Career, Deborah Tan, Self-Improvement

Your Full-Time Job Is Not More Important Than My Freelance One – Deborah Tan

Recently, Deborah Tan took on an assignment that would only pay her if the publisher uses the materials. She has a (not so) few words to say about that.

I wish there is a nicer way to say this but I’m not known for mincing my words so I’m not even going to try.

About a month ago, I was approached by the editorial manager of a media company to “curate” their beauty section for them. The word “curate” itself raised a red flag in my head because I had known – once I saw it – that it meant “cheap, or free, labor in return for credits in a supposedly glamorous collaboration”. The manager said I would be paid $10 for every item they publish and I was asked to contribute 8 beauty products and services that I think would suit their super-luxury title.

When I sent across my stuff, I explained to aforementioned manager that while I had sourced from credible high-end beauty brands and services, admittedly some items fell short of her “at least $500” requirement. To me, as a beauty person, I felt it was more important to submit good beauty products than to just throw stuff in because they were ridiculously priced. I didn’t hear back from her and it was only after some persistent sms-ing did she finally acknowledge receipt of my work.

A week later, I emailed her asking to whom should I send my invoice. No response. When another email failed to elicit a response, I resorted to sms-ing her again only to be asked to approach her colleague who has taken over all matters relating to that title.

One more email to her and her colleague and this was what ensued:

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

1. It turned out that the manager had left the company. Wow. No goodbye email? No handover?

2. The team had decided not to use the stuff I recommended because they fell short of the new “at least $1,000” requirement that was instituted the day before my deadline and never told to me.

3. No apologies from company, new colleague or ex-manager regarding the shoddy communication and treatment towards a freelancer. In fact, her replacement had asked me to keep contributing so I may eventually get published in their magazine. Wow! THANKS FOR THIS WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY!!!!! I’m so grateful for this graciousness!!!!!

The most I would get out of this “curation” is $80. It is an amount I’m happy to overlook because the “collaboration” involved a topic I am deeply passionate about (beauty). But here’s why this entire experience has further cemented my belief that no freelancer should EVER have to take on a job that pays “only if your work is published”.

Because A Full-Timer Would Be Paid Regardless
A full-timer gets paid for his time. He gets paid for the 8 hours of face-time he gives to his company. It doesn’t matter if he is underperforming, overachieving, committed or lazy, a paycheque is deposited into his bank account at a fixed time each month. A freelancer, on the other, gets paid for services rendered. In short, we sell articles, stories and services. We should get paid because the job has been commissioned and because time and effort were put into doing these jobs. If it ever fell short of your expectations, the first resort should be to ask us to redo it. The worst case scenario would be to negotiate a kill-fee (a percentage of the full fee).


We work hard for many reasons; “nothing” is not one of them.

Because It Forces Companies And Editors To Commission With More Consideration
The practice of paying a freelancer only if his work is used often leads to publications commissioning work without thought. Some editors hang on to the work for an indefinite amount of time, so the freelancer ends up not knowing when he will see the payment. Some editors end up not even using the work, meaning the freelancer has “worked for nothing”. If this practice is abolished, it may mean less work is floating around but it means more work would translate into actual payments.

Because Freelancers Are Not The Serfs Of The Publishing World
Many people write for free, contribute for credits, etc. But such arrangements should always be aboveboard and, if ever a freelancer accepts such collaborations, they should be accorded respect and dignity. If I submitted an article without solicitation, sure, feel free to trash my email. But, if this is work that YOU, the full-timer, have asked for, I think it is only courteous to (a) acknowledge you have received the piece and (b) tell me if you decide not to use it. We freelancers are running a business and every project we take on means another project has been “given up”. There is an opportunity cost involved and you need to recognize that what we are doing is giving you the GIFT of our TIME. Fine if you don’t want to pay for it but at least show some f___ing appreciation.

I realize this article may step on a couple of toes, and may be construed as a declaration that we will not be taking work from certain companies. However, the Material World team is confident that the work we produce is of high quality (ask our clients) and we always make it clear to our clients that they can request for us to redo each piece if they are not happy with our first submission.

I believe all freelancers, especially creative ones (because it can be so hard to ‘quantify’ our work sometimes), should band together and put forth a set of industry rules and regulations that we serve to our clients. This isn’t a cry for revolution. We just want to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve for spending years honing our craft and for our commitment to producing good work for those who believe in us.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thanks her lucky stars that all her paying clients so far have been very professional and a joy to work with. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


One thought on “Your Full-Time Job Is Not More Important Than My Freelance One – Deborah Tan

  1. Definitely. Too many people taking advantage of freelancers for the “privilege” of having our work published. Guess what? Not all freelancers are newbies trying to build our portfolio.


Comments are closed.