How to not get published
It takes serious skill to get an article accepted by two reputable websites, only to not get published by either of them.
It’s a skill I wish I didn’t have.
The following is a story that encapsulates the frustrations of being a freelance journalist. The names of the two publications involved have been substituted for News of the World and The Argus.
WED 31/08/11, AEST 1400: Start writing article about new ABC sitcom At Home With Julia.
WED 31/08/11, AEST 1500: Send off hasty pitch and draft of article to both News of the World and The Argus. Pessimistic about my chances of either website even reading my email.
THU 01/09/11, AEST 1720: News of the World reply to my email. They really like the article and want to publish it, save for one sentence. They ask me to re-submit it with the sentence changed.
THU 01/09/11 AEST 1730: Re-submit article with requested changes.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1130: The Argus phones me during class. They really like the piece and tell me they want to publish the article on Monday. They have changed the suspect sentence and sent an edited version to my email.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1200: Email The Argus and approve of their edits. Inform them that News of the World has already indicated their interest in publishing the article. Ask them what I should do.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1300: The Argus sends me an email while I’m on my way home.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1420: Arrive home. Check email. The Argus gives me an ultimatum. They tell me they are “committed” to publishing the article on Monday. I must make a decision before 1400. I do what I think is the most ethically responsible thing to do. That is, I politely tell them that I will let News of the World publish the piece because they asked to use it first.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1430: The Argus reply. They tell them that if things don’t work out with News of the World then I should re-submit it to them.
FRI 02/09/11 AEST 1800: News of the World confirm that they will use the article. They are not sure which day they will use it, though.
SAT 03/09/11 – SUN 04/09/11: Wary not to count my chickens before they hatch.
MON 05/09/11 AEST 1530: News of the World inform me that there has been a “little bump in the road”. Their weekly columnist has also written on the topic. They tell me that they will make a decision tomorrow.
MON 05/09/11 AEST 1530: Contact The Argus and ask if they will re-consider my article.
TUE 06/09/11 AEST 1100: The Argus inform me that somebody else has since submitted on the same topic. Thus, they will not be using my article.
TUE 06/09/11 AEST 1230: News of the World inform me that they will not be using the article either. They apologise profusely.
Such is life.
* * *
In reflection, I’m obviously a little frustrated about the outcome. At the same time, I understand the demands of the media and harbour no hard feelings for either party.
The Argus had to give me a deadline. News of the World, meanwhile, had to appease their regular writers over insignificant me.
I guess the main lesson is to never pitch to two publications at once. The question that’s plaguing me, however, is did I do the right thing?
Should I have been ruthless and let The Argus steal the piece when News of the World had all but committed to it? Should I have even sent it to both of them in the first place? Should I have been more aggressive and demanded that News of the World fulfil their original promise?
I guess the upside is that I have now established contact with both publications. News of the World feel like they owe me one. And The Argus now know I can write. Hopefully they admire my honesty and integrity too (if those traits do in fact exist in the industry).
In the meantime, the At Home with Julia article now sits at the crossroads. With the programme premiering tomorrow night I have been left with little time to find a bidder.
Watch this space.