Start-up publications

If you look for opportunities on Craigslist, I’m sure you’ve waded through gig after gig for brand new magazines. All of these publications seem to be started with no capital whatsoever — all of them offer money ‘eventually’, ‘when we get paid’, ‘after the first issue’, or flat out not at all. Some even have the temerity to offer writers exposure — leaving out any arguments about the value of writing for exposure, consider this: if no one’s ever heard of a magazine, exposure in their pages is worth absolutely nothing. Ninety percent of these new magazines will never see a second issue. Their owners don’t understand a thing about the magazine business and will fail miserably. It’s only good sense to avoid them entirely.

But what happens when a friend comes to you — someone you trust to do right by you — and asks you to help out on his new magazine. It’s relevant to your interests, there seems to be a good probability of success, but there just isn’t enough money up front to pay you. What do you do?

Admittedly, it depends on the situation, but there is often a way to make the arrangement more equitable. After all, it is the rare writer who can afford to work for free, although many seem to anyhow. Consider the options:

  • Can you resell the article to another market, if this magazine falls through?
  • Can you offer up reprints of older work, rather than investing a lot of time in this publication?
  • Can you get a trade, rather than payment, such as an ad space in the publication?
  • Can you take on another role in the publication that is more likely to pay? (Editing, ad sales, design — there are a plethora of potential positions.)

If you can’t come up with a way to make the proposition beneficial, you have only two options. You can either tell your friend no, or you can treat the article as a gift, given without any expectation of payment. If you really want to help a friend out, there’s nothing wrong with doing so, but you cannot expect the situation to turn into a paying gig down the line.

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