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Reusing Freelance Writing Online: the Pros and Pitfalls

This guest post is by Emma Merkas of $30 Date Night.

It was my blog that landed me my weekly newspaper column.

I’m a huge advocate of self-publishing, If you know you’re talented at something, and if you have an opinion you want to express, a song you want to sing, or a specific skill you want to teach, go right ahead and do it.

The Internet has more than levelled the publishing playing field—judging by the state of traditional media outlets right now, it’s all but demolished it.

I’d been thanklessly blogging for about 18 months—five posts a week, very little to show for it in the way of traffic, and regular comments … all was going steadily, but not gangbusters—when I received a call from the editor of mX newspaper here in Melbourne.

She’d been reading my blogs and since her relationship and dating columnist had left for another publication, she wondered if I could do for the paper what I’d been doing online.

Yes, I could! Of course I could. I remember jumping around the loungeroom like a complete idiot while trying to keep my voice steady on the phone. My husband wondered what the heck was going on.

Readership of 700,000 across the Eastern seaboard of Australia. My photo and byline printed alongside it every week. My website plugged at the bottom. And an opportunity for a legit writing job…

Suddenly, I was a real writer. A proper, paid, professional writer.

But the column also gives me great new content for my blog.

I have my newspaper deadline every week. Even on my off days, even through my uninspired weeks, and even when I just can’t be bothered writing (every blogger battles it), it gets done. Because it has to.

Which is amazing, because then I get to post it to my blog, giving me steady and quality content for my site and ensuring I’m not burnt out by constantly writing the same stuff over and over again. If I had to rewrite every article on the same topic just so I could publish something, I doubt I’d last very long.

So here are some key points on reusing your freelance content for your own website, based on my experience.

1. Remember: your copyright is your livelihood

If it’s at all possible, retain the copyright on the works you produce for paying publications.

This should generally be standard if you are freelancing for a publication, rather than being employed as staff by the company, in which case they may have legal rights to the content.

The only way you can transfer your copyright is by signing a document. So be careful of what you’re signing!

If you don’t understand the agreement, wave it under the nose of a friend with some legal background (lawyers are a dime a dozen, right?).

2. Understand exclusive and non-exclusive rights

While I do own the copyright to my content, the paper has exclusive rights to my work for a period of time, meaning that I can’t resell or licence the content to any other third party in that time.

However, I am entitled to use my own work on my own website. If you’re not sure about this, clear it with your editor first, or do it as a courtesy anyway.

Always, always credit the publication when you publish on your own site. This creates goodwill and they’ll welcome the cross-promotion.

In my case, after the paper’s exclusivity period runs out, it still owns perpetual rights to my work that the editors can use as they see fit in their standard publications. As my agreement includes a clause that my work should always run with a byline, I’m not too fussed by this arrangement. The more promotion and publicity, the better for me and my website.

3. Give them first jump

Of course, the publication you’re writing for always has the right to publish the works first. In my case, I leave it at least a few days before I go live with my articles on my blog.

As mX newspaper is one of the rare beasts that doesn’t have an online portion, my columns are gone and forgotten—with no digital footprint—along with yesterday’s news. My blog ensures they live on.

Chances are, if a publication has taken you on to contribute work, they’re impressed already with your blog, your work, and your brand. Use that to your advantage when negotiating your contract and get as much access to reuse your own works as possible.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a content creator, the US Copyright Office or the Australian Copyright Council is a great resource for FAQs and legal advice.

Are you a freelance writer? Do you reuse your articles on your own blog? Share your negotiating tips and advice with us in the comments.

Emma Merkas is the author of the weekly ‘How Was It For You?’ relationships and dating column in Australian newspaper, mX. She is also the co-creator of the $30 Date Night date ideas website and blog. Find her on Twitter @30dollardate.

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Comments

  1. krissy knox says:

    Emma, I’ve wondered about much you’ve covered. Thanks for the information. It’s extremely helpful.
    twitter: @krissyknox
    facebook: /krissyknox

  2. Lola says:

    Great article Emma,
    I like the way you simplified the legal implications of using your own work on your blog while you are a freelance writer or a newspaper columnist. It does makes sense that the paper has exclusive right for a period of time, the juicy and rewarding part of course is you being able to use it on your blog too! Very informative.

    • Emma Merkas says:

      Thanks Lola! I really think it all comes down to doing the right thing by the publication – so long as everyone’s happy and you’re providing cross-promotion, I can’t see many issues popping up.

      If a publication wants to own your copyright and cut you right out, that’s where you need to be careful of what the benefit to you is! And good money is the only benefit I can think of in that arrangement.

  3. On #2, many publications do NOT allow you to use the content on your own site before the end of the exclusive period. Or at least in the US, in my niche. All the larger publications I write for do not — they require first publication rights and generally 3 to 6 months before I can publish it anywhere else, including on my own site. Now, for some of their enewsletters — where they are looking for reader submissions and don’t pay, just give links — they do reprint old material of mine and, if it’s new, let me cross-post immediately.

    If uncertain, just ask your contact!

    • Emma Merkas says:

      Absolutely Carolyn, you do want to make sure you clear it with your contact or editor!

      There may be room for negotiation there, depending on the arrangement you want to make.

      Or you may just like to do a post on your own site every week that’s a round-up of what else you’ve written on the internet for that week (The Bloggess does this very well)… Your readers can still read your writing, you’re providing links to your clients you write for and you take care of at least one day’s post this way!

  4. My question is about re-publishing content you wrote for one online outlet, and then posting it on your own website. Would this have an impact on Google search results, as you are now competing against yourself?

    • Emma Merkas says:

      True, but I’ve actually always seen this as a bit of social proof rather than competition.

      I don’t really mind if someone reads my stuff on another website, so long as I have a byline and link back to my blog.

      Writing for other websites shows I’m a writer in demand, and if they like my writing then chances are they’ll seek me out on my own site and become a regular reader.

      Actually, I made a point of writing for all the big names that rank under my favoured keywords… so now, in the first page results for many of my keywords, if you’re not clicking on my site, you’re clicking on a post I’ve written with links back to my site!

  5. Might there not be SEO issues if the newspaper also publishes these articles online and the same content goes into the blog (presumably a good few days after initial mainstream publication)?

    • Emma Merkas says:

      Hi Russell,

      Google have gotten pretty good with their duplicate content policies these days – as I understand it, so long as you publish a link to the original publication that ran the article on the internet you won’t be penalised.

      Also, if Google can see the author attribution on both copies of the article then there also won’t be a problem. The duplicate content policy was originally designed to stop spammy websites scraping content and using it with no author attribution on their own site to boost page volume.

      I’m just chasing up any other information I can find on this at the moment and will post any links to articles here once I know more. If anyone else has a different understanding of the immutable Laws of SEO, feel free to set me straight!

  6. Clarkmartin says:

    Excellent post and very useful. Thе Internet hаѕ more thаn levelled thе publishing before a live audience meadow—judging bу thе state οf habitual media outlets rіɡht now, іt’s аƖƖ bυt demolished іt.
    Thanks for share it.

  7. Christiano says:

    I like the part where you say that you have to get the content ready even on your off day. When you review that aspect, then you can say you are productive. Good work.

  8. Hiren says:

    My question is about re-publishing content you wrote for one online outlet, and then posting it on your own website. Would this have an impact on Google search results, as you are now competing against yourself?