Dear Aliya: The Magazine Won’t Pay Me. PART TWO.

by

So yesterday, I responded to a dear reader who is being stiffed by a magazine for 500.00. I gave some advice.

Thing is, I wanted to give Broke In Brooklyn two examples. But I ran out of time.

I really want BIB to know about another situation that happened to me. Years after the episode with the fashion magazine. It’s a situation that still makes my blood run cold today.

A few years ago, I was approached to ghostwrite/collaborate on my very first celebrity memoir. What happened is a cautionary tale that must be shared…

It all started with this non-fiction book I wanted to write called Off The Record: The Rise and Fall Of Hip-Hop Journalism.

I interviewed dozens of writers, from Miles Marshall Lewis to Keith Clinkscales about the rise of magazines like Vibe and The Source.

An editor we’ll call Jack, who worked at Random House at the time, was interested. We met over drinks and I pitched my little heart out. He nodded approvingly and told me to write a proposal.

I did. But he passed. As did the rest of the world.

[Sidebar. I was so crushed. I was literally sobbing. Staring at the ceiling thinking I would never ever sell a book ever in my life. The truth was, that book just didn’t have a big enough audience. Jack told me later that the idea was great and the proposal was well done. But he just kept thinking to himself: how many people outside NYC would pay 24.95 for it? He wasn’t sure if it could justify a major advance. And he wasn’t able to convince his higher ups either. Looking back, I don’t think the book would have sold well.]

Years and years later, Jack had a meeting with a man we’ll call…Raul.

Raul had been an executive in the music business for over twenty-five years. And he was ready to write a memoir about his experiences. He had juicy details about how the record business worked.

Jack told Raul that he should get in touch with me.

“I think she could write a good proposal for you,” Jack said. “She pitched me a book on hip-hop journalism a few years back. She’s a good writer and researcher.”

And so. I got a call from Raul. And he wanted me to write his book.

Now, this is 2005. While my freelance career was going well, my book career was non-existent. I’d written the Off The Record proposal and it had been roundly-rejected. And then, I wrote a novel: The Teacher’s Room. It was also rejected by all the editors who read it. Then, I wrote a memoir about my experiences as a stepmom in TG’s early years. I didn’t even send that one out.

So I was really excited about the prospect of collaborating on a book. I can’t say I even knew Raul. He wasn’t a celebrity per se. His name was only vaguely familiar to me. But still. Jack sounded like there was a good chance that he was getting a book deal. I wanted in!

Raul talked a great game. He told me all the juicy tidbits he was going to add to his book. He was outing people about taking payola, giving the backstory on how certain artists got signed. And he had tons of stories about every executive in the game, from Kevin Lyles to Kedar Massenburg.

I did have some reservations about helping someone tell a story that would prove damaging to other people’s reputations.

I got over it.

I was with a very well-known literary agency at the time. And they negotiated the terms of my deal with Raul. It was all new to me and I had no clue what was involved. As part of the deal, I agreed to write the proposal for free. (It’s common for writers to produce a proposal for a celebrity at no cost. And if you’re a new writer with no other books to your credit, you can definitely expect to write the proposal for free.)

Raul and I set up a weekly schedule for phone conversations. (He was living in Virginia.)

And the process began smoothly. I’d call him three times a week, we’d talk for hours. I’d type until my hands cramped up. And I crafted his 50 page proposal in a few weeks.

As I prepared to turn it in, Raul told me about rumors swirling around the deal.

“Aliya, they’re talking about a six figure deal,” Raul said.

“Really?” I asked. “Do you think you’ll get that much?”

“That’s what it sounds like…”

We had negotiated for me to receive 40% of his advance. If he got 100,000, that would be 40,000 for me. Not bad at all. Especially for a first-timer. I was excited.

I handed in the proposal and there was a very strong buzz for the book.

When several editors are showing an interest in a book, the agent or lawyer holds an auction. Editors bid on the book and the highest bidder wins.

So, Raul’s attorney set up an auction because there was a heavy buzz. People were throwing around crazy numbers behind the scenes.

And then, on the day of the auction, the bids began coming in. And they were low. And then got lower. And lower. And lower.

That’s the danger with an auction. Anything can happen.

I’m not sure what went down. But I think the salaciousness of the topic started to worry the editors. And then, I think there were some concerns because some of the book publishers were connected to the very record labels that Raul was skewering in the book.

