Killed Stories

As a working journalist for thirteen years, I have had many of my stories killed by the publications for which I wrote them. When a story is killed the writer usually gets a 25% fee, but most writers agree that if things were fair, the writer would get 200%. You can tell a story is about to be killed when you hand in the story, feeling great about it, and a few days later get a call from the assigning editor saying he or she has some notes. She then sends you a long email with capitalized bracketed comments throughout the story. Usually these comments are contradictory a) with each other and b) with whatever the assigning editor told you when she first assigned the story. Then a phone call occurs, in which the writer attempts to get the assigning editor to explain the overall problem with the piece. The assigning editor will sometimes acknowledge that the magazine’s entire focus has changed in the eight weeks since the story was assigned. Sometimes she will say that she has a new boss and this is what the new boss wants. Often the new boss will be gone by the time the revised story is handed in. After you make the added revisions (often requiring twenty to fifty hours of re-interviewing subjects repeatedly and/or interviewing entirely new subjects), you get another email saying that there are a bunch of new things wrong with the piece, or that the changes you’ve made have put the story in a direction even more terrible than the one it was going at first. This is when you can be certain your story is getting killed. You make the new changes, spending another twenty to a hundred hours on the story, and a few weeks later (often longer) you get a call saying that it’s just not going to work. You invoice for 25% and the magazine releases your story into the ether, wishing you luck on selling it elsewhere. You try to, and then realize that no magazine wants a story that another magazine has killed.