When I was in graduate school, just learning to put together pitches for articles, I voiced this concern in class a few times. What if I submit a pitch and it’s awesome, but the magazine doesn’t want to pay me to write the story, instead assigning it to someone else???
Several different professors, who have all worked as freelance magazine writers, assured me such a thing never, ever happens. The very idea goes against the way “it works” in the world of publishing.
I just started exploring Contently to see if it might be a source of professional support for me and stumbled upon one of their blog posts on the same topic. The gist of the article is that of course this doesn’t happen! Don’t worry about it–at the beginning of your career, most of your pitches are going to be crap (which is probably true) and editors don’t do this. It goes against the way “it works” in publishing!
I can’t figure out how to add a comment to the blog post, so I’m using my own blog to share my experience, because I want other writers to know that this DOES happen, and it has happened to me twice.
I’ve decided not to name names about which publications, but I’ll share the details of each instance.
I pitched a story about the Peanut Butter Project to MAGAZINE A. I had earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing and had been freelancing for about a year and I knew it was a good pitch, tailored to the right magazine and the right section of that magazine. The editor and I went back and forth about the idea a few times, and then radio silence for a few months.
At this point, I received an email from the editor. He had forgotten that the idea had come from me, just had noted it down to share in his pitch meeting. The staff loved it, assigned the article, and it was published that month. Whoops!
At least he told me about it, right? He asked what I thought he should do. I suggested he assign me another story of the same length so I could at least earn the same $$ I might have for the article I wanted to write. He gave the assignment, I wrote the article, and wound up going to small claims court over my payment for the piece.
I have sour grapes. Bad client.
When I was in graduate school, I interned at a magazine. This was a great experience and I got a ton of clips, which led directly to paying gigs after graduation. I was feeling so positive about my experience there! Toward the end of my internship, my editor assigned me a short little piece about an undergrad project.
I began the research on the project and realized this piece was much more than a little ditty in the front of the book. This was a feature! He agreed, and so did the EIC of the magazine. But they didn’t have room in the publication until a year later (this was a quarterly).
“Hold tight and we’ll assign you this feature,” they told me. So I held and worked on other stuff…until the magazine came out a few issues later, with my piece as the cover story, written by another author.
When I called my editor to ask about it, I learned he had moved on to another publication a few weeks prior and the EIC had no recollection of anything I was talking about. She was very angry with my phone call and line of questioning, and I never worked for that magazine again.
In both instances, I can see that following up in a more timely manner would have benefitted me. Perhaps both editors truly forgot who they heard the story from (editors get a ton of email), but remembered the ideas because they were both so dang great.
Regardless, I missed out on two paychecks and the chance to write about two projects I found truly inspiring. I still get angry to think about it.
So, there you are. A counter-point. Perhaps the world of publishing has changed since my professors and the blog post author began working as freelancers? Or perhaps I am just dreadfully unlucky. Either way, I can assure you that my lesson learned was: rigorous follow-through. I schedule emails in advance and type in reminders on my calendar so that I call editors about my pitches, until I hear a firm yes or no.