Thursday, July 21, 2005

Explosions in FreelanceVille: "They Take a Shit on Your Head and Want You To Say 'Thanks!' For the Hat"

You know how it is: you go to the grocery store, the car dealership, the home electronics store, you browse, you pick out a pile of stuff that you want -- then you go up to the cashier, have all of your merchandise rung through, tallied and totaled. And when the person behind the counter gives you the total with an expectant look, silently indicating that it's your turn to get busy -- digging out your cash or credit card -- you say to that person, "I want all of this, but I can't afford it."

What would happen if you tried this in the "real" world?

(a) The cashier would laugh, and let you walk out with all of the stuff;
(b) The cashier would frown, chide you, then allow you to walk out with all of the stuff;
(c) The cashier would tell you to go fuck yourself, and chase you out of the store hurling epithets about how you wasted his/her time and looked like a complete jackass while doing so;
(d) You would not be allowed to take the merchandise until you paid.

Well, in my world "d" would be the correct answer, though "c" would be the most satisfying one to witness. However, in the world of some people for whom I do freelance work, "a" is the logical answer.

You see, I'm just a writer. What I do is equivalent to an adult filling in coloring books. So believe some of the people for whom I do freelance work. And if the whim strikes them, they can pay when they say they'll pay me, or wait a week, or several weeks. Or, they can get creative and change the rate they're going to pay me. I've even encountered a guy so slick and savvy, he didn't pay me at all.

The latest folly occurred with the savvy, sophisticated twenty-one year old guy (whom I don't even think shaves yet) who runs Wallpaper magazine. Sorry, I mean Image magazine. I get those confused -- because he gets the two confused.

In a nutshell, the guy went on a figurative shopping spree (as described above) with my writing, and now decides to pay me later than we agreed. Ah, before you condemn this doe-eyed, misguided person, you must understand: He Encountered Obstacles Along the Way. Imagine that. You see, this savvy and pretentious person deals only in "best case scenarios." I don't know about your life, but seldom do I feel the need to actually plan for a "best case scenario" to play out. I'm usually managing varying levels of disasters, dismemberment and loss of life.

But this young and shiny young man, who is oh-so-passionate about his magazine -- and naturally assumes that everyone around him is equally swept up by his vision -- wants me to lower my rate, and has decided to use one of the articles I wrote for this issue for a later one; thus paying me at a later time.

All high-class problems, I guess. There is world hunger, more explosions in London, England today. There is George W. Bush.

But in my sphere, a warm, electrolyte-ridden log was looped onto my head, and the perpetrator, afterward, expressed consternation and dismay and hurt feelings when I didn't offer a hearty "Thanks!"

Thanks for nothing, nitwit.

From January of this year

It’s not a record, but it’s close. Within 12 hours of submitting my first article to Windsor Body magazine, the bottom fell out of that gig entirely.

My general modus operandi in life is to pre-empt, and thus avoid, foreseeable trouble. You know, wearing my seatbelt while driving my car in case of a traffic accident, locking my front door so people don’t walk into my house and steal my possessions. We all do this to a certain extent.

So, when I was first called and asked to be a writer/editor for WB, I immediately e-mailed my rates and full contact information to the publisher. Days later when I met him in person, the publisher said nothing about my rates. By the "read receipts" on my e-mail program, I knew he had received and read the e-mail.

Last Friday evening the publisher called me with a rush-job. He had notes from a local doctor and needed me to make an actual article out of the notes—due in two days. I said no problem.

I wrote the article, having to do a fair bit of Web research to fill in some gaping holes left by the doctor who was obviously not used to communicating to persons with no medical background. I submitted a first draft so the doctor could tell if I was using the medical terms correctly.

The publisher called me Monday morning, aghast by the invoice I enclosed with my submission e-mail. I was aghast at his being aghast. He proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t afford me as a writer. How surreal. He already knew my rates, and could have said something like this before I’d begun that article. His only solution to the situation was for me to simply work for less money. This from a guy who a week before had been telling me how he’s building an entirely new building to house his offices. His plea of poverty rang false.

