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July 2, 2009 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Freelance writing: how to indicate that you would like compensation for your work after an article has been accepted?

I'm new to this freelance writing stuff. As luck would have it, the first article I wrote and submitted was accepted for publication - this is to a large and popular website (within the limited field that I'm interested in writing for). However, although the editor's email was very positive, and they want to make it a feature article, there was no mention of pay.

This is a well trafficked site with a number of big name professional writers (again, within the aforementioned limited field) writing for them, who I assume are not working for free. The article submission guidelines did not mention compensation one way or the other. So, do I hint that I would like money? If worst comes to worst, this is a wonderful clip to have for my portfolio, but my primary interest in freelance writing was to generate some scratch.
posted by Wavelet to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think hinting isn't going to do it. You need to come right out and tell them you'd like to be paid.

Maybe something along the line of:

"It's a tremendous honor to have my work accepted for publication on your site and I'm thrilled that you'd like to make it a feature article. The realities of being a freelance writer, though, compel me to ask whether I can expect financial compensation and, if so, how much. I look forward to discussing the details with you..." blah, blah, blah.

There's nothing wrong with expecting to get paid -- but you do have to clearly ask for what you want.

I'm a freelance musician and I occasionally run into the same thing. Occasionally, I will consent to do a gig for free -- if the exposure is valuable enough -- but you have to be careful about it.

What we do (music, writing) has value and it's not good for us or any of our colleagues if we work too often for less than what we're worth.
posted by rhartong at 9:33 AM on July 2, 2009

Yeah, pay doesn't typically come up when an editor responds to a pitch. You can ask if there's a contract, which would include payment details and protect you (maybe) if your piece is killed. Or just ask what their standard rate is for a piece of X words.
posted by johngoren at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2009

However, although the editor's email was very positive, and they want to make it a feature article, there was no mention of pay.

Respond to the e-mail with something like:

"Great, I'm glad you like it! What payment are you offering?"
posted by rokusan at 9:53 AM on July 2, 2009

I edit a monthly print magazine in the UK, and at this point I would fully expect you to come back with a request for a copy of the contract and a question about pay -- don't stress, it's totally normal!
posted by at 10:07 AM on July 2, 2009

You need to invoice them to receive payment, as they'll need your SS# and address to cut you a check and later for tax purposes. You could ask something like, "Who handles invoicing for payment, and what amount should I include when I send it to them?" If the answer is, "Uh, it's an unpaid assignment" and it's your first time writing for them, I would recommend not making an issue out of it and letting them know that you'd like to work out an agreeable amount in advance for future projects.
posted by The Straightener at 10:22 AM on July 2, 2009

Ask. They know you're not in it purely for the love of the craft. Just ask them how much you should invoice for the article.
posted by hermitosis at 10:27 AM on July 2, 2009

There are people/companies out there that may not pay anything at all for an artile...or pay ridiculous rates ($5 or $10 for an article - who are these people?). In the future, if they like your pitch, find out this info before you write the article for them.

Congrats Wavelet!

I'm a full-time freelance writer. In the future, Wavelet, I would ask to see a contract (and agree to the terms) before you write the assignment for them.

Some of the things that I would watch out for in a contract include things such as
1) Indemnification clauses
2) Rights (don't sign these away - you can resell your piece and control your piece at a later time point)
3) Pay rate and time pay schedule
4) Noncompete clauses (I've seen clauses that say "will not write for any of our competitors" with no time specified.

You have the right to negotiate and ask to remove or change clauses...but I usually do this before I start a project.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2009

I am not your lawyer.
I am not your lawyer.
I am not your lawyer.

If you don't want to use the word "money" or "pay" ask them for "terms" and a copy of the contract. They'll need you to sign off on the publishing rights.

If you feel more confident, simply ask them what their rates are. This question assumes that they have a regular practice of paying their writers; if they do, you're in. If they don't, you might not want to be dealing with them.
posted by mikewas at 10:47 AM on July 2, 2009

What Wolfster said. Unequivocally.

Educate yourself. It's a harsh world out there.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:59 AM on July 2, 2009

There are different kinds of freelance writing, and I have never encountered any of the contract oriented issues in this thread when pitching articles to papers, magazines or online magazines. If I asked to see a contract including all that from an editor I never worked with before, at a publication I hadn't written for, especially I if I was a brand new writer with no publishing credits whatsoever, they would at least find that to be a major turn off if not think I was just completely nuts altogether. Pitch the piece, write the piece, invoice the publisher is all I've ever had to do.
posted by The Straightener at 11:41 AM on July 2, 2009

You need a contract. This is standard practice in the industry. If you're new to the game, you might be looking at a low per-word or flat fee, or no pay at all, but you still need to at the very least discuss with them rights to your work.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:17 PM on July 2, 2009

The piece wasn't simply pitched. It was written, submitted, and accepted for publication. Now is the perfect time to ask about terms. (Actually, as someone who used to wrangle freelancers, I would not have been turned off to be asked about terms when being pitched. It may vary from publication to publication, but I never thought it was weird. Writers need to be paid, and they should know what the pay - or at least the scale - is before they actually commit the time and effort for a piece.)
posted by rtha at 1:13 PM on July 2, 2009

Not only is there nothing wrong with asking what there pay rates and contract terms are, you might sell yourself short as a writer if you don't. After all, we value products and services based on their price as much as their quality. If you'd like to be thought of as a professional, you'll have to act the part - albeit with the humility that old-timers expect of people in their dues-paying years.

The key thing is how you ask, and the golden rule here is: don't sound pissy or demanding. (Not that you seem like you would. I'm just saying.)

When I was just starting out as a freelancer in my mid-20s, a big newspaper here in Canada e-mailed me one day and asked if they could reprint an article I'd written pro-bono for a friend's student magazine. They didn't offer me money, and I was too thrilled and cowed to ask. It wound up running as a full-page essay. And while I got fantastic exposure, they got a full national broadsheet page's worth of op-ed without paying a cent. And I let them get away with it.

If I'd asked, and they'd said they couldn't pay me, I probably would have let them run it anyway. But I still regret not having done myself the dignity of asking.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:07 PM on July 2, 2009

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