Ever been ripped off by someone you trusted? Remember how it felt? How do you respond? What’s next?
I ran into that recently when working on a Friend-Of-A-Friend project. It’s a long story. I’ll spare you the gory details. Nutshell version: the project/client came highly recommended from long-time mutual friends. Let’s call him “Bob.”
FOAF Bob heard I was a freelance writer via mutual friends. “Would you be interested in writing my memoirs?” asked Bob. “Depends,” I said. “What do you have in mind?” He outlined some ideas, possibilities. I said I’d take a look.
Bob has, shall we say, quite a story. I agreed to take on the project, noting that I might consider offering Bob the FOAF discount off my writing services. But “I don’t work for free” I wrote. As in, I expect to get paid. Kinda like most people who work.
Thought we had that settled. In writing.
Bob lives in another state. So conversations were by email or phone. Following some requisite preliminaries, I dove into the project with both feet. Interviewing. Researching. Basic legwork. Writing. Editing. A few months later, Draft I was born. I emailed the new arrival to Bob. After some corrections and updates, Draft II was en route via cyberspace stork shortly thereafter.
At this point I’d spent about six months on the project. Hadn’t yet seen a dime for my time and effort. So I contacted Bob by email, saying that X amount was due before proceeding to Draft III.
Long story short:
“I thought you were going to do this as a ministry,” he wrote. (That’s code for “work for free.”)
I forwarded back my original email noting that while I might consider a discount, “I don’t work for free.” I thought we were clear on that point from the get-go.
I politely pointed out that the figure I quoted prior to beginning Draft III represented a steep discount in my usual fee. “I think the fee is fair,” I wrote, with additional explanation. “It’s a significant discount and is well below the industry average.”
Never heard from Bob again. Zip. Zero. Nada. Never saw a dime from that project.
Cliff’s Notes version: I just spent six months working for free.
Was I miffed? Is a bear coming out of hibernation hungry?
Miff-ified or not, the question remained: Now what? As in, What am I going to do with a 220+ page draft manuscript that will most likely never see publication? How do I recoup the lost time and labor? Do I even want to bother? Especially since the likelihood of gaining any actual moola was somewhere between seeing Hailey’s Comet again in my lifetime and drinking All the Tea in China.
After all, FOAF Bob suddenly went AWOL. Crawled back into the woodwork. Couldn’t find hide nor hair of him. Emails bounced back. Phone calls went to “I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected.” And so on.
Oh sure, I could probably hire Sam Spade to dig Bob out of Wherever and serve him with papers. But was it worth the effort, time, and expense? I weighed my options.
Meanwhile, what did I learn from this foray into Stiffedville? For starters:
- I tightened up my verbiage, checked with a lawyer, and made my expectations and fees (more) crystal clear for future “Bobs.” And anyone else who’s vertical and breathing.
- Don’t provide a project without some type of payment up front, even if it’s a partial fee. Consider it a “down payment” on the remainder. Translation: No payment, no product. (Even a partial payment for work completed to date is better than getting 100% stiffed.)
- Money matters, but it’s not everything. It doesn’t buy a good night’s sleep or a clear conscience.
Meanwhile again, I moped around Miffedville for awhile. But it didn’t do me or my family any good. I realized I had to make a choice: Was I going to let the experience with Bob Stiff-is-itis control my life, turn me bitter, or otherwise inside out? If I wasn’t going to let this Big Disappointment/Seriously Miffed episode run me ragged, then what?
It took awhile. It wasn’t easy. But I finally decided that I’m not responsible for Bob. His actions or decisions. I’m only responsible for myself. My actions and responses. I also decided I wasn’t going to make a bad situation worse by wallowing in bitterness. I wanted to be “better, not bitter.” The battery acid of bitterness corrodes a soul like nobody’s business. In the end, that route wouldn’t bring in my fee. And it would only hurt me.
At this point I kinda figured I’d been thwacked upside the head enough for one decade, thank you very much. So I decided to let FOAF Bob go. Move on.
How did I do this? Again, it wasn’t easy. Took time. But I was able to do it with lots of help and encouragement from a supportive husband and fam. My good dog. My reading club. I also:
- Deliberately shifted gears
- Chose to move forward
- Launched other writing projects
- Made new friends
- Applied for and snagged an appointment to my library’s Board of Directors
- Took long walks with Kimber the Magnificent
- Took long soaks in a hot tub with lavender and chamomile bubbles
- Did I mention raspberry white chocolate cheesecake?
Then I dug up every Christmas CD I own. Played ’em over and over and over… Here’s a favorite. By The Piano Guys:
Why Christmas music in August? Well, why not?
I love the Christmas season. Eat it up with a spoon. The season is waaay too wonderful to be limited to a mere month. So. Tinsel. Holly. Silent Night, Holy Night. Candles. Wreaths. Evergreens. Angels From the Realms of Glory. In August. (I’m a little short on the snow thing. Nobody’s perfect.)
Christmas is joyous. A celebration. A chance to break out my happy dance. Put the past behind. Learn from my mistakes. But not let them define or trap me.
Christmas is also a season of hope. A promise of good things to come. And lemme tell ya, baby, to the chagrin of my omni-patient dog, Kimber, I’m gettin’ really good at belting out O Come All Ye Faithful at nose bleed volume. In fact, I’m shaking the dust of Miffedville off my feet. Hightailing it outta there. Moving beyond Bob. And choosing joy. Gloria!!!
Who’s with me?