Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fellow Writers

I am posting a letter I wrote last week. The editor of a magazine that I write for had sent an email to all the contributors during the production of the latest issue, and all our email addresses were ganged along the top of the "To:" line. When the "payment upon publication" was late in arriving, one of the writers took it upon herself to start a dialogue among the contributors, using the the email list from the editor's earlier email. The emails went from inquisitive (did you get paid?), to complaining (I heard this magazine is going out of business), to "this is the way it is." At first, I didn't get involved in the conversation, mostly because I didn't want to converse with email identities such as "" But I did jump in at the end, and this is the letter I wrote.

Fellow writers and contributors,

I've read the past few days of emails with interest but did not participate because I felt discussing private information about pay, etc was inappropriate with a group of people I did not know and couldn't identify by their email monikers. But now the conversation has turned to the philosophical--and I need a break from the assignment I'm currently working on.

The amount of compensation is not the point in wanting to be paid in a timely (and promised) manner. Regardless of the amount, you did the research, wrote the article and met your deadline. It's not too much to expect that the client (or publisher) shows you the same professionalism and respect.

I have been in the publishing industry for 30 years and freelancing for almost 20 years. In that time, not much has changed, including the rate of pay for editorial or commercial (copy writing) material. Like most writers, I stay with it because it's what I do, and what I love. However, I'm tired of chasing my money. The next time you call a magazine or client's office about a past-due account, ask the person on the other end how he or she would feel if his or her weekly paycheck was withheld until the advertiser paid. Ask that person if she could wait 30, 60 or 90 days for compensation. Or, how about never being paid? That's happened to me on several occasions when a "pay on publication" magazine went out of business before my article ran.

Yes, these are the accepted rules. But what if writers stopped acting like doormats? What if we asked for fair and timely compensation? Radical! Do you know how much photographers and designers (advertising, not editorial) in our industry get paid in relation to our rates? Why accept being starving artists? Perhaps it is for love or need to communicate. But whatever the reason, we do not have to just shut up and take it. We can expect to be treated like professionals and extended the courtesy of timely payment. Good manners alone require a business person to return a phone call and follow up on promises made.

So, don't feel sorry about wanting your money--$9, $90 or $900--you earned it.

I don't advocate whining or complaining. Take action and don't be afraid to speak your mind to the people who can change things--your editors, publishers and clients. Writing one another won't change anything at all--unless you want to form a group that works together for better treatment of freelance writers. But, for goodness sakes, don't just accept the status quo. Keep writing and improve your skills so you can work for larger publications, many of which pay on submission and at a much higher rate. Keep writing and submitting so that you have enough work out there that you won't starve or miss a payment because one or two checks are late.

You may have to or choose to work for small amounts, but you do not have to accept being treated unprofessionally. Respect for our talent and professionalism is worth more than any compensation--so don't settle for less than that.

Well, back to work. My next deadline looms.

Best regards,

Shelley Lieber

P.S. I wish more of you would include your real names and be proud of what you write.

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