One high-profile editor pulled out of the auction. And when that happened, everyone backed away.

The winning bid? 45,000.

According to the terms of our contract, I would receive 18,000.

I understood then why my agent had insisted on inserting a “floor-ceiling” clause. My contract stated that if I didn’t receive a minimum of 25,000 for the deal, I could walk away from the contract.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew writing a book would take at least a year of my time. I knew it would be a lot of work–worth more than 18,000. But was I really going to walk away? Raul was firm.

“Aliya, I need you. I can’t start over with another writer! I know it’s not the money we thought it would be. But I will re-configure the contract to give you more royalties. And this book WILL sell. You know that.”

“But 18,000…” I said.

“I know,” Raul said. “I’m giving up all the juicy details of my career for a 45,000 dollar deal? All I’m gonna do is buy myself a little convertible with that money. But the real money will be in the royalties. I promise you this book will sell.”

I did believe that he had an explosive story that could end up selling well.

My agent told me that 18,000 wasn’t enough. But she stressed that getting a book under my belt would be a good thing.

I’d heard this from other writers too. They said you always had to make a sacrifice to get that first book published.

I decided to do the deal.

I met my agent in the lobby of her building in Manhattan. She had a sheaf of papers for me to sign here. And here. And initial here.

“Now what?” I asked her.

“Now we send the contract to Raul. He signs and sends back to us. And we’re all set.”

“Do I have to wait for him to send the contracts back before he and I get started?”

“No,” my agent said. “Getting your contracts together may take a while. It’s time to get to work.”

And so I did.

According to the contract, once Raul signed his contract with the publisher, they would send him a check for 18,000. And in turn, his lawyer would send my agent a check for 6,000. And then my agent would send me a check for 6,000, minus her commission. I’d get another 6,000 when we handed in half of the book. And a final 6,000 when the book was published.

That money was not going to come soon enough. I turned down a few freelance projects because I wanted to give 110% to the book. Even though it wasn’t going to make me a lot of money, this was my opportunity to show what I could do.

I finished the first five chapters of the book quickly. And after a few changes, Raul said he loved it. Every once in a while, I asked my agent about my contract with Raul.

“It’s not in yet,” she would say. “We had to make some minor changes about the royalty structure.”

“But I should keep working, right” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

And so I did.

Months went by. Still no money from the publisher. Still no signed agreement with Raul. But I kept plugging away. I talked to Raul three days a week. Wrote page after page, deep into the night. I did extra research on my own to make sure his facts were correct. I found myself covering my mouth with my hand when he told me some of the seedy stories about the music business. The book was a scorcher.

Finally, months after we began, I got nervous.

“How come you haven’t got the first part of your advance?” I asked Raul.

“I don’t know but I’m getting pissed off,” he said.

I asked my agent. She told me to be patient.

“These things take a long time,” she said.”Keep working.”

And so I did.

The editor who purchased the book asked to see the first half. I submitted it. And I kept working.

And then. I was done. Finished. I had written the entire book. Raul had signed off on every page and he loved it. We’d told his whole story–from his childhood in New York City, to his coked-out introduction to a drug-addled music industry in the go-go eighties, to his redemption and recovery in the 90s.

And he still hadn’t signed our agreement.

The editor who bought the book had a ton of questions, comments and edits about the book. And she set up a conference call for all of us to talk and discuss the edit process. I began to feel uncomfortable. We were already editing the book? And I still hadn’t received one dollar? I told Raul I wasn’t doing the conference call. No way. It would have to wait until I saw some money.

Raul pleaded:

“My lawyer told me they are sending the money this week. Please do this conference call. I can’t talk to them on my own about the edits.”

I did the conference call, furiously scribbling notes about everything they wanted. The editor was very concerned about some of the claims Raul was making in the book. How was he going to prove that [Name Redacted] really gave a radio programmer $10,000 to play a certain song. How was he going to prove that [Name Redacted] was really sniffing coke in his office on a daily basis. There were a lot of claims. Not a lot of proof.

I re-read the entire book that night with the editor’s notes in mind. She was right. Raul’s book was scandalous. But was it all true? I got nervous. This book looked like it might not happen. Raul and I would have a lot of work to do to make sure it wasn’t libelous.

The very next day, Raul sent me a picture in an email.

