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Writing for Peanuts?

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PeanutsWriting for peanuts—that’s what you’ll be doing if you sell each article, story, or poem only once. You may be tempted to skip this article if you’re still trying to get your first piece published. Resist the temptation, because, once you do sell something, you can sell it again as long as you don’t sell all rights. Keep submitting according to publisher guidelines, and follow this plan.

Avoid all rights and work-for-hire.

If you’ve never been published, and an editor wants to buy all rights, you may decide to agree just to get something in print. There’s no shame in that, but you won’t be able to re-sell that piece, ever. Work-for-hire pays pretty well, but, again, you give up any and all rights to your work.

Submit until you’re accepted.

Sell first rights or non-exclusive rights only. Once the first-rights piece has appeared in print, you can sell any number of reprints to others. Some publications will accept simultaneous submissions, but you must inform them when you submit. If it’s a first-rights piece that’s being considered, you can sell first rights to the first editor who responds. Then you should notify the others that first rights are no longer available.

Sell reprints (as-is or piecemeal).

Once the piece is eligible for reprint, submit it to other editors with no changes. I’ve found that this is not impossible but definitely difficult. Rarely will you find two publications whose guidelines are exactly alike, but you can find publications that are similar enough that you can submit with minimal changes. Most editors want to know when and where the reprint article has appeared, mainly to be sure a competitor has not used it. In the Sunday School papers market, for example, most readers will not see any paper other than the one published by their denomination.

A 1500-word article might be divided into three 500-word articles and sold separately or as a series. Each smaller article would qualify as a single reprint. Usually, you don’t get paid as much for reprints as for first rights, but this approach might soften the blow a bit. Again, you will have to tell the editor when and where the article(s) appeared.

Submit regularly.

Always be on the lookout for markets for your reprint sales. You won’t get rich quick writing for publication, but you don’t have to write for peanuts.

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