Or is it? Three recent experiences make me wonder.
The first: I had to hand back a piece of rush editing to a client. I thought, no, I was 95% certain, I could get the work done on time, but I was having pestiferous broadband problems and I wasn’t utterly, utterly certain that I’d meet the deadline. So with great regret I contacted the commissioning editor and suggested they assign the work to another freelancer. As it turned out, I could just have sneaked the job in under the wire, but I’ve sat in too many meetings to take the risk. Meetings where somebody’s name comes up as a potential hiree and somebody else says, ‘Ah yes, but remember X once let us down’. The fact that X may have not let them down several hundred times doesn’t matter – once is enough to get X’s name taken off the list. If you’re a professional, running a business, you can never afford to let a client down. And if you think you might, you have to tell them so, and let them take back the work. It’s the only ethical way to proceed.
The second: one of my nicer clients emailed me earlier this month to say his bank account had been hacked and my payment would be late. It worried me, to be honest – like many another freelance writer, a margin is something I make notes in, not a comfortable financial cushion for situations like this. But I decided to pitch a series of articles to somebody else, just in case there was a more serious problem than he anticipated, and I adjusted my workload to take on a couple of other bits and bobs, to cover the money that wasn’t going to turn up when I’d hoped. Now we’re all back on course, and everybody is happy, and I have more confidence in that client as a result of his honesty.
The third: I had a piece of work published in a literary venue, with whom I signed a contract. I guaranteed several things: that it was previously unpublished etc, and they guaranteed to pay me thirty days after publication. Sixty days after publication I queried them and was told they didn’t have all the financial information they needed to process the payment, so I sent it. Eighty days after publication I queried again to get an email saying ‘one of our funders hasn’t paid us yet, so we can’t pay you until January. Now please leave us alone as we have enough to worry about’.
I don’t like being told not to contact people because their problems are more important than mine. I don’t like the fact that they failed to communicate the problem to me, leaving me to contact them, and then snapped at me for asking, and I don’t like the idea that I have to honour my part of a contract and they can blithely disregard their part. It’s not just alarm bells ringing right now, there are sirens and klaxons and flashing lights going off in my head – because I can’t help feeling that their earlier request for more financial information was just a stalling tactic to get me off their backs.
I hope their funder comes through. I hope I get my money. And I will never submit anything to them again.