Monday, June 7, 2010

What Was Your Most Nightmarish Assignment?

Sooner or later, every freelancer has a horror story if they stick with the writing long enough. Whether it was an indecisive editor, persnickety source, client who couldn't quite make up their mind, or simply a beast of a project or assignment, most writers have had their share of nightmare experiences. But rest assured--those sticky situations pop up in any kind of job. I deal with headaches at my day job every day, so I think I've gotten pretty good at handling difficult situations.

Writing-wise, my most nightmarish assignment to date started out very innocently. I put together my query (I sent 2 ideas to the editor, actually) and sent it off, crossing my fingers as I always do. A few days later I received a response from the editor--she liked my idea but would I mind changing the focus a bit? "A bit" can mean a lot of things, so being the newbie I was (this was probably only my second assignment or so), I was completely agreeable. Well "a bit" turned out to be "a complete shift". The editor went from my rather specific topic to something much more broad and, to my unskilled way of thinking, confusing. I emailed questions almost weekly as I plodded through interviews; she would get back to me right away but somehow still not answer my questions.

Long story short? The final article turned out to be COMPLETELY different than what I'd originally pitched; my second story idea never saw the light of day. I usually get a little bit of a rush seeing my stories appear in print; this time I was disappointed in the final version, since it was nothing like what I'd planned to write. I was also very frustrated with the editor who had all but overlooked my concerns and questions. I haven't written for them since.

What nightmare projects do you care to share?

1 comment:

  1. Ugh--this happens to the best of us, Sara! My nightmare assignment happened right after I left my full-time copywriting job. I'd sent a LOI to this new magazine, and when I got a response the day after I gave my notice, I took it as a sign that I'd made the right decision to leave my job and that more assignments would follow (leaving my job was the right decision, taking on this assignment was not).

    It was a new publication, which isn't inherently a bad thing, but it's certainly a little more risky. The first real sign of trouble was that the editor was SO slow on sending me the contract. I had to badger, beg, plead, etc. to get a contract. But I remained determined to do a stellar job on this piece. It also could have been a cause for concern that my assignment letter included the phrase "Generation XYZ" (ever heard of this? I haven't).

    Anyway, the editor did send me a PDF of my story, but it took months to get paid. She claimed the first check got returned to her as undeliverable. Finally I sent a registered letter demanding payment. I did get a check, but it bounced, so my bank charged me for cashing a bad check (I called and they dropped the fee since it was my first time - always pays to ask). I tried calling and could only get voice mail, so I sent another registered letter demanding a new check to cover the fee they owed me PLUS the cost of the two registered letters. I did eventually get a guaranteed check, but it was almost six months after publication. Ridiculous!

    At least, there weren't many issues during the editing process, but I'd rather a picky editor than one that doesn't pay me!