Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Bill of Rights for editors and freelancers

Posted by Darrell Laurant
Director
The Writers' Bridge

This blog is put out by The Writers' Bridge (www.thewritersbridge.com), an international community of freelance writers. Our reason for existence is not just to market and sell the work of our members (although that's certainly a priority), but also to do our part to change the very culture of freelance writing. We think it needs changing.

In many ways, the relationship between editors and writers has always bordered on the adversarial. True, both groups have very specific concerns, rights and needs, but many of those are shared. A published article is really a collaboration, and needs to be seen that way throughout the process. That's the way TWB wants to operate.

At the moment, we have over 100 members representing more than 30 American states and a dozen other countries. Any of them are welcome to post their opinions, personal stories and writing in this space.

For openers, I'd like to offer these suggestions for making life easier for both editors and freelancers. Call it a "Bill of Rights."

FOR EDITORS

1. Editors have the right to article pitches that reflect at least some knowledge of their magazine or Website.It is unrealistic to expect writers -- who are, in most cases, equally busy people -- to plow through years of back issues. It is, however, reasonable to presume that they have some sense of the subject, scope and tone of a publication, as well as what has been printed in recent issues. They should also have thoroughly read whatever writers' guidelines might be available.

2. Editors have the right to enough information in queries for them to make a decision.How is this a story that will fit this particular market? Who is this writer, and what are his or her credentials?

3. Editors have the right to establish their own rules for queries.If a market requires that queries be snail mailed, then that's how you should do it. The only exception might be a story with an extremely short shelf life -- if, for instance, a writer wants to know if an editor would like him or her to cover a breaking event.

4. Editors have the right to ask for stories on speculation. If they've never worked with you before, they have no idea what you're going to send them. Even published clips don't always help, because they may have been heavily edited. Spec status should be made clear at the time the article is requested, however.

5. Editors have the right to receive the article for which they contracted.Any significant changes in subject or tone should be worked out during the writing process.

6. Editors have the right to receive material that is reasonably free of grammatical or spelling errors. If you can't spell, find someone who can to go over your manuscript.

7. Editors have to right to set deadlines, and to have those deadlines met. (But see No. 3 below). In the case of magazine editors, they also have the right to have their requests for story lengths met, since they are often trying to fill a specific hole in their layout.

8. Editors have the right to communication from their writers. If you're having trouble meeting a deadline or finding a source, by all means contact the editor with whom you're working and let them know in advance. On the other hand, they also have the right not to be pestered as to whether a particular idea has been accepted or is being considered. If possible, respect their stated window of response time.

9. Editors have the right to check your facts. They'll be the ones left holding the bag if you get something wrong.

FOR WRITERS

1. Freelancers have the right to shop their ideas around, just as they would to sell a car or a house. Markets that say "No simultaneous submissions" are simply being unrealistic -- in the time it takes a writer to hear from one editor, a story may have grown stale and unsellable. For their part, writers should be honest about this -- trying to sell the same story to two similar markets who each think they're getting an "exclusive" is highly unethical.

2. Freelancers have the right to a reasonably quick response to queries. Magazines and Websites are often understaffed these days, it's true. But if a query is obviously off the mark, it shouldn't take long to hit the return button on an e-mail and say: "Thanks. Not for us." Or to write the same comment on a snail mail query and drop it back into the SASE. If an editor is considering a pitch, it would also be nice to let the writer know, and how long that decision might take.

3. Freelancers have the right to reasonable deadlines. Editors should be organized enough to plan ahead and not have to ask that stories be done on rush order. That benefits neither party.

4. Just like editors, freelancers have the right to communication. The editor should be clear about what he or she wants in a story before the fact.

5. Freelancers have the right to be paid as advertised. It's a lot to ask to begin with to expect a writer to wait until publication, rather than upon acceptance, to receive a check. But if that's what's been agreed on, renumeration should be prompt. A house or car payment might depend upon it.

6. Freelancers have the right to be informed in advance if their work is going to be used in any other manner than what has been agreed upon.

7. Freelancers have the right to request a signed contract -- even a contingency contract for stories on spec.

3 comments:

Darrell Laurant said...

This is great advice, Darrell. Thanks for all your help!

Kathy Teel

Ellen "EJ" Sackett, said...

All true, Darrell. In addition, all editors should be expected to respond to reasonable queries. No response at all is just plain rude.

Beverly Carol Lucey: said...

I'd like to live in a world in which people who advertise for writing talent on Craig's List are not looking for someone to write their sociology paper for them.