For my own part, I didn’t give an inch. I said that writing is real work, though it’s often underestimated. However, the Internet, fax machines, print media would be obsolete without people writing copy. I also pointed out the obvious—I had been upfront about my fee from the get-go. Why hadn’t he spoken to me sooner?

Well, he said he had trouble e-mailing me. How interesting. He had spoken to me on the telephone the evening he asked me to write that first article. That was a perfect opportunity to ask/discuss my rate. He didn’t ask. I’m always willing to negotiate—before a project commences. Well, he thought it better to negotiate after work began. That might work in his favor, but not in mine. I told him I didn’t find his conduct professional or acceptable. I wasn’t at all satisfied with his griping about my fee after I had done work for him. So, I dropped the gig.

He refuses to pay for me for any of the work I did on that article.

Hearing the pleas of the WB publisher, "But I can’t afford to pay what you’re asking! I can’t afford it!" painted in my mind an image of some withered loser in an electronics shop standing before the large screen TVs, gripping his crotch, whining to a sales guy, "But I can’t afford it, I can’t afford." Well, you don’t shop for what you can’t afford. You can’t buy a Hummer if you can only afford a Cavalier.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been burned in the freelance game. Seems no matter how I try to guard against these unpleasant, predictable, fixable, avoidable scenarios, I just can’t make them sufficiently "idiot proof." One always slips through, and tars and feathers himself with his nickel-and-diming dance.

That evening, I sent my formal resignation to the publisher:
You heartily offended and insulted me today in our telephone conversation. You question my professionalism when it is you who doesn’t even have a handle on his e-mail Inbox (I sent you my contact details on Oct 25 at 1:55 p.m.), much less possess the wherewithal to speak to me about any questions you had about my fees. You call me at the last minute to write an article, and only after I’ve completed the task do you call me up aghast by what I’m charging. You, sir, are utterly remiss and disorganized.

I request that you not contact me again. We are through, formal and final. I make this request because I do remember writing copy for that Sherrill woman at the day spa in Essex in June 2002. That was the lousiest $200 I ever earned.

What I enjoy about business guys like you is that you have very short memories. Your promises today about all "the work" I’m turning away were entirely hollow because you made the very same promises to me almost three years ago. Nothing ever materialized from your promises. I don’t expect any would materialize this time around. And I can’t pay my mortgage with promises.

It’s interesting that you have the funds to build a new building to house your offices, yet you do not to have the funds to pay a proper rate to a proper writer. You know damn well you can’t afford a topflight writer/editor, yet you seek one out. Well, this is the result.

We have no agreement for an article about the fitness competition this past weekend. My notes are my personal property. Maybe one of your interns can transcribe Steve P’s experience onto paper.

Cutting things off with you is not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s shooing away the goose that just shit on my car seat.
To which he replied:
So much for you being a Hummer!?!?? The Doctor thinks the article is boring with spelling mistakes. I think a Cavalier would have done a better job! I refuse to pay for a product that is incomplete!

By the way you might want to make changes to your website people have notified me of spelling and grammatical errors.
Wow, didn’t see that coming! Ever sit near some jerk in a restaurant who begins complaining on cue about his meal so he won’t have to pay for it? This situation has the same feel about it.

Yeah, there are people out there who will steal the glass eye out of your head. Flannery O’Connor must have known a guy like this when she wrote about the Bible salesman running off with that poor girl’s prosthetic leg. But I will live to write another day.

1 comment:

Jas... said...

I am simply aghast that there are people out there with the gall to ask for a service, then refuse to pay for it. His magazine (WB) will not last long that way.

I once drew and wrote for a cartoon series in a local paper when I was about 12. It lasted for five weeks until I found that the editor refused to pay for any of my work. I resigned and to my joy, the paper soon went under.

What goes around, comes around. Good work standing up for yourself, my friend!