publications mentioned. Each editor receive a different query and a different article. However, I only did two more interviews for the other three articles, and recycled the massive amount of info I picked up on the first round of interviews for the Post.

And now, a bit of correspondence, between an editor and me:

To set the scene: The editor asks if I can write an article on the importance of online security by Feb. 7. I said, "No problem" without blinking. Know why? Do you know how many times I've written on this topic? I have no idea, but I probably need all my fingers and toes to count that high. So this is part of my reply:

Feb. 7 is fine, thanks. FYI: Had three articles in today's Star, one that might be of interest.… Wait, it's not e-commerce. Well, if you are doing non-e-com:

Small business and the quarterly tax bite: Sole proprietors who run unincorporated small businesses get paid by their clients, and then have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, on a quarterly or annual basis. It requires careful planning to make sure the money is available, and the biggest challenge comes when their income - and therefore tax owed - varies from year to year.

The editor replies:

I looked up your articles in yesterday's Star -- you pretty well owned the Your Money section! I notice that both the one you mentioned to me and the one on borrowing for an RRSP contribution took a small business/sole proprietor point of view. What would you charge me for cutting them back to 750 words, focusing on the "how-to" stuff, and adding some little subheads to make them more readable online? I'd love to run the RRSP one in an upcoming newsletter, since this is the right season!

In conclusion: I will be making more recycling these articles with this editor than I made selling first serial rights to the Star. We can talk about recycling details after Mark's presentation.  And now........


MARK KEARNEY:

In the 1980s, Trivial Pursuit (a board game) was still very big. It was invented in Canada, but had lots of questions geared towards an American audience. While this was a good marketing ploy on the part of the inventors, it left Mark and his friend Randy wondering whether Canadian trivia would be as popular. 

IN THE BEGINNING
They approached several newspapers with an idea to write a weekly column featuring Canadian trivia, and obtained four customers, including the Calgary Herald and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

At first, it was quite popular, with people writing in with questions. But eventually interest waned and Mark and Randy lost their markets.

They went back to marketing their research, this time offering recycled columns that were cut down to about half the size of their original columns. They charged about $100 per column, which was more than other papers were paying. This recycled column ran in the Toronto Star for almost two years.

FROM NEWSPAPERS TO BOOKS
By now, they had been writing trivia-related columns for several years and had a lot of material. They decided to write a book. They researched which publishers might be interested in this type of book, then they approached this targeted list with their idea.

They got a lot of rejections.

One editor said it was a nice idea, but he didn't want it because his company already had something similar coming out. However, he did suggest that Mark and Randy organize their research into categories, like sports, geography, etc.

Around that same time, another publisher said he was interested in the idea but didn't like the format. Mark and Randy came back to this publisher and said, well, what if we put the information into categories, like sports, geography, etc? The publisher liked this format and accepted the book. 

It did better than the authors and publisher expected. It was published in September of 1996, and by December it went into its third printing.

After a while, the authors approached the publisher again with the idea of doing a second trivia book, with information not already covered in the first book. In the end, they had six trivia books published.

FROM BOOKS TO NEWSPAPERS
Mark and Randy went back to the newspapers and Web-based magazines and approached them with new ideas: quizzes, a fact a day, articles for special events (like Canada Day, October Fest, Valentines, the Olympics, etc) all lefting on little known Canadian facts. And it took very little effort to do because they were taking the same information they had researched years ago while doing their original columns and books.

"Ideally, what we want to do is recycle the 'question and answer' research we did 10 years ago at no extra work," says Mark. If they have to rework the material to make it fit a publication, they will. 

BENEFITS OF RECYCLING
Mark and Randy sold about 40,000 books, in total. At around a 10 per cent commission, split between the two authors, the income they received was only about $6,000 a year each. However, when they add on the money gained from selling newspaper articles, quizzes, and the online material, that brings in a few more thousand dollars for very little additional work or time.

"Find the information, reshape it, and sell it as many times as possible," Mark says. "It's all about finding different markets, and tailoring if you have to."

