Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The recession hits freelance writers

As the news of the latest MP pay rise hits the press, I'm experiencing a different financial dilemma. I'm pretty proud of myself for having built up a full-time workload as a freelance writer during economic recession, but now I am really starting to feel the hit from the credit crunch, despite the apparent brightening economic outlook.

In the past few months, I've had some magazines in the UK slash their fees by 25%, while a US magazine who I work for regularly, has just slashed their fees by two thirds! I managed to renegotiate and get a one-third pay cut instead.

Meanwhile, I have withdrawn an article submission from another magazine, because of their abysmally slow payment. One of my earlier articles appeared on their website, four months after it had appeared in print (and I'd missed it). I invoiced promptly, thinking they'd pay promptly. Not so.

Months of chasing, broken promises, and an 8 month delay ensued. I was losing sleep over it because I was furious about being ignored and fobbed off. I felt convinced that I wasn't going to get paid at all. I withdrew the next article because it wasn't worth the aggravation and I've since sold it to another buyer.

The latest turn of events is that another publication, after commissioning an article in March, for the Doctor Who anniversary in November, didn't bother to tell me that they weren't going to run it. So now I have a time-sensitive article that has no home. The reason: "We have so much material!" - e.g. they have commissioned too much stuff.

It's a really tough environment for a freelance writer at the moment, but on the upside, I'd like to explain how I deal with each of these disappointments.

1) The pay cuts, I negotiate upwards as best I can, and I accept the situation where I can't. Then I review the amount of time and effort I put into each article if they are going to pay less. I only pitch ideas that I can do reasonably quickly, without massive amounts of research and inconvenience. I also reassess who gets first refusal of the best ideas.

2) I refuse to work for magazines that don't treat me with respect, so I search the market to find other buyers for my work when I'm faced with this problem.

While I suspect I've been lucky to get this far without experiencing the full effects of the credit crunch in my writing life, I wonder if other writers have experienced recession-related pay cuts and delays? Have you had commissions 'killed' without payment? How did you respond?

What do you think of the MP's 11% rise while we're all making cuts? Do comment in the box below. :-)

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  1. I think that's the best approach. The magazines that pay promptly are the ones you want to develop a relationship with. I'd rather have a slightly (but only slightly!) lower rate with confidence that I'll receive payment, than be offered a great rate and have to spends several hours chasing for it!