Whose Fault Is It That I Didn’t Get Paid?

Angela, this one has been bothering me for over three years. Now that I know more about how the writing game works, I am ready to confess my great shame.

A few summers back, I had an idea for an article. I had never written for anything but my own journal and close friends, but I wanted to try my hand at writing and I wrote the article. I then phoned the local community paper and asked if they would be interested in a piece on “wee gardeners” about children helping with the family garden. They liked the idea and told me to email it to the newspaper. Well, I did just that, and it appeared in the following issue. A few weeks later I wrote another article about “crafts for Kids”. I heard nothing back from them, yet that, too, appeared in the paper.

I always wondered what I had missed. I now know that it is dead wrong to mention payment when submitting an article. I also know to never write without a contract. After all the reading and learning over this past year, I realize now that by sending in my articles I had made an offer. They used my articles, thereby accepting my offer, yet did not mention any form of acknowledgement or payment. Am I correct in concluding that I missed nothing, and the newspaper is the one at fault?

This has been an interesting learning experience. My greatest annoyance is that I wish I had submitted the articles to a paying market for their first print!

The final slap in the face was when I went in to their office to talk about the cost of running an ad. They quoted me the going rate. Perhaps I would have felt better about the whole thing if they had been willing to cut me a deal on that little thing!

Needless to say I did not take out an ad, nor will I submit any more articles to this publication!

My question is…who owns my articles now, and if I submit them elsewhere do I have to say they are reprints? I sold no rights, yet they HAVE seen print. I am almost over the whole thing, but it has left me with a trust issue for editors (yourself being the exception, of course).

Your wisdom on this would be greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, many hometown newspapers assume that, when someone local offers them an article, that they’re getting the goods for free. So, yes, you should have mentioned payment…right after they expressed an interest in your article.

When they asked you for full price for an ad, you should have reminded them that they ran your article without compensation. It might have raised an eyebrow, but I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway since you never bought the ad and don’t intend to write for them again.

Honestly, I’d have to say you’re at fault because you didn’t state your payment terms up front, and they were at fault because they ran your article without a contract. I mean, heck, you could have given them an article stolen from someone else and they have no legal protection against copyright infringement claims without a contract.

YOU own the articles, but they have already taken first print rights so you can’t sell those, unfortunately.