Sell All Rights to an Article? No Way!

Even if you don’t have a particular attachment to an article you’ve written, it’s not a good business practice to sell all rights. In fact, it’s best to have a standard policy of never selling all rights.

Consider the quoted words below of Dennis E. Hensley, who advises writers to write only about topics they feel they can modify for a variety of audiences. He and Holly G. Miller co-wrote The Freelance Writer’s Handbook: How to Succeed in a Competitive Business. In their book, Hensley tells about one piece he wrote in 1975, “How to Be an Effective Listener,” that sold to a total of 21 markets and earned him more than $6,500. Hensley said:

You cannot sell all rights to your articles and be competitive. It’s impossible. If you work two weeks doing interviews and research for a major feature, and then one week writing it, and a fourth week revising, typing and submitting it, you’ll produce only a dozen features a year.

“And that’s O.K., as long as you sell this year’s dozen again next year to new markets while you are writing a dozen new features. At the end of five years you’ll have sixty features in the mail simultaneously, and believe me, that’s being competitive. But if you sell all rights, you will be starting from scratch with each new assignment. You’ll have one manuscript in the mail at a time, and hyper-multiple-marketers like myself (and there are plenty of us) will just out-leverage you and completely crowd you out of the marketplace.”

Good advice. Of course, nowadays most freelancers submit their work by email, not regular mail, but the advice is the same for email.

This handbook is one of the most-consulted resources on my bookshelf. My dog-eared copy, with scores of highlighted passages and marginal notes, has served me well over the years. It offers lots of good, practical help for any freelance writer.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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