Where’s YOUR line in the sand?
Last week Linda and I were commiserating about the unreasonable demands some editors have been putting on us lately, stuff like expecting us to work through the weekend, pursuing sources who are clearly not interested in being pursued, and waiting eons to get paid after our work has appeared in print. (I kid you not on that last one.)
I mentioned to her how in the last couple years, I’ve gotten less tolerant of these demands. Yep, you’d think that hustling for fewer jobs in this crappy economy would make me shut up and put up, but it has had the exact opposite effect on me. Some of it has to do with my cancer experience last year (I’m fine! To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated) and getting a lesson in What Really Matters versus What Doesn’t Matter. Some of it has to do with getting older and seeing that my world won’t crumble if I say “No” or “That’s unacceptable.”
Mostly though, it’s confidence: I’ve been writing professionally now for over 15 years. I know what I’m doing, and I do it well. I bring good ideas to editors and I turn them into well-written stories that only need a light hand with edits. I’m professional and dependable, flexible, friendly, and easy to work with. What more could an editor want?
I remember the first time I drew my line in the sand. I was working with this new-to-me editor on a feature story. Things were humming along nicely, although once I turned in my story in, weeks passed and I didn’t hear from her despite my friendly followups. Then, around 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, I get an e-mail from her. “Great job on this! I’ve attached my edits; I’ll need it by Monday. Thanks!” She may have thrown in a “Have a good weekend!” for good measure, I don’t remember. The resentment grew as I looked at her edits. They weren’t simple; in fact, they necessitated more interviewing of my sources, and I was pretty sure researchers at Yale University were planning to have a good weekend, too.
I wrote her back immediately. “Thanks for this,” I wrote. “Unfortunately, I’m unavailable to work weekends. I can have it to you by Wednesday. Have a great weekend too!”
And at 5 p.m. I turned off my computer and enjoyed my much deserved two days off.
I can’t remember what happened after I drew my line in the sand, but I guess it didn’t end badly as I would remember that.
More recently an editor called me with a fabulous assignment. A big feature. A story I really wanted to write. Money that my checking account would squee over. The problem? Every time I’m owed money from this magazine, I have to beg for it. I had spent my Christmas agonizing over how I was going to pay for our utilities (trust me, I’m not exaggerating) while sending desperate e-mails to this editor that went unanswered.
When the new assignment came along, I decided I’d had enough and turned it down, letting the editor know that I could no longer write for her under these appalling conditions. A couple other writers asked me if she was mad at me. Mad at me? Hey, who did the work and didn’t get paid here? (BTW, I still haven’t been paid for one of the two articles I wrote for them, so if anything I’m relieved that I didn’t take the big assignment.)
I’m sure a few of you are reading this and thinking, “Geez, what a prima donna. Just work the weekend.” Or “What I wouldn’t give for an editor to call me with an assignment like that.”
Here’s the deal. We’ve all got different lines in the sand. There are things I’ll do my other writer friends wouldn’t dream of doing. One friend would never ever sign a pay-on-publication contract, no matter what the circumstances, while I’ll take a calculated risk. Another friend of mine balks at doing more than one round of edits while I just shrug it off and do them (unless I’m asked to do them over the weekend).
Do you have your lines drawn with editors? What are they? Have these lines helped or hindered your freelancing career? Are you a new freelancer and feel like you can’t say no? Add your comments below. [DB]
If you liked that post, you might also like:
- You Ask, We Answer: Help! I got an assignment and the editor didn’t mention how much they pay.
- You Ask, I Answer: How Close Do I Need to Come to the Assigned Word Count?
- You Ask, I Answer: What Do I Do When an Editor Goes AWOL After I Turn in an Assignment?
- Turning Down Assignments
- The Freelance Writer’s Bill of Rights