I may have been writing for the past twenty plus years, but I’m still frequently learning new things. Here’s what I’ve learned this week…
Never, ever, ever, write anything for free.
Okay, maybe there are exceptions to this rule, and I thought I’d found one in November 2014. This is what happened… I approached a national magazine with the idea of writing a specific article. They loved the idea but said they were unable to offer authors any payment at all. I was sceptical but the editor assured me that in exchange for the article, I would get publicity in the magazine for a forthcoming book. Great! My Madonna book was due to come out in April 2015 and so I accepted the commission on condition that they would print a photo of the Madonna book cover in the magazine.
I wrote the article – which took me days to research and put together – and then emailed it over to them. The editor assured me it would be published in the near future. Months went by and the Madonna book came out, but the article did not appear. July 2015 came and my next book was about to be published. I sent an email to the editor to ask when the article would be published. Once again I was told it would appear in the near future…
Finally in November 2015 – a full year after I had sent the article – I was getting more than a little frustrated. I asked if the article would ever be published, and said that if they had decided not to run it, I would offer it elsewhere. The editor then told me that it was due to run in January 2016. Brilliant! However, having been let down before, I decided not to tell anyone about it, just in case…
Of course the January 2016 issue has now been published, and – you guessed it – the article did not appear. So this week I finally contacted the publication and told them I was withdrawing the article and they no longer had any rights to it. I also added that this was the first and last time I had ever written anything for free, and I had really wasted my time. The response? A polite but somewhat surprised (in my opinion) email from the editor, telling me she was sorry I was unhappy with the way I’d been treated, and she wished me luck for the future.
So that was that. Two days of my time; over a year of waiting for the article to be published and all for nothing. No fee, no publicity, just a lot of frustration. (I should maybe add here that the magazine did review another of my books last year, but that was not as a direct link to my free article. This occurred after they had received a review copy of the book concerned.)
So what I want to tell you today, is that if you are ever commissioned to write an article but the publication is unwilling to offer any money, think very carefully before you take the job. Okay they might be willing to trade for publicity of another project, but this is only great if they actually publish the article in the first place. Furthermore, if someone has been able to get something for free, chances are they will not give it the same kind of respect and attention as they would if they’d paid money for it.
Think about it. At the end of the day, if no money has been exchanged, they lose nothing if the article ends up in the bottom of their desk drawer. You on the other hand, end up losing a lot of time and energy, which could be better spent elsewhere.
So just think carefully before you ever offer your work for free. Would a plumber install a shower for “good publicity”? Would an electrician rewire a house for no money? Likely not.
Finally, do magazine editors get paid to do their jobs? I should say so. And in that regard, so should you.