After her initial shock at the suggestion, Xie increasingly felt that there was actually only a small budget for the piece — that the editor preferred to spend on art direction, which is why he wanted to ask an in-house writer to write it for free.
While Xie notes that “not all encounters would be as jarring as this”, the essence remains. “Unfortunately, my personal experience with broadsheets is that they often only commission people based on who they know and the strength of the clippings they already have, rather than the strength of the idea alone. Often, broadsheet editors don’t have much time or budget to work with, so they would prefer to run with who they know rather than take a chance.
“At a certain point, most of us have to choose between prestige or making a living, unless you’re backed by a trust fund or are lucky enough to have found a well-connected mentor early on. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can stop living in abject poverty. It’s not about trading in your morals at all, but more adjusting your expectations.”
Building Relationship With Editors
While it can feel like you’ve hit the jackpot when you bag that initial broadsheet commission, most writers will tell you that you’ve only really faced the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, now it’s a case of maintaining a healthy editor–writer relationship, in the hope it will lead to further commissions.
“It doesn’t always work,” admits Kilner. “Getting your first commission from an editor is only half the battle. I was given a commission from one broadsheet editor after weeks of chasing a pitch. She ran it with almost no edits, told me she really liked it and I thought I had a breakthrough with a new outlet to contribute to. Alas, my follow-up pitches have been met with complete silence.”
As a result of not hearing back, Kilner has chosen to move on from that pitch and the editor to focus on “friendlier, approachable, more responsive editors I’ve connected with”. While resilience can pay off, and it certainly is advisable to keep pitching the ideas you think are good enough to make it into a broadsheet, remaining realistic and putting your hard work to better use is also important.
So, if you do have reliable editor contacts who reply and regularly commission and pay you, don’t let them go.