Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Mensch by any other name...

The Urban Dictionary defines "Mensch" as:
...someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being "a real mensch" is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous. (Rosten, Leo. 1968. The Joys of Yiddish. New York: Pocket Books. 237)

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For those of you who have worked as freelancers for any length of time -- especially in the various genre fields -- you have most likely encountered a situation when your employer kills a project that you've worked on, or the employer files for bankruptcy, or, to avoid bankruptcy, is purchased by another entity. In my years of freelancing, I've encountered this twice: the demise of Realms of Fantasy magazine, published for a short time by Damnation Books, and the demise and sale of Night Shade Books.

When these unfortunate events happen, the freelancer is typically owed money and, most likely, not all of that money will ever be forthcoming. Some refer to the money that eventually does get paid as a "kill fee"; I prefer to call it a "screw fee." A kill fee comes from the magazine industry, and refers to, say, an article that is written and accepted, but then never published for some reason. The freelancer did the work, but the article is never used; thus the freelancer is typically paid a pre-defined percentage of the money owed. In my case the work was accepted AND used, and there was no pre-defined "kill fee" clause. I simply wasn't paid the full amount owed to me by either Damnation Books or the new Night Shade Books owners, Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing.

And though I would prefer to be paid fully for work performed (Wouldn't we all?), especially at the level of quality that I adhere to for all my projects, I understand that that is one of the risks in freelancing, especially in this business of independent publishers.

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So what do "mensch" and "kill/screw fees" have in common, you might wonder....

When Night Shade Books was sold, the new publishers owed me for four projects that I had completed between November 2012 and January 2013. Though I was paid only a small percentage of what was owed, on the bright side, something is always better than nothing.

Shortly thereafter I received an email from one of the four authors whose projects I had worked on. S/he asked me how much was owed to me for working on her/his project, because, s/he said, "I want to make it right with you." The author was planning on paying me with the money s/he received, per contract, from the new owners of Night Shade Books.

So, using the percentage of what I was paid versus what I was owed, I figured out the difference, and determined how much I was still owed for that one project.

I emailed the author back, and I quote: "I want you to know that I in no way expect any author to repay me any fees owed to me by Night Shade Books. My invoices are for work performed for Night Shade, not specifically for the author." But, of course, if s/he was determined to pay me what was owed on this specific project, I certainly wasn't going to turn down any money. Keep in mind that my work for Night Shade Books was a significant portion of my income, which has ceased to exist as of mid-January.

That email was sent to me on April 10; on July 23 I received emails from both the author and PayPal that a payment had been made to me.

Now that is what a "Mensch" is. And the author? Well, that's between me and her/him, but saying "thank you" just doesn't seem to be enough.

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