Want to know how not to get ripped off selling a story to magazines and newspapers and how to make sure you get the maximum amount possible from selling your story to the press?
Here is a little bit of info about how not to get ripped off selling a story to the press, as well as some information about how the industry works. They say that knowledge is power, so hopefully this will help you get the most money for your story when approaching publications, press agencies or journalists.
How it works (when selling a story)
When you sell a story, a publication will either buy exclusive rights to use your story (meaning that they will make you an offer and in return for you signing an exclusivity agreement, ensuring that you don’t sell it elsewhere) or you can give all publications permission to use your story and you’ll get paid per-column-inch. There are three ways that you can sell your story to the press:
- Sell your story direct to a newspaper or magazine;
- Sell your story to a press agency;
- Let a journalist sell a story on your behalf.
Should I go direct to a publication or use a press agency?
There are several benefits and several drawbacks to using a press agency to sell your story. The benefits of using a press agency are:
You should earn more cash for your story (but see below to read about things to look out for). Press agencies normally give you 100% of the fee – they auction your story to the highest bidding publication, or arrange multiple deals for you. The agency gets paid directly from the publication(s) for supplying and writing the article.
All the hard work is done for you. Approaching magazines and newspapers can be difficult and time consuming. Negotiating a fee can be also be difficult and stressful when you have no real gauge to what your story is worth.
Unfortunately many people have very unrealistic ideas of what their story is worth. When it comes to negotiating your fee, a press agency will have a good idea of what similar stories sell for, so they can advise on whether your offer is a good one or a bad one.
Your story will be shown to the right people. It can be difficult getting through to the right person in a newsroom, or get your story seen by someone who can make the decision to publish it. Good press agencies speak directly to the newspaper and magazine editors on a daily basis.
Your story can be sold to multiple publications. A press agency will arrange multiple deals for you so that you get paid from appearing in various newspapers and magazines (and even television programmes). This is extremely difficult to do yourself because publications will not pay you without exclusivity agreements being signed. In addition, some publications will not ‘follow’ others so you’d need to know which publications to approach first and in which order the story could appear in. Publications will simply drop the story, or not pay you if the story appears somewhere else first.
Take the hassle out of getting paid. Within a publication, the relationship between the journalist and the accounts department can be non-existent, meaning that when your story is printed you could be left chasing payment from huge accounts departments for weeks on end. Your payment will be chased on your behalf and paid directly into your account by the agency. However, please note that it always takes a while to receive your payment; every publication pays ONLY after publication (in case your story appears elsewhere first) and it can take around six weeks for the payment to come through their giant accounts departments.
The drawbacks to using a press agency are:
Too much choice and varying credibility. There are many press agencies out there, ranging from huge national agencies such as SWNS, to small one-man-bands and freelance journalists. As in every industry, the quality and service provided between agencies varies enormously.
How do you choose which press agency to use when there are hundreds out there? It’s often difficult to tell which agencies are credible from looking at their websites. Some of the worst press agencies may have the best websites. One tip is to flick through the daily newspapers and see how often that particular press agency’s name crops up in the byline or credits.
Ensure you choose a credible agency. The vast majority of press agencies are credible and honest, however there are a few who will not deliver a good service. SWNS has a straightforward payment policy and every single person who sells a story though us is treated the same. Our advice is to do your research – you don’t want to put your payment in the hands of someone who doesn’t have formal accounts system.
Dos and Don’ts when trying to maximise your story income:
Do use your real name and picture – you won’t get paid much for an anonymous story, and magazines probably won’t want to print it (except in extreme or sensitive cases.
Don’t send your story to more than one agency or publication at a time. Publications will pay for exclusive rights to your story. If it appears elsewhere, they simply won’t pay you for it. Unless managed properly, publications will use your story without paying for it.
Do use a reputable press agency to help sell your story to the press. It will remove all of the hassle and you’ll earn more money, providing you haven’t sent it to numerous outlets.
Don’t get greedy – You may scupper your own deal if you try and play publications off against one another. Newspapers have been known to print ‘spoilers’ if they know a rival publication has out-bid them on a story. This will breach your exclusivity agreement and may result in you not getting paid.
Do choose an agency with a strong history and a set payment policy to ensure that you get paid on time and for the full amount agreed. Be careful of ‘rogue’ reporters who could run into the sunset with your fee.
How to sell my story
If you’d like to sell your story, you can send it via the form on the right hand side of this page. Nothing will be used without your express permission; our team will read what you send us and let you know how much your story is worth based on recent story sales of similar stories.
SWNS is the largest press agency in the UK and has been supplying hundreds of stories to the national media every week for over 50 years.
If you’d prefer to go direct to the publications, you’ll need to call the switchboard of each publication and ask for either the newsdesk or the features desk, depending on what sort of story you are proposing to sell.
If you’ve chosen to use another agency to help you manage your story sale, please ensure that they are a reputable agency with a strict fee and payment policy.
Good luck and don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions about selling a story to the press.