Q: I've been writing articles in one of the local papers here in our hometown, but I've never been paid for my work. The Editor/Publisher of the paper knows me personally. Do I have the right to ask for some compensation for my articles? (Thanks to avid reader Soly Paraiso for this question)
A: There are two separate issues here to consider 1) Can you ask for compensation on pieces that have already run for free and 2) Can you ask for payment on future pieces after writing for free for so long?
Luckily, my brilliant flag-football skills allow me to tackle them both with one post.
If you’ve been sending material to a local paper and haven’t asked for compensation (money, free subscription, box of Goldfish Crackers) and don’t have a contract, it’s difficult to ask for money post-publication. It’s possible the editor ran the pieces only because they were free, or maybe he was testing you out before buying down the road. In any case, I think it’s unwise to ask for money after the pieces have already been published.
Moving forward (and to answer the second part of the question), you should most definitely ask for compensation on all future writing assignments. It doesn’t matter whether the editor is your friend, neighbor or mother-in-law, she should be paying you for your services. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t expect a life insurance agent to give you insurance for free, would you? (If your answer is yes, I’d like to know the name of your agent).
Of course, writing for a local paper isn’t the most lucrative of all freelance gigs, so don’t have unrealistic expectations when negotiating. Remember, other writers—like yourself—will write for pennies (or less) early in their career to get clips, network and establish themselves in the writing community. But once you build a rapport and show you can do the job, it’s not unreasonable to ask for compensation. If the editor says no, you don’t really lose anything—considering you’ve made zero dollars so far. At best, you can earn a little something to help with a vacation fund or, better yet, a subscription to Writer’s Digest (Hey, I had to throw it in there!).
Take care of yourself and your writing,
Brian A. Klems
Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line.