WritersWeekly Warnings Report
Company: Family Digest Media Group / Family Digest / familydigest.com
I have been writing for Family Digest - a national, quarterly, African-American parenting magazine - since 1999. As a regular contributer, I have gotten several assignments from the editor about four times a year since I started. The assignments usually arrive in blocks (like four at a time) and they pay me upon publication for the group of them (they buy first-time rights).
Although the assignments are always interesting, the checks have been getting later and later. Payment used to arrive by the end of the month of publication when I first started (i.e. spring issue payments would arrive by the end of March as the mag hit the newsstands by March 1), but now a month or more goes by before the check arrives - and I usually have to email the editor a few times to find out when/if the payment has been mailed before that even happens. They used to also send a copy of the magazine with the payment, but that has not been the case for the last few issues, even though I have repeatedly emailed the editor to have copies sent, which she always assured me would be sent out ASAP.
Last November, I accepted an assignment from them for four 1,000 word relationship articles. The assignment letter for these articles arrived with another assignment letter (for three separate articles) - all of which were to appear in the spring '02 issue, although the due date for the relationship articles was a few weeks later than for the others. But when the check finally came, the money for the relationship articles was not included. I sent no less than five emails to the editor about the payment and was informed by another staff member that the editor was out of the office on personal business and, since the stories were going to run in a "special issue" which had not been published yet, I would not be paid until they ran (mind you, no mention of a "special issue" was made in the assignment letter). I ended up sending a certified letter demanding the rights to my stories back. By then the editor had returned and apologized for the "misunderstanding" before mailing me a check.
But now, I am waiting for $775 payment for three articles I wrote for their summer issue ("Traditional African Healing," "To Grandmother's House We Go: How to Survive a Car Trip With Your Baby or Toddler" and "Older Women, Younger Men: Is a Younger Man Right For You?"; these articles Were already written before the spring check thing happened) The magazine was scheduled to hit the newsstands by June 1 and although I did not expect to receive payment until early July or so, it is now mid-August and I am still waiting. I emailed the editor at the end of July, who said the payments "should go out next week" - which would have been the week of 8/5. As of yesterday (8/12), I still had no check or clips - and these articles were submitted to them in February!!
I wrote the editor again on 8/9 and 8/12, but have still not heard anything. I plan on sending (yet another!) certified letter today giving them three days to respond or I will report them to the Attorney General's office in California and the National Writer's Union. I will tell them that I already reported them to your site.
I really like writing for this magazine, but it infuriates me that they treat their writers like this. I could not do the "you give me a product and I'll pay you when I feel like it" thing in the grocery store or at my mechanic's, so why are they allowed to do it to me? I realize this may kill my chances of ever writing for them again, but I have bills to pay just like they do and it isn't fair that they can make me wait for what they owe me like this. And, to add insult to injury, I just found two of my stories on their website although they did not purchase web rights!!
Any help you
can give, Angela, would be greatly appreciated. -
Felicia C. Hodges
Response WritersWeekly received to its inquires into the matter:
PUBLISHER RESPONDS ON AUGUST 23, 2002:
The editor emailed WritersWeekly denying the allegations but did not give us permission to reprint her email here. The editor wrote that she was surprised by Felicia's complaint and that they really valued her work. The editor also wrote that the payment "was mailed to her," that it was not late, and states they did have permission to publish her stories online.
We replied to the editor's email directly, on August 23rd, asking when Felicia's check had been mailed. The editor did not respond to our email. I emailed her again on August 27th asking when the check had been mailed. She again ignored my email.
The check from Family Digest came in the mail today. Thanks for your assistance, because I'm sure that if you never would have contacted them, the check would still be "on its way."
I was going to wait until I got the check to respond to their message concerning my allegations. First off, their assignment letter - the same one they always send - only says "we will pay you $X for the right to publish these stories in our media." If that is supposed to mean they have the right to use my articles on their site, then I think they should either be a little more explicit or offer a contract detailing what type of web rights they are purchasing (at the very least letting the writer know how long they will post the stories).
Also, their assignment letter makes no mention of the payment terms, but, as I mentioned when I first wrote you, payment has been arriving later and later with each issue. These latest three articles were scheduled to run in their Summer 2002 issue, which was due on the newsstands by June 1. Since I started writing for this publication three years ago, payment arrived within 30 days of publication. About a year and a half ago, it started arriving about 40 days after the mag was out. This last payment you helped me finally get did not arrive until August 27 - almost 60 days later than normal, although the editor said payment was "in the mail" at the end of July and did not answer any emails I sent asking if the payment could have possibly gotten lost in the mail. Ironically, yesterday I got an email from one of the people I interviewed for one of the articles telling me how much she enjoyed the piece. She had just gotten a copy of the magazine from the publisher in the mail. I STILL have not even seen it...
The bottom line is that it is not okay to treat any writer like this, but it especially hurts when a publication you have established a good working relationship with up and decides they will pay you when they good and well please. My articles were not late and, as far as I know, the editor had no problem with the way they were written as no requests for re-writes, corrections or clarifications came at all. I held up my end of the deal so why did I have to push so hard (by contacting you and threatening to contact the California State Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau) to get them to hold up theirs? Family Digest Magazine (and any other publication that treats its writers so shabbily) ought to be ashamed of themselves.
I hope this can serve as a lesson on what NOT to do for other writers out there: even if you are writing a grocery list for a client, NEVER write without a contract, whether you have worked with them before or not!
Thanks again, Angela. I don't think I would have gotten paid for this job without you!
UPDATE: Felicia received her check. It was postmarked August 23rd, the same day they received the first inquiry from WritersWeekly (and the same day they responded by email). Felicia wrote, "It was postmarked Friday, August 23. The last email I got from the editor said it would be 'on its way' by August 5."