Thursday, June 21, 2012

Open Letter to Austin Woman’s Deborah Hamilton-Lynne RE: Fucking PAY ME Already, Would Ya?




Deborah,
Today is June 21, 2012. I still have not been paid. When I turned my article in, two days ahead of deadline, on April 18, 2012, I asked you to confirm that you received it. I heard nothing back from you for many days, even though I sent a follow up note again asking you to confirm receipt as it is very important to me to know that I have met professional obligations to which I have agreed. I also sent you an invoice then, with 30 day terms, telling you I wanted to be paid no more than 30 days after the original deadline of April 20th.

FINALLY you responded at some point, something about you’d been in Ohio and had limited Internet connection or some bullshit like that. I mean really? Ohio doesn’t have the Internet? In addition to educating me about the Luddite burden Ohioans bear, you also said that Austin Woman pays on the 15th of the month of publication. Since the piece I wrote was slated for June, that meant you wouldn’t be issuing a check until June 15th. Well, allegedly. I responded telling you these terms were not acceptable, lamenting that I had been too stupid to get in writing, in advance, an agreement that would have me paid within a reasonable amount of time. I also asked you to see if you could expedite payment and you wrote back saying you would try, but I feel fully confident now that that was pure crap.

On June 16th, I went to my PO Box, which is, according to Google Maps, is exactly 1.5 miles from your office. Having had this PO Box since 1997, I know well from experience that something mailed one day in Austin arrives, 99% of the time, the very next day. As you can guess from the pissy tone of this note, the check was not there. Nor did it arrive on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

Before I specifically berate you and your lack of professionalism, and before I detail the conversation I had with your office manager, let me step back a few paces here and confess that, yes, probably my fury at you has been fed by three decades of being given the fucking runaround by editors and accountants who lie out their ass about when a check has been mailed. I’ve also had this experience with at least two employers, one of whom I had to twist her balls within an inch of falling off to get the thousands she owed me, and the other of whom still owes me $5,000, though she filed bankruptcy to protect herself. So, yeah, cumulative effect and all that.

And also, let me add – in the interest of fairness—that my panties have been in a wad for a long time now over the whole state of the demise of journalism. Some time ago I wrote a piece about how furious I was that “editors” were now offering to “pay” me in exposure vs. cash. I hated that, and it drove me away from making my living as a writer. I went through the stages of grief—I really, really did. But then something funny happened.

Do you know this effect, where someone gets divorced and while it’s happening it feels like the end of the world and they never think life will get better but then suddenly, it does? It gets really, really, really MUCH MUCH MUCH BETTER? As the veteran of two divorces from two assholes, I have to say I’ve had the exhilarating thrill of this experience more than once. And it feels so good I’m almost tempted to marry another asshole just so I can enjoy the post-divorce bliss again (I kid, I KID!). Well once I got away from writing for a living, once I really threw myself into my new career, I noticed I was much happier on a regular basis, so glad for the divorce from paid writing that the Internet had foisted upon me. I mean, just like I’m not going to send my dumbass ex-husbands thank you notes for helping me to see, courtesy of their role as foil, how great life could be, I’m also not sending the Internet a gold-engraved epistle of gratitude. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I didn’t miss the commercial writing. In fact, the absence of deadlines, unrealistic editorial demands, and checks that never arrive on time was totally REFRESHING.

Let me tell you a little story now. A couple of months after my last divorce, I ran into that ex-husband. We showed up to help a mutual friend in need. My ex-husband inappropriately touched me that time, without my invitation or permission. It creeped me out and it confused me and it really depressed the fuck out of me. I’m telling you this story because this is how I feel about you, Deborah. Let me explain.

When you contacted me to write an article, I very much liked the topic, which happened to be a profile of a good friend of mine, someone I really admire. The pay you offered-- $500—was total crap, but I wasn’t in it for the pay, not really. And considering how so many people pay nothing anymore, well actually $500 didn’t look so bad. So I said yes, which, I suppose was me once again demonstrating that I can be the walking definition of insanity. Because I had been away from the game for so long, I had developed amnesia and had forgotten just how shittily so many publications treat so many writers. I fell for your bullshit, Deborah. It was like running into my ex-husband, expecting him to at least be respectable, and then discovering that, no, he was still the same old asshole.

