Friday, July 1, 2011

Focus Friday: Kill Fees and Writing on Spec

Cover of Laura Van Womer's mystery novel, The Kill Fee
Recently, I wrote a thoroughly-researched article for my local newspaper.  I interviewed four direct sources, and referenced numerous online sources as well.  In all, it probably took more than five hours, (spread out over two weeks) to complete. 

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 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? 
Thoughts, comments, and opinions welcomed.  I've got a lot to learn and a long way to go when it comes to knowing the children's magazine markets, and your help is appreciated!


KatieC said...

I have found that lots of people love to talk about their field of expertise. This means that asking them for an interview excites them so much that they rarely ask "where" the piece will be printed. If they do ask, I just say that I plan to send it to "XYZ" magazine. I never say it will be printed.

Good luck on your journey!

Miranda Paul said...

Thanks for letting me know, Katie!

Anne E. Johnson said...

Interesting topic!

My only recent experience was a 10%kill fee for a fiction manuscript a publisher decided not to use. I had to remind them to send it after waiting six weeks, but then they complied.

Many years ago, I did a non-fic research project on spec, with the understanding that there would be a kill fee. They never used the piece and I never got a dime. I should have pursued it, but I was really young and intimidated by the huge corporation it was for.

Kelly Hashway said...

I haven't interviewed anyone for an article so I can't really help there. I used to (and occasionally still do) write a short story or article and submit it until it found a home. In doing that, there's no guarantee that you will sell the piece, but I've been fortunate enough to find homes for all my stories, even if it takes a year to do so. Patience is key. This is also why I tend to write what I want to write. That way, I'm enjoying it no matter what.

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