Money is one benefit to recycling. Publicity is another. Whenever they are published in a newspaper, it gives them free publicity for their books.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The audience members asked Mark Kearney and Paul Lima questions after the talk. Here are some of the Questions and Answers.

Finding markets and recycling materials:

Q - How difficult would it be to recycle non-tech stories-for example, stories about dogs, pop culture, education, or health) into other articles or books?

MARK: To write a book, you want to make sure you have enough to fill about 200 pages.
- For interesting facts, look into history (e.g. 100 years ago on this day, someone famous walked their dog; invented insulin; created a new type of educational program).
- Look up information for special days you can tie into your subject matter. For example, is there a National Dog Month, Education Month, or Medical Day?
- Approach consumer magazines where your topic would be a good fit. For example, parenting magazines are interested in education. Children's magazines would be interested in animals. Also do your research and find out what trade magazines are out there. Find the ones specializing in your topic.
- Think globally. If you wrote Toronto-specific articles, can they be of interest to other cities? If you wrote articles covering issues of concern to Toronto parents of school-age children, call the school board in Ottawa and ask parents in Ottawa are also concerned about this issue.

Q - Do you have a process? What are the steps when you sit down at your desk and say, "I'll recycle my stuff"?

PAUL: When I get a new assignment, I put a note in Microsoft Outlook to remind me to look at recycling the story. Three weeks later, after I've written and filed the article, the reminder pops up and I spend some time trying to figure out where else I can send the article. I don't recycle everything I write. But I recycle a lot. After I've worked with an editor two or three times, I'll pitch recycled ideas by email, rather than sending a formal query letter. I go though my articles once in a while and just browse and think about new angles on old ideas and possible markets.

MARK: I'm not as organized with a process. Randy reminds me when special days are coming up, when we can recycle our materials, because I often forget. Be aware of your material and keep up with special days and events.

Payments and fees:

Q - When you query, do you have a price in mind?

PAUL: Most publications (magazines and newspapers) have a rate they pay. There's minimal room for negotiation. When someone wants to buy one of my articles off my Website, I have a difficult time coming up with a rate to charge. I made more on reprint rights for two articles I sold from my Website than I did from the original publications. For one article, I knew the publisher's rates were normally $1 a word, so I quoted 50-cents a word, which was more than I made for first rights.

MARK: Keeping the rights to your stuff is absolutely vital. I always sell 'one time rights,' which means they get it once, and not necessarily first. A lot of editors don't even ask what rights they're buying. I never think that if they paid me $100 for the first time, that I should only get $50 the second time around.

Q - Do you send invoices?

MARK: Yes. For the online publication, we gave them two weeks to display the materials on their Website and told them they couldn't put it in their archive.

Q - How honest are you to editors that the material is recycled? What if it's the fifth or sixth time you're selling the same material?

PAUL: When you know the editors, it becomes less formal. You tell them you have this guy that would fit well with their magazine. The only complaint I had was when I sold first serial rights to one magazine and second serial rights to another magazine. The first magazine didn't publish the article when they were supposed to and the second magazine ended up publishing the article first. (It wasn't the same article, but it was the same topic.) The editor of the first magazine complained that their article should have come out first, and I pointed out that it would have if they'd kept to their original publishing date. (Paul says he's up front about when he's recycling material. He'll tell editors, "I've written about this guy in the past."

Newspapers, Syndication

Q - I'm doing all right pitching ideas to magazines, but I know nothing about newspapers. I get a run-around when I try to find out who the editors are.

PAUL: Call the switchboard operator (at the newspaper) and ask who the editor is for a specific section; get the spelling of their name and the e-mail address. Visit the newspaper's website, as this information is often listed online. Certain newspapers don't hire freelancers, and some editors find it difficult to say 'no,' which may explain the run-around. If you still can't get the information, contact the marketing or sales department and ask them. Once you get an editor on the phone, tell them about your story idea and if they're not interested, don't waste your time sending them a written query.

MARK: Newspapers are in some ways tougher to crack. Use the telephone. It's a powerful tool. Try networking. If someone suggests you call an editor, do it and tell the editor who sent you to them.