Now let me go over my process in working for you. Gathering info for the story and writing it was a great experience. I also fact checked the hell out of it, guessing that maybe you wouldn’t do that (or, even if you would, I still want to be fully responsible for my work). I then sent the article along with the requested sidebar. Then came that silence I mentioned. Then the exchange about pay. Then time marched on and you sent me a note mentioning that I had not sent you the sidebars, and could I please resend. This puzzled me, since I sent the sidebars with the same email that included the article. I chalked this up to sloppiness on your part, but hell, we all lose attachments and it was no big deal for me to send it again.

Throughout this process, I let you know I was available for revisions, I let you know parts of the story I wanted you to pay close attention to, in short, I treated you like the professional editor you clearly are not. I never heard back again, not until some people started contacting me to compliment me on the piece, indicating to me that it had been published. You never let me know it was out. You never mailed me a copy. You never sent a note of thanks or even acknowledgment.

I began watching for the check. Then I had to run to Houston to see a sick friend. If the check had arrived when you promised it would, I could’ve stayed in Houston longer, because I could’ve deposited it and bought myself a few extra days. Instead, I had to drive back home to deal with my banking. When I got to the PO Box, I thought, “Surely, it must be there.” It wasn’t.

So I emailed you last night, telling you that I wanted to be paid, that it wasn’t cool to not pay me, and that I would come by for the check. This morning, rather than emailing me back directly, you sent a note to Sadie, the office manager, and cc’ed me on it, asking Sadie to track the check. Here’s a hint, Deborah: when you fail to hold up your end of the bargain, and when someone directly asks you about it, the very least you could/should do is respond directly. Instead, you passed the burden on to Sadie.

I’m sure by now Sadie has called you to tell you what a totally fucking unreasonable bitch I was on the phone this morning. I mean, I’m just guessing that was her opinion. But Sadie told me things that made me feel pretty fucking bitchy, so let’s just say I was being true to my feelings. For example, I asked her if she got paid on time and if you got paid on time. She said yes, you both were paid last week BUT that a salesperson was not paid on time. As if that would console me. Console me? I wanted to call the salesperson and say RUN LIKE HELL THEY ARE GOING TO KEEP SCREWING YOU.

Just as you passed your responsibility on to Sadie, Sadie in turn blamed the advertisers for not paying y’all on time. She also mumbled something about if you didn’t have to pay payroll taxes, I would’ve been paid on time. Deborah? I have looked at your magazine, which is jam-packed with ads for shit like plastic surgery (had I known this in advance I might’ve declined the assignment). I asked Sadie if plastic surgeons really weren’t paying their bills and she assured me this was the case. Maybe I should call some of your advertisers and ask them if it’s true what Austin Woman says about them, that they are a bunch of deadbeats.

After I called Sadie, I then called you. To my 100% total lack of surprise, you failed to pick up your phone. I’m guessing you knew it was me. You did send an email telling me that there was no need for me to go to the office to pick up a check today, since, no really, the check is in the mail.

We shall see. I will go to my PO Box shortly. If the check is not there, I will be heading over to the office, waiting to be paid. I have people who are prepared to bring me meals and take care of me for as long as I need to stay until you pay me.

I just want to say a huge Fuck You to you and every editor and accounting department and every other person at magazines who had a hand in me not getting paid on time over the years. You should be ashamed. You make your money off of writers, Deborah. My work pays your mortgage. If you were professional, my work would also be able to pay my mortgage on time. Instead, I am left here, once again, like a fucking beggar, hoping only to get what I worked for.

Sign me,
This Is What It Sounds Like When Spike’s Pissed Off

23 comments:

originaloflaura said...

Wow, I guess I should be grateful that no one from this oh-so-professional mag has ever even replied to my query emails!

Deborah Coley said...

Thank you!

hixo said...

