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. 


Matthew said...

Well that's the last time I run to my local newsstand asking for the new EatingWell magazine! xoxo

Abbey said...

I totally understand your frustration, and perhaps this editor should have known better. But I wonder about her background--maybe she's a newer editor, maybe EatingWell has a certain process that's different than others'...? If they're reaching out to you for content, it sounds like perhaps the magazine is struggling in the first place. And based on Tim's note above, it sounds like the mag's style of stories may not be in line with what you prefer to write about. At least you've got a story you can pitch to other outlets, though? I'm sorry this was such a frustrating process for you. Hopefully Baked Ziti learned something!

Molly said...

You approached this - from start to finish - with admirably clear communication and a good attitude, and the way it worked out is bullshit. So disrespectful, so lazy. I love that you're calling them out for it. And seriously, Food52: the way they pay (or don't) is an insult, and it makes me livid that people allow it. Also, I think you're great.

Amelia Morris said...

@Abbey WORD. If they have a "different process" though, BZ could have explained that when I asked about payment and next steps, ya know? BZ also could've mentioned this during our 20 minute phone call. In fact, BZ basically admits that since I'm a "new writer" they are gonna do things by SPEC (read: differently). Soooo, I think BZ realized it was gonna be a bummer for me.

Amelia Morris said...

@Tim M @Molly THANK YOU, GUYS!!!

Lisa said...

This is disheartening, indeed. When I was hiring people regularly on a project and freelance basis, I always asked them for their price was and tried my darnedest to get it for them. I wanted people to feel motivated to do good work for me, and wanted them to feel valued. This good juju has come back to me in spades. I'm sure it won't be long before Baked Ziti gets a compensation/non-responsiveness karma burn coming at them sometime soon!
Also I hate how much Food52 marks up their merchandise. Must be nice building an empire on free essays, free recipes, then charging 2-3x other retail outlets for the same damn stuff. You're basically just paying a premium for their curation.

Fine After 50 said...

Good for you, Amelia. I'm proud of you!

brooke said...

I am new to freelancing, but still attempting to help support my family. Besides, the rejections, of course, what I find the most disheartening and discouraging is the lack of pay for real writing and the expectation that exposure is enough. Needing exposure is one thing (I do!), but needing to pay your bills is another. Approaching the topic of pay is a conversation that always makes me nervous - I so appreciate seeing that you own it, and just ask up front.

Tara said...

Eating Well used to be a reputable magazine with evidence based articles written by doctors and dietitians. As a dietitian myself, I loved reading the articles, but like most good things, it’s ruined, filled with ads and articles like some other commenters mentioned above. Just trash, and the way they treated you is garbage too. Eff them.

Shannon Murphy said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. This is crap. And part of a larger pattern, where people spend their lives trying to extract value out of other living things -- people, society, the planet -- instead of focusing on how to give something of value to the world. You have given something of value to the world with this blog, and with this post in particular, so thanks for being part of the solution.

Unknown said...

I love this. And i don't think it's a "Minor injustice" at all. It's a small example of the big ass struggle for women (and anyone) to get the respect, pay, etc that they deserve and be rewarded for asking for it.
EFF THEM and yay you!

Sara said...

Wow, what a load of BS. Good for you.

Cristina@theroamingkitchen.net said...

Uggg I wish I couldn't relate to this at all. I wish I couldn't relate to this right now. Also: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/exposure.

Kristen Iskandrian said...

UGH I felt this in the very core of my being! THE VERY CORE.

sara said...

This is infuriating and you deserve better. Down with baked ziti! (I also love that you nicknamed her after a usually underwhelming dish.)

Amelia Morris said...

@Kerri and Gerald LOLOLOL I kept trying to make the title a play on EatingWell and I think you nailed it.

Amelia Morris said...

@Shannon Murphy & @Jodi Hildebrand Read your comments back to back just as Isaac was waking up from his nap and *almost* burst into tears. IF I'd been by myself, I totally would have. Thank you!

Marnie G said...

I am sorry that this happened to you Amelia-girl (different than the older version Amy-girl). This is a different, non-caring, too casual with other people's time and efforts world. Your story illustrates it only too well. OK, so Eating Well will not get my thought-about subscription and I will only buy it at Half Price Books for 50 cents when it is a month old---or not at all. They can't get away with treating you or any writer so casually. Love, Marianne

Annie said...

As an employed travel editor, I have to say - F EATING WELL!! Thanks so much for writing this all out. Hope Baked Ziti gets wind of it...

sarah said...

I find the instapot thing completely fascinating. DId you know that now people are having "parties" at their houses where you can go and make "33 meals in 2 hours"? It's crazy. And these meals are not healthy---at least I don't think? And they look like dog food a lot.... So.... Anyway, I hope someone publishes your take on it because it would be awesome. BUT I only hope it is published after they pay you! You deserve it and keep fighting!

Dani Elis said...

You go girl!! So many people would have been taken advantage of in your situation!! I love that you've called them out this :)

Heather Struck said...

This is miles beside the point, but it's nuts to me that the editor of a "humor" section would even hassle the writer about the point of view of her piece?? Either you think it works or you pass, no?

