Welcome back for another installment of Ask TON. (Click on “Ask TON” above to see previous installments.) Today’s question:
I recently had a feature story killed just before publication. I retain the rights to it. However, I’m not sure of the etiquette and ethics of selling a killed story to a new editor. What’s the most effective approach?
We asked several colleagues for their take:
Pacific Standard senior features editor Vince Beiser:
Nature features editor Mitchell Waldrop:
There’s nothing wrong with offering the story to another publication, as long as you’re completely honest — from the beginning — about what happened and why. If the story is accepted, however, be prepared for an extensive rewrite; no two publications (or editors) have the same tastes, priorities or audience.
Popular Science associate editor Susannah Locke:
Just be honest about it. A bond of trust is the basis of a good editor/reporter relationship, so be open about tricky situations. Any decent editor should understand that a great story can get killed. Tell him that you have a story that you initially wrote for X publication, and ask him if he’d like to talk about what you could do with it for his outlet. Together, the two of you can look over the story, evaluate what changes the story might need, and negotiate the pay you’d require to sign on for the job.
Freelance writer Elizabeth Svoboda:
Since you retain the rights to the story, I think you can go full steam ahead in marketing it to a new editor–as long as you’re up-front about the situation. Say something like, “Unfortunately, another publication had to cut this story at the last minute. But I still think this is a story that deserves to be told.” Then explain specifically why you think the story might work well for the new publication. You’ll probably have to do some rewriting and re-slanting to meet the editor’s needs, but the result can be win-win: you get paid (possibly twice, if the first editor supplied a kill fee), and the new publication ends up with a polished, thoroughly-edited piece.
(Photo at top: Canceled by Daniel*1977 via Flickr)