Posted - 10/24/2012 3:33:47 PM | show profile | flag this post
Three weeks ago I turned in an assignment to a new, good-paying publication that I hope to have a continued relationship with. My pitch had been accepted earlier by the editor there as "on spec" – not something that I was thrilled about, but better than no assignment.
After three weeks of no acknowledgment at all of the completed assignment – and subsequent follow-up emails – I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually getting the short end of the "on spec" stick.
Anyone have experience with this kind of situation? Any advice? I went into this completely aware of on-spec nature of the assignment, so there's no breach of contract thing going on here. But I'd really like to a) get this published and b) get paid, and am wondering if anyone has any better ideas than repeatedly emailing to figure out what the issue is.
Posted - 10/24/2012 4:34:52 PM | show profile | flag this post
That's ridiculous that the editor hasn't gotten back to you, especially since this person DID ask you to write something for the magazine. It’s only common courtesy. With that said, it’s a good idea to steer clear of any editor who asks you to write on spec. You have no guarantee that he/she will assign you the story. That’s what a good query letter and clips are for. If the editor isn’t creative enough to gauge ability to deliver a good story based on those items, well, he/she probably should consider another career. Like accounting.
I would try contacting the editor via phone, not just email. If you don't have the editor's phone number, call the receptionist and ask for the number. I'd try once or twice more. If you still haven't heard back, I wouldn't deal with that editor again. If you're set on writing for that pub, pitch another editor next time. Not on spec.
Posted - 10/24/2012 5:40:21 PM | show profile | flag this post
first of all, I would't call a request to write on spec
an assignment. it simply means the editor found your
pitch interesting but- for whatever reasons- he has
refused to make any committment. so he will look at
the piece whenever he has a chance. it is not a priority.
at this point, I'd phone just to reassure he got the
piece, ask if he had a chance toread it, then move on.
Posted - 10/25/2012 10:26:34 AM | show profile | flag this post
Move on. Call one more time, say you're selling it elsewhere if you don't hear back in next 2 days or whatever. Send a polite email to follow up. Then sell the piece to someone else.
I wouldn't do any more spec assignments for this publication. Get more clips, and if you pitch them, get a contract, including a kill fee, and firm commitment to publish.
Posted - 10/25/2012 2:22:40 PM | show profile | flag this post
Thanks for the feedback. I've sort of regarded on-spec as a necessary evil on occasion, and have gotten some nice publications that started on that arrangement. My experience with pitching bigger magazines where I don't have a prior "in" has been such that I'm hesitant to be aggressive in pursuing a kill fee arrangement - just doesn't feel like I have that sort of bargaining power. And at this point in my career, not to mention the economic state of the industry, I'm not eager to jeopardize opportunity when it arises.
On the other hand, though, it's clearly a shame to not advocate for my own interests at all, and it may be a false idea that an on spec assignment equates to a good opportunity. Next time I'll think a lot harder about pushing back when something on-spec is offered to me.
Posted - 10/25/2012 2:34:04 PM | show profile | flag this post
A contract is more than a kill-fee arrangement. It's also a legally binding commitment to the work, a statement of who owns the rights to it and how it will be used, and a litany of other things.
On spec is what it is: on speculation, with no strings attached. If you feel you're getting the short end of the on-spec stick, it's probably because there is no stick in the first place.
Posted - 10/25/2012 2:41:22 PM | show profile | flag this post
Just another quick note: Even though you're new in your career, you don't need to underestimate or undersell yourself, and don't accept that everyone in the industry is broke financially, because it's simply untrue.
Posted - 10/26/2012 9:39:38 AM | show profile | flag this post
What GD said.
The mistake too many freelancers make is not advocating for their/our rights. If you've already got some good clips, you're not exactly a beginner, and writing on-spec is something of a favor from a more experienced writer. We do it, very rarely, but give polite notice, move on and sell it to someone less busy or more interested.
Posted - 10/26/2012 10:11:17 AM | show profile | flag this post
You should do spec work when it makes sense, but perhaps try to gauge the real interest from the editor. This one was obv. willing to let you work for free and, if he liked it, maybe run it. But he clearly isn't that enthusiastic about working with you. So, with that publication, no more spec.
One thing about spec work -- try to get the editor to shape your idea. If they feel some sense of ownership for the story, they are more likely to take it seriously.
Posted - 10/26/2012 1:09:27 PM | show profile | flag this post
**If you feel you're getting the short end of the on-spec stick, it's probably because there is no stick in the first place.**
Well said, GD!
Posted - 10/26/2012 7:46:12 PM | show profile | flag this post
There could be a million things going. All your emails could be going to his spam box. He may be on vacation or be in the hospital. He may have rejected the piece and is too cowardly or lazy to tell you. He may have kicked it to other editors and it waiting their feedback.
As others have said, it's time to pick up the phone. The editor invited you to send in the spec piece and you are owed the courtesy of a response. When you call be pleasant but businesslike. If you get voice mail, explain you submitted a piece three weeks ago at his invitation and wanted to see where it stands. Leave both a phone number and email address.
It's harder to ignore a phone call than a email. If he doesn't respond, call once more in two weeks and then move on.
Posted - 10/26/2012 7:53:08 PM | show profile | flag this post
This is a good idea. I would not do a labor-intensive complex piece on spec. However, it's a good idea to give the editor periodic updates while you are researching -- giving him tidbits of what you've found and investing him in it.
--One thing about spec work -- try to get the editor to shape your idea. If they feel some sense of ownership for the story, they are more likely to take it seriously.--
Posted - 11/26/2012 11:49:26 PM | show profile | email poster | flag this post
Grateful Deadline wrote: "A contract is more than a kill-fee arrangement. It's also a legally binding commitment to the work, a statement of who owns the rights to it and how it will be used, and a litany of other things."
This is exactly right.
When you write without a contract, you're working without a net and you may never get compensated for the time and effort you've put into the piece.
Also, don't be shy about asking for a kill fee, or other items in the contract that are important to you.
If they say "yes," you win.
If they say "no," what did you lose?
If they say, "I will never work with you because you dared to ask for a kill fee," then you know you wouldn't want to work with that organization in the first place.