The Three Rs of Writing — Re-print, Re-slant, Re-write © Catherine Castle
Today’s post is geared more toward non-fiction writing, but there’s still something fiction writers can glean from writing non-fiction. Non-fiction can be done while you’re writing your books, or in between books to make some money. Re-printing, re-slanting and re-writing kept me provided with lots of material to reuse when freelancing.
Writing takes time. There’s the “sweat and blood” you put into a piece while you actually write, and there’s a lot of non-writing time invested, too. Research time on-line or at the library, in-person or telephone interviews, checking for local contacts, finding expert advice and statistics can all be part of the work that goes into a story or article. So when you’ve finished the story or article, don’t throw out your notes. Instead, drop a readable copy of your notes, any contact information, and a copy of the first article about the subject into a file. Then starting thinking of ways to re-print, re-slant or re-write all that research into another article. You might just find a new non-fiction article or a whole new idea for your next book. It happened to me several times!
The easiest way to reprint, is to retain your rights to the piece. If you have only sold first rights you can re-sell your story or article as a reprint, after its first publication without changes. Reprint markets are great ways to make easy money. Publishers buy the articles “as is.” The best articles for reprint markets are pieces that are not time or news sensitive. However, if you have a good bare-bones article that originally included time or news sensitive information, consider updating it in order to make a new sale. Either way, the reprint is a lot less work than starting from scratch. You can submit the reprint in tearsheet form (a photocopy of the original publication), or in manuscript form. Be sure to indicate in the cover or query letter when and where the article has previously appeared. Reprint rights typically pay less than first rights. There are also no limits to the number of times you can resell an article as a reprint. Some great places to sell reprints are in the Christian markets where different denominational readerships rarely cross.
A re-slant article is usually a new article based on your original research. One way to re-slant an idea is to target cross-areas of interest. Let’s say you write a story about Catholic high-school student John Smith’s mission trip to a Native American Indian Reservation. The obvious story is about John’s mission trip, suitable for the local news or church publications. That’s a good solid story, but it may not be all the markets available to you. Ask John about his other interests. Is he a Boy Scout? Then re-slant the article with a Boy Scout/mission angle by asking John how his Boy Scout training figures into his mission trip, then target Boy’s Life magazine. Does he belong to the Young Republicans? Target that publication with a Young Republican/missionary angle. Does his hometown have a city or regional magazine? Use the local-boy-does-unusual-mission angle. What organizations does he belong to? What are his hobbies? Scratch below the surface of the obvious story and look for new ways to use the research you’ve already done. Target any specialty markets that John’s activities might affect. By finding out about the other areas of John’s life, you can open possibilities for new markets that use a lot of the same information but with a twist that makes it fit uniquely in that marketplace. Target a Catholic children’s market by playing up the Catholic youth aspect. Interview the Catholic adults in the mission trip and target a Catholic adult market. Go ecumenical, by not mentioning the denomination specifically (yes, there are those ecumenical markets that aren’t as picky), and focus on the Native American mission aspect. Target a local newspaper’s community section aimed at focusing on what locals are doing. Look for a publication aimed at high-school students and tout John’s service. Maybe the reservation even has a publication that might be interested in John’s activities on the reservation. Use your imagination and your curiosity to build a catalogue of re-slanted article ideas.
Re-slanting and re-writing both take a bit more work on your part than reprinting, because they are usually new articles. But the work you invest can definitely pay off. As in re-slanting, with re-writing you have to look at the cross-areas. I have done a lot of re-writing about several different organizations. I’ve written about 13 articles based on the same two organizations – Habitat for Humanity, a grass-roots housing project, and The Ulster Project, an Irish Catholic/Protestant Peace Project. The basic information –the what, why, and how – of these organizations stays the same in all the articles. But by changing the stories’ “who” information, I’ve changed the markets. I’ve sold stories about Habitat for Humanity to senior magazines, newspapers, slick magazines, and children’s magazines. The senior magazines featured seniors who were helping build houses and helping raise funds to build houses. The slick magazine featured an all-woman built house – the first in the Cincinnati area. The newspapers printed general articles that featured churches, community people, the all-woman built house, and an all-college student built house. The children’s articles focused on how Habitat for Humanity had affected the children receiving houses. With the Ulster Project I’ve written news stories that featured local families who were hosting the Irish students. I’ve written news stories about the project’s local fundraisers. I’ve made international telephone calls to Ireland to interview Irish Ulster Project teens for pieces written for nationally circulated student newspapers about the Ulster Project. I’ve interviewed Christian families and teens who have hosted Irish students from the Ulster Project and sold the piece to a Sunday School take-home paper. Because I know a lot about these organizations, a lot of my work is already done. I lift basic information right out of earlier articles, add a couple of new interviews, a new photo, and I have a new sale.
Sometimes I get a little tired of writing about the same groups over and over, but I never get tired of getting those checks. Looking for new angles helps keep the stories fresh. In fact, I’ve developed some fiction and photo-journalist book ideas based on Habitat for Humanity.
Re-printing, re-slanting and re-writing all take less time than starting from scratch. It’s about half the work for the same money. Who could say no to that?
Have you ever reslanted something to make a new article or story?