Mistake No. 82: Acceptance is publication

“Is it definitely going in?”

This is the question a student of mine asked me towards the end of last year, after having received an acceptance of a speculatively submitted article.

She was thrilled. As she had every right to be. She was soon to become a published writer.

Or was she?

Quite a lot can go ‘wrong’ between acceptance and publication.

An editor can simply change his fickle mind.

An editor can resign or be fired, and her replacement may not like your article; or perhaps her replacement wants to stamp her own mark on the publication in question at once, and your article is ex-editor style not present-editor style.

Imagery to accompany your article may prove too costly – is it, the editor might wonder, worth it?

Imagery may be cheap or affordable – but just not good enough.

There may be a legal worry – is a potential libel lurking, that may convince the editor to pull the plug?

Someone key to the story may die, or make the news for a different reason – rendering the piece inappropriate, over-sensitive, or suddenly controversial.

The article might fail to attract any advertisers in adjacent or nearby pages – again, is it worth it? (Financial and business considerations are far more important to a publication than many writers realise.)

Page layout / page style restructuring – for whatever reason – may render the piece difficult to ‘fit’.

There could be a ‘clash’ with an other piece, commissioned by a different editor on the publication.

The editor-in-chief could veto the piece.

I’m sure seasoned writers and editors can think of more…

Actually, there is more danger with a time-sensitive piece. If it’s date-pegged, and it misses its ideal slot, for whatever reason, it may never see the light of day. If this happens, you have every right to ask for your agreed fee, given you were in effect denied the option of selling it elsewhere in the intervening period.

If it’s the opposite of time-sensitive, it may possibly be held for a long time, until there’s a last-minute emergency and gap to fill – and that could be years down the line. Some editors like to keep a ‘reserve’ pile of publishable pieces for such use. (If you submitted speculatively, you probably can’t push for payment prior to publication. If you were commissioned and filed to a deadline, you should press for payment within 30 days of that deadline, irrespective of when they publish.)

The Daily Mail, incidentally, is known in the industry for over-commissioning and not publishing a lot of work (for which anywhere between full fee and half the fee – a ‘kill’ fee – is paid).

But with the exception of the Mail (and let me know if there are other such cases), such shenanigans are quite rare. Having your first (or second, or nth) piece of work accepted is an exciting time, and I don’t want your mood to be too dampened by the lack of cast-iron certainty.

It’s probably going in. It’s overwhelmingly likely to go in.

But no, it’s never definitely going in until it has definitely gone in.

(My student’s piece went in.)

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