Here’s the question a fellow writer emailed me:
“Months after I sent a query, the magazine editor wrote me back and said, “Oh! We’d love your article. Go forth, have at it, and send it to us.” Which I did. I submitted it early, with the right number of words.”
Unfortunately, this writer still hasn’t heard from the editor – nor has she received an editorial contract. Now this is all well and good if she wasn’t concerned about earning money for writing. But she is. Her question is, “What would an experienced writer do?”
Below is my advice for when you’ve written an article without an assignment. For more info about freelance writing, read the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing.
When You’ve Written an Article Without a Contract
I think it’s too late to expect payment for that article – but it’s not too late to ask for it! A pleasant, polite, short note would be effective: “I sent the piece a couple weeks ago, haven’t heard anything, did you perhaps send the contract and I didn’t get it?” Something like that.
As long as this writer doesn’t blast the editor, the worst that can happen is the editor says “Sorry, we don’t pay our writers, didn’t you realize?” The best thing that can happen is the editor says she forgot to send the contract, here it is, and you’ll get your check in the mail within a month!” We should all be so lucky.
I’ve found editors to be really, really nice – even the editor-of-the-magazine-I-wrote-for-once-but-would-never-write-for-again was an absolute gem. I liked her a lot.
Writing Articles Without Contracts
I never write anything without a written agreement of payment and deadlines. When I get a “We love your article idea!” I always respond with “Great! What’s your deadline and pay per word?” If they say we have no money to pay our writers, then I decide whether I have the time to write the article (usually not).
Emails count as contracts, and are legally enforceable.
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Should you write without getting paid? Every freelance writer is different….sometimes it’s worth it to write for free, just to break into the magazine, or help a new magazine get on its feet, or promote your books, services, products, or blog. Whether you’re or not your writing to earn money, always make sure you get the agreement in writing. Even a “1,000 words, due Oct 29, $1,000” serves as an editorial contract.