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Recycle and Reap Rewards
by Patricia Misiuk

Remember the Y2K hoopla? That hyped nonevent? If you wrote about the angst and subsequent fizzle of the predicted Armageddon to technology, chances are you already deep-sixed the article into your cyber-recycling bin. Program yourself into the multiple "R" (reinvent, revise, and recycle) modes and retrieve that article now!

Unless you've registered at a cryogenics storage facility, you're thinking you won't make the Y3K scene. True, but why not become a spin doctor and recycle a version of that article again and again? Instead of referring to the floppies computer users stockpiled to back up their work, fast-forward to today's duct tape and gas mask frenzy. First, zero in on the theme- the public's panic and precautions taken to avert an event that might not occur. Then shift your article's emphasis from Y2K to homeland security, gasoline shortages or even hurricane threats.

GETTING STARTED

The one-article-fits-all mind-set does not fly in recycle country. Mailing copies of the same (verbatim) article to various markets brands you as an amateur. As with any writing, you must tailor your article to the publication.

For example, an article about a family's cottage industry of tapping maple sugar trees can assume many poses. For a food magazine, focus on the process of boiling off the syrup and its packaging. And be sure to include some homespun recipes. For a regional publication, write about the season and the geographical areas where sugaring off takes place. A writer for a general interest magazine could emphasize the family members' various roles in the complicated process of syrup production. Shift the slant to the sugar maple tree (where found, optimum growth conditions, and output calculations) for an environmental piece. As with any family-oriented endeavor, "we'll laugh about these someday" moments qualify for a humor publication.

Articles often have a long shelf life. And considering the logjam that invariably precedes the wait between notification and publication, months or years may elapse. Be sure to update your piece. If the story happened twenty years ago, though, do not pepper it with new millennium colloquialisms such as no-brainer, 24/7 or eye candy.

While your article is still in its embryonic stages, note what you want to include. Then think "outside the box" and see how many markets you can target.

A few words of caution about recycling. First and foremost: read the fine print regarding rights. Don't relinquish all rights unless the payoff is of Powerball magnitude. Multiple submissions are frowned upon as well. Have several articles in various stages of completion to offset the waiting game frustration.

A photo is not only worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, but it also enhances the chances of rising to the top of the submission heap. General crowd photos require no releases but most "people" pictures do.

TO SUM UP

REINVENT- Resurrect one of your articles and find a new niche. Thumb through publication listings and ask yourself, "How can I modify my article to fit this market?

REVISE- Update. Change the slant. Alter the length. Rewrite, edit and rewrite. Always consider your piece as a work in progress.

RECYCLE- Query, mail, get that article into circulation and keep it moving.

I've included two samples of my recycling successes. Do likewise and you will be rewarded with additional royalty checks.

THE BOOMERANG EFFECT

Not only do I reminisce about the Christmas holidays but I cash in on them. One article- in various forms, of course- recalling our family's annual Kodak moment Christmas card from 1953 has earned for me six (and hopefully soon, seven) royalty checks.

THE ORIGINAL PAYOFF- Since I pegged the article to a season, the obvious first submission went to Year Round Christmas.

BONUS CHECK- The family dog, a German shorthaired pointer, starred with us kids in our greeting card photo so Pointing Dog Journal was a natural for the piece.

BONUS CHECK- The challenge of taking pictures of animals interested an editor at a photo magazine geared for amateurs. The accompanying visual- the actual photo- clinched the sale.

BONUS CHECK- A senior magazine in California found a niche for the article in its year-end issue.

TWO BONUS CHECKS- My regular humor column (in two geographical areas) replaced my current bad-hair-day photo with the cuter one from my childhood.

And I have yet to submit the piece to nostalgia, local, family or general interest publications.

TRICKY TRUTH

Imagine a desperate bakery boss (the decorator called in sick), an assembly line of undecorated Easter egg cakes, and an inexperienced bakery clerk (me) in whose hands a pastry tube becomes a lethal weapon. The result? Grist for the article mill. I wrote my version of the "Lucy and Ethel in the Candy Factory" episode where my cakes resembled Jackson Pollock paintings, not the Faberge-like creations depicted in the decorator's manual. A magazine bought the piece for its April issue.

Years later, a newspaper requested a Valentine's Day article. Anything was fair game as long as I avoided the done-to-death themes of sweethearts, roses and chocolates.

Hmm. I rummaged through my recycling bin and voila, Easter cakes morphed into heart-shaped sweets. Same theme- cake decorating- but different holiday. Two holidays; two checks.

Hopefully these examples will inspire you to "get the most buck for your bang." Always intone your mantra- reinvent, revise, and recycle- while you write. In fact, I'm already envisioning a new home for this article. The local high school is compiling a handbook for its "Writing is Rewriting" class and this piece- reworked, of course- may just fit the bill.

© Copyright 2003, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

Other articles by Patricia Misiuk :

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