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Frustrating editor story

One of the reasons I like having other writers as friends is that we can commiserate with one another about frustrating editors.

This particular frustrating editor story is not my own and no, I won’t tell you whose it is, though I was given the writer’s permission to share it here. Certain details, such as the name of the publication, the story idea, and portions of the emails have been changed.

And all names, of course, have been redacted.

The background is this: The writer, who we’ll call Brenda, had received the green light from an editor in response to Brenda’s pitch about a major hotel opening in a capital city in Asia. Brenda spent at least 7 months doing research for the article (with long email threads back and forth with the publication).

And then:

Round 1 of email:

[To Brenda, from the editor]

We’ve decided to publish your idea as part of a 2-3 sentence round-up which I am going to write myself from the info [received from you]. I do apologize for not being able to commission you to do a larger piece due to space issues. I really appreciate your pitch and will pay you a small research fee [$50 USD]. Please send me an invoice and any more ideas and news from [the city].
Brenda’s response: 

…I was also wondering if this [article] was something that could be pushed to a later issue due to your space limitations.

Having spent months researching with many contacts and fleshing out the idea, settling for a small fee unfortunately seems disproportionate for all the effort. I say this with the highest respect.

Hope you understand my point of view.



Round 2 of email:
[Brenda added a local tax, required by law where she lives, to her invoice, adding roughly $3 to the total. The editor replied with the following:]

Our other writers [from your area] which we use regularly have not been required to add this.Will speak to [another senior editor] but I’m afraid what this means is that we’ll have to consider whether we can use your work in the future as it seems more involved than with our other writers.

Brenda replies:

It’s really not too complicated to be honest with you. Those other writers [from my area] are probably taking the [local tax] hit for an opportunity to continue writing for [your publication] in a competitive and tight writing market. Anyways, I’ve taken off the [tax] since it’s such a small amount [$3]. Here is a revised invoice.

She receives no response.


Shortly thereafter, Brenda receives an email from another staffer at the publication:

We’re publishing a feature [using your idea] …. Do you have any photographs/resources to send us? Hope to hear from you.


What do you think of this exchange? Do you have a frustrating editor story? Share your thoughts in the comments.


6 responses »

  1. Wow. Well I certainly wouldn’t work with that publication again or promote. I can’t believe they wrote asking for photos.

  2. Awful! That’s one that would make me wish for reach-through-the-screen-and-strangle superpowers.

  3. I second Heather’s response. Is this something that happens somewhat often?

  4. Name the publication. This kind of behaviour is beyond unethical, bordering on criminal. Without feedback, the behaviour will continue. The situation has changed with the advent of social media…..writers can communicate with each other easily, and publications like the one named will cease to receive any freelance suggestions or writing from the extant freelance writers who are aware of this behaviour.

    Name the publication, please.

  5. alisonwellner

    Blurgh. That’s quite audacious behavior on the magazine’s part. I would have responded by saying, why yes, I have all the info and images that you seek and my fee is what I get for a feature article. Please send the money and then I’ll send the goods.

    This reminds me of a similar situation I faced with a woman’s magazine — my story was killed, after 30 plus interviews, for various reasons having nothing to do with the quality of my work, and I was offered a pittance instead of the agreed upon kill fee, mostly because the editor-in-chief was irrational. (Also, a raving bitch.) It wasn’t worth litigating, I told her to keep her money.

    But, I do have to say, I have 15 years in this business, most of which I’ve spent writing for magazines, and only one experience like that. So it does happen, but it’s not very common.

    The editor has to be willing to burn the bridge with the writer, and usually an editor is not willing to do that, because editors need writers with good ideas that can deliver. But editors are just like other people, some are power freaks, some are irrational, and some are just plain stupid. As a writer, you just never know what you’re going to get.

    I try to keep in mind that people are on their best behavior at the start of a business relationship, so if there are signs of trouble early, there’s no way it’s going to get better…


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