I Freelance, But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Free.

I do not suffer fools or lazy editors well.

Being a blogger has never been my ambition.  I looked at blogging as a way to keep my writing skills sharp until something better came along.   I always considered myself a journalist who blogs.   I would have never guessed four years after starting my blog, it would still be my primary outlet.

The option is always there to go back to submitting to the Black press and alternative sites and publications.   The problem with that is after you’ve graduated high school, how many times should you return to visit?    There’s a feeling everyone gets that they have outgrown certain things and for me contributing to Black and alternative publications is a step backward, not forward.

Which is why during a recent trip to Philadelphia, a friend asked me to contribute an article to a website called The Black Commentator, I didn’t pump my fist at the invitation.  Don’t get the idea I think I’m too good for The Black Commentator.   I still enjoy writing for predominantly Black audiences, but I’m past the point where simply getting published is enough.  Where my work is published and by whom matters just as much. As far as anesthetics goes, The Black Commentator website is an ugly throwback to the earliest days of the Internet.   It’s a text heavy, no photography, no illustrations, liberal-to-Far-Left site which has the audacity to lock away most of its content behind a $39.99 paywall.   Paywalls are all the rage these days as more newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post are looking at charging readers a fee to get access to their premium content.

The Black Commentator does not have such premium content to justify such a cost, but that’s an opinion.

I wasn’t fired with enthusiasm to write for the website, but I did it as a favor to my friend.   She wanted an essay about U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and the rough time she would face from Republicans in the Senate if President Obama nominated her to replace the departing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

I wrapped up the assignment in three days.  I edited it for errors and e-mailed it to my friend for her to submit to The Black Commentator.    She said it would probably run in the December  7 edition.

December 7 rolled around and I checked the website.  I had not received any correspondence asking for any corrections to the piece, so I figured it was good to go.   I figured wrong.   My friend sent me an e-mail from the publisher  stating:

We are rejecting Jeff’s piece.  There are two major factual errors in the opening graph.  

Editing is one thing, but re-writing a piece is something we prefer to avoid.

I woud (sic) have sent this note directly to Jeff, but I do not have his email address.

The standard operating procedure for writers and editors, at least the one I’m familiar with since 1992, is you submit an article for publication, the publication goes over the article and makes suggestions for clarification, accuracy, and composition.   Maybe a paragraph needs to be moved from here to there or stricken entirely.   Perhaps the editor has a question and needs the writer to explain how they reached this conclusion or where that quote came from.   This is the process and it a collaborative one.   That is how I’ve always known it to work.

Apparently The Black Commentator doesn’t get down like that.   Was I pissed off?  Surprisingly not that much.  But was I annoyed over the expenditure of time and effort for nothing?  What do you think?   I can’t speak to how the editor learned his craft, but my experience is when a freelancer submits an article and you have a problem with it, you extend them the professional courtesy to revise and resubmit. Or you say it’s too broken to be fixed.  It’s not a fun thing to hear, but you can’t make it as a freelancer if  you can’t cope with rejection.

What an editor should always do is keep your snarky quips to yourself.   I responded:

I received from Miss (name withheld) your note to her of your decision to reject my article on Susan Rice based upon “””two major factual errors in the opening graph.”

As  my friend was serving as both the point person of contact and the intermediary between myself and The Black Commentator editorial, I would have been more than willing to revise and correct any problems in the article—IF I had been extended the opportunity to do so.

Since I was only submitting in response to an invitation from Miss (name withheld)  and to the best of my knowledge I was doing so without compensation, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed by your decision.

However, your observation that “Editing is one thing, but re-writing a piece is something we prefer to avoid”   would probably be more apt had I been offered the opportunity to edit the article after submission.

It’s unfortunate my expenditure of time and effort did not pass The Black Commentator’s rigorous publishing standards, but I certainly cannot correct “two major factual errors” if no one deems it worth bringing it to my attention.   It is not presumptuous for the writer to expect the professional courtesy of being offered the opportunity to correct that which is incorrect.  

The gentle reader might wonder what was  the response from the editor?   He didn’t, which is a response of a sort.

When I write an 1,806 word article and some smart-ass editor who doesn’t know me from a can of paint gives me the back of the hand treatment, I react badly as I am not one prone to suffer silently.   Kill that noise.   You shoot my dog and I kill your cat.   That’s how I get down.

I conquered any uncertainty over whether I was any good as a writer years ago.   I’ve confirmed that I am to my satisfaction, and  do not need  The Black Commentator for validation.

It isn’t egotism or over-confidence to place a value on your writing and decline lesser offers for the service you provide.   Pay me what I’m worth, cross my palm with coin of the realm and congratulations!  You’ve purchased my services and all that entails.   But while I’m a cheap date, I’m not a free one.   That’s what people like this particular editor do not and can not understand.  I don’t care about your titles, I don’t care about your degrees or how much you make or how fine your woman is, how diversified your portfolio is or how big a bat you’re swinging.

That doesn’t impress me.   What does impress me is are you producing a quality publication with high standards of journalism and professionalism?   If you are, then you are the type of person I want to be associated with.

If  you are not, then it’s probably a good thing our first date turned out to be our last date.

One response

  1. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I read your post, Jeff. You are one of the finest writers I have the privilege to read on a regular basis–not that you need me to say this, but it’s true. The editor’s comments are foolish and rude. I’m mystified as to what his/her motivation was in behaving this way. Unfortunately, it really is their loss.

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