Money, again (Mistake #85)

I’ve been experiencing a flurry of talented students emailing me with news of writing successes.

“What fee have you been offered?” is my knee-jerk response to each communication, though I usually manage to check myself and squeeze in a “Congratulations!” before the filthy dosh question invariably spills over.

(As an aside, I once went through a phase of broaching the issue with a statement, namely “Let me have the fee you’ve been offered”. This, until a rather indignant student told me in no uncertain terms that she would not be letting me have her money, and I had to grovellingly explain that I meant her to let me know the fee she’d been offered, not have the actual sum. Ambiguous statements have since been banished, and I now ask explicitly and outright!)

It used to be the case that my students would find it awkward or embarrassing to ask about money – and that state of affairs inspired this mistake, four years ago, almost to the day.

But now it seems to be more about indifference. “I suppose I should ask about payment” a student might say. And “Yeah, I guess I will do”, another, but without any particular sense of urgency or convinction. I really wonder why this is? Are we so used to writing for free on social media and blogs these days that we’ve just developed a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to being paid?

Remember it’s a business transaction. You have to agree business terms when you agree to sell – and it is your words you are selling. You wouldn’t agree to take a job without knowing what you were agreeing to sell 37.5 hours of your life a week for (ie, your salary), so why should selling your words be any different?

And you wouldn’t call up your mum, or your best mate, or your girlfriend, to tell them the exciting news about your great new job, unless you knew the salary, right? Nope.

So make it a rule that you can’t tell anyone about a writing success until you have tackled the money issue.

It really is best dealt with when an acceptance to publish is offered. Don’t leave it too long after that – not least because the more you think about it, the harder it will become, and the more likely you will talk yourself out of it. The longer you leave the issue hanging, the less professional the editor will take you to be. Don’t go imagining that a cheque will turn up magically, because the editor put a remittance notice through to accounts on your behalf and merely forgot to tell you. Don’t go back to the editor after a long period spent dithering and agonising and go “Oh, by the way – we never discussed money, did we?!” in a jovial, oh-silly-me-I’d-forget-my-head-if-not-screwed-on manner. That is, unless you really do forget, in which case ask evenly and professionally.

But you shouldn’t forget, and you shouldn’t delay, and if you feel yourself dithering and agonising that’s when you know you’re heading for trouble – you have no choice at this point but to ask the editor outright, or you’ll possibly never recover, and find it even tougher next time it happens.

And if you get a “we don’t pay new writers” or “I’m sorry, we have no budget for this article” then try this mistake from the very early days of this blog, the advice in which you may like to consider acting upon.

And if you’re still in a bit of bother after all that, then leave your problem below, and I’ll do my best to come up with an alternative solution! There usually is one …

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