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.”
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/ .