The Business of Writing

Simon Whaley's Resource For Writers

Turning Sunflowers Into Birdfeeders

Payments come in all shapes and sizes. But it doesn’t matter what the format is, it’s important you chase up what is rightfully yours, even if it is ‘just’ a prize.

I’ve finally received my prize for a submission I made to a gardening magazine, which was selected as the Star Letter in their January issue, published at the beginning of December. A neighbour had spotted a sunflower growing out of a branch of a tree. While it wasn’t the World’s tallest sunflower, the branch was certainly giving it an altitude boost.

So I snapped a photo, wrote a 54-word letter and submitted it. I was delighted when they published it as the Star letter, not just because of the prize, but because it meant I had another published photo to add to my DACS claim. My prize turned out to be an RSPB Premium Bird Feeding Station with additional bird feeders and bird food – worth £65. So £65 for 54 words and a photo was not to be sniffed at.

However, I had not received anything by the end of January (and remember, the magazine was published in early December, so we were only a week or so away from the March issue hitting the shops at the beginning of February). I got in touch. My first attempt didn’t result in a resolution, so two weeks later, I got in touch again. Success! I took delivery of my bird feeder last week.

My experiences with letter prizes is varied, but having to chase is not an uncommon one (six months is the longest it took me to get my prize). However, rarely is it the magazine’s fault. Magazines don’t pay for the prizes: they’re promotional tools, used by companies to get a bit of publicity. The magazine simply determines who should be the lucky recipient, and then they pass on the details of the lucky reader to the company offering the prize to sort out.

Here’s what to do when you spot you’re a Star Letter winner:

  • Firstly, some companies are so on the ball you might receive your prize before the letter has appeared in the magazine. Always nice, but if you suddenly get a surprise package arrive one day, and don’t know what it’s for, think about any letters you may have submitted to magazines. (Not every prize comes with any correspondence included, so you may not realise it’s a star prize!)
  • Check the issue date your letter appears in, and when it comes out. Some prizes arrive at the end of the month of the publication date. (My letter was published in the January issue, which was on sale near the beginning of December. So I didn’t start chasing until the end of January.)
  • Don’t get angry at the delay. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it may not be the magazine’s fault, and you’ll need their help to resolve the issue. If the magazine has passed your details onto the PR company, it’s that company’s responsibility to get the prize to you.
  • Contact the magazine (by phone or email) and explain that you’re still waiting. Either use the same email address you used to submit your letter, or look for an editorial or office assistant contact in the flannel panel (the section of the magazine listing its contacts).
  • Explain which issue your letter was used as the star letter, and also state what your prize is. Prizes can vary from issue to issue, depending upon who’s supplying them, so the magazine may need to know the prize in order to determine which PR company to chase on your behalf.
  • Repeat your address, when you get in touch. (Actually, did you give them your address in the first place? With most letters now submitted by email, it’s easy to forget to add this information to your email.)
  • Leave it a couple of weeks before you chase again. If you’ve spoken to someone on the phone they may give you an idea as to when you’ll receive something. If you chase by email then just bear in mind that editorial staff are allowed holidays, are sometimes off work sick and, let’s be honest, put your query at the back of the to-do pile because their priority for the next few days is getting the next issue put to bed.
  • Thank everyone when the situation is resolved.

In my experience, I’ve never had to chase more than twice. (Magazines don’t like unhappy readers!) But it’s important that you do chase, because you’re entitled to what is rightfully yours. 

The birds in my garden are pleased I did!

Good luck.

3 Comments

  1. Lots of good points here, Simon, and several winners in this instance including the local bird population. I once had star letter for a gardening query I submitted so even this aspect can reap rewards.

    Your final bullet point is important, too. Following a weekend break received as a prize I wrote to the magazine thanking them and outlining what we had explored on our trip. Obviously they didn’t often get letters of thanks as they published it and paid me for the privilege.

  2. I had a variation on this theme. I sent an article to a magazine. They sent back to say they might use it at some time in the future. I assumed this was a gentle rejection but TWO years later I had a magazine featuring my article with photos they supplied and a cheque for £50. I was thrilled to bits.

What are your thoughts?

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