Five Questions Every
Writer Should Ask
by Natalie Joanne Hale
When I began freelancing, I quickly
learned there was a lingo and protocol writers should use when pitching an
editor. From writing an eye-catching query letter to not letting the editor know
just how desperately you want the assignment, there are some standards that
every writer should know and prepare to work with. I've scaled these down to
five questions every writer should ask.
1. What about kill fees?
Before you can ask about a kill fee, you must know what it is. A kill fee is
a prearranged promise of payment between the writer and the editor. If after the
writer has written the assigned story but the editor decides at the last minute
not to use it, he will pay the writer the kill fee. It's usually 20-25 percent
of what the writer would have been paid had the piece been published.
2. Which user rights do you buy?
Publications already have set policies on which rights they purchase, but they
can be negotiated. Don't sell all rights and get first electronic rights
defined. Why? If the publication has an online and disk version, you don't want
to be paid for only one round of publication when there are three to be had.
What about my contributor's copies?
Some publishers offer copies of the issue with the writer's published article.
That can be as a bonus or in place of payment. Unless they specify they do not
offer contributors copies, don't be too shy to ask for one. The worse they can
say is no.
How long should I wait for a response for my query letter and my paycheck?
That all depends on the publications policies. Response time can range anywhere
from one week to three months or more. So plan your schedule accordingly. Mail
the letter and then start right away on your next one. As for the paycheck,
unless you've worked with this editor before, maintain a watchful eye. Be sure
to find out when to expect the check and mark it on your calendar. If two weeks
go by and you haven't seen it, make sure to contact the editor and make sure it
was actually sent and if she has the right address.
How long should I wait for a response for my submission?
If your chosen publication (magazines, book publishers) doesn't already have
this information listed in their submission guidelines or in a market report,
don't be afraid to call or e-mail a representative or the editor and ask. Then
sit back, be patient and wait. If two weeks pass beyond the expected reply date,
write a kind reminder.
"on spec" and simultaneous submissions
What does "on speculation" mean?
A publisher has not worked with you before but agrees to take a chance and read
your finished story on speculation. Try to avoid this even if you are just
starting out. Editors don't like to know they are working with a beginner. Don't
lie, but act like a professional, like you know what you're doing.
Simultaneous or multiple
People really don't like the competition, and that's why editors discourage
what's called a simultaneous or multiple submission. However, it's human nature
that if we can't have something that's when we want it the most. If you send a
query letter to more than one editor at a time, state so in the letter. That
just might be enough of a subtle hint to get the editor to reply quickly and
secure the story before someone else does. (Tip: Be sure and read the
publication's guidelines because some markets do not accept simultaneous
The world of freelance writing is
competitive and sometimes brutal. But with a professional image, your chances of
getting the assignment will weigh in your favor. Always remember to be kind,
accurate and patient.
Natalie Joanne Hale is a member of
the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She's written dozens of
articles for publications such as Renaissance Magazine, Children's Book Insider,
and The Bulletin. Her children's book, The 16 Stones of Atholyn will soon be
available. For more information, visit