Absolutely love the tone, content and righteousness. I sincerely hope you have humiliated her into writing a check, but editors/publishers/owners have an incredibly high threshold for shame.

Terrific as a portfolio piece. Keep up the good work!

Hixo

Annamaul93 said...

You get 'em Spike!

I am sick to my heart of all the recent rip-offs being recounted by artists I know. It's like some kind of anti-artist plague. These people have no idea how soul crushing they can be to us creative types. And no matter how much everyone else loves your work, it doesn't ensure you're getting paid.

Hang in there! You are an amazing writer.

Karen said...

For just a moment, I thought about an open letter to all the capitalists I worked for over a 20+ year period in the Cable Television biz - many of whom are retired bazillionaires, while I struggle to keep a few bucks away from a big fat 0 in the old checking account each month... but, I feel just reading her honest, from the heart letter has made the feeling ebb. Thanks Spike for makin' my day!!

Beth Eakman said...

Several of my students and former students have worked for AW and your experience seems to be universal. I thought it was just my college students who were being abused for free labor.

David Boldt said...

Deborah -- Pay up, you dead beat! However, I can't help but enjoy the fact that this is such a wondersul comeuppance to all those idiots who said things would improve once women were in charge. I (a male) was editor of a magazine for ten years that won three Pulitzer Prizes, and we always pàid on time. (We did other things wrong, but we paid on time.) I took to heart Fran Leibowitz´comment that the function of editors should be to tell you it's the best thing you ever wrote, and send checks. She or another famous female writer (Nora Ephron? Joan Didion?) reveled in the story of the (male) editor who messengered her check to her so fast that it was delivered to her door before she arrived home from handing in the article!) That, of course, was in another era.

Anjali said...

This is brilliant in just so many ways. And the same thing has happened to me.

I pretty much quit freelance writing after my experience, too.

Urban Denizen #512 said...

Spike, good on ya. You'll appreciate this: "Fuck You. Pay Me." a talk led by Mike Monteiro at San Francisco's Creative Mornings. http://www.dvafoto.com/2011/04/fuck-you-pay-me-a-discussion-of-adventures-in-contracts-negotiation-and-payment/

Carole Terwilliger Meyers said...

As someone who had to take an editor to court for payment, I LOVED this! I am looking forward to reading the second installment, in which you get paid.

Urban Living Realty said...

My personal experience with AW has been fine. I have written for them regularly for several years, and Deborah has always been professional with me and paid me on time. Just my two cents in there. But also, I'm not really sure why you would have accepted the job in the first place? They are up front about when they pay - the month of publication, not when you write it - and about how much they pay. If someone doesn't want to work for that rate or those terms, then don't accept the work. It seems like AW did honor exactly what they said they would do, so I'm not sure why you would take the job at the terms given and then be upset. I get if you don't want to work on those terms, but don't take the work. I've had publishers REALLY not pay me in the past....

Spike Gillespie said...

I wish folks would use their real names here. As I clearly explained, I took the assignment because the subject appealed to me. I was not presented with terms in advance, nor was I sent a contract which should be SOP. Silly me it didn't occur to me that terms would be so shitty. When I submitted an invoice with perfectly reasonable terms, D balked. She then said she would try to expedite at my request. I don't believe she did. Having no recourse, I waited it out. Check was due June 15th. The date came and went. Nothing. She did not directly respond to my request but referred me to Sadie. Sadie noted that yes, checks should have been cut on 15th but that AW was short on funds. I asked if they were so short that no one got paid. She said she and Deb had been paid. I suggested they should pay writers first and THEY should wait. Then Sadie blamed it on payroll taxes. I am so fucking sick of bullshit excuses and lies. I was also told check was put in mail on Monday. In fact, when it did arrive check was dated Tuesday and postmarked Tuesday. No more lies. No more taking advantage of writers. I'm over it. Good for you for having a good experience but based on my reader mail you are a rare exception. I have heard from countless others who have been played by AW. It's unethical and unprofessional. My hunch is you are getting paid a tiny fraction of your worth. We must speak up against this unfairness. We must stop letting these liars and cheapskates take advantage. It is despicable.

tom wolff said...