If a newspaper chain such as Canwest likes your work, they may distribute your story to other papers and offer a fixed price to print it in five of our papers. They pay low rates, but the advantages are that you don't have to waste your time approaching the papers individually, and you can find out which papers bought your material and approach them individually next time. When you remind them that they already published your stuff in the past, it can be an easier sell. Torstar also has a syndicate.

Copyright Issues

Q - How can you sell your stuff from the book if the publisher owns the copyright?
A - Make sure the publisher doesn't own the copyright. The authors should negotiate to maintain copyright ownership of the materials.

Q - What if a publication wants to republish your material for free?

PAUL received word that a company was using his material in its employee newsletter. He contacted the company and asked about it. The company said it had paid a clipping service for the story. Paul said, That's fine, you can pay the clipping service to find it for it, but you can't just use my stuff in your marketing materials without my permission. You have to pay for it. (He had to educate the company about copyright and ownership.)

MARK and PAUL both said that with non-profits and charities, you may decide to let them use the materials in exchange for an honorarium or charitable receipt, if you believe in the cause or want to support the charity.

Q - I worked as a newspaper reporter and my stuff appeared on other Websites. What can I do about that?

A - If you worked as a staff reporter, the publication owns the copyright to the material you created. You can ask the editors whether they gave permission to these Websites to use the material. If they didn't, ask your editor or publisher if they'd mind you going after these sites to collect the payment (for yourself.) Most will say, 'no problem.'

Q - You interview a source for one publication and then they appear in numerous publications. Do they mind?

PAUL: When I interview people, I tell them up front the information may appear in other publications. Most people are okay with that.

Q - I told an editor that the topic I covered for her publication was going to appear in another publication. She wasn't thrilled and said she'd prefer that didn't happen.

A - Don't bring it up first. Don't go to the editors and tell them that the topic may appear in other places. The editor doesn't own copyright to topics or subjects so you don't need permission from them to use it again. If they have a problem with it, they can come to you and complain. Then you'll have to decide who pays you more and which publication is more important to you. Usually, if you don't bring it up or point it out, it's not a problem.

Q - If I write for newspapers and they own the copyright to the stories, can I use the same research in other stories?

A - Yes. You can't copyright an idea. You can write a new article using the same research.

Q - But, what if I sold 'universal rights?"

A - Universal rights are not the same as copyright. You can sell universal rights and still own the copyright. In fact, if you sell every right there is, but insist on keeping the right to the research, you can use the material to write lots of other articles.

Q - Some company included my article in its marketing materials (without permission or payment.)
A - Send them an invoice at your corporate rate.

Q - I wrote an article for a newspaper. The agreement was verbal. Rights were not discussed. When I received the cheque, they had stamped on the cheque that cashing it meant the author agreed to give all rights to the newspaper, including electronic rights, without any extra payment. What would you do in that situation?

A - When rights are not specified, the default is that the author maintains copyright. Contact the editor and tell them to issue a new cheque without the stamp, since you had not agreed to sell all rights and were of the understanding when you wrote the article that you would be maintaining full copyright. You can negotiate extra payment for electronic rights. If they won't issue a new cheque, speak with a copyright lawyer and ask him or her if there's any way around it. For example, if you simply cross out the sentence and initial it, or write "without prejudice" on the back of the cheque, will that make the conditions placed on the cheque null and void? 

Anyone faced with this or a similar problem should do their own research or check with a lawyer. Following these suggestions regarding the cheque is no guarantee that you will protect your rights.

Be sure to read the seminar postscript!



For PWAC membership information or to discuss PWAC National issues, visit www.pwac.ca or email [email protected].


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Postscript to PWAC TO's Recycling/Reselling Seminar:

Before filing this postscript, I discussed by email my thoughts with Moira MacDonald, a successful freelance writer and PWAC member. Her thoughts follow mine.

