Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Writing on Spec or...Show Me the Money

I recently expressed a letter of interest in contributing to a newspaper as a freelance writer. The editor e-mailed me back that she found my clips "interesting," and wanted to know more about me, although she didn't ask me too much else, except she provided a list of the topic areas they needed and asked which I would be interested in writing on. She ended by asking if I would be willing to write the first article "on spec," meaning there would be no promise or contract for publication. I promptly e-mailed back the topics I was interested in, but stated that I do not write on spec, at which point I never heard back from her. In doing some online research, I was pleased to see that the majority of writing resource articles strongly protest writing on speculation, as the writer has no protection in this context. In other words, you could spend weeks and weeks on a piece, only to be told it's somehow not right, and that's the end of it. You have lost valuable time and money. For a new writer looking to get clips, writing on spec once or twice to get your foot in the door may work, but for an established writer with years of experience, it's definitely not a good idea. Publishers should offer at the very least a kill fee (usually about 50%) of the project fee.

Deborah Straw, a freelance writer publishing online in The Writer's Resource Center, states:
No other professional works on spec. No plumber, no electrician, no house painter, no church organ pipe repairer works this way. Most people get a freelance job based on references or on sample slides (or, in the case of writers, a proposal or clips), they do the job, and they are paid, even if sometimes grudgingly and sometimes late. Architects and designers do occasionally put together proposals on spec, but they do not perform entire jobs without a definite agreement from the client to pay. When you write on spec, you have no legal rights to receive money from the publication. If the editor doesn’t use your material, you’ve lost a lot of time and, often, a lot of money from other possible work, and you may gain nothing except a headache.

Does anyone have a positive story about writing on spec, where things ended well? What about when you stood your ground and were able to get paid? Send it through...I'm sure we'd all like to hear it.

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