The year was 2015. December.
My contract at a hotel I had been working at in the Front Office Department for 3 months had just ended. They were not in a position to renew it and so, I had to move on.
Magazine Contributor!! The idea screamed at me.
I knew I could write. I mean, I had always written from childhood. Fiction mostly. In my 20s, I began doing articles in addition to the Fiction I wrote. At 23, I started a blog on WordPress, at the advice of a friend, after someone pretended they would feature an article of mine on their new magazine’s first issue.
That never came to be despite submitting several articles to that effect and seeing what I thought was the original magazine issue. Maybe I had just been duped or conned or whichever of the two applies here but it sure hurt as hell. I remember my mum asking repeatedly, “had you signed a contract before submitting?” and the painful answer was no and I didn’t also want to talk about it because my wound was still fresh.
And so my friend suggesting I start a blog was a welcome relief. Fast forward to 2015 December and I had just clocked slightly over 2 years blogging on different topics. I thought that was enough practice for me to confidently contribute to magazines, because I have always found them more entertaining than newspapers, even though I read newspapers quite frequently.
I had a couple of Kenyan magazines in mind that I wanted to contribute to if I got the opportunity. I began by sending mail to those magazines. A week after sending, one magazine editor replied. She gave me an appointment but the thing I found weird is that she did not give me her number, yet I had given mine for ease of communication. Oh well, I still needed the opportunity so I did not let that unusual fact deter me. I had rent to pay. I also strongly believed that writing could work for me if I got several opportunities at a go.
And so on the morning of our appointment, I sent her mail, asking if we were still on. No reply. I still set out to the venue at The Junction. Mind you, I lived in Embakasi then which meant I had to take two mats to get to The Junction. Thus began my ordeal, under the hands of this magazine editor, who would not reply to my mails nor bother calling the whole journey to the venue. I wasn’t even sure she remembered the appointment to begin with.
I remember getting to The Junction and in desperation, asking the security guards if they had seen her drive in. She’s well known in social circles so I figured maybe, just maybe, they knew her too. But the blank stares they gave me was enough proof that I shouldn’t even have asked in the first place. Sitting at the main entrance looked stupid, so I decided to head over to where the magazine’s offices were located, since my mails were not getting replies. Another source of my frustration. Communicating via email.
I hopped onto a bus again and just when I had alighted at Hurlingham, I finally got a phone call from her, sounding irritated and asking where I was. The speed with which I walked back to Ngong road to get another mat again to The Junction must have been epic! Within no time, I was back and we met.
This Magazine Editor gave me less than 5 minutes of her time. She did not even seem convinced that I could write yet in my initial mail to her, I had sent a link to my blog. The look on her face was enough to discourage me. It was also my first time going to a magazine contribution, related interview, so I also did not know what exactly I needed to research on. I simply thought and assumed that we would pitch ideas and see where I could fall, probably send in some articles and then she would decide on whether one would be featured or not.
Now, I have previously narrated this incident on Facebook and today morning again, (without going into much detail in the most recent) because I consider this, one of my lowest writing moments. It took me months to recover from it. Little did I know that I would much later, resume sending requests to magazine editors with some ignoring my mails and others publishing my articles without pay, all the while acting as if they were doing me a favor, by featuring me in the first place.
Some of these unpaid for, published articles have never been pulled down by these editors, to date.
Why did I see the need to talk about this and narrate my experiences?
Earlier in the day, I was reading through tweets on a hashtag #paymodelske that has been trending in my country, mostly on the 8th of this month. Many models have come out courageously, to speak up on doing modelling jobs without pay or with a promise of exposure or with lunch and transport as payment. Not forgetting the sexual exploitation that some unlucky ones have unfortunately faced. Reading these tweets brought these personal memories flowing back and I felt that many writers too, have similar stories to tell. We just don’t get an opportunity to.
I do not dispute the fact that writing is a passion and it often ceases being a passion, when a writer’s sole motivation changes to money. However, there are good writers who desire to make a career out of writing and I feel, whoever they write for, if in a position to pay these writers for their work, should do so. If not in a position, which is understandable in certain circumstances, then they should be able to treat these writers with the dignity they deserve.
I have personally encountered a magazine editor, who would constantly ignore my messages but would ironically send me mail, with an article idea she wanted me to work on, whenever the need arose. This same editor, would never bother to let me know whenever the magazine issues featuring my articles came out. On the three occassions I was featured, I was always left guessing whether an issue was out.
She would equally ask for a certain number of words for a single article, only for me to read the final product and it was entirely different. Hardly, the one I had sent in with all the additions and many tweaks done to it. I was never paid for any single one of those articles I sent in. And even though I would have gladly still contributed to the magazine without pay, it would have been way more effortless for me had I felt appreciated. Sadly, that never came to be and I ceased sending in any more of my work.
The hashtag #paymodelske couldn’t have been more timely, as it has given not only models, but other creatives as well, a chance to boldly speak up on the need for pay for their services. It is high time that we collectively learned to appreciate creatives for what they do. Yes, most of us are indeed passionate individuals and sometimes, we may gladly do something for free, just out of passion and with a genuine need to get our name out there or to help. However, doing something for free should not be mistaken for gullibility.
Writing may seem easy for others not in the field, but when you sit down with writers and have them honestly narrate the challenges they face while writing, you will realize that it is much harder work than we tend to sometimes think. The long hours spent staring at a screen, the writer’s block that hits you when you really need to submit that article, finding time to write…the list is endless. Writers and other creatives should therefore not be taken for granted.