Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Editors, Writers and Ethics

Ethics is one of those things, I think you’re born with them or you aren’t. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t nice, it just mean they aren’t honest or ethical.

Take an Editor for example: Writers trust Editors. We have to.

Writers send editors material in hopes that it fits with the editorial schedule and maybe make some money to, I don’t know, EAT or something frivolous like that.

The Magazine’s budget is tight. So, instead of paying freelance writers the publisher/boss tells the editor to hire someone. Eve, the editor hires her best friend or cousin, Ann, who can be in the office for 40 hours, which will save the company money. The promise is that Ann will produce material at a lower rate than the freelancers.

Okay, that’s the way it goes sometimes. We freelancers understand that you get what you pay for. Over time, the subscriptions will fall off. Eve, the editor will scramble to help the publication. Her job is on the line too.

So you’ll never guess what happens… Ann suddenly comes up with great ideas. She can write articles faster than anyone else. Her writing voice changes from day to day, article to article. She helps around the office and all the office correspondence goes through her desk too. Ann’s incredible.

Eve, the editor is happy and the Publisher is happy too. Now, the Magazine is within budget and subscriptions are on the increase. Sure, everyone wonders how Ann can do it all but not for long because everyone is just too busy and happy to think about it much.

The truth is that Ann does correspond for the office but she is also stealing.

Ann found the pile of freelance queries and suggested them at the meeting. Once the ideas were approved, she didn’t have a clue how to write them. She asked the freelancers to submit a list of resources and contacts. Even then, she was running out of time, the deadline was a month away. She asked the writer to complete the article on speculation. When the freelancer hit deadline, Ann quickly sent a reject letter.

Unknown to Ann, the freelancer was also a subscriber(in her husband’s name). Writers do often read the publications to which they submit. So the writer saw an incredibly familiar story in the publication. The title was somewhat different and a few passages were rearranged, but it was the writer’s article with staff-written byline.

So what could the writer do? Basically, working writers trust editors to be honest and pay them for their work. It would be impossible to copyright every idea and article, not to mention the legal bill to follow up on every unscrupulous editorial staff member. So we just don’t write or submit to particular publications, and we tell our writer friends.

The next month, the writer was shocked to find in her email inbox a request from Ann for ideas. Ann asked the writer to submit ideas with resource lists and if the writer wanted to go ahead and complete the articles.

The writer burned once, declined to submit.

How this particular story ends for Ann and Eve, I don’t know at this point. We’ll have to wait for it all to play out…

Writers want Editorial Staff to know that just because we work at home doesn’t mean we don’t have payments or eat (in fact, many of us have kids to feed too!). Every writer isn’t independently wealthy, most fit into the “working for the money” category.

Post-Script: Editors who pay freelance writers are encouraged to write

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