What I’ve Learned, But Should’ve Already Known in the Crazy World of Writing

1. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

There was awesome event going here, and I wanted to pitch it to an unlikely publication. A good friend and colleague passed along an editor’s contact information. The editor and I emailed and talked (gasp) about the possibility of me doing the story. She forewarned that just because I wrote the story didn’t mean it would be run since she’d never worked with me before. In other words, don’t get geeked up to be paid. She’s seen my blog and clips, but needed something more. No problem. I write because I love. It not so much the money all the time.

The story couldn’t be done as a “before” piece, so I would cover it and send it to be featured as a recap. I submitted it. No response. I followed up. No response. Finally, she responded that she’d received the story and liked it, but still wasn’t sure about running it. Give her a day or two. When our mutual friend suggested I call to follow-up, I felt a tad uncomfortable. My short career in media relations taught me that editors have zero time to chit-chat, but I called anyway. She answered and I could hear that “damn, you again? I’ve other things to do” tone in her voice. To wrap it up, she told me she liked my writing style, but didn’t think it was going to work. Get back with her in about two weeks. I did. Again, no response. In the words of the great and tardy Lauryn Hill, “You might win some, but you just lost one.”

Always check with your contact and no one else before you write a story.

Depending on who you’re writing for, you may have contact with editors, editorial assistants and only God knows who else. Only accept assignments and begin writing them after you’ve gotten a complete understanding of your responsibilities, deadlines, etc. from your initial contact, unless told otherwise. It’s just not good business if you don’t. That’s all I have to say about that.

Your work has value, so you should be compensated (somehow).

How many times have you heard this statement in discussions about careers and passion?: “Find something you’d do for free.” Yes, I’ve used this a comfort statement when editors tell me they aren’t able to pay writers.

Example: After writing a paid story for a publication, I inquired about the pay for another story I was working on. The editor stood on her soapbox and told me there are writers who are happy to write strictly for the art and to have their work published is more than enough, blah, blah, blah. Those are valid points, but still, miss me with that. Let’s be real. Writing takes time and energy. I prefer researched stories over opinion pieces, which include finding and sometimes chasing down sources, interviewing, transcribing and rewriting. Honestly, if I put in the work, I want people to read my words, but I really hope I can be paid, too.

Do I write for free? Yes, but not nearly as much as I used to.  Sometimes there are issues I want to tackle, and I think they’d be perfect for a particular publication. If they don’t compensate, I write it anyway because it’s important to me, and I get a thrill from seeing my name in the byline (read this to find out about writers’ narcissistic ways). It’s actually been the clips that I wasn’t paid for that got me in the door to paid gigs. Also, just because a publication doesn’t start out paying doesn’t mean they won’t ever. If you’re committed to writing and willing to write for free longterm, sometimes that patience pays off, literally.

If you have bills to pay, that’s another ballgame, but if you’re still on the fence about working for free versus working for pay, check this chart out I picked up from Parlour Magazine founder, Shannon Washington’s personal blog post, Your Work, Your Worth. It’s actually from Jessica Hische’s site, Should I Work For Free? She and this are brilliant.

Don’t pitch the idea until you know the publication is taking on freelancers for sure.

That’s code for don’t give your ideas away. In the event that your idea is original to be accepted, you hate to see it covered by someone else (look here for a list of  rejected pitches to  San Diego Magazine via Erin Meanley). Since my pitch didn’t work out with the local paper, I put a rush on it, and tried another publication. I knew finding contacts at this magazine is like pulling teeth. I inquired about freelancing opportunities, but to speed up the process, I included the pitch. I don’t usually do that, as many smaller pubs produce content strictly in-house. I’d seen a few non-staffers’ bylines before, so I gave it a go. Within three days, I received a reply. *fist pump* It read:

“Thanks Alisha! We don’t typically accept freelance submissions (we have a handful of regular freelancers we work with but you’d need to talk with editor (in-chief)  about that. I do like the idea for the *** story though. We may have one of our staffers follow up on that.”

No, sir, you don’t understand. It’s my idea, therefore, I want to write it. Duh. Sure enough, I logged on to their site the very next week and a staffer had covered the story. I can’t say I wasn’t irked beyond belief. Oh well, those are the breaks. If I’d known they didn’t use freelancers, I never would have sent my pitch. Patience is a virtue.

Experience is the best teacher, and I’m still learning every day.

*Image is from Getty Images


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