I’ve since decided to self-publish the piece. You can read it on Medium.
At the beginning of February this year, I pitched a story to one of them Africa-focused internationally-based publications. It was of the Riky Rick, the South African rapper, and the article was meant to coincide with the screening of his short film Exodus which was taking place soon. The pitch got approved. I delivered the story a week later. “Feel free to chop out bits. I’ve also attached a few pictures,” I typed in the e-mail to which I’d attached the article.
A month after submission of the article and the screening of said short film, I received this: “Just wanted to check in to let you know we’ve most definitely not forgotten about the Riky Rick piece. Still very much excited about it. Be in touch with edits asap.” Ait cool, I thought to myself, and said as much in my response in addition to thanking the editor for keeping me updated.
I received another e-mail two weeks later. The ASAP had turned into ‘we’ve been swamped’. Now, I’m not familiar with what people deal with in their swamped states, and have no qualms about waiting, so I responded with ‘cool’ and added a couple of pleasantries.
Another month elapsed. I then received a “it’s looking like that will be around April 28th” to the question about when the article’ll go up. I rested easy. I was still excited. I was disappointed that the editorial team lived up to how I’ve at this point come to accept as standard conduct for editorial teams.
I find them incompetent for the most part, and will leave my reservations at that.
On May 27, I received an e-mail with the suggested edits — the ones I was promised “ASAP” three months ago! I asked about payment in-between the previous correspondence and this one, so at least one part of the cog was moving. I’m disinterested in the story at this point, but the editors are still keen, or so they say. So, yay!
Then on August 4 I sent the following e-mail: “I got paid for this story. Seeing that it never got published, please let me know how to pay the money back since I’d like to use it for something else,” to which I received the response: “I’m terribly sorry about the delay. We’re still really excited to run the piece. It’s almost ready to go. We’re thinking Wednesday.”
I’d gotten extra bored by the back-and-forth at that point. The seeming constant state of panic of the editor didn’t help much either; the “terribly sorry’s” fell flat and read as a disingenuous attempt to…well, I don’t know really. Just paste the fucking thing onto your CMS, format it a little, and press publish. The process is relatively painless and takes less than 15 minutes if you’ve your shit on lock!
A week later, I received an e-mail with edits — the ones I was promised “ASAP” a couple of months back. I’d forgotten about the piece entirely but added extra info because Riky had since achieved greater things since the original piece. Plus I’d just seen him at Oppikoppi that weekend and had a few thoughts to share.
More days passed and then: “Have a question about how the interviews with Riky were conducted. Were they done one-on-one? Or in more of a group setting? Asking because Riky’s creative director mentioned he spoke with Riky about the feature and Riky doesn’t recall doing any one-on-one interviews.”
The first thought that comes to mind following this e-mail, and following my own reflections on the line of questioning followed by the editor in previous interactions, was: ‘Motherfucker, you’re not READING THIS PIECE!’
So I broke it down to said editor like this: The article is the way it is because the PR person, upon finding out that the story was going to be used on-line, outright refused me an face-to-face with Riky, insisting instead that I send questions via e-mail. Doubtless, I made a mental ‘go fuck yourself’ note, and I didn’t send the bloody questions.
The missive I fired off to the editor ended with: “This has been a really, really exhausting engagement [*name*]. I hope that it’s the last set of questions I have to answer from you.”
I haven’t heard from said editor since, and this despite one last attempt to find out what the holdup is. I too have since decided to disengage.
Mental health is of primary importance. Engaging with incompetent neo-colonialists who think the peanuts they offer black writers of African origin give them a license to treat us like the shit they reflect — to silence us, effectively — isn’t the wavelength I’m on.
This has been an exhausting year in as far as freelance writing goes. I’ve decided, for the most part, to cease participating. It’s not faring well for my bank balance, but I’ve still got my heart and soul intact. I’ve also attained a few bruises here and there from other experiences — some committed by publications I hold in high regard — which I’ll doubtless be writing about soon.
Freelancers get treated like shit generally. Black, African freelance writers have it the worst. Not only are we dealing with people who see us as less than human beings, we’re also fighting against a system which serves to invalidate our voices. They refuse to let us do the proverbial ‘telling our stories’; they’re trash, the lot of them; they’re disconnected from the gees of the continent they claim to serve, yet still continue because hey, arrogance has never needed a reason to do what it does, right?!
I might have to swallow my words really soon. But for now: Fuuuuck!