What happens when an editor kills a preassigned story? Does a story sit dormant, dying off in a sort of dead letter office? Does it stall in cyberspace?
Traditionally, editors have offered kill fees to writers when commissioned or contracted pieces are pulled from the publication lineup after they have been completed and accepted. Such fees are intended to recompense writers for their admirable efforts, if their work will not be published.
Why would a story be killed?
Articles may be canceled for numerous reasons. Editorial calendars may be altered. Breaking news can trump titles already on deck.
Occasionally, content is scrapped by new editors, replacing those who accepted those pieces in the first place.
What sort of kill fee might a writer expect?
Customarily, a kill fee amounts to approximately half of what an article was likely to fetch in the first place. Like other writing income, kill fees are taxable.
Of course, a writer is not likely to receive remuneration for work an editor rejects.
In most cases, the writer recaptures publishing rights to an article, once it is no longer aimed at actual publication. Often, however, the writer must follow-up with the publisher in writing to regain legal rights to the contracted piece. This is particularly important in cases of exclusive features or news stories.
How do kill fees apply to web writing?
Today, many writers produce articles for online publication only, writing for a variety of websites, news organizations, and content farms. Some such sites offer modest upfront payments for content, in addition to small ongoing percentage payments of advertising revenues, based on the ultimate readership of those pieces. If items are never published, writers reap no residual benefits.
In such cases, the initial cash payments might be considered as kill fees of sorts.
Personally, I have written a few assigned articles for one organization in particular, which has become notoriously noted for parking articles in pre-publication queues and perhaps not publishing some pieces at all. And guess what! I’ve stopped writing for that site.
Real writers write for readers, not just for remuneration.
If a publication, either in print or online, habitually leaves items unaired, the best writers will eventually write elsewhere. Kill fees may offer some payment, but the real reward for any writer is readership.
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By Theodor Kittelsen
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