Spin-Offs Can Spell Big Money

Okay, by popular demand (LOL!) I’ve put together a few of my thoughts on
spin-offs. While you won’t get the full effect of my ASJA ramblings — both
because this will be only the highlights, and because you’re also missing
out on my creative visual aids (the one made by my son actually got a hearty
round of applause) – hopefully this info will be helpful to someone.

First of all, you may be asking “What the heck is a spin-off? You mean like
when they gave Joanie and Chachi their own show?”

Um, no…not exactly. In magazine writing, a spin-off is when you take one
main idea and “spin” it from as many angles, to get as many possible stories
for different markets, as you can.

Basically, it’s getting the most bang for your buck. Milking every possible
assignment out of the same basic research, interviews, etc. When I take an
assignment, although I do have my mimimum per-word rate, more important to
me is my hourly rate. So, if I can do a quick $150 brief in 20 minutes, I
might be willing to take the assignment even if it’s a little lower than my
usual per-word rate. Along the same lines, if a story has a good per-word
rate, but I can tell right off the bat that it’s going to be a PITA and may
take endless hours of research and interviews, it may not actually turn out
to be worth it.
So by doing a lot of spin-offs, I really raise the hourly rate I’m earning
from one specific amount of time spent research and interviewing.

For example, I once did a celebrity interview that took about an hour. The
assignment was for a women’s magazine. During that interview, I asked the
guy (who was a musician) about his upcoming album and tour. I used that info
to write a short piece for a music magazine. The guy also collects Harleys,
so I asked a few questions about his bikes, and had enough material for a
biker article. He also had a common medical condition, so a few questions
about that provided me with material for a mag on that specific condition.

Grand total: an hour’s time, a little extra research, and about a half-dozen

Another example…I’m writing a book about a Samoan high chief. In gathering
material for the book, I’ve accumulated a lot of info on Samoa and its
people. I immediately realized I had a treasure trove of spin-off material
at my fingertips.

So, here goes..

  • The guy’s a wrestler, so of course I pitched an exclusive interview with
    him to a wrestling mag.
  • He’s the uncle of a famous celebrity, so I did an “I knew him when…”
    piece for an entertainment mag.
  • I learned that Samoa has one of the highest alcoholism rates, so I did a
    psychology piece on the reasons behind that.
  • Samoa has very “primative” (by our standards) medical care, so I did a
    piece for a medical trade mag on that
  • Samoa has very strong traditions about women’s role and how they should be
    treated, so I did something on that for a women’s mag.
  • There’s some very interesting stuff I learned about the traditional Samoan
    tattoos, so of course I pitched that to a tattoo mag.
  • I’ve been to lots of Samoan feasts by now, so I put together a piece on
    traditional Samoan gatherings, and pitched that to a food mag.
  • This guy has a teenage daughter, so I did a piece on her for a teen mag.

And there’s a few more that I’m possibly forgetting :-)
There are two potential pitfalls to keep in mind when planning spin-offs:

  • Study your contracts carefully (which is always a good idea anyway). Some
    mags try to be sneaky and insert a clause that you can’t write about the
    same subject anywhere else for X amount of time. Sign that, and you’ll be
    killing the possibility of doing any spin-off articles for that amount of
  • Be sure to get your interview subject’s okay for each and every
    publication in which you’re going to include his info and/or quotes. Some
    people feel very strongly about certain mags that they don’t want to be
    quoted in, so you need to be sure they don’t have a problem with any of the
    publications. And don’t take anything for granted, because you’d be
    surprised at the mags some people may not like.