Freelance writing alternates between the glamorous (invites to the latest openings) and the torturous (waiting for interviewees to show). Last week I added abusive to the list of adjectives that apply to being a free agent as a writer.
In November another publication in the region wrote me to see if I was interested in contributing for two forth coming issue with tight deadlines. After I indicated yes, I ‘d write for them, I was sent interview dates and times for the next time, without a brief. The brief tells the writer why the publication is interested in a particular person or story, suggests a few angles, mentions the payment as well as the word count.
The fact that many of these details were missing were my first indication that all was not well at this particular publication. But I chalked it up to the youth and inexperience of the staff, (the editor of the publication commissioning me had even attended an editorial meeting of Vox, a magazine I worked on; she was wide eyed and impressed by our organization in planning at least three issues at a time) reminding myself this was a magazine located in the Middle East. Not that I’m bashing locals: if you’ve been overseas for any length of time, you know that expats often sink lower than the standard of their home countries and this seemed to be the case in this particular situation.
But I wrote the pieces as best I could with the information I had and sent it in. I heard nothing for several days and moved on with my life. Then, over a long weekend during a national holiday, was surprised by an irate email from the editor (who I had no interaction with until this point). The tone and superiority of her message flagged up the issues I had been overlooking. In India at the time, I again let it go. After all, I knew I didn’t want to write for them again.
Hearing nothing else from them, I wrote on the 23rd of December requesting payment information. My email went unanswered. Cue the holidays. End December.
In January, when the world went back to the normal, if dull, pace of business, I wrote again to inquire where my payment for these pieces was. No answer. I called the offices. “We pay 45 days from printing,” the person I had been corresponding with said. Wouldn’t that have been nice to know the first four times I asked?
These kinds of terms give one pause, but again, I let it slide. Until March, when I saw the printed issues of the magazine (with my ‘sub-par’ work) in a library. I wrote again. I kept writing, every week; most of the time with no replies. I even texted the editor asking what was happening. By now, of course, it was a matter of principle.
On April 16th everything came to a head when I took the issue on to Twitter. Here’s what I said: “Freelancers: don’t recommend writing for xxxxx unless you can wait 90 days or more for payment. Still waiting-will keep you posted.”
Social media creates a direct line to replace static channels: I’ve seen four star hotels like the W Doha and the Four Seasons respond to a Tweet with an efficiency and effectiveness I may not have gotten from speaking to the onsite manager.
But in this case, instead of replying with an apology or a vow to make it better, the email from the Special Projects Manger (whose automatic away message first said he was out of the office) ripped off any veneer of civility:
The payment has been made and should be in your bank account soon. Although we cannot excuse the delay in your payment your idiotic remark on Twitter was disgusting. We're disappointed by your constant lack of manners and poor attitude that you have shown towards xxxx.
Good day Mohanna!
Nothing like misspelling the name of the person you are insulting to make sure they know how professional you are.
If you are an aspiring writer, beware that you’ll need thick skin. Not only to receive feedback on your writing but also deal with the intrapersonal dynamics.
If you are a freelancer, what strategies do you have to do deal with delayed payments or snide staff?