Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

You finally broke into a market you’d been dying to break into.  Some Big Magazine has hired you to write an 800-word article for their front-of-the-book, and you’re ecstatic!  You work hard as can be, proofread like crazy, and send it in, sitting by your inbox and waiting for the note back telling you how fabulous your article is, and by the way, where have you been all their lives?  They want you to write all the articles in the magazine from now on!

But days turn into weeks, and no response.  You check in and get “Thanks for the article!  Sorry I haven’t had time to look at it yet.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I have a chance to read it.”

Hmm.  Is this the same editor who told you the article absolutely HAD TO be in in 10 days so it could make it into the September issue?  How come she now has weeks to sit on it?  Grumble grumble.  You could have spent more time researching if you had all this extra time.

But, you tell yourself, that’s okay. She’s busy. Maybe there’s been a scheduling change. I’m sure everything is fine.

More weeks go by and still nothing, despite promises that it’s next on her to-do list. You don’t get paid because the editor has to sign off on the article before accounting will cut your check. So, in the meantime, you have other fish to fry. You’re working on three other articles for other magazines. And two days before your next big deadline, you get this frantic e-mail:

“Hey! Sorry this took me a while. Your article looks good. All we need at this point is for you to interview three more doctors who specialize in AIDS research, find a woman between the ages of 21 and 30 who’s willing to speak on the record about how she got infected with HIV, find some new studies about the effectiveness about drug X, and add in some information about which types of condoms are most likely to break. Oh, and I need this by Friday. Thanks!”

You pick your jaw up from the keyboard and scratch your head. Four more interviews, tons more research, and a wholly undiscussed piece of the assignment you have to complete in the next three days? Say what?

But you are a dutiful little writer and you agree with this, despite your better judgment. You spend the next three sleepless days and nights going out of your mind looking for experts to quote and a woman in the right age range who is willing to go on the record about her sexually transmitted disease. Yeah.

And on Friday, you turn in this rewrite—which is now 1200 words instead of 800, because there’s no way you can cram all this new info into the original word count. You even found a woman willing to speak about her infection by canvassing HIV activist groups. Glory be!

But a week later, your editor returns and says that the woman you found is no good because she got infected by a needle rather than through intercourse. They really want someone who had unprotected sex. You vow to try your best, but you feel pretty insecure at this point, and annoyed that you now have to tell this woman you interviewed that she won’t be in the article.

You go crazy trying to track down someone to quote, but no one wants to be named. You ask the editor if a pseudonym can be used, but she refuses. Oh, the editor-in-chief thinks it would be great if the woman would agree to be photographed, too.

On your new deadline day, you still have no one who fits the profile. So the editor says she’ll have to kill the piece and give you half your fee.

You argue with yourself all day over this and finally decide to confront her. “Listen, that was never part of my original assignment. You never told me I had to find a woman willing to go on the record about HIV infection. I don’t think it’s fair that I put in all the work and lived up to my contract and I’m not getting my full fee.”

By some miracle, the editor agrees and you get paid. Then she calls and says, “Sorry that last article didn’t work out, but I have something new for you… would you like to write an article about steroid use for us?”

Breaking up is hard to do. Sometimes we stick with editors who make our lives miserable because we like the prestige of writing for a big magazine, or, of course, the money. But sometimes you need to count up all the time you’ve spent on rewrites and revisions and new research, and you’ll find that your hourly wage is pathetic, even if the per-word fee initially sounded good. Even $2 a word can translate to minimum wage if you wind up going through rounds of tedious edits.

There are two 50-cent-a-word markets I write for regularly. Many experienced writers would balk at that figure, but the editors are wonderful and the edits are nearly non-existent, which means that I make more, per hour, writing for them than I do for several of the higher-paying markets. And I get paid on time, and I have the added bonus of retaining my sanity and my dignity.

Next time an editor makes you nuts, do the math and figure out how much you’re really being paid for that article. If the hourly wage is still appropriate for you, you still have a decision to make: Is the money worth the aggravation? If the hourly wage is low, there’s no real decision: it’s not worth your time.

Now, I don’t advise hopping ship if it’s your first or second credit, mind you. Accumulate a few clips (even if the aggravation level is high) before you get on your high horse and decide to cherry-pick your assignments.

And if it’s an editor or publication you like, but you just can’t stand the amount of rewriting, try talking it through with your editor before you write them off completely. You might try telling her that you really enjoy writing for her and would like to continue, but… then list your problems. For example:

“I’m often in the middle of another assignment by the time you come back to me with rewrite notes, and then you need the revision within a few days. That’s tough for me, because I have other deadlines to meet by then. Can you try to get back to me within a week [or can you give me more time to handle revisions] from now on?”

“The problem is that the rewrites often end up being far outside the scope of the original assignment, so I haven’t planned for the extra time and research. In the future, I’ll need more direction up-front and a more clear assignment letter so I can make sure to get it right the first time and save us both some time.”

“If the rewrites change direction from what I was originally assigned, I need to be compensated for the extra time required of me.”

The editor may balk, or you may be pleasantly surprised that the editor agrees with you and respects your comments. Either way, you can respect yourself more and save your time for the magazines that treat you right.

Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write ( and Absolute Markets ( She has written for hundreds of national and online markets, including Physical, Woman’s World, Woman’s Own,, and Contemporary Bride. She’s a contributing editor at Writer’s Digest and her latest book is MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE WRITER, which you can find at Find out how to get a FREE editors’ cheat sheet with this book!

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