Ladies & Gents:
On April 24, the Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union sent a letter to Outside Magazine, demanding they pay dozens of freelancers who are owed about $100,000 in overdue invoices.
Before I get into this, full disclosure: I wrote for Outside once. They courted me to do a story for them, then treated me like garbage, so I put them on the "no never" list.
Anyway: They can't blame this on the pandemic (especially since Outside founder and owner Larry Burke told the Albuquerque Journal in March that "this is overblown.") But also because Outside has been doing this for years.
I'm glad writers are speaking out about it now, but I've lost count of how many have come to me, fed up with Outside and not sure what to do.
Of course I help them as much as I can, offering tactics on getting paid and pressing them to stop writing for the publication (or whatever outlet is being an asshole about paying). And sometimes they just go right back.
If you are that person, please don't think I'm mad at you, or calling you out. Consider this tough love because I don't want anyone to put up with this crap anymore.
Here are the two most common reasons I'm told why they go back (and it's not "for the byline!" because they already have that):
1. It's steady work. But what does that matter if you're not paid steadily for it? You can't have one without the other if you want a successful freelance career. Instead, you can write steadily for outlets that pay, or you can write steadily for your own personal project (like a newsletter!) while you look for those clients. If you don't need the money, well, congrats! But I don't think most people who subscribe to this newsletter are in that position. I know I'm a six-figure freelancer, but I can't afford to write for a national, newsstand magazine and get paid whenever. I still have bills to pay, a retirement to fund, and a dog to keep in fancy kibble.
2. They pay, eventually. I've said many times before that I evaluate a client based not on what they pay per word, but what they pay per hour. The clock starts at pitch and ends at payment.
So let's do some math.
A writer is owed $300 (as one writer tweeted about this). Assuming a 22% federal tax rate, that works out to $234 (for sake of ease, I'm plunking the writer down in Florida, which has no state income tax, but take out another chunk if your state and/or city has that tax).
So we have a true fee of $234. How many hours go into earning it ? Here's what needs to be included in that calculation:
1. Finding the right editor.
2. Finding the right editor's email address.
3. Researching, writing and editing the pitch.
4. Sending the pitch.
5. Answering questions/possibly doing more research to answer those questions about the pitch.
6. Reading the contract.
7. Negotiating the contract/rate.
8. Finalizing the assignment.
9. Researching the story.
10. Tracking down sources for the story.
11. Scheduling interviews.
12. Preparing for interviews.
13. Doing interviews.
14. Transcribing interviews.
15. Writing the story.
16. Submitting the story.
17. Doing edits/revisions/rewrites on the story.
18. Going over fact check for the story.
19. Reviewing the story before print.
20. Sharing the story when it's out.
21. Worrying about late payment.
22. Wording emails about late payment.
23. Following up on payment (repeat as many times as necessary).
24. Any actions taken to secure payment (i.e. talking to a lawyer, hiring a lawyer, going to small claims court, or using the Freelance Isn't Free Act).
What does that $234 work out to now? And my calculation doesn't include time spent debating whether or not you should follow up, the exasperation of doing good work and not getting paid for it, or any time spent awake at night worrying about payment/angry about how you're being treated. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if a client keeps me up at night, and not in the fun way, they're gone.
This per/hour calculation is so important. I do some work for clients who pay a lower per word rate that what you might expect me to accept. In addition to that work being fascinating, I also don't need to do steps 1-7 (because they assigned me stories) and 21-24 because they pay within two weeks of invoice submission. The per hour rate is sky high.
In 2012, I fired my second biggest client because of this kind of crap. The stress was wrecking my life. It was a scary step to take, but when I wasn't constantly in knots about what nasty email the editor would send next (he has been fired from his pervious job for sexual harassment SHOCKER), or about whatever excuse he'd use to say why he was delaying payment? I felt free, and I did find work to make up for it.
Some publications are genuinely having money trouble right now. And this is rarely a situation that an editor has created or can control (I know good people who work for magazines that have trouble paying).
But when an outlet has been treating their freelancers like this for years, it's more likely not a matter of they can't pay on time, but they won't, because whoever is in charge doesn't think you or your work is worth it.
And if you're worried I'm burning a bridge with Outside over this, never fear! They burned a bridge with me years ago. Yes, the power can work in that direction. We need to take a stand, like those freelancers are doing right now.
On with the show!
"The Battle for a Better Sepsis Test" for Clinical Laboratory News
"How to Care for Your Furry Friends Under Lockdown" for The New York Times
"Who is Responsible for Securing the Home Network?" for CIO Dive
"Pandemic Insomnia: Yes, It's a Thing" for Sharecare
"How to Sleep When Normal Sleep Rules No Longer Apply" for Sharecare
What I'm Reading
- The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. This is the same duo who wrote Furious Love, a knock out book about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It was a way to drop into a different world for a while, which I appreciated.
- Open Book by Jessica Simpson. I got some flack on twitter last night when I said how good this is, by people who haven't read it and assume Jessica Simpson is the ditz that a reality show made her out to be. She's a woman who has overcome abuse by a childhood friend, emotionally abusive relationships (WHAT THE FUCK JOHN MAYER), patriarchy that made her hate her herself, and alcoholism to become a business mogul. She doesn't hold anything back in this memoir, which I listened to as an audiobook. I recommend it (also I don't care that she used a ghostwriter, as the New Yorker says she did. She's not a professional writer, and she enlisted someone who is, which is a smart thing to do! Also, if he had a half decent agent, he's made BANK on this project, so thank you for keeping a writer employed).
- The Duchess. I'm still watching DuckTales, but I'm trying to sit and watch one movie a weekend in my attempt to keep weekends weekends, and this was good. I do love a costume drama.
- Agatha Raisin. Yes this is really a show, and the first episode is about murder via quiche. I love cozy British murder shows, and I love AcornTV for bringing this one to me.
Jen A. Miller