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Does Selling All Rights Mean I Can't Use the Same Topic Again?

Q: If a magazine buys all rights to a non-fiction article I wrote about my granddaughters' medical problems, can I have other articles or a book published which would include the same information? I use the same description of the disease for everything I write about it. So far I have only published articles about them in small-town newspapers. –P.S.R.

A: Yes, you can use much of that information in another article or even in a book as long as you change the focus or angle of the piece. Though, you have to be careful and make sure it's different enough.

When a magazine buys all rights to your work, they own that particular piece and the specific way the article is written. By writing another article on the same topic and giving it a new twist, you will have created a new piece of work that has it's own copyrights.

For example, let's say I write and sell an article to Parents magazine called "How to Potty Train Your Child" that focuses on different methods of potty training. If I've sold them all rights, I can't go to Today's Parent magazine and sell the same piece. But I can pitch Today's Parent an article called "What to Do When Your Child Pees on the Floor." This article may briefly mention one or two of the methods, but it really focuses on the emotional struggle that you deal with as a parent—a different angle.

Do everything you can do to ensure that the articles are different in as many ways as possible. Also, when selling the second piece, it's a nice courtesy to inform the publisher that you've previously published articles on that topic and include clips of it. This not only gives you credibility, but also allows the publisher to offer feedback (and possibly advice on how to attack the topic from a new angle).

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