EatingWell Magazine: Putting the FREE in Freelance

I want to tell you a quick story in screen grabs. Ready? OK.

It all started on a Friday. Out of the blue, an editor at EatingWell magazine contacted me. To protect the guilty, I'm gonna call the editor Baked Ziti. Here's what Baked Ziti wrote:

[Update: Before posting this story, I briefly spoke with a lawyer who advised me to quote Baked Ziti's emails instead of using screenshots. "Fine!" I said. So, actually, it'll be a story in 50% screenshots of my emails and 50% quoted emails.]

"Hi Amelia,

I edit a new humor column at the magazine and wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in writing for us. It’s an essay (around 700 words) and it can be on any subject you like as long as it has something to do with food/cooking. Thought this was right up your alley. Happy to give you more details.

Baked Ziti"

I'm so used to pitching magazines and not getting responses that this email from an editor actually seeking me out(!) instead of vice versa seemed almost too good to be true. I think you can see my skepticism in my reply:

I am very used to people expecting creative work for free. And in fact, like an idiot, I've given my work for free before to places like Food52--for, you know, exposure! (Sidebar: people make exposure sound like some crazy reward when really, they can give you exposure and also pay you!) My point is that I am very careful to ask: How much does it pay? Baked Ziti responds:

"Hi Amelia,

It does. Generally around $1000. If you’re interested we could hop on a call to talk through possible ideas."

I write back:

To briefly sum up the next few emails: Baked Ziti is on the east coast. Baked Ziti throws out a time to talk that would be 8am my time. We land on 8:30am, after explaining that I've got to get my 1 1/2 year old and 3 1/2 year old out the door. And even still, getting back home by 8:30am is a hustle, but whatever. I'm freeeeeelancing! Weeeee! Let's ride this snake!

So, Baked Ziti and I talk about potential ideas on Friday. It's a nice chat. Baked Ziti tells me to write a few sentences down and send the ideas back, when they're ready, via email. I work on the ideas for much of Saturday while Matt cares for the kids. To be honest, I'm really excited about this opportunity. Not only do I need the money, but it really does sound like a perfect assignment. 

Late on Sunday, I send off my ideas. (NOTE: In my experience, the editor will either be on board with the pitch, in which case you've got the job and you will then come to an agreement on terms/payment or they're not, in which case you don't have the job and buh-byyee!!)
Baked Ziti replies with: 

"Hi Amelia,

I like the first idea of the challenges of working and getting a decent meal on the table--especially for someone who loves to cook. With new writers, we usually do these pieces on spec, if you're down. I'm attaching a couple of the other columns I was telling you about, as an FYI.


In the moment, I am definitely a bit deflated. If you are a writer or creative person, you will know all about doing things "on spec." Basically, it means that the company/person/entity wants you to do all the work for free and then if they publish it, they will pay you for it. I'm also slightly bothered by Baked Ziti's classification of me as a "new" writer. I mean... I do have a book and I've been writing this blog and publishing essays specifically in this food/lifestyle space for almost a decade! That's why Baked Ziti reached out to me, right? Because of my experience as a food/humor writer? 

As you can see below, I immediately forward this email to Matt and we have a nice little back and forth about how lame "spec" work is and how Baked Ziti should've really mentioned this in the beginning, back when I asked about payment instead of just dangling $1000 in front of me like it was nothing. After all, it would have been pretty easy to do, right?

That being said, I've essentially written the piece already. I like it and feel like I can get the job. I write Ziti back:

Baked Ziti writes back right away:


I didn't want to spend too much more time on it, knowing how editors are always editing. So, in two days, I write back with this:

Baked Ziti doesn't get back to me to say they received it or anything. So, in a few days, I follow up, mentioning that I wanted to check in before leaving town for a few days. Baked Ziti says they forwarded it to their editor and to check back with them when I return. 

But then, before I even return, I get an email from Baked Ziti. It says: 

"Hi Amelia,

Hope you had a good getaway! I love the topic of this piece—the idea of loving to cook and having no time to do it and screw all those people claiming you can throw together a great “dinner with ease.” The realness and honestness of that is really appealing to me. But I feel like it would be stronger and funnier in first-person form. I totally get why you spun it this way, I just crave hearing your voice saying all this stuff. Make sense?


This response, in my opinion, is borderline infuriating. Not that the editor is giving me notes. I always expect notes. What's so frustrating is that BZ is treating me like their hired hack without hiring me, and asking for more work without mentioning whether or not I got the job. As if I haven't already spent a decent amount of time on this job. To me, this is unacceptable. I gather up my tiny amount of self-respect and kindly write back:
Baked Ziti doesn't write back.

Three days later, I follow up. Baked Ziti still doesn't write back. 

I actually considered following up again, but what was left of my small, mostly-broken ego held me back. (Also, Matt told me not to.) (Thank you, Matt!)

We had exchanged multiple emails, a call, and the work of writing a column all in one week's time. Now there's been radio silence for two straight weeks. I think it's pretty safe to say I've been ghosted.

Here are a few scenarios in which I would not have gone to the trouble to write this blog post. 

1. The editor had written me back, saying something like: "Sorry! We just aren't gonna pay you until we are 100% sure we are going to publish the piece." 

2. The editor had written me back, saying something like, "Hey, Amelia. Thanks so much for your time and work on this. Unfortunately, we don't see ourselves running this piece. It's a pass. All the best!"

3. Baked Ziti had written me back, saying "Hey, Amelia. Sounds fair! After all, we came to you. You did a lot of work. And now we want you to do more work on the piece. Seems only right. Let's come to some agreement re: payment. I sure did tell you the job pays $1,000, when you asked after all! Oh, and by the way, thanks for clearly communicating with me like that. People generally don't ask if the job pays, they just cross their fingers that we treat them fairly! LOL."

3. The editor had written me back. 

4. If they wrote me back.

NOTE #1: Me being (overly?) sensitive and thoughtful, I Googled this editor's name to make sure that they hadn't died before posting this. After all, Baked Ziti reached out to me initially and had always been semi-quick to respond to my emails. Maybe Baked Ziti had died, part of me worried.

NOTE #2: I'm well aware that this is a minor (and super common) injustice in the grand scheme of things. (Puerto Rico, the history of women being sexual assaulted in this country, and specifically within USA Gymnastics, just to name two that I can't stop thinking about.) And as I said above, if Baked Ziti had just written me back, I would never have posted this. 

To me, this total lack of response is an example of something sick in our culture that causes problems far more serious and complicated than the one I am sharing--the ease with which we are able to dismiss one another. 

OK, friends. That's my story. EatingWell can certainly suck it. 
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