Use Protection. And Proceed with Caution.

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There be pirates here.  (Image source) 

Minds out of the gutter, people.  

I’m talking about protecting your hard work.  From modern-day pirates.

Alright.  So.  I had a great deal of debate with myself for even writing this post.  I’m not a fire-starter or a wave-maker.  I generally don’t like to rock the boat, and even if someone puts the screws to me I usually let it go pretty quickly (that is, after giving them as-diplomatic-as-I-can-manage piece of my mind).  But this is different. 

Because if someone had told me what I’m about to tell you before I got into this, it would have made my life a whole heck of a lot easier.  So, in an effort to make the world of food blogging/writing/photography a better place and help even just one food blogger, I’m going to share.

(To all the non-food bloggers reading, if you’re a blogger in general this may benefit you.  Or if you know a blogger in any capacity, feel free to share this with them.  If you’re not a blogger and don’t know a blogger, feel free to read on if you want, but if not, no offense taken.)

I recently wrote an article along with two original recipes and accompanying photos for a local food magazine that is part of a nationally-sponsored food magazine chain.  (Sorry to be so vague…trying to protect the names of the “innocent.”  ;) )  This is what happened to me (and yes, I look like a fool!), but I’m sharing so that it doesn’t happen to you too…

I should have seen the red flags from the start; looking back, they stick out like sore thumbs. 

It all started about a year and a half ago when I first contacted the magazine editor asking if she was looking for new people to write articles.  She said yes and asked where I’m from, saying that she liked to keep things local (I am local, so no issue there).  I replied back with my location (which is one town away from her office) but she didn’t respond to me again.

Until one year later!  (A little over a year, to be exact.)  I heard from her again in August 2011, asking if I could write a piece for the upcoming holiday issue that included one article and two original recipes along with photos if I had them.  I was thrilled at the opportunity.

She made no mention of payment and I didn’t ask.  I thought maybe she didn’t mention it because they don’t pay for articles (the magazine has a fairly small circulation)…maybe the money they make from advertising all goes into keeping the magazine alive?  So naïve, I know.  I figured at least it would be good exposure and experience (oh how little I knew about the experience I’d really get out of this!), and I’ be helping the local community.  And if they didn’t have the budget to pay me, I really wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it.

Anyway, as a labor of love (really – I labored in the kitchen two full days coming up with my recipes and photographing them, and that doesn’t even include the time it took me to write my article!), I finished my project.  I submitted it to her (before the deadline, actually) but she didn’t even bother acknowledging that she got it.  I emailed her a couple days later and she said she received my article and she’d let me know if they had any questions. 

Ok, no problem.

In early October she emailed me asking for a brief bio; I emailed it to her and also asked for any feedback she could give on my article/recipes/photos, as she hadn’t said anything about my work.  She emailed me back saying everything is (and I quote) “fantastic” and the issue should be out in early November.

Well, it was only last Friday (December 2) that the issue was available.  But okay, maybe they got behind schedule.  Understandable.

Last Friday when the magazine was finally available, I picked up a copy of the issue at a local grocery store.  I quickly thumbed to my article (past multitudes of advertisements, I might add), heart racing with excitement. 

And then I saw what was to be the first of several disappointments.

They had only used one of my recipes (of course they hadn’t bothered to tell me that they were scrapping the other).

But worse than that.

Much worse.

My photo…the picture that I had lovingly taken of one of my recipes…worked so hard on…

Was attributed to someone else.

Someone else.

Right there, in black and white, across the bottom of my picture, was someone else’s name.

I felt sick.  How could this happen?  I mean, how does something as unprofessional as this go unnoticed in the business world?!  In print, memorialized.

Copyright infringement.  Just a fancy term for stealing. 

That was last Friday.  I waited until Monday to email her.  (Like I said, I like to try diplomacy first and there’s no way an email I had written on Friday would have been diplomatic.)  In the email I simply asked her why I wasn’t credited for the photograph I took.