Paul Lima Writes: After the workshop on recycling articles, article ideas, interviews and research, a few people suggested that Mark Kearney is successful because he recycles Trivia. However, a few others suggested that I am having some degree of success because I recycle material based on technology. Others suggested my success is due to the fact that I cover small business issues. Perhaps I read too much Sartre in university, but from my perspective it is all Trivia. Notice I did not say trivial (but it is, in the long run, that too).

Folks, we could have brought in an entertainment writer who might have used anecdotes that described how she writes play or move previews (interviews the writer, director and some of the actors), then writes reviews, then writes follow up articles on why the production was a smash hit or a dismal failure, and writes follow up articles once the movie hits a magic box office number or the play runs for a year... The point is: Almost anything can be reused or recycled.

I was a communication beat columnist for Fast Forward, the Toronto Star's technology section. I recycled the same themes over and repeatedly, for six years: the positive or negative impact of communications technology on consumers and/or businesses. "Ah-ha," you say, "but you had a regular column." Yes, and I took the work I created for that column and used it in many other publications. And don't say, "Ah-ha, but you are a tech writer" or I'll scream!

Finding other markets was not easy. I had to go looking for them. And if I had not gone looking for them, I would have never found them. When I did find them, I didn't always sell to them. "Failure" (and I don't consider it that, but a more appropriate word eludes me right now) is a part of this business. My Gosh, if it was easy, the whole world would do it. It isn't easy. BUT... it is possible!

Allow me to take a stab at an analogy here: Think of your work (the research, interviews, and writing) as an irregularly shaped three-dimensional angle. What the editor and reader sees is only the flat surface of one side--the final article. Your job is to visualize your work in its totality, an irregularly-shaped three-dimensional object suspended in air. Walk around it. Look at all the other angles. And there are other angles.

Of your interviews and research, how much material did you use? How much did you have to leave on the cutting room floor? Was it only due to word count? I suspect some of it got left behind because it didn't fit the surface (article) you were creating. But it's still part of your work. What other surfaces can you create with what's left over and with what you have already used? Go. Find a fit for these other angles in the same publication or other publications. Present variations on your original work to your editor. Create your own beat within one publication or create your own beat over multiple publications. Become the educational expert or the entertainment expert or the social issues or health issues or god-knows what issues/topic expert. (Trust me, there is even room for more tech and small business experts.) Find appropriate markets to which you can sell your expertise and your ideas--original or recycled.

And no, you don't have to say: "By the way, I've already used the stats, data, information, etc. I propose to use in this article in The Star." Use your stats, data, information, knowledge, and expertise as the foundation on which to build new articles. That is what I do, and if you heard what Mark said, that is what he does too. Find your way to see all the angles of your work and find your way to reuse and recycle what you already know. Then do the additional work required to produce new trivia based on old trivia.

Moira MacDonald replied: I think you're absolutely right about people thinking that, oh sure, HE can do that because look what he's writing about. But me? Oh no, for me that's so impossible, even though I wish it weren't. That's why I asked the question I did [about how to recycle issue-oriented education articles]. I suffer from that kind of self-defeatist thinking and know that it's possible to recycle, no matter what your write on. You just have to get creative about it. I needed another perspective on that.

You've done a great job explaining how to think about recycling. The other way I'm trying to think about it is that we as writers don't, on the face of it, have the advantage of other industries where an item or design is created and then reproduced and sold many times over. That shouldn't hold us back though in thinking about how to approach doing that. Why should a great idea or novel way of expressing it, or research information, be limited to a one-time-only publication?

Answer: it shouldn't. And we have to get smarter at finding ways to ensure that does not happen.

The designer of an amazing easy chair doesn't sell that chair to a single customer. There are lots more out there who want to have it too and who can't just "borrow" it from customer number one. Not sure if this analogy makes sense but it's the way I'm trying to think of it.

Paul Lima replied: Does your analogy make any sense? It's brilliant! Go forth and sell those chairs. Sell the original chair repeatedly. Recover it whenever you can and resell the recover version as well. That's what the seminar was all about. Absolutely.

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Please see PWAC Toronto's list of Evening Seminars and workshops conducted by PWAC members.