Chip MacGregor

July 19, 2010

Making Money through Articles


Kerry sent me this question: “Is it realistic to think an author can still sell articles and get paid for them? It seems like magazines and journals are all moving to unpaid, web-based forms.”

I started out in magazines, and I still think magazine, journal, and e-zine writing is a viable way for an author to make some money. No, it's not as easy as it once was… but when was making a living as a writer ever easy? If you're looking for ways to generate income through your writing, don't feel you've got to land a book contract — focus on writing short articles. My experience has been that I made more money in less time creating articles than in writing books.

It's best to go to magazines or e-zines you already know, so you're familiar with (1) the sort of articles they publish, (2) the most likely reader of the 'zine, and (3) the length and tone of the articles. By going to the website of, say, Redbook magazine, you can find out what they buy, how long they want each piece to be, and what their interests and requirements are… but you might not really get a feel for what the voice is in that particular magazine. 

Once you have targeted a magazine, you create an article for them. Have a clear topic, find out who is the decision-maker, and send them an email. Put the title of your piece in the "subject" line. Tell the editor very simply who you are, what your idea is, the details of the piece (word count, etc), and why you're the person to write it. Keep it short, and under your name list a handful of links to other articles you've written. 

This really isn't rocket science, but it takes some work. Magazines have a tendency to do business with the same writers again and again (like every other sort of business, they stick with who they know and trust), so start small and don't be in a hurry. Some websites don't pay their writers, but that's because they struggle with finding ways to monetize the site. Payment is coming, albeit slowly. And remember that a magazine is a monster that has to be fed — they've got a certain amount of space they've got to fill each month, so they're always looking to buy stories. Also, keep in mind that you can re-write and re-sell a piece if you spend some time re-shaping it for another market. If you do the same with a bunch of magazines, you'll soon find you're placing stories in various 'zines and starting to generate some income.

But be warned on two issues: First, the lead time for some magazines is months. Don't expect to send it to them today and have them use it next month when your book comes out. Second, magazines are in competition with each other, so Good Housekeeping hates it when they're talking to you about your fascinating article "Our Friend the Muskrat" and they find out you've just written "Ten Tips to Muskrat Love" with Better Homes and Gardens.

If you intend to use article to help promote your book, consider writing some targeted articles that highlight some of your book's points. Then send those out and get some nice publicity for your book (as well as an extra check in the mail). You should know that your publisher probably has a "print publicist" who is being paid to waste money by sharing copies of your book chapters, possibly sending them out to random addresses in hopes of having a magazine express interest and print a chapter of your book. (It won't happen. In all my years in publishing, I've rarely known a magazine that wanted to republish a chapter from a book.) But encourage the print publicist to go back to reading her romance novel while you send out unique, targeted articles that touch on your subject. This will take some actual "work," which, of course, means most people won't ever do it.

Bobbi wrote to ask, “If an article is published in a print magazine and reprinted in an e-zine, is this now the end of the road for the article?”

It doesn't have to be the end. I've sold articles several times — including one that I've sold with a several-year gap in between deals. I created an article on “time management,” for example, and sold it more than a dozen times. I sold “Time Management for Contractors” to a builders’ magazine, “Time Management for Tire Salesmen” to a tire-selling journal, “Time Management for Teachers,” “Time Management for Realtors,” “Time Management for Managers,” etc. Each time I sold it, I reshaped it a bit. And, of course, I made sure I had the rights back from the previous time I’d sold it. 

Most print journals are clear on right — all your publication rights are returned to you after the edition of the magazine that has your article is off store shelves. (So if you published an article entitled "Who Moved My Muskrat" in the July issue of Muskrat Monthly, when that issues comes down and is replaced by the August issue, your rights will generally revert to you.) E-zine and websites are different, since they can keep the piece up on their site for years — so learn to negotiate a time limit on your articles, in order to get them back and re-sell them. 

Denise wants to know, “If an article is published with 'first-time rights' or 'one-time rights' in, say, the US, and you submit it to a market in the U.K., can you offer first-time rights again? Or is it still a reprint?”

Read your contract. The standard magazine contract was heavily reshaped a few years ago after a major lawsuit granted authors creative rights to their own writing. You'll want to be careful that your contract allows you to resell your article elsewhere AFTER IT HAS SEEN PRINT for the first time. That way it can be used in compilation books (Chicken Soup for the Muskrat's Soul) and sold in smaller magazines (Better Homes and Muskrats). Also ch
eck to see that you're g
iving up US publishing rights only – that will free you to sell it in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere.

Be advised that UK rights are generally sold together… but for the politically challenged, that no longer includes Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Just England, Wales, and the politically oppressed people of Scotland. Sell them one-time rights. Do NOT sell them anything else.

-Chip MacGregor

Author of Your Best Muskrat Now and Eat, Pray, Muskrat

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1 Comment

  • Masako Gun says:

    Home-based jobs are getting more popular nowadays, what with the expansion of internet capabilities and the increasing portability of gadgets, and one lucrative profession is article writing. You can surely make money by writing articles online. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways to be paid with sufficient compensation.

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