The caption read: You like my new car?

There was Raul. Sitting in a little convertible.

I thought back to months ago. When he talked about how he would use his advance money.

All I’m gonna do is buy myself a little convertible with that money.

Where the hell did he get money to buy a new car?

While writing the book, Raul had fallen on hard times. He didn’t give me details. But I knew he was living with his elderly mother. And I knew that he had no computer or internet access and often went to the public library in his hometown in order to print out the manuscript. His cell phone was often disconnected. And all he talked about was getting his advance so he could cop this convertible he wanted.

I called my agent immediately. She wasn’t in. I left a message.

“Find out if the money was sent to Raul,” I said. “Now.”

Then I called Raul.

“Call me back,” I said to his voice mail. “Now.”

I never heard Raul’s voice again.

It turns out that the publishing company did send the check for $18,000 to Raul’s attorney. Raul’s attorney sent the check directly to him. He told her he would pay me himself.

He did not.

I blew up Raul’s cell phone for a solid 24-hours. It went straight to voicemail. I called his momma’s house.

“Where’s Raul?”

“Excuse me baby?”

“WHERE IS YOUR SON!”

“Oh. He’s at the library. Can I take a message baby?”

“TELL HIM I WANT MY MONEY!”

“Okay. Let me see now. Let me write this down. Tell. him. I want my… You want your what?”

“MY MONEY. M-O-N-E-Y.”

“Got it. Okay baby, I’ll give him the message.”

Raul disappeared. As far as I know, he never contacted the publisher about the edits they requested for the book. And I assume the book was cancelled. He scammed them out of 18,000. And he scammed me out of 6,000. Technically, I am owed 18,000. Because I actually finished the entire book.

Right now, as I type this, it’s 10:22 AM. I’m sitting at my desk, in my lovely office, sipping on my coffee and typing.

And my teeth are clenched so tight that my jaw hurts.

It’s been almost four years. And I’m still heated.

It is SO not about the money. It’s about getting played and disrespected so thoroughly. I worked hard on that man’s book. HARD. And he took complete advantage of me. He STOLE that money from me, same as if he came in my house and swiped it out of my sock drawer.

I decided to sue him. We did have a contract! He owed me at least six thousand dollars. I called my agent to get a copy of the signed agreement so I could talk to a lawyer.

“Aliya,” she said. “We don’t have a signed agreement. He never sent it back. I spoke to him the day before yesterday and he said he was overnighting it. It never showed up.”

And that was that. Without a signed agreement, I had no leg to stand on in court. He could walk in there and say that I’d agreed to write the book for free. How would I prove otherwise without a contract?

I talked to a few lawyers who told me I could still file a lawsuit and fight it. But the fact was, I’d completed the book and sent it to him without a signed agreement. It would be a tough case.

I didn’t file a lawsuit. I didn’t have one red cent to hire an attorney. And it wasn’t the money I wanted anyway. I wanted my pride back. I wanted the time I’d spent back. No judge in the world would be able to do that.

I moved on. His name was not allowed to be said in my presence. I relieved my agent of her services and hired another one.

I dusted myself off. And I kept it moving.

I don’t know where Raul is today. I didn’t tell anyone but my closest friends and family about what happened. One friend of mine bumped into him a few years ago and Raul asked about me. The friend, (who has trouble keeping his composure in these situations), let it slip that I was pissed off. I got an email from Raul that day:

“Hey, I heard you were mad. Call me so I can explain what happened and we can get back to work on this book.”

Needless to say, I did not respond.

It gets better.

A few months ago, I reached out to a writer to assign them a story for a magazine that I edit on a freelance basis. The writer wrote me back:

“Hey, what a coincidence. I was just thinking about you. This guy named Raul just sent me this book that you wrote with him. It’s good.”

So.

Not only did Raul screw me over. But years later, he’s sending out MY BOOK THAT I WROTE AND DID NOT GET PAID FOR like it’s all good?

Nice, Raul. Real nice.

So what did I learn from that experience? A whole lot.

With all three books I’ve collaborated on since then, I don’t touch my keyboard until the agreement is signed. Frank Lucas screamed on me for weeks last year. Because I was “wasting time” while our reps hashed out the deal. It was the only time I screamed on him right back.

“I’m not writing anything until we get this deal finalized,” I said. “So chill out.”

