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The following material is provided by WRITERLIST a Free service providing marketing and other information to writers. This material is copyrighted by Allen Rolf, but permission is hereby given for reproduction and distribution for non-commercial purposes. For more information, email WRITERLIST


There's Money To Be Made In History!

by Allen Rolf

Your Library is full of history article ideas that you can sell!

Libraries are wonderful places to hide on hot summer days. Over the years, I have found the history room at my local library a wonderful retreat where I can browse the musty books and documents and leave the stress of the outside world behind. It also has been a fertile field of history nuggets that I have turned into published articles for local newspapers and periodicals. You, too, can find many fascinating stories in your local library history room that can be converted into a small, but steady, income!

The Market For Historical Pieces

There are many markets, both local and national, for short historical pieces. Probably, the best are the local newspapers. Many of these publications will publish special neighborhood or regional inserts on a regular basis in order to capture the smaller advertisers. Generally, the editor of these special inserts has no writing staff and must rely mainly on publicity releases and easily obtained outside editorial material. Many rely almost entirely on press services for material. These editors are always interested in writers who can provide a local flavor to their inserts, particularly if the material deals with local or regional history.

Several years ago, I became interested in writing for the local metropolitan newspaper in my area, The Arkansas Gazette-Democrat, and accidentally stumbled onto writing articles on local history. The pay ($1.50 per column/inch) was not great, but I received a check within days of submission, and the articles were extremely easy to write. Later I learned that these same articles could be syndicated state-wide through the Arkansas State Press Association to reap additional residual income.

All the article topics were gleaned from the quarterly county and state historical society reports that I found on file in the history department of my local library. To give you an idea of some of the topics:

I did an article on the Federal Forces taking Little Rock during the Civil War when a single cannon ball was lobbed into the city and landed in a prominent citizen's front yard. The cannon ball was displayed publicly for many years, but disappeared. Through a friend, I managed to find the cannon ball and the story ended on the front page as a news item.

During Black Awareness Month (February) I did a number of articles on local Black historical figures, including one on the first black teacher, a former slave, to teach in the local school district.

Another story covered the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1917, comparing it to present day epidemics, and revealing that over 500 Puerto Rican laborers were buried in-mass in the middle of the local Catholic Cemetery. This article, needless to say, caused some comment at the Catholic Chancery Office. They had forgotten that the Puerto Ricans had been buried there!

Another article was about how a busy street, Geyer Springs Road, got its name and if there actually was a Geyer Springs. A little research in the quarterlies revealed that there was such a spring, but that it is now beneath the sanctuary of a large Baptist church!

Another article was how an early French trader had set up boiling pots on what is now the front lawn of the Old Arkansas State Capitol building to boil down bears. The oil, believe it or not, brought top dollar in Europe where it was used to oil clocks!

How Do You Get Started?

The simplest way to get started is to place a phone call to your local newspaper and ask for the City Editor. Tell him you want to submit short historical articles about the newspaper's readership area and ask if he would be interested in seeing some of you work. At the same time, ask for the names of any special insert or feaature editors. Give them a call and make the same offer.

Newspaper people are a funny lot, and most of the time have to be shown. You may have to write a couple of sample pieces to get their attention. Be sure to arrive at a method and amount of payment before you go further.

I found that it a good idea to give my editor a list of topics that I would write during the next 30 days and have her select those she was most interested in publishing. She would check off my assignments for the next month and I would start writing. Using this method, I never had an article rejected and was often able to write several articles ahead and get paid for them on acceptance.

Syndicating Through Local Press Associations

Once I had a half dozen articles published by my local newspaper, it occurred to me that other papers in the state might be interested in my work. I contacted the Arkansas Press Association, an organization of nearly 100 newspapers, and they placed my material free in an article database for use by their members. Each time a newspaper used my material they sent me $5.00. This figures about fifty-cents per column/inch, not a big amount, but extra income that required no additional writing.

An interesting side to this story, was that after about a year of writing local history articles, I started getting calls to address local civic organizations and other groups about local history. Somehow, people got the idea I was an expert on local history. While I never asked for a fee for these speaking engagements, I also never turned down a stipend when offered! So, I became a lecturer and made a little money out of that activity!

Obviously, some of your history research and reading will have market value at the regional and national levels. One feature market that is easy to get into is the small special interest magazines and tabloids that are found in every community. These are usually free weekly, monthly, or quarterly publications that are in constant need of good editorial material. Don't expect big dollars here, either. Most of these small publications have very limited budgets and will try to get their material free. To me, free is a no-no! Be sure to get an agreed amount and method of payment before submitting any material.

So as the weather starts to warm, it may be a good idea to hole up in the history room of your local library. It's not only a cool place to hide, but it can mean some extra writing income and a lot of fun!

So as the weather starts to warm, it may be a good idea to hole up in the history room of your local library. It's not only a cool place to hide, but it can mean some extra writing income and a lot of fun!

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