Archive for August, 2008


Freelancers Beware: Pay Cuts Hurt

By Emily Perlman Abedon

Amy’s Blog woe about articles that garner pay checks, but never get published, sparked my own bad memories of squelched, portfolio dreams. Most painful, thinking back, was the thoroughly researched, painstakingly written, and — I thought, and still think! — poignant story about an Atlanta family who had four children, four different ways. No, it’s not Brangelina’s pack, this couple had major infertility issues, and ultimately had one adopted child, one (as they put it) “turkey-baster method” insemination that led to a child, one child through a surrogate, and one surprise pregnancy following more than one obstetrician’s absolute proclamation that it could never happen.

Bought by a prominent national, women’s magazine, in which I’d been published only once before, the story would be, I hoped, my crowning glory — a centerpiece with which to show future editors that I was capable of extensively reported and emotionally rendered, narrative-driven articles.
Then, the editor I was working with got fired. Suddenly my in-house cheerleader — the one who had loved the story in its nascent query form, the gal who’d been meticulously guiding me on the angle the magazine envisioned, the “boss,” who’d signed off on my travel expenses — was history.  Who knows why?
Though I didn’t instantly join her ranks as persona non grata, I came, over time, to learn that her replacement viewed the article as, “a different direction than we want to take the magazine right now.”
Ouch.
Pardon the cliche, as I end on this “insult to injury,” but what else can I call the additional pain of realizing that a kill-fee clause in my contract  meant I would only receive 1/4 the original pay? Freelancer, beware!  I learned the hard way. But at least I learned. Immediately, I called my mentoring pal in New York City, a known-her-forever friend, who had been freelancing years longer than I. “What do you do to prevent this?!” I nearly screamed down the phone line, knowing that in reality it was only partly about the money. After all, I would have paid them to print the piece, which I’d grown to love like it was my own adopted story.
Her four-word answer stunned me: “Kill the kill fee.”
Cross the words off your contract about the kill fee before you sign it.
Always? Maybe not always. But, especially if you are putting in tons of hours in research, which will never be reflected in the per-article paycheck you’ll be receiving, do not get run over by a clause. The dreaded kill-fee clause.

Emily Perlman Abedon has been a freelance writer for 10 years. Her work has appeared in numerous national magazines including
Redbook, Child, Parents, Cosmo Girl, Home and Travel Holiday. A contributing editor for Charleston Magazine, her current feature story, for which she spent six months reporting in a poor urban school, can be found at http://www.charlestonmag.com/ .
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Get paid — and get published

It’s the second time it’s happened to me — I’ve sold a story, written it, worked with the editor on the edits, been paid — and then the story never gets published.

The first time was with a well-established, widely read news and lifestyle Web site. In every other way it was a happy experience. I generously was paid for all rights. The editor was pleasant, and her edits insightful. My check came within weeks of acceptance. And then the story never got published.

It was their mistake. They assigned the same story to two different writers (I don’t get it, either), and mine was the unlucky version that got forgotten about. The editor was apologetic about it and agreed hand back all rights to me. I ended up rewriting it for a news wire service. The biggest disappointment was that it would have been a portfolio piece with a major Web site.

Now it’s happened again. Last year I wrote a personal essay for a well-established trade magazine. Again, in every other way it was a happy experience. The editor said the piece was scheduled for last October, but it got held. She then said it probably would run early this year, but it never did. Eventually she stopped returning my e-mails, and when I called the magazine I learned she no longer worked there. Another editor was apologetic and agreed to hold on to the piece for a future issue or hand back the rights to me.

I chose to let the magazine hold on to the piece, at least for now. If I end up selling it elsewhere I’ll let the editor know. It would be another portfolio piece.

The lesson, as I see it, is that our job as freelance journalists doesn’t end once an editor approves a final edit and we get our check in the mail. It is our responsibility to see a story through all the way to publication.

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The freelance challenge: A recap

The hot markets today for freelance journalists are online.

That was the consensus today of participants in a teleconference hosted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, entitled The Freelance Challenge. The hour-long teleconference explored the advantages and challenges of freelancing in today’s fast-changing journalism industry.

The panelists suggested exploring blogging both as a personal marketing tool and a paying journalism medium. One panelist, Marci Alboher, became a blogger for The New York Times after establishing a writing relationship with Times editors and then impressing them with her blogging and marketing skills. Another panelist, Ann Marsh, who writes a column for The Los Angeles Times, said she knew a friend who lives abroad and started out decades ago freelancing for newspapers. The friend now makes her living writing for several blogs.

Greg Daugherty, who has been a full-time magazine editor and part-time freelance writer for nearly 30 years, offered his advice on pitching.

  • Understand the publication. Editors are so inundated, often they look for excuses to discard a pitch. Pitches from writers who don’t understand a publication quickly are trashed.
  • Emphasize your credentials. Perhaps more important than selling the story is selling yourself as the writer, he said. Why should you write the story?
  • Emphasize the story’s timeliness. Why do the story now?
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