Stiffed

The reality of being a freelance writer is that sometimes you won’t get paid for your work, even if someone else profits by it. That happened to me once and I consider myself very lucky that it’s only been once so far.

A decade ago, I was writing for some gaming magazines that were published in the area. I had been writing for these magazines for a couple of years by then, and even though the publications changed hands part way through, and changed editors a couple of times, I kept getting checks. Until I didn’t. I had inquired about payment after two or three months with no checks having arrived, and was told they were taking care of things and payment would go out soon.

One day they stopped publishing, and announced they were through. I was out some money for several months’ worth of articles I’d written, which they had subsequently published. In truth, I had a good day job at that time, and the total sum of couple hundred bucks I was out was (fortunately) no big deal. I was more sad about the loss of the magazines than the loss of the money, but I forgot about it and moved on.

A year or two later, the gentleman who had been my final editor at said magazines got hired to work in my department. I was the head of that department so he reported directly to me. There’s a lesson here: As a writer, do your best to not piss anybody off needlessly; you may depend on them later for a reference, help with a project, or even a job. But I digress.

Anyway, this editor had always been decent to me, so I wasn’t about to be a jerk to him when he didn’t deserve it. We’d been working together for several months when one day, out of the blue, he announced to me privately that had a confession to make: he apologized for stringing me along. The magazine publishers had known they were going under for months ahead of time, but they specifically ordered him not to tell me.

This is a clear example of people being douchebags. Had they been honest about the situation, I probably WOULD HAVE continued to write for them, as I had thought they were good people. Now I know better, and I will never voluntarily work with any of those gentlemen again. Had this person never told me, I would have gone on thinking they were decent folks. In retrospect, I’m glad I found out the truth of the situation. At this point I would settle for a sincere apology, but I’m not holding my breath that such thing will ever happen. I’m also sure I wasn’t the only one left holding the bag in that situation, and probably am owed less than most.

I was reminded of this thanks to a blog post by writer Kevin Hamilton. Being a freelancer has a lot of positives, but it can be a drag sometimes as well – just like any other job. Kevin sums it up nicely, and I wish him luck getting more writing work.

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