March 19th, 2011

My first kill fee

Nope, I haven’t become an assassin (I have a cough that can be heard through cement walls, so I’m not sneaking up on anyone these days). In the world of writing, a kill fee is the money you are paid when a magazine or journal accepts your writing for publication and then, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t follow through. This happens more with journalistic pieces that are topical and have a “horizon of interest” beyond which you can’t really sell them. If a periodical locks down your time, energy and research on a story of the day/week/month, then declines to publish it, you probably won’t have time to sell it elsewhere before the news gets stale. So they are obligated (usually contractually; always morally) to pay you for your time and trouble. This prevents caprice in editorial decisions of this nature, and also protects writers against acts of God (I’m imagining the folks who maybe were writing long thoughtful pieces about trade or educational policies the day of the earthquake in Japan, say).

The kill fee does not often come up in the literary world, so untopical are most poems, short stories, even reviews–typically if something goes wrong or the journal runs out of space, you can just scoot things to a later issue and everyone can enjoy it July instead of March. That has certainly happened to my work in the pass and while a little frustrating (I get so *excited* about seeing stuff in print), it’s not a big deal.

When a publication declines to publish something they’ve already accepted, it’s usually a sign of a bigger problem–say, the decision never to publish anything ever again. Thus, by the time word gets to the writers, the editors may not be in a position to take the writers’ emotions or finances into consideration (cough). On the other hand, sometimes the editors are completely on the ball and conscientious, just dealing with circumstances beyond their control, and they send you a thoughtful letter explaining things, and also a kill-fee cheque.

That latter situation is what happened to me this week, and you know what? I still feel sad. I’ve been published without being paid lots of times, and it’s still pretty fun–you get your contributor’s copy or go to the website and then there’s your very own words, formatted and in a novel font, smack up against other people’s words, and you read all the other stuff and then your own “in context,” and then you go around very casually mentioning that other people could read it too, if, like, they want. Which is exactly what I do with paid publications, except without the headache of having to go to the bank.

Getting paid without getting published was no fun at all–I just went to the bank and then it was over. Boo! I’m sure it’s no one fault, absolutely, but I’m still sad. If you offered me money or glory, I’d take glory any day.

Do you have any kill-fee thoughts or experiences to share? Maybe you can cheer me up!

3 Responses to “My first kill fee”

  • frederique says:

    sorry this happened to you, rr… i must say, i love the term “kill fee”. sounds very dramatic!

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks, Fred. I guess it’s a part of professional writing life, but not a fun part. I am trying to be mature (ish). And I like the name too–it’s the best bit!

  • Scott Watson says:

    Reminds me of a story Neil Gaiman likes to tell about Hollywood–that it is fairie gold in reverse, i.e. instead of the gold vanishing, it is the work that disappears. Incidentally Kill fee sounds better than blood money. :)

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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