|Cover of Laura Van Womer's mystery novel, The Kill Fee|
The day it was supposed to run in the paper I got an email from one of my sources (who was SO excited about the article) telling me she couldn't find it. Neither could I. I was scratching my head.
I emailed her back, commenting that the editors might have shuffled things around or printed it in a different section (I've worked as an editor before, so I know how jumbled things can get at 2 a.m.). But I also told her I wasn't sure, so I would check with my editor to find out exactly what happened.
And that's when my editor told me: my article had been "killed." Not that it deserved it, of course, but apparently not enough advertising came in to run the spread where my article was supposed to appear.
I felt stupid, but had to ask my editor – was I still going to be paid?
You can imagine my relief when she said YES. Whew. The hard work paid off, even if I never see the article in print.
Since the vast majority of my work is work-for-hire, I've realized I'm "lucky" when it comes to being guaranteed payment for my writing.
In the children's market, however, I'm told that things don't really work that way. There's something called "on speculation." After hearing the words several times I went back to my Idiot's guide and other books, and Googled the terms "writing on spec," etc. From what I can gather, it means no guarantee your work will actually be printed and no guarantee you'll get paid for your work...in some cases, even though you've completed it for a specific market or even gotten some form of acceptance.
This morning, I saw another post for "on spec" work on LinkedIn (someone actually wanted illustrators to work on spec). More and more, I'm realizing that many of the reputable, bigger magazines–in the children's markets and adult markets–are taking articles "on speculation only."
The only silver lining? Kill fees. I'm told the standard is 25-50%, which would cover some of the sweat - especially if it's a higher paying market.
But doesn't it all sound so dirty? On spec? Kill fees? Are we writers...or mob members?
Just a joke, people.
But seriously, I hope to break into the children's magazine market soon. So, it's more than likely I'll have to enter the Realm of Speculation and Killing. Nearly all of the magazines I plan to submit to want completed articles, not queries. So that means coming up with an idea, interviewing sources, doing research, and writing the article for a specific market without being guaranteed of any payment.
My biggest question for those of you who write on speculation or for children's magazines is: how do you approach/contact sources for an interview when you're not even sure the article will be printed? I just feel silly saying "Hi, I want to interview your son for an article I'm writing....I don't know if it will ever appear in a magazine, but I'm hoping [insert mag. name here] will pick it up."
Am I silly for feeling silly?
Tell me your story about submitting on speculation, or having your piece "killed." Did you get a kill fee? Nothing at all? Do you only write the first one or two articles "on spec," then take assignments only?