Giving up my full time job to try and earn a living doing the thing I love – writing (and some of the second thing I love: social media) was like ripping down the safety net, climbing up a big building and promptly jumping off. Freelancing and pitching to magazine editors means you have to jump over and over again, and sometimes a safety net is put out for you, but bloody hell do you have to get used to the falling and crashing. I never expected it to be easy, and I'd made a good start on things well before quitting the nine to five. But I wasn't prepared for the kind of knock-backs I'd get. Nine out of ten times my initial pitch email will be ignored, so far so standard, this is fine. What's most certainly not fine is seeing my idea appear in the same magazine a few issues later, written by a staff writer. Nor is having an editor agree to my pitch, ask me to find someone and interview them about something very personal, and when I've done that then drop the item – leaving me and my poor sidelined interviewee in limbo. The latest kick in the shins I wanted to tell you about is probably the worst yet.
I pitched a London Fashion Week street style article to an artsy fashion magazine, the kind you see in London newsagents that costs £20 and is mostly pictures. The fashion editor said yes and we agreed the commission would be to help me with my portfolio of published work, i.e – be completely unpaid. I spent a whole day at Somerset House, roaming the courtyard and approaching fashion mavens, asking to take their picture and interview them some short punchy questions that would go with each photo. The editor had asked for 40 shots, so I had to do this over two days to get good quality ones. At the end of the first day I sent him six photos and asked if they were good enough quality and was I on the right lines? He emailed back saying they were really good. After day two I asked how he wanted them and he said through WeTransfer. I spent a good two, maybe three hours uploading all the shots and writing a Word document with all forty interviews. I got an email back from the fashion editor asking me how I wanted to be credited. A week or so later I got an email saying "Hope you are well, Street Style will be up by the time you read this." Exciting! I checked their website. I wasn't there. I checked the next day. I checked every day for a week before politely emailing to ask what had happened. No response. I wait another week and send another email. Nothing back. Finally I sent a tweet to the fashion editor, waiting two days for a reply that said "didn't you get my email?" (ah, the mysteries of missing emails, now there's a feature idea…) and that the piece had been dropped due to time constraints. No follow up email, no apology. Oh, I did get a second tweet saying I should pitch another article to them as I "have an eye" apparently. Great.
So lets just re-cap what happened. I had wasted not one, but two working days, doing unpaid labour that I was happy to do (and really enjoyed) but only because I thought it was going somewhere. And I think any reasonable person would agree that this was not some wild assumption on my part; I was strongly led to believe that my article would be published by them – before, during and after the assignment. I had spent money on travel expenses and spent a huge amount of time on transferring photos and writing up the mini-interviews. It later occurred to me that I had also done a substantial amount of PR for the magazine by telling people on my social media what I was up to at LFW, and by telling every single person I photographed what this was for – none of them had heard of the magazine and said they would check it out.
I know, I know, you need to be tough in this business. Most journalists have had things that they worked hard on dropped so you can't cry about it. I tell myself to at least wait until I'm being evicted from unpaid rent to shed any tears. I'm certainly tenacious, otherwise I would have given up long ago and not endured the amount of idea thievery and metaphorical door-slamming in my face that's gone on. It does make me want to get a staff writer job so I can just be creative and get on with what I love. But I know trying to get one of those would probably be harder than trying to get published (I attempted to blag some work experience from the beauty editor of Elle when I met her and she said they only take interns who have already done an internship at a national magazine. SIGH!!). I'm not whining (much) by writing this, I suppose I'm just trying to help any other bloggers out there who want to be lifestyle, fashion or beauty journalists – learn from my mistakes! Although, what can you really do as a new kid on the block apart from brace yourself for some editors being incompetent with the way they commission things (or over-comissioning, however it works?..), and a bit cruel in the way they treat you? I don't know – if you have the answers leave me a comment below. In the meantime, pity the unsuspecting fashionistas who thought they'd be featured in some independent hipster mag, but instead ended up here, anonymous and un-photoshopped – because I can't be bothered to spend a second more on the Street Style That Never Was.
Update: a wise journalist has told me that this is all very common, and that in future I should arrange a Kill Fee.