That was also the first and last time I hung up on him.

With the Faith book, the contract process was a bit slow. And I calmly explained to her what happened to Raul and why I’d have to stop working until everything was straight.

“Handle your business Aliya,” she said. “Never feel bad about that. I’ve been there.”

So, BIB, being owed 500.00 by that magazine may feel like the end of the world. But it’s not. Our dear readers gave you some advice yesterday about how to proceed. And I hope you take their advice.

But most importantly, as your career continues to grow, remember that you are your own boss. And NO ONE will look out for you more than you. No one.

dear readers, how would you handle Raul if you were me? Would you have begged and borrowed money to hire an attorney? Even though you didn’t even have a signed contract? Would you have just gotten Raul beat up? Would you just simmer and be mad and write a blog post about it four years later?

I’d love to hear from you…

P.S. Raul, please don’t reach out to me. I swear fo’ God…

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29 Responses to “Dear Aliya: The Magazine Won’t Pay Me. PART TWO.”

  1. la negrita Says:

    When it comes to the jerks of the world, I always think: Boy are they lucky I got something to lose… Cuz my temper is lethal. I would have had to call in a favor for this one…or gone “ninja in the night” on that car. You better than me! So sorry that happened to you, but low down dirty gods like him always get what’s coming.

  2. la negrita Says:

    Gods = dogs. Oh my!

  3. Kenny Says:

    ….damn I love reading this blog. FRIGGIN’ great read. Very interested in the behind the scenes of the book world. Thanks for sharing. Oh and about the Faith book…Smile.

  4. Kenesha Says:

    I would probably have handled it the same way, but I would have been extra pissed. I might leak a story about what he did to shame him, but if he had fallen so hard people might not even pick up the story. I’m sitting here mad for you though; I bet he’s in VA selling the book out of his car, too!

  5. jay1 Says:

    a couple people owe me money. it’s frustrating. the most frustrating was when i worked for a magazine that would always make up bogus excuses. like they would say “the check is in the mail” and then weeks later the check would show up (lets say on a tuesday) and it would be post dated the previous friday. like they would straight up LIE about having sent it! what is that?!

    but anyway, at the end of the day, when it comes to people not paying you, i’m reminded of an old expression that goes something like:

    “If you lend someone 50 dollars, and they promise to pay you back but you never see them again, consider it money well spent.”

  6. Newmie Newm Says:

    Aliya,

    I am amazed you didn’t put an Aliya-sized boot up his arse. My question is: did you ever run into him again after all was said and done?

  7. Nightfall Says:

    I would have had him “handled” believe that. And he’s still walking around pushing YOUR book like it’s all peaches and cream? Naw, wouldn’t fly with me at all.

  8. Charlotte Says:

    Well… Where we are from the simple solution is to get him lumped up, hood style. Being grown and mature, that’s not feasible so I would’ve done what you did. Sometimes going through the extent of a situation makes us so resistant to allow that situation to happen again. You are as “gung ho” now about having all the paperwork in order before you write because of the Raul situation. Any other solution would have led to nothing good for you. The law is the law and without a contract and Raul being dirty like that, he would have had 10 statements that you agreed to write for free. Big ups for being mature and patient., it is a lesson that you will continue to utilize… And Raul – if you are reading this – DO NOT reach out to her, for your own good. She was the youngest teacher at my high school with the swag of that Math teacher you were scared of… Trust me!!!

  9. ak Says:

    i would have gone to his mother’s house. i’m a little crazy like that.

  10. ak Says:

    oh, and then i would have blown his spot all the way up. to the people he was talking ish about.

  11. ak Says:

    one more thing: every writer, new or experienced, working on stuff at this level needs an agent *and* a lawyer who cares about them–and a greater sense of entitlement. that agent effed up royally. he or she was at bigger fault than the crackhead exec. s#@t, that’s why you have an agent! to protect you from shady people. ugh, this story has me so heated.

  12. BDP Says:

    Great read!!! I had a similar experience as a training consultant. I was training ADP clients how to use ADP’s products. A company called Cemex called me to do a three day training at their corporate office in Houston at a rate of $2,500 per day plus expenses. I was two hours late for the first day of training because I got lost getting to their office in downtown Houston but the training was a success. Ironically, they were located next door to Enron and the scandal was all the talk in media at that time.

