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Not flying high

Iíd never written for this local in-flight magazine before, but I had an article that I thought would be perfect for them. I got the editorís contact details from a writer friend and sent the article off.

The editor wanted to use it and asked me if I would be interested in doing other articles for them covering events that took place in the Central District since I live in Mahalapye. I said no, that as much as possible now I like to focus on my fiction. Then the editor said that she’d be interested in maybe publishing some of my short stories in the magazine and would I send her some. Everything was fine up to this point.

I sent her a few short stories of varying lengths; she got back to me quickly. She asked if I could provide “visuals” for the short stories.

At this point I decided it was a good idea to ask the rate she pays for articles and what she would be paying for my short stories. The article I sent was an interview and the man provided me with photos to use with the article, which I passed on to the editor. It was wrong of me to have sent any article to the editor until I knew the rate. In the best case scenario, it’s best to get a contract listing payment terms and rights that the magazine is buying. I failed to take my own advice.

The article was about 1,700 words. I was told that I would be paid P1,000. The bare minimum any publication should pay a writer in Botswana is P1/word. The Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) recommends a rate for magazines of R3/word. This magazine was going to pay me 0.59t/word. And to make it even worse, payment was going to be made on publication.

These are the worst terms a writer can agree to. Freelancers should insist that once the edits for the article are finished, the writer should be paid. If that doesn’t happen, then if something changes and the editor chooses not to use your article— something beyond your control— you will not be paid, though the work has been done. Also, they might agree to use the article in March and then push it to June. These terms put the freelancer in a very vulnerable position.

When I was asked if I had “visuals” for my short stories I said no. I was then told I must find “visuals”

on the internet. I said I was not comfortable doing that. Then I was told I should find an artist to make a painting or drawing for my short stories. That artist was to produce the artwork “on spec”, meaning the artist does the job and then the editor can say yes or no. No means the artist will not get paid for work done.  There are so many things wrong with this; I’m not sure where to start. Firstly, I have had my short stories published by airline magazines in Kenya and Nigeria and no one expected me to use my time (keep in mind I make a living only from writing, this would be free time I’d be donating to this magazine) to search for “visuals”. Secondly, writers should not be forced to provide photographs with their stories and articles, this puts professional photographers out of business and it is unfair to abuse fellow artists in that manner—especially for a posh-ish magazine. And as for artists doing a painting on spec, well, it’s ridiculous and insulting to expect a writer to organise a painter to do such a thing. I will not.

Then came the cherry on top. Since I would not submit to the will of the editor, she would no longer be publishing my short stories in the magazine. See, that is a well-worn, time immemorial bullying tactic. For a new writer, which most Batswana writers are, who is desperate to get published, they would have submitted to the bullying. If I were a new writer, I would have done nearly anything to get my short stories in this magazine. But accepting such conditions hurts all of us.

And that right there is the thing that has made me so very angry. Exploitation of this sort is sickening. Just because an editor knows that most of the writers will be new to the game, she takes the chance to squeeze them, and, sadly, she seems to be succeeding.

I wrote all of this in an email to the editor. She wrote back that in 12 years she’s never had a complaint, that it could just be that me and the magazine are not a good fit.

On that we are in complete agreement.

Its all I write



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