There is no better way to end what has been a fantastic month with a post from Kathy Kehrli.
Kathy is the brains behind the currently dormant Screw You! website, and she’s one of the first writers I met when I went freelance. I adored her instantly, and I consider her a good friend. She’s also not that far from me geographically, and someday, we’ll meet.
Why I love Kathy — she asserts herself when needed with clients. In fact, Screw You! was known for its calling-out posts. She’s known as Irreverent Freelancer, and this is why. When Kathy exhausted all usual methods of securing payment from clients, the client’s name went public. And she’s fair –she warned them in advance that nonpayment would result in a public shaming, so to speak.
While that sounds harsh, Kathy has this way about her. She can follow through on her threat and not sound like a harpy or an off-the-rails ranter. She’s matter of fact, and through it all, she still looks like a solid professional.
Who doesn’t want to be like that? Plus, she’s a dynamite writer. And she has a sharp eye for spotting a raw deal. This post illustrates that talent.
by Kathy Kehrli
When Lori came to me and asked me to write a post for Writers Worth Month, I was initially hesitant. Sure, I’ve been freelancing for over fifteen years. Yes, I’ve earned a bit of a reputation for being an outspoken advocate of my profession’s treatment. But I’ve also spent the past three years putting a lot of that on the backburner to pursue a long-time desire—obtaining my MFA and writing my heart memoir.
I’m still freelancing, but “Screw You!”—the blog that made me somewhat infamous in the peer community—has been on hiatus for quite some time. I may return to it at some point, or I may not. New directions are like that. They tend to beget more meandering yens. But the steadfast convictions that spawned that blog have not gone anywhere. In fact, if anything they’ve only become more entrenched.
As I prepare to graduate in July, I’ve spent the past eight months committed to beefing up my creative writing credentials. I don’t want to be one of those graduates. You know the ones: those whose bios are full of worthless filler to cover up the lack of publication credits and contest wins. And I’m not gonna lie. It’s been a struggle. The self-doubt is at times palpable. With each rejection I collect, I second guess myself. Then, just when I’m ready to admit to myself that I don’t have what it takes, a recognition comes along to tell me that, yes, I do. Case in point, I’m currently a finalist for the Penelope Niven Award in Creative Nonfiction. (Keep your fingers crossed for me.)
Beyond the insecurity, however, is a far larger problem—which finally gets me to the point you’ve all been waiting for. Alas, creative outlets aren’t so different from all those Screw You!-worthy job posts out there. If anything, they’re worse. “We regret that we cannot pay our writers, but we hope that seeing your work in print is reward enough.” “We charge a submission fee to cover expenses and with the hope of someday being able to pay our contributors.”
These are the kinds of comments I encounter on a monthly basis. These are the comments that leave me shaking my head and closing my browser as fast as I can. These are the comments that make me think, “Really? I refuse to write gratis material that means nothing to me. You really think I’m going to give away a piece of my heart for free?”
Usually I just surf right past these “opportunities,” but sometimes it’s not so clear cut. Take for instance the contest I recently entered with the $250 prize going to the winner. Entry was free, so I had nothing to lose, right? Until I learned that I was a finalist and that all finalists would be published in an anthology. Two winners—one in essay and one in fiction—for a total of $500. The rest would be unpaid material. And all of those finalist losers would be giving up first rights to their work, thereby almost excluding the possibility of ever being paid for it.
When this gambit fully dawned on me, I wrote the contest promoter and anthology publisher, telling him I wanted to withdraw my entry. And you know what happened? He got upset. He wrote back and told me that I was making a mistake. He said I was still in the running for the $250 prize and that in his opinion I should have waited until the winners were announced before pulling out.
I laughed and then I responded, of course. “I understand your reasoning, and if I were thinking only about myself, I would have waited to withdraw. But that would have put you through all kinds of extra work, which seems unfair to me. I also don’t think it’s fair for me to decide to be published in the book only IF I win the money. No one else is doing that. I’m probably an anomaly, but I still believe in integrity. I try to go through life doing the right thing. I felt withdrawing was the right thing.”
Stay with me. I am going somewhere with all this. The key word in my response to that contest runner is integrity—the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Unfortunately, not enough people in this business possess it. Find your integrity. Figure out what principles you won’t back down on and stand by them, cling them like there is no tomorrow—regardless of the situation. And just as importantly, find clients who possess integrity of their own. Don’t settle for anything less. You owe it to yourself, not only for the sake of earning a living but also for enjoying an unsullied freelancing life.
Kathy Kehrli is owner of The Flawless Word (http://www.theflawlessword.com) where she focuses her energies on math educational, financial, business, and marketing copy writing and editing. She is currently in her final year of the Pan-European MFA program in creative writing at Cedar Crest College. She was a finalist for the 2016 Penelope Niven Award in Creative Nonfiction. At present, she is immersed in sculpting her collection of personal essays into a nontraditional memoir on her heart themes: loss and love.
Writers, what kind of raw deals have you faced?
Have you ever entered a contest only to find out later the terms weren’t acceptable? If so, what did you do?