Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

freelancing

Via this post by Tim Carmody at Snarkmarket, or rather the comments thereupon, I found this story about life as a freelance writer. It made my blood run cold, not because I’ve been in that situation but because there but for the grace of God. . . .

I’ve had some wonderful relationships with editors over the years, but also some of the nightmares Richard Morgan experienced. Once I was commissioned to write two reviews for a magazine, wrote and submitted them, then waited and waited to find out when they were going to run. Finally I sent an email inquiry to the editor. No answer. A month later, another email inquiry. No answer. After a couple of weeks more I started writing other people in the office. I was promised a quick reply, which didn't come. Finally, after a few more promptings, they got back to me: they couldn't use the reviews because they were no longer timely. (I’m thankful that both reviews eventually appeared elsewhere.)

Or this: I got an email from a magazine editor asking if I would expand something I wrote in a blog post into an article. I did so, and sent it to him. No reply. So I followed the pattern I described earlier: sent emails first to the editor who had commissioned the piece, then to others in the office. I got a reply from another editor — an editor who had previously written to me expressing a great interest in having me write for his magazine — promising to get back to me soon. I have never heard another word from anyone at that magazine.

And then there’s the matter of chasing for payment. All of the magazines I have written for have been good about paying, though perhaps they have moved a little slowly for my taste: sometimes magazines and publishing houses alike need to be prompted to part with their brass. I’m kind of the same way, so I suppose I should be more understanding — but my pockets aren't as deep as theirs.

(Of course, editors have their horror stories about writers too. But not about me: as a writer I am perfect in every way.)

I said earlier that these are equivalent to “the nightmares Richard Morgan experienced” — but actually, that’s not true at all. Because I have a full-time job as a teacher, and writing is what I do on the side, these are really just annoyances for me. I couldn't plausibly call them “nightmares.” Whether I eat or not doesn't depend on what editors do or fail to do. But whenever I start having daydreams about quitting teaching and writing full-time, I’ll go back and take another look at Richard Morgan’s story. Then the mood of those daydreams will change in a hurry.

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