March 17, 2004
Ask The Expert for March 17th
~When Articles Are Held Hostage~
I'm having trouble with a magazine that gave me a contract for publishing an article. They have held this for more than a year, with no publishing date. I called a couple of months ago, and the editor was very short with me and asked me if I was asking to void the contract! They pay on publication, and with them just holding the article, I cannot sell second or reprint rights to another publisher. What can I do to get them to either publish it or void their contract and send my manuscript (and pictures) back to me? Thank you.
This is a common problem when writers agree to offer first rights, but don't demand a firm "publish by" date.
All writers should now require a "publish by" date on their contracts. Otherwise, they end up like you, with a dead article that may or may not ever be published, along with no chance to sell the article to another until the original pub runs it (if they ever choose to do so). In fact, if you angered the editor enough, she or he may hold the article hostage (never publish it) forever just to spite you.
You can gently ask them for a "publish by" date. If they refuse, you should tell them to cancel the contract and then shop your article to others. However, they are under no obligation to cancel the contract.
You should also alert other writers about the situation. Not giving you a firm or even estimated publication date, while holding an article for a year, is unacceptable.
A few years ago I was commissioned by a publisher to write two small books based on works of literature. They were basically short adaptations aimed at middle school children. I was paid for the work, but the books were never printed because the publisher went out of business.
Now that I'm shopping around an original children's novel I have written, agents and publishers want to know about my publishing history. Can I say I have two published books - even though they weren't technically published? I did, after all, get paid for them.
Also, is it completely irrelevant to mention non-fiction magazine articles and newspaper columns I've had published? (These pieces were nearly all about the high-tech world - about as far as you can get from children's novels).
No, you can't say that you have two published books. Alas, they were not published. When they ask about published books it is because they want to know about sales figures and you haven't had them. But you can say you were comissioned to write the two books and name them. And yes , you should tell them about your printed pieces even though they are not child-related because it talks to your professionalism.
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