Signs that a writing gig will be more grief than it's worth

By Katharine Swan On Monday, June 05, 2006 At 5:10 PM


If you are a part of freelancing communities like Writers Weekly, you've no doubt heard the warnings: Never write for a start-up publication! Many writers feel that start-up publications are the most likely to not pay.

However, I have a different take on it. I have written for many start-ups without problems, yet I have recently finished (I hope!) my first bad experience with one such publication. As far as I can tell, it's a lack of professionalism that should sound your alarms, not the fact that a publication is brand-new.

My long-term readers might remember that a while back, I said I was finally getting some fiction published. (This was probably two or three months ago, so don't worry if you don't remember.) Although I got a different piece of fiction published around the same time, the piece I'd initially spoken of wasn't published when I thought, and I simply never posted another blog entry on the subject.

Basically, I wanted to wait until the problems were over before publishing my experiences with this paper. However, now that I've been paid for my story (at last!), I want to pass on what I've learned. Here are a few signs that a publication - whether start-up or established - is probably going to be more grief than any amount of money is worth:

They don't - or rarely - respond to your emails. Poor communication is probably the biggest red flag I can think of. If multiple emails go unanswered - particularly those with direct questions about payment or other terms - I recommend running in the other direction, as fast and as far as you can go!

Early on, my problem publication started ignoring repeated requests for terms and payment information. At first, the excuses seemed reasonable... But then, there was already an excuse.

The bottom line: a publication should get all the organizational kinks worked out before they launch. If they haven't done this yet, don't trust them. If they can't keep up on their emails, who knows if they're keeping up on their accounting?

They miss deadlines. There is nothing so aggravating as being expected to meet deadlines, only to find that the publication doesn't. However, it comes down to more than just a nuisance. A publication that chronically misses its own deadlines is acting very unprofessional, and should be avoided at all costs.

The publication I was working with started missing deadlines - by weeks, not days. To date, they've only published two issues, and both were weeks behind schedule. Not only does that reflect badly on them, it also meant that their writers were getting paid late. Not a good situation for a professional who depends on these writing gigs as a sole source of income.

They have a high turnover. It's a bad sign if the editor you were dealing with suddenly up and leaves - particularly if the publication is fairly new. Not only is it desirable to work with the same person for consistency reasons, but if the editor doesn't like working with the publication, it may be a sign that you won't, either.

While I was dealing with the lack of communication from the publication, the editor emailed me from her personal email account to say she was no longer working with the publication. Not too long after, the owner of the paper sent around an email asking volunteers to help with editing in exchange for free food and drink. Need I say more???

They continually make mistakes. When a publication continually makes errors - misplaces your submission, gets your name wrong, forgets how much they owe you, etc. - you might want to start reconsidering your relationship with them. Now, this isn't to say that at the first mistake you should bail on them - but we all know there is a line between reasonable mistakes, and just plain unprofessionalism.

After everything I dealt with, this publication didn't even manage to get my byline right. They used my full name instead of my pen name, and they misspelled everything. In the table of contents, my name is spelled "Katerhin Swann Leppert," and the byline itself reads "Katherin Swann Leppert." Really, is it that difficult to check proofread for these things? My full name was on my submission, and my pen name was in my byline!

Needless to say, I'm glad that I'm done dealing with these guys, and I hope that these tips will help others avoid similar nightmares.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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