She responded “Faith, This was a mistake.  I will issue a retraction.”  Literally, that was it.  She didn’t even bother to sign her name to the email, let alone offer any means of apology.  Such a slap in the face.  (Really, who bothers to read retractions?!)

That day she also sent me an email asking for my invoice for my work.  I was nothing short of shocked at that, since there had been no mention of payment up until that point.  I thought maybe she was trying to rectify the mistake.  So, I did a bit of research on what to charge for articles, recipe development, and photographs.  I found quite a large range of rates, but I went with the very lowest numbers on everything.  (I tried so hard to be fair with these people!)

And then the next day I got an email back saying “Hi Faith, I just wanted to remind you the rate for your piece is $125, including the recipe.  It is our policy that we do not pay for photographs.  Please let me know if you have any questions.”

Umm, what.  What?

How can you “remind” me of something you didn’t tell me in the first place?

I won’t even get started on the ridiculousness of $125 for both an article and two original recipes (or even one original recipe, since they seemed to ditch the other).  But it would have been nice to know this up front.

However, the real clincher was that I was better off thinking that I was doing the whole piece for free (well, for the exposure, experience, and to help out local commerce) than knowing that they don’t pay for photographs.  Especially after they took my photo and gave the credit to someone else.

That was that. 

Lesson learned.

And please, please, please, take these lessons home for yourself too:

1)      No matter how much you respect a magazine/newspaper/person/entity, don’t be shy to stand up for yourself.  If you don’t, most likely neither will they.

2)      It is your right to get paid for your work.  Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, if they’re getting paid, you should be too.  (And yeah, ads galore in a magazine are a pretty good indicator that they’re making some money.)

3)      Don’t be shy to mention the elephant in the room – payment!  Work out all your rates before you do the work, based on what work you’ll be doing.  This article talks about how much freelance writers should charge and this website helps you calculate a good price for your photography.  Both are just starting points, but definitely helpful.  And get everything in writing, signed by both parties.

4)      Do not give up the copyright to your photos.  You can grant someone a one-time, non-exclusive use with credit to you, the photographer.

5)      Ask to double check all materials before publication to make sure that your given credit for your work and your name appears properly.

I hope this helps someone out there.

Questions or comments?  Please feel free to email me or leave them below.

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  1. says

    Wow Faith! I am so grateful to you for sharing this experience as I can easily see myself in this situation also giving them the benefit of the doubt. But the blatant theft of your work? That is sickening to me. That and the attitude of that Editor – it amazes me how people with so little tact and people skills can rise up in the corporate world into positions of power so easily.

  2. says

    A timely and relevant post, Faith. I think all of us (food writers/bloggers/photographers) are somewhere in the process of being recognized, approached by online and print publications, and trying to receive appropriate compensation for our creativity, time, and effort.

  3. says

    I’m so happy you shared this story! There are so many of us that are just venturing into the world of freelance writing and any tips are totally appreciated. I agree with your tips about money. It’s so hard to bring it up but it definitely needs to be addressed right in the beginning.

  4. mili says

    sorry this happened to you, faith. what a horrible experience. glad you wrote the article so that bloggers are treated with respect (hopefully!)

  5. says

    I feel so sorry for you Faith! That this happened to you! It’s not fair and that person from the magazine is simply selfish and irresponsible! That’s so wrong! I think i should start putting my own website on all my photos on my blog :(

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and don’t give up! I’m sure other magazine editors have more integrity and you will be able to share your wonderful recipes again :)

    Take care!

    • says

      Daisy, Thanks so much for your sweet comment…you’re absolutely right, there are other editors and publications out there with integrity.

      I’ve been thinking of putting a watermark on the my photos on my site…I’m still undecided, but I am definitely considering it!

      • says

        Definitely put a watermark because your photos are too pretty! People are going to steal them :) unlike mine ahhaah i’m still trying to get the hang of it all!
        Wish there was something I could do to help!
        But please cheer up and I’m looking forward to your new recipes :)

        • says

          Daisy, Awww, you’re too sweet! (And I think your photos are lovely! Everyone who looks at their own pictures wishes they were better, lol!) Honestly, comments from sweethearts like you cheer me up — so thank you! XO

  6. says

    What a terrible experience, Faith! I know I would have been livid, but you seem to have handled it with a lot of class and grace. I’m really sorry you poured your heart into this, and that’s what you walked away with. In the publication industry myself (even though a completely different vein of it), I’m baffled at that magazine’s lack of professionalism. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the blog, and I will definitely be using them as I reach out to local publications for my own freelancing.