Hey, this has been my life.




http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

Shiksabelle said...

Amen, and preach it, sister! Am in that same leaky, freelance journalism boat as I type this.
Now -- how does one start a new career?
Thank you for making me laugh about something that normally makes me cry.
Your fan,
Candice Dyer in Georgia

Unknown said...

You should offer for a fee to write letters to people who have others off. It would be great to have you compose letters for others who have been ripped off or pissed on by their bosses.

iovaydim said...

Austin Woman Magazine is a sham. While the content is aimed at empowering woman the 'big shots' at the helm have created a mean girl high school atmosphere and delight in belittling their minions, oops I mean employees.
Stick it to 'em Spike!

Shiksabelle said...

Don't tug on Superman's cape. Don't spit against the wind. And don't jerk around a dame named "Spike"!

The Unbalanced Gourmet said...

Does "Urban Living Realty" advertise with Austin Woman?

foodandwine said...

You seem very, very angry and perhaps need another outlet to vent? Sometimes writing about it can be enough but you seem to be on another level. I have some great therapists I can recommend. In the meantime, I've never had a problem with getting paid from this publication. I'm not sure why you are upset as it seems from your post that the check was indeed in the mail. You hadn't even checked yet? So you wrote this before you even went to your PO Box? Talk about professionalism.......

Spike Gillespie said...

Unbalanced Gourmet-- Not sure if that is one of their advertisers. I had not seen the publication before writing for it, and I only glanced at the issue in which my work appeared. From the looks of it, this magazine, which allegedly aims itself at empowering women, is trying to sell lots of plastic surgery, weight loss, etc-- the sorts of things created to keep women feeling insecure and spending tons of money to fight that insecurity. Too bad.

Food and Wine-- Speaking of venting, here's one for ya: you know what I really fucking hate? I hate it when people who want to criticize do so anonymously. Why don't you grow a pair and use your name? If your writing skills are equal to your reading skills, well please stop calling yourself a writer. As I outlined in not one but TWO posts, Deborah did NOT pay me on time. The check should have been IN my mailbox on June 16th. It was not there on the 16th. It was not there on the 17th. It was not there on the 18th. It was not there on the 19th. It was not there on the 20th. It was supposed to be ISSUED on the 15th. The date on the check was the 19th, which was a full day AFTER the office manager said it was MAILED. Lies, lies, lies, yeah... Deborah paid herself on time according to the office manager. She should have paid her writers first. If she can't manage her business, writers shouldn't have to suffer-- she should take the high road and pay those who were due. Lucky you for having been paid on time by AW. Sounds like you are in a super rare category, so rare that I have to suspect that maybe you're Deborah writing this post? Because I have gotten TONS of mail from people who assure me they have been totally screwed by this woman. I guess she feels it's okay to make the "little people" wait, while she doesn't make herself wait. Totally despicable, unethical, unprofessional and the list goes on. If the remark about therapy was supposed to be a potshot, it was ill-conceived and poorly executed. I've had tons of therapy which is exactly why I am able to stand up to the assholes.

Smarter Cruising with Clark Norton said...

Next time, get a contract. That's lesson number one for any freelancer.

The Unbalanced Gourmet said...

Hey spike, I don't know who this food and wine character is (account established June 2012) but its not me. Beware, there may be trolls about. -sammy

Spike Gillespie said...

Hey Sam,
Thanks for clarifying. Hey Smarter Cruising-- Go Fuck Yourself. Or at least read the bloody post. I have repeatedly noted that it was my error not to get a contract. I did get it in writing that I would be paid on June 15th AFTER I submitted an invoice. Deborah did not honor the terms of that written agreement. So yeah, thanks for the Freelance 101 lesson. Here's a lesson for you-- magazines should automatically kick out contracts to writers. I did not query Deborah, I never even heard of her before. She came asking ME to write for HER. Since she established contact, and since she's allegedly a fucking assigning editor, surely she could've sent a contract. At the very least she could have responded in a timely fashion to my emails. TOTALLY UNPROFESSIONAL.