Unknown said...

My favorite line: "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." The ease with which we are able to dismiss one another I find endemic in our society - all facets of it...

Amelia Morris said...

@Heather Struck ha. I had a very similar thought. :)

@sarah I found a blog that walked you through how to make 33 meals and it was like tapping into a world I had NO idea existed and that quite frankly, sounded like my personal hell. :) :)

@Annie THANKS! me too!

@Marnie G What a pleasure to see your name here. Thank you for the support!! Hope to see you and some of your children and/or grandchildren soon!!! xoxx

@Kristen Iskandrian Next novel title: Show Me The Money!

@The Wednesday Chef I sent it to Shouts and Murmurs. I'm sure they'll take it and you'll see it soon enough. ;)

@Lisa I am with you!!

Nina said...

I definitely won't be buying EatingWell in the future. Amelia, thank you for your excellent blog, and I'm sorry you had to go through this.

Katie said...

Well....what jerks. I'm more apt to read the article on your blog anyhow! :) I do know though that now you've got me hanging.....I'd love to read what you wrote.....sound very applicable to my day-today.

fpa said...

Amelia, I'm sorry for your experience and for BZ wasting your time. Thank you for sharing it. It's an excellent primer on how to navigate difficult negotiations, be accommodating and realistic, and when it's appropriate to be firm. It's too bad EatingWell isn't as professional. BZ is probably an unpaid inexperienced intern with a big title.

Unknown said...

As I read thru your post I was sooooo hoping for a happy ending! I won’t be eating WELL any time soon! Haha! That Baked Ziti ... does she work for FREE?

בצק אלים said...

very late to comment but i just had to say that:
1. the first sentence had me running to youtube to see 'my best friends wedding" intro
2. i am in awe of how well you conducted yourself in those emails, standing up for yourself in a super assertive, but not unfriendly way. this is the kind of an adult i want to be someday!
3. i loved the fact that you mentioned food52 as this is something nobody actually talks about
4. THANK YOU for writing this!! <3

Sonya said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been freelancing for over a decade in various gigs, and this type of disrespect rarely gets addressed publicly - and yet it happens all the time. The disregard for freelancer's time and labor isn't ok. The lack of communication that occurs is still extremely frustrating to me, although I sadly no longer find it surprising. What you're describing has certainly happened to me multiple times over the years (especially the part where you work on a draft of something, proposal, etc. only to get ghosted). A pass or any kind of response is fair, but silence in this kind of interaction is unacceptable. It really helps to hear about other folks who have experienced similar things. And i also hope it helps those doing the hiring to consider the how their actions may affect freelancers. It's brave to share this, too. I hope a new better opportunity comes your way soon.

supernovagirl said...

This is, somewhat hilariously, the first blog post of yours that I've read and I am now a devoted fan. Thank you for your honesty, your vulnerability and your well placed sense of outrage. <3

moi said...

"If you're down" "honestness" "really liking realness"

My high school English students write better than that "editor."

Kait said...

A friend forwarded this to me and as a freelancer I am standing on my desk clapping my ass off. YES! Also, BZ must have known she wouldn't be Eating Well from an Instant Pot. I saw a bagged dinner go into one of those things that resembled Alpo...

oz said...

any updates on this? just wondering. on the other hand, I am sure you are doing much better things than freelancing for EW - like procrastinating for your second book? much love from istanbul xxx

Jodi Drennan said...

Amelia, I am in the middle of reading your BOOK for the 2ND TIME. (If I love something I am a re-reader.) Wont even pick up EW at the dentist office now. In fact will steal and throw out any copies from said dentist office. ALSO I can’t believe that a couple of weeks ago I started turning on the preciousness of Food52! Your writing is absolutely top of the heap, give none of it away for free unless it is for a charity you support, in which case write a lot as you will bring lots of attention to said charity. I so look forward to the next book and in the meantime remain satiated with the terrific blog. PS I remain solidly behind POTUS and my vote (you might remember our email exchanges from that time) and wonder how you and your mom are feeling about all that now...! What a crazy world we live in! Best, best, best, Jodi

Amelia Morris said...

@Jodi Drennan SO nice to see your name here and thank you for the very kind words about my writing. I think you, my mom, and me can agree on one thing: YES, tis a crazy world indeed. Also, I subscribe to this magazine called The Sun and ever since Trump's election, their content has been geared more and more under what I'd call the "resistance" umbrella. The "Letters to the Editor" section is now my favorite part to read. People writing in to say they are dropping their subscription. People writing in cheering the magazine on. But my FAVORITE: all the in-between people writing in to basically remind us that we're all human, we're all carrying a hard load, and we're all in this together, even TRUMP. ;) xoxxo

Unknown said...

I love that you shared this with this blog-sphere! I think as consumers of fine arts, such as this blog, we also need to be privy to the underworkings of being a writer and consuming the great work put out there by writers WE LOVE (ie: You!)

Unknown said...

I loved that you stuck up for yourself! Good for you!!! I'm so tired of full-fledged companies trying to get services for free while charging people to received said service, and all under the guise of doing YOU the favor (in this case, exposure.)