    • says

      Faith, Thank you so much for your kind words. Really, I was completely shocked at their unprofessionalism…I guess I just never expected that, and this was a real eye-opening situation for me. I hope this helps you in your own freelancing…then at least something good will have come from this! XO

  7. says

    Oh no! That’s awful! I’m so sorry that happened to you! This has already helped me. I’m just like you and don’t like to rock the boat or even bring up something like that either, but I’m so much more motivated to do so now. I do write for our local newspaper, but it is very small, in fact there’s not much in the newspaper at all. They’ve treated me well so far, but I do think I need to bring up some things with them, especially since this is a monthly thing, not a one time article. Thank you so much for posting this. I really don’t think this makes you look like a fool at all, it makes you look like someone that is new to this, which EVERYONE is at some point. It’s nothing to be ashamed of at all. Again, thank you for posting, it’s really helped me to see that I should stand up for myself more already.

    • says

      Heidi, The funny thing is, new at this or not, I should have known better (more than that really, I did know better! I handled my book deal so much better than I handled this), but for some strange reason that I can’t quite figure out, I chose to ignore all the red flags. I guess I’m just chalking this up as a learning experience.

      I want to thank you so much for your comment…honestly, to me, you saying that this has helped you to see that you should stand up for yourself more makes it worth it for me to share my story.



  8. says

    Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry that happened to you! This place seems so unprofessional. Thank you for posting though, I think we bloggers need to hear more stories like this before we get excited about every opportunity.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this Faith. Ages ago, I wrote a few articles fora magazine for free but then I started talking to friends that were freelancers and realised that I would be taking their livelihood away if I wrote things for free and I stopped doing it. I never write for free any more. If they want me to write, they have to pay and pay properly too.

    We all get so excited when someone wants to write for them so I totally understand where you were coming from. I’m really sorry that you had to go through this! *hugs*

  10. says

    I am so sorry that this happened to you, Faith. But thankful you are sharing this important lesson with everyone in the same industry. It’s sickening that people like such does exists in a large number that takes our efforts for granted. It takes a whole lotta action in the background to even write one blog post and I think people have got to realize all the hard-work we put through.

  11. says

    Thanks for sharing your experience—I can see a lot of my approach to (some) professional things in this situation! I do believe it’s best to expect people/organizations have good intentions, but it’s essential to ask those questions up front (even when we don’t really want to!).

    I’m working on getting better at this stuff too!

  12. says

    Amen to all of that! Don’t ever be afraid to ask ahead of time if the publication pays. After all, how many other professions are there where you do the work first and leave the question of payment open to interpretation? Plumber? Tax accountant? Doctor? I think not! One reason the media industry is in so much turmoil these days is that so many folks are willing to write for nothing, which is what so many publications want, too, in this stagnant economy. Of course, that makes it harder for every other writer out there who is actually trying to make a living. So, don’t ever sell yourself short. It doesn’t do you any good nor any of your fellow writers. ;)

  13. says

    I just read Carolyn’s comment and couldn’t agree more.

    Everyone in the arts gets shafted at least once with the “foot in the door, good exposure” carrot… and once in a blue moon, it does lead to something. I found out fairly early in the film business that most people that ask you to kill yourself for next to nothing with the promise of more just move on to the next sucker, and there is always a next sucker.

    Blogs are your foot in the door. A local magazine, unless its the New Yorker, won’t be much help. Many of them are doing quite well because all their content is free… unlike real papers and magazines that have to pay decently… that is a very sad fact.

    Your stuff is too good to waste on a local rag that employs people with questionable ethics.

