Crimes Against Freelance Writers
I recently had an experience as a freelance writer that was deeply enlightening and also gruesomely disheartening. This is a part of my life I am no longer troubled by, but I decided it was worth sharing my story. I will not say names of individuals or companies in order to protect privacy.
I am sharing this story in hopes it serves as a warning to up-and-coming freelance writers, as well as serves as an open-letter to publications to treat their freelancers with more respect. The last thing I want to do with this post is rant or complain, so I hope this sheds some light on the treatment of freelance writers (well, freelancers in general) …
Back in October, I was recommended by a friend to an editor-in-chief at a publication to be a freelancer. This publication was owned by a parent company, which had its own policies that governed how the individual publications ran. I sent my writing samples to the editor, and after they read them, enjoyed them, and gave me a phone call, I was all set up with my first assignment. This assignment was delivered with a caveat: I would not be paid as this was a trial submission. Therefore, I had to put in the effort of a paid freelancer, and I would receive no compensation for my time or skills.
This facet of the story didn’t bother me initially, as I dove into this industry with the assumption “That’s just the way things are”. Tipping your waitress is “Just the way things are”, and it is still wrong because companies do not pay their workers a living wage and expect their customers to pick up the slack. Companies hiring freelancers should not expect work for free. A “trial period” is an excuse to get free articles and work from dedicated, experienced individuals, when their extensive writing samples should be enough to prove the validity of what they will submit. I did not ponder this thoroughly until after the fact, and it is something I do not let anger me anymore. However, I will speak up when given the chance on the issue: everyone should be paid fairly for their work. End of story.
I was very excited about the assigned article. The length would be 1500-2000 words. It required me to obtain photos, do external research, and seek out an interview with a relevant individual. Let me detail the amount of time which went into this article:
Time researching a suitable individual to interview: 30 minutes
Time spent emailing back and forth with the individual to schedule a meet-up time and obtain photographs: est. 30 minutes total
Time spent traveling to and from the location where we met: 3 hours
Time spent at interview, not only interviewing the client, but also engaging to develop a more meaningful relationship with them with the understanding that I was representing the organization: 2 hours
Time spent transcribing the interview into copy: 2 hours
Time spent writing and revising the final article: 4 hours
TOTAL: 12 hours.
I emailed the article on my assigned deadline date.
And I did not hear a single word from my editor for 4 months.
The only email I received in those 4 months was to ask for a 50 word bio. I sent a response quickly, and I received no response to that.
I sent three emails to the editor, several to the parent company, attempted to contact on LinkedIn, and called the parent company to ask on the status of my article. I checked my mail daily, as I was promised to be sent a copy when it was finished; I never did. I did not even know it was going to be published or if it had been received. This lack of response made a pit in my stomach. I felt like a burden, a nuisance, and the opposite of a professional.
Then, I went on a vacation in late March. The place I was staying happened to have the most recent issue of this publication sitting on the welcome desk. I picked it up, saw my article with my name on the byline, smiled so happily, and took it home.
To this day, I have not read the article and am considering throwing the issue away.
I did not read the article immediately merely because I didn’t have time. Then, in late April, I received an email from the editor which ruined my day and broke my heart.
The editor detailed to me how unprofessional it was of them to not respond to me. They even admitted they didn’t respond because they were intentionally avoiding having a conversation with me. They stated my article had no structure (even though there were detailed headings and I had it proofread by experienced writer friends), and they had to rewrite the whole article for it to be published. They ended the email saying they do not want me as a monthly contributor due to the quality of this article and offered to give me feedback on the piece if I wanted it.
I responded immediately… not with the degree of anger I should have. I asked for feedback and apologized for the quality of my article.
I have not received a response to this email to this day.
I want to close this article by discussing the final issues I have with this whole experience. Not only do I think it’s wrong for a company to think it’s okay for me to put in 12 hours of my time (while juggling several jobs, getting a Master’s degree, traveling to see my family, and numerous other factors) without compensation, the lack of communication and professionalism of their head staff is disgusting and deplorable. No company should behave in this way, and I will not recommend anyone work for or write for these affiliated organizations. I have half a mind to say who these people are, however, I am not in the business of creating a swirling wave of hate.
And to offer no response or feedback after I asked politely is immature and shameful. I only sought to be a better writer. Offering me that opportunity to learn and then taking it away from me without warning is so disrespectful to any person practicing a craft.
I also suggested in the email that they treat their freelancers with better communication. If they “must” put their freelancers through a probationary trial period, then it would serve those freelancers, who are new to the publication to receive feedback and editing/revision notes to learn more about the publication’s voice and style, especially if what they submit is off. Open communication is key here. Having no reliable contact with my superior in this job left me in the dark and was a great disservice to the work I submitted (even though I loved it) …
To sum up:
All artists should be paid for their work
Every artist deserves professional communications from their superiors
Professionals should provide honest and helpful feedback for their growth
especially when it is offered or requested as this demonstrates dedication and motivation on the part of the artist
Heads of projects should behave in accordance to their titles (e.g. editor-in-chief) and should be able to confront uncomfortable conversations with grace
If you’re a freelancer and have a horrible experience: chin up—you work hard and deserve praise
To this day, I am considering sending another email, both to the editor and to the parent company to insist they treat their freelancers differently. Adversely, I also do not feel there is merit lingering on this issue anymore. I am proud of what I wrote. I loved writing it.
What do you think I should do?