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Home > Publications > Quill > Operate smarter: resell your work


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Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Operate smarter: resell your work

By Wendy Hoke

The phrase “work smarter, not harder” is a cliché. But never is it more true than in the world of freelance writing.

With a limited number of hours in a week, the need to be self-motivated and the financial necessity to reach as many high-paying markets as possible, freelance writers have to make the most of their time, their productivity and their marketing.

One of the best ways to work smarter is by reselling work that may have a longer shelf life than one publication. Word of caution: Be clear on the rights you own for a story before considering reselling the work. If you signed over all rights, you also gave away the privilege of reselling the work.

Many publications buy First Rights for a specified period of time. After that you are free to resell the work elsewhere. Think about what makes sense when reselling your work. A smaller publication may be interested in the local take of a national story. With a few more phone calls and little tweaking, you can resell the article with a local bent.

Another option is to submit articles to Featurewell.com, which markets “previously published articles to newspaper, magazines and Web sites throughout the world,” according to the site.

David Wallis, CEO and founder of featurewell.com, says he started the electronic marketplace because he was pissed off at the treatment freelancers often receive at the hands of editors. Pay rates for national publications continue to hover at $1 to $2 per word even as contracts are rewritten to use the work in more ways.

According to a 2001 story in Online Journalism Review, Wallis says: “One of the reasons I started Featurewell was that I’d heard writers being asked by editors, ‘What are you going to do with these rights, anyway?’ With Featurewell, we’ve edited that excuse from the lexicon of independent journalism.”

Today, Featurewell syndicates features and columns on a variety of topics, including business, politics, culture, health, food, travel, science and technology.

Editors purchase the rights to publish articles and photos by the world’s finest journalists, including Pulitzer Prize winners, columnists and even some celebrity authors, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Gen. Wesley Clark.

Editors peruse the articles online by topic and are able to see if there are any geographic restrictions to the article based on previous publication. In turn, freelancers get paid 60 percent of the fee paid by the publication to Featurewell to use that work.

“It’s not much but can make small changes in people’s lives,” explains Wallis from his New York office. “I write a lot of small checks for $100 or $200, and I’ll get notes back from freelancers saying, ‘This goes to my health insurance,’ or ‘My wife and I went out to dinner.’ And that’s great.”

Featurewell has grown every year since it began in 200 and now has contributions from more than 1,000 journalists with articles in TV Guide, Mother Jones, Reason and New York Observer, and in publications in about 40 countries.

While he is seeing more Web editors interested in buying, Featurewell still services the large and very profitable print community.

“Our average client is not average,” says Wallis. “We sell to a broadsheet in Australia and to an alt weekly in Boise. One client is a Web site that serves retired military. I joke about Featurewell and syndication as the ‘literary lotto’ — you have to be in it to win it.”

One SPJ freelancer who scratched a winning ticket with Featurewell is San Francisco-based Sally Lehrman.

“I think David is fabulous, and I’m thrilled that he has created this second market for our work. It really makes a difference to freelancers when we have an easy venue in which to resell our work,” she says.

Lehrman, who also leads classes through Mediabistro, says, “I always tell students that it’s critical to retain your rights so that you can resell into a secondary market. We work very hard for the dollar, and unfortunately, we don’t get many of those for our work. So, secondary sales can really help out.”

Although Wallis says Featurewell has accepted the work of a number of SPJers, he’s also very selective about what he accepts.

“If I like it, I put it up. If not, I don’t. Quality is what matters to me,” he says.

But that’s a good thing, according to Lehrman, who says Wallis’ high standards mean our work is in the best company.

So what sells on Featurewell?

Celebrity interviews are a reliable seller. “Technology, health care that is international in scope, culture, trends, some business-related features and travel sell well. Sports stories do not sell, and with many papers scaling back book sections, book reviews are hard to sell. If your submitting humor, it has to be laugh-out-loud funny to work,” he says.

In an e-mail, Lehrman said she was reminded to send Wallis new work from Scientific American and Alternative Medicine.

What can you expect to make by reselling work on Featurewell? “Sales can be as little as $100 or $1,000. We pay 60 percent to writers upon collection from the publication.”

Although he’s looking at doing more with the Web, Wallis also says his focus is on providing strong articles with great writing for a broad base of clients.


Wendy A. Hoke is the outgoing chairwoman of SPJ’s National Freelance Committee. E-mail her at whoke@spj.org or visit her online at www.creativeink.blogspot.com

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