  14. says

    Faith, I’m so happy you followed your gut and wrote this. This raises all kind of questions for me. I once submitted two recipes during a piece on me for local paper. I bought food, cooked food, etc. etc. and they photo’d but never used photos. I got paid nothing. But, I should have. I contributed print content to the paper that makes money. Duh. Now, I’ve been asked to be on a local tv show to make a dish in January. No mention yet of pay, but there should be pay, as I’m contributing to the show. Great dialogue. You did the right thing posting your terrible disappointment.

    • says

      Angela, Thank you so much for your comment. I felt really foolish posting this at first, but I’m so glad I did in the end. You absolutely deserve to be paid for your tv appearance (a huge congrats, by the way!)…if they don’t bring it up, I would, and definitely before the show. XO

  15. Hannah says

    Ugh, that is the absolute worst and I’m so sorry you had to deal with it! Plagiarism is the one reason why I sometimes hesitate to share recipes and photos… It sucks that not every can just enjoy them and /or provide proper credit when used.

  16. says

    I feel horrible that this happened to you Faith! I’m glad you wrote about it to let us know. I’m appalled at the way you were treated. I know your work was top-notch, as it always is. That woman sounds so unprofessional, not to mention unpleasant and just plain rude!

  17. says

    Faith, I’m so sorry that you had to have to unpleasant experience. That they put someone else’s name on your picture is just outrageous. thank you for writing this post, sure is useful to keep in mind for the future for us bloggers.

  18. says

    Thanks for sharing this–I think it will help a lot of people! I don’t plan on ever trying to get in any mags, but I will remember this if I do. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but you will go into the next situation much better prepared because of it. And congrats on getting in the mag, that is so cool!

  19. says

    Hi Faith. I am so sorry that this happened to you and that you had to go through so much disappointment and probably anger with this whole experience. I really thank you for sharing this article to enlighten the rest of us bloggers! As I was reading, I initially thought it would be good to disclose the magazine name, and let the bad publicity news float through the web. But then, mentioning them is giving them free advertisement. Is there a higher up at the magazine you can talk to. A phone number for the magazine you can look up perhaps? At the very least, you deserve an apology for the “mistake”. Do you even buy that this is really a mistake? Thank you again for writing this post! I’m twitting on my page.

    • says

      Sharon, You’re absolutely right about the free advertising. I think the expression “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is especially true in today’s electronic world that’s chock full of social media. Thanks for your kind comment. XO

  20. says

    Oh Man, what a horribly aggravating and demoralising experience. I really feel for you and thank you so much for writing up this story, as awkward, angering and embarrassing it may be for you to do so, to warn others. The list of bad practice on behalf of the magazine here is large and numerous and hopefully you won’t be contacting them again. I do hope that you will get larger exposure because of it and I do hope that you don’t stop contacting other publications with your now much wiser mind and that, the next time, the process will not be so flawed and inept and downright disgraceful. Hopefully the negativity from this experience won’t affect your holidays and you can go on and have a lovely time! Thank you once again Faith.

  21. says

    Faith, I am so sorry this happened to you and the credit for your photo is outrageous and unthinkable. Over the years I have written a food column for my local newspaper (one in the US, one out of the country). It has been my experience that they do not pay anyone for what they call “guests columns,” so count yourself lucky that you were paid. However, the photo credit is another thing. I would be outraged, but I guess there’s nothing you can do except live and learn. Thanks for sharing this with us. I will keep it for future reference. Again my sympathy to you.

  22. says

    Hi Faith–So So sorry—I had a similar thing happen w/ a local magazine that did not give me print credit for a recipe and story. (although I did get paid, and they corrected the online version.But Still!)) What I have learned is that 1. a reputable, professional place will have a contract for you–even if they don’t pay well. 2. The pay range is quite variable. I write for one national that pays pretty well, but locally (I am the restaurant critic for the city newspaper) the pay is shockingly low.All in the game, I suppose.
    And, thank you for posting this—Tough Lessons learned, right?

