Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A stab in the back-link


"Rudimentary, my dear reader..."

Here's the thing. 

This is a post I never expected to write. 

Okay, I've had what you might call a chequered path as a writer. 

Along the way, I've experienced:

- The tragic case of the deceased editor.
- The depressing case of the bankrupt editor.
- The alarming cases of editors wanting four-figure sums to publish my book, as it's too risky for their money (but, clearly, not for mine).

I even had my entire blog stolen by someone overseas, who liked my work so much that they wanted to make it their own. Although appropriation, as any good student of Charles Caleb Colton will tell you, is definitely not the sincerest form of flattery.

But despite all the above, and the pub stories* they have since been immortalised in, I've never yet had a piece of work used by a magazine, without agreement or payment. 

Until now...

Three months ago, I approached a magazine that was on the hunt for columnists.

Naturally, they wanted to see a sample of work and I chose a quirky piece about being green. One shouldn't have favourites, but it was one of those pieces that came together without undue stress or difficulty. And I've always had such a soft spot for it that I've never sold it on. I know, somewhat counter-intuitive for a freelance writer.   

'Great,' said the magazine's marketing manager, 'I'll get this to the editorial team and let you know what they think.'

Only, he didn't. And he also didn't response to my follow-up email a month later.

What's a writer to do? On the basis of this experience, my fellow writers: be wary. 

I filed it under missing-in-action and, had it not been for my trusty spreadsheet, I'd never have thought about it again. But I was doing a little file housekeeping recently and wondered if, perchance, the mag had already added me as a columnist. 

Zoot alors, they might be waiting for me to get back to them with content.

I checked the site and you could have knocked me down with a quill pen. They'd posted my sample piece - the one I hadn't agreed they could use yet - and they'd had it on their site for three months.

Now, I know that we're professionals and I appreciate that mistakes happen and messages get mislaid and delayed. But how crap must an organisation be to forget to speak to the writer whose work they've used?

Never mind the matter of payment, which we'll come to shortly.

I emailed my original contact and got an auto-response that the email had been delayed. I know, nothing if not consistent. So I left a phone message.

Fair play to the marketing manager. e emailed me a day later to say:
1. Their columnist positions are unpaid.
2. Instead, they offer an author back-link at the end of articles to promote the writer.
3. This is their standard position for columns.

I telephoned him as soon as his email reply pinged in. He sounded like a really nice guy. 

I said, in reply to his points:
1. Had they told me that all columnist positions were unpaid, I would not have sent in a sample, or wasted their time and mine.
2. You can't eat a back-link and, I noted, they'd used my piece for three months (I think it's worth underlining again) without giving me a fabled back-link!
3. I write for a living. I don't give away work to commercial ventures for free.
4. I doubted that their magazine's celebrity columnists were unpaid and did it for the back-links. (No, he replied, but their columns were sponsored.)

They have now taken the piece down. So the only record of this happening is the PDF copy I took off the web. To be filed under, 'Would you believe it?'

So, come on then, what are your horror stories with agents, editors and the people who sign the cheques?

6 comments:

Rin said...

Oh my gosh, I would be so mad!!! Well done you on pursuing it and making sure they took it down. Such a shame they got three months out of it though. Perhaps you can sell the piece on elsewhere?

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for sharing this, Derek. Sadly, I think this is common and I've seen it quite a lot/heard about it through the grapevine!

Gordon said...

It does sound a little familiar. At least I was pre-advised that my columns and articles for a website were 'unlikely' to attract a fee - and they didn't for three years! I was on the verge of packing in my 'development of a profile' when I was sent a cheque (apologetically and with the comment that it might help towards the next supermarket checkout bill). Then the editor went home to Australia. I did give up at that point.

Derek said...

Hi all, and thanks for your comments. I do plan to rewrite the piece and I will certainly be more vigilant in future when I send in a required sample. Chances are that the sample I send will be a PDF of something I've sold elsewhere.

Debs Riccio said...

Cheeky b*stards!

Derek said...

Debs, true dat.