Monday, 19 April 2010

Well, there's a first!

It's never happened before and it will probably never happen again, but last week I had a 'first'. No, not a first place in a competition, but a first experience. I got paid ... for being rejected!

The cheque in question was from The Lady. In 2008, I'd submitted an article, which they accepted. It had a topical hook and ideally, needed to be used in November sometime. But, it didn't appear in the November 2008 issues. (remember, The Lady is a weekly publication.) Then, in 2009, The Lady went through it's revamp, so when it didn't appear in the November 2009 issues, I sent a polite letter inquiring as to whether they still planned to use the piece. They replied, quoting the magazine's revamp as the reason as to why the piece hadn't been used, apologising for the inconvenience and saying that they saw no opportunities for being able to use it in the near future, therefore they wished me luck in placing it elsewhere.

I duly tweaked the article for another magazine, submitted it, and they accepted it! So, no skin off my nose really.

And then last week I received the letter with the cheque. It was certainly a surprise. They enclosed my original material and apologised, saying that despite originally accepting the material, they no longer felt they had a need for it and were now returning it. The cheque was a small gesture of recompense for the inconvenience and because they had changed their minds.

There are two points I want to make here. The first, is that clearly, not all magazines keep accurate records. If they did, The Lady should have realised that they'd already 'rejected' it last year. This is another reason for keeping key paperwork until a piece has been published, at least!

The second point is, this cheque is not a 'kill fee'. A Kill Fee is a payment made to a writer when they have been commissioned by an editor to write a piece and then the editor decides not to publish it. This fee varies but is usually around 50% of the fee that would have been paid, had the article been published. A Kill Fee is designed to be some recompense for the work and time that the writer has put into producing the article because the editor had commissioned them to do the work. In theory, a writer may have turned other work down in order to concentrate on completing this commission. (Update: please see the comment made by Alex (Mistakes Writers Make) about the 'rights' side of things with regards to Kill Fees.)

My article to The Lady had been submitted on spec. I had not been commissioned, so no Kill Fee was due. The £30 cheque they sent was merely a polite apology for not publishing after originally accepting the piece. If only more magazines had a conscience like this! I could certainly get used to being paid for being rejected. It would take the sting out of the experience wouldn't it? Hey, I could probably earn more money from being rejected too!

Good luck.


  1. Eek, sorry, Simon, I may have to disagree with you here.

    Here’s my understanding – but am happy to be corrected. If a publication decides not to use a commissioned piece because of, say, change of editorial focus, then you should be offered the full fee, and if you’re not, you are entitled to ask for it. There are two options here: a/ sell first rights and take the full fee b/ sell no rights and take the 50%.

    In the first case, you cannot resell the work, because the publication has paid for first rights. You can’t even sell second rights, because the publication in question has not – and will not – exploit first rights. Until it’s printed – you can’t sell these reprint rights. But at least you have your full fee. (The publication can sell on those first rights, by the way. And if they ever do, then you can sell reprint rights once the buyer of those first rights has exploited them.)

    In the second case, you can do as you wish – as you did.

    If a publication decides not to use a commissioned piece because they feel it isn’t up to scratch, they can offer a kill fee. You can disagree, or offer to put the ‘problem’ (or problems) right, but this can get messy if they decline, and you continue to dispute it…

    I also feel that having accepted the piece, and essentially made a contract with you to buy first rights, then the Lady had a duty to make one of the above two offers to you. I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend enquiring ‘whether’ a publication intended to publish an accepted piece – I would recommend asking instead ‘when’ they intended to publish, and take negotiations from there. By asking ‘whether’ you immediately hand the client the advantage. At this point, they’ll feel they can reject and wish you good luck etc – which is what happened. Great that you reangled and sold on, but I would’ve nevertheless asked for a fee at this point, because they effectively prevented you from selling your piece for a year. I’m struggling for an analogy, but you can’t buy a coat and expect M&S to take it back after a year when fashions have changed and they’ve no easy opportunity to resell it…

    Sorry, Simon – a decent enough gesture by them, and while I imagine this will be an unpopular view, I don’t feel the Lady deserve particular praise for this one…

    All best, Alex

  2. Hi Alex

    I agree that in my post, I didn't explain the 'rights' side of thing, which does affect the outcome, as you say. In my experience though, I've always been offered the 50% fee and to retain all rights, which is what I prefer, because I've always gone on to sell First Rights to another publication. (This scenario has only happened twice in my writing career, anyway). I accept though, that this is a personal preference. The other option is, as you say, to demand full payment and sell the rights.

    The reason I chased The Lady inquiring if they still planned to use the piece is because it was an on-spec submission. With commissioned pieces I always asked 'when' will they publish, not 'if' they still plan to. I agree that an acceptance is an acceptance, is an acceptance, but my personal policy is that I submit on spec material to magazines I hope to develop a long-term relationship with, which is why I chase them in a slightly different way.

  3. Hi Simon,
    Yep, fair points. Obviously it is a matter of personal choice, and someone as experienced as you is more likely to see the right decision, as you indeed made. I guess I just wanted to point out, if only for the benefit of newer writers, that quite often there are options in this business, and not to be automatically pleased when you're offered something. Glad it worked out for you though!

    Cheers, Alex

  4. Hi Alex

    The problems with these scenarios is that there's a 'moral' answer and a practical real-life answer too!

    When you're a freelance writer there is a business decision to be made too. Do I have the time to fight for what is morally right, and will it be worth it financially? In my opinion, fighting for what was morally right would have taken time (time better spent on other writing projects) and wouldn't have resulted in a large financial payout. Fighting may also have ruined any future relationship I had with the magazine.

    Alex is right - there are many options available, so don't rush into decisions!



  5. Either way, Simon, well done on getting a cheque out of a magazine at all!

  6. getting cheques, according to director John Carpenter, is the best kind of artistic involvement.

    But yes, good advice on keeping records