Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: What If an Editor Never Publishes My Article?

By Nicole Dieker December 16th, 2014

I pitched a feature article and set a deadline with an editor. I submitted a draft to the editor a couple weeks later, right on schedule, and we went through a couple of rounds of revisions. Then, nothing.

I emailed a few times to keep in touch, but the piece has not moved forward. It’s now been a bit over two months since she first accepted my pitch on spec, and about 6 weeks since we had agreed on a final draft.

What would you do in this situation? Do I need to continue to be persistent or am I getting the brush-off? I don’t want to pester the editor more than is appropriate, but I also don’t want to fall by the wayside or inadvertently reveal my inexperience.

—Don’t You (Forget About Me)

What would I do in this situation? Most of the time, I just wait, which has worked out pretty well.

In September 2013, I pitched Boing Boing the idea of doing a piece about a trip I took on the Coast Starlight, Amtrak’s last remaining full-service sleeper train. We got it to final draft stage by November 2013. “What It’s Like to Take a 36-hour Sleeper Train From L.A. to Seattle” wasn’t published until June 15, 2014.

That’s the longest I’ve had to wait from pitch to post, but several of my articles have taken three months or more to go from final draft to publication.

So I wait.

I’ve learned two things from waiting:

1. The pieces nearly always run, eventually. You’ll wake up one morning and someone will have left you a Twitter message saying, “Great piece!” Or you’ll get an email from an editor out of the blue, which will hopefully be a pleasant surprise.

2. Sometimes editors really do forget about your story! A good way to remind them about pieces they might have forgotten is to send a new pitch email, along the lines of “I have three more ideas for features, and we also have the Coast Starlight piece still outstanding.”

But it sounds like you’ve been in touch with your editor and haven’t received much of a response. So let’s turn to another resource, Laura Parker’s “Ultimate Guide to Dealing With Unresponsive Editors,” which The Freelancer published in October:

Communicating with editors is like a dance: You want to make your presence known, but you don’t want to come on too strong and give them a reason to back away. Patience on your part demonstrates you really want to work for them, and this will only work in your favor.

But what if the editor just never runs your piece and never pays you for it? This is where having a contract in hand becomes very important, because with the contract in place, you can invoke the freelancer’s safety net: the kill fee.

Not all of my contracts have included kill fees, but many have. This is the fee the publication is obligated to pay you if they do not publish your work—usually about 25 percent, which is better than nothing.

I am guessing you did not receive a contract for this piece, but regardless, if you haven’t received any response from your editor after three months, send a polite email to the effect of: “I’m checking back in on the status of the article I turned in September. Do you have a publication date planned? Just want to see if we should talk about a kill fee.”

If your editor still does not respond, you’re going to have to start the annoying legwork of following up again, trying a phone call, or asking someone who works with your editor to pass along your message face to face. You have to be direct and persistent, but not accusatory.

Finally, let’s end with some good advice from editors:

Nicole Cliffe, The Toast editor: “Do not worry if your piece doesn’t run right away, or in a few weeks; I’ve just started telling new writers that they can expect it’ll be at least two months before it goes up.

Trish Hall, The New York Times op-ed and Sunday Review editor: “But once we have accepted a piece, we will do everything we can to make sure it runs on one of our platforms. Sometimes, that happens months after a piece is written, an occurrence that must be absolutely maddening to writers.”

Adam Sternbergh, New York magazine and Vulture contributing editor: “This is totally personal to me, but: I don’t mind reminder emails. If you haven’t heard, check in. Once/wk sounds right.”

I hope—and predict—that your piece runs within the next three months, and please send me a note if it does! In the meantime, keep following up. You deserve a response, and as long as you’re respectful over email, you should get one… eventually.

Nicole Dieker is good at being patient. Look at her patiently waiting for you to send that Ask a Freelancer question that’s been burning a hole in your mind. When you’re ready, send it to dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

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