  23. says


    Thank you for sharing. I went the ‘exposure’ route for a long time and finally realized that I was ‘exposing’ myself right out of business! What amazes me is the gall exhibited by PR and marketing firms who call and request a write-up and then tell you they have no budget to spend on this type of publicity and the ‘exposure’ my company can offer their clients. Really?

    My general answer now is, “Um, excuse me, but do you work for free?” “I’m assuming that you get a paycheck for the work you do and then you expect me to spend my time, energy and labor for nothing?” WOW!!

    Hang onto your integrity Faith ~ and again, thank you for sharing.


    Heidi Lee

  24. says

    So sorry you had to deal with this, Faith. As a writer by trade, I’ve dealt with my fair share of irritating situations like this. One of the most recent freelance jobs involved a ‘work for hire’ which means that they pay me for the writing but they own ALL copyrights to the work, and can legally attribute it to something else like “Creative team” or can throw it away and not use it or use parts of it without mentioning me as the author or giving me any credit whatsoever. Didn’t know the details when I agreed to take the job, but found out over time that I’d been ripped off. It sucks, but I learned the hard way after working for the startup for about 5 months and writing 120+ articles. I only got a handful (maybe 10) published in my name. AND I got paid peanuts for my work anyway. I was so sour about it for a while, but then decided to think of it as a learning experience – which it was! :) I’m glad you shared your experience though, because a lot of people can learn from it! All the best, Heba

  25. says

    Hi Faith – It sure sounds like you handled an unpleasant situation with class, professionalism and dignity. Kudos to you.

    I’m appalled by the editor’s lack of integrity and sensitivity. Sad.

    By sharing your story you’ve probably helped a lot of bloggers. And me too.

    Thank you.

    “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Napoleon Hill.

  26. says

    Faith, I’m so sorry and quite sad to hear that this happened to a kind hearted and sweet person such as yourself. You displayed extreme patience with this magazine and definitely should’ve at the very least deserved an apology! Hats off to you for dealing with this in such a graceful manner. Thank you for posting this and for making others aware of this. Big hugs to you, my dear.

  27. says

    Wow, Faith, sorry to hear about your awful experience, and thank you for sharing it with us bloggers. I have often thought about even labeling some of my photos, which I know I should do. I can totally understand you being trusting.

  28. says

    Hi Faith,
    I feel your pain because I had something similar happen to me – bottom line don’t ever give put yourself in a situation where someone else takes credit for your work. Yes in hind sight you recognize what might have been red flags but don’t be too hard on yourself, you treat people with respect and you expect that same treatment from others. All my best wishes and keep up your beautiful work;-)

  29. says

    It was very generous of you to recount your rotten experience with us, and hopefully not only protect others, but maybe show those that improperly/fraudulently use material that it’s not all about the bottom line. A lot of passion and hard work goes into what you and others like you do and for it to be used so callously and with no regard to you, the creator, is very low indeed. The points you raised will be valued and remembered by all who have had the privilege of reading it. Faith, the only fault you have in this is that you are just too darn nice! We all need to be a bit more careful with our work. Lesson learned.

  30. says

    Thank you for once again potentially “exposing ” yourself to the judgement of your peers. A shocking expose of people with no integrity. Thank you for sharing this for the good of others around you. You of course have gone the other route showing that you DO have integrity and will go a long way in your chosen field. Sometimes these things happen to prepare you for bigger and better!

  31. says

    Hi Faith, Thank you for writing and sharing this with us all. I am so sorry that you had to learn the hard way. I had an incident with a “big name” company that to put it bluntly completely screwed me over. As you said it doesn’t matter how reputable or even well know the company is, always try to protect yourself. But even so there are just so many people other looking to take advantage of others. I never got anything agreed to, so in a small way you are lucky.
    I read one of the comments saying you are considering adding your website to your photos. I do that to mine because of countless thefts that eat into my income. But when it comes to editorial work most places will not allow any watermarks on photos. Again thanks for sharing this. Best wishes and continued success :)

  32. says

    Thanks for this post, it was very informative. I’m not there yet with blogging/writing, but for the future it is great that someone wrote about it. It’s one of those things that people don’t talk about!

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