Guerrilla Articles

From Marketing Strategies for Writers, reprinted with permission of the author and Allworth Press, © 1999 Michael H. Sedge. May not be downloaded, photocopied, distributed or excerpted without permission of the author and/or publisher

By Michael Sedge

(Allworth Press)

© Michael Sedge

1060 words


Sometimes I feel that writers intentionally make an effort to fail as business people. Take, for example, the thousands of freelancers around the world producing articles. They write a feature, sell it, see it in print, and then begin work on another story. It too gets written, sold, and printed. Then a new article is begun. It becomes a vicious circle.

Now some would say that this is a pattern of success. I am here to tell you that it is a blueprint for excess work, below-average income, and ultimately, writer burnout. Why? First, given the average article of 1000 words sells for approximately $375 in the United States, a writer would need to produce and sell eight articles a month if they wanted to an annual income of $35,000. Writing this many, quality articles every 30 days is a huge task. Then, of course, because freelance writers are independently employed, they are required to pay a large percentage of their annual income to social security, hospitalization, and taxes. At the end, most writers-even those selling articles regularly-find themselves walking the tightrope of poverty.

If they would only approach writing as a business, however, this could probably be avoided. Let’s imagine for a moment that you are not a writer, but the franchise owner of Dollar Rent A Car. What are your products? Cars and vans, of course. Now what are your goals? To rent as many vehicles as you can, for as much as you can, and for as long as you can.

Now let’s apply these same business characteristics to writing. What are your products? Articles. What are your goals? To sell as many as you can, for as much as you can, and for as long as you can.

Yes, articles, are products. To succeed, you need to make as much money as possible from these products. The more use—in the form of sales—you get out of each product, the more money you will make. This requires that you set your own rates, control the rights that are sold, and expand your market opportunities beyond domestic borders.

As a businessman, my goal has always been to make no less than $4000 a month-damned good pay for an article writer. To accomplish this, I am required to bring in $1000 a week. This lead me to the $1.00 a word rule (yes, I have rules for just about everything). Quite simply, if a publication is going to pay me $1.00 a word, they are entitled to exclusive rights to my work for a period of one year. After this time, all rights automatically revert to me and I am free to sell the article elsewhere. Like every rule, however, there are exceptions. If, for instance, a publisher wants a work-for-hire arrangement—i.e., they own the work forever-my base fee ranges from $1.50-$2.00 a word.

So what about the many, many magazines and newspapers that do not have budgets sufficient to pay such rates? Very simply, the rights that a publication receives should be directly proportioned to the price paid. I’ll even go one step further and say that the rights purchased must never exceed the needs of the publication. An excellent example is the Army Times Publishing Company, based in Virginia. Their primary market is Department of Defense employees and U.S. military members. So, when travel editor, Cindi Florit, offered me $225 for a feature on Italy’s sunken city of Baiae, I gladly accepted. When she asked for all rights, I pulled back the offer and said they could have exclusive rights in the DoD and US military market, to which she agreed.

The point here is that many editors, it seems, have been trained—primarily because they too began as freelance writers—to instantly believe that all rights or first North American serial rights are theirs for the asking, as long as they have offered some pittance of compensation. I, for one, would like to know where this absurd thought came from. Army Times Publishing Company no more had a need for all rights than does The Prague Post, in the Czech Republic.

This morning, a reader of my Writer On Line column, Going Global with Mike Sedge, sent a message in which she said: "You suggest authors establish their own rights, rather than wait and see what an editor offers. It’s a concept I’ve never heard of but find quite compelling and it makes ever so much sense."

Of course it makes sense. It makes good business sense! A major part of guerrilla marketing is not to let the excitement of getting publishing blur your business vision. That is, you must be rightfully compensated for your work and the rights you are selling. The key to rights is that you give each publication what it needs, within the legal boundaries of the sale. For example, if a newspaper published in New York State is going to publish your article, it has no need for all North American rights. In this same respect, a national publication has no need for world rights. If I am working with a periodical that insists on more rights than are necessary, I immediately up the price of the article accordingly.

Recently, Scientific American Discovering Archaeology asked me to write a piece, but insisted on all rights. I realized that they had plans for an international as well as German-language edition of the magazine and, thus, planned to reuse my material. I therefore quoted a price of $1.25 per word, with the agreement that they would take at least two more features. They agreed to the deal. In this case I had sacrificed some of my standard per-word fee—for all rights usage—in exchange for additional assignments.

Granted, you might lose a sale by doing this. But in the long run you may end up making more money by being able to sell your articles again and again. Despite what editors and individuals involved with the New York publishing industry tell you, there are publishers that aggressively re-sell articles once they have all rights. Buzz magazine goes so far as to advertise the resale of articles. A recent issue, for example, carried an ad reading, among other things, "Reprints of any article are now available from Reprints Management Services…Call today…"


This article is excerpted from MARKETING STRATEGIES FOR WRITERS, by ASJA Director-at-Large, Michael Sedge. The 256-page paperback sells for $16.95 in bookstores or by dialing 1-800-491-2808. It is also available from

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