    When I returned home and submitted my invoice, they tried to weasel out of the bill because of my tardiness on the first day. I couldn’t believe it!!! I was two hours late on the first day and they were refusing to pay me my money!! Prior to going I spent a lot of time (and money) in Kinko’s making training manuals for these people. Training manuals that I wasn’t making for any other clients at the time. I was hot!!!

    A week went by and just like that (those moments when you know there is a God), a message was staring me in the face. There they were, on the front cover of the Wall Street Journal for doing some shady business in Mexico. This was the perfect opportunity. I could feel the wheels spinning in my head. They were destroying the lives of Mexicans and I thought, the last thing they want is me making some noise in the press over what they did to me! I went online and found an attorney in the Houston area who simply wrote a letter to someone at the company. I swear that’s all she did. Within days, the Fedex man was standing at my door, check in hand and all the attorney wanted was $250.

    ASK, you’re right, it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on!! I learned a lot from that experience and started to structure my contracts differently after that. God’s help doesn’t hurt but you’ve got to stay resilient through it all. Good luck BIB in the future!!

  13. Del Says:

    Yo, Nytba. Let’s meet at Starbucks and plan a Pearl Harbor-esque attack. It’s been years. He won’t see it coming!

  14. Kioni Says:

    I say put that fool on blast. He’s not anywhere near NC is he? You know ill go handle that for you. Gratis. Pro Bono. What is his real name, there’s no need in protecting him.

  15. spamwarrior Says:

    OH my gosh. >.<

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, you screamed and hung up on Frank Lucas. You get props for that. I would have been scared. As for Raul, I would have taken him to court and , it was worth a fight. You had witnesses. And, the first contract without the revisions. You could have used that to at least get the $18,000 and just forgot about the royalties. The editor could have testified on your behalf that he said he was going to pay you. Then, when you won, you could have requested that Raul pay your court costs and attorney fees. Check the statute of limitations on your claim, you may be able to still pursue it. But, that is the attorney in me. The mother in me wants to read your book about being a stepmother to Tg. Maybe you could update to include Tog.

  17. Kenny Says:

    BDP, I don’t know you but at $2,500 per day but I’m think Im going into the consulting biz. LOL. Glad you got your money

  18. Jackie H. Says:

    I’m a Christian, but I would have put some Jamaican roots on him…betcha karma will get em and get em good…and I bet you will be a witness to it all…

  19. aqua Says:

    Wow Aliya. You’re good. I would have made nice with Raul just so I could meet up with him to “discuss” the book and instead lay down the hand of G-d upon his jaw. But, violence solves nothing.
    If you had sued you’d probably would have ended up paying so many fees it might not have even been worth the trouble.
    Your karma is great so surely you’ve gotten that money back three fold in the years since. Though an 18K bonus would be nice during these times…
    The agent though, man, can you incompetent?!

  20. Megademus Says:

    Word, you’re a good writing. Cuz right about now I’m feeling some kind of way about this Raul character.

  21. Tanisha Says:

    Wow Aliya. You are like the fairy god mother of wisdom for writers on so many different levels. Thank you so much for sharing so many of your experiences for those trying expand their writing careers while also trying to avoid getting get sh*tted on in the process. Aqua was right, your karma is so good that you went from dealing with that to a NYTBA. And if he ever tried to bring the book out, with all of your accomplishments and connections, it would be a fool move for a fool dude.

  22. fayemi Says:

    Fairy godmother for writers indeed!!! The nature of the business is what it is. ALWAYS get it in writing!

  23. Luvvie Says:

    How you didn’t pop a vein while writing this is beyond me. I would be flipping tables over while typing.

  24. yes Says:

    Oh hellll to da naw!! lol I wanna cut him myself!!
    I still think you need to go after your money, a verbal agreement is just as good as any contract. And the NERVE of him to ask about you when he knows how dirty he did you. He had to have been on that “stuff”

  25. paulcantor Says:

    Wow that’s a pretty crazy story. That’s like standard music industry fuckery, the whole “we’re waiting on the contracts to be signed, but go ahead and keep working” thing. Going through a tedious little process on the music side of things (not writing) right this very second with something very similar, and have been there many times before on many different levels.

    It’s tough because it’s your passion to want to knock the dang book out. You want to do it so bad that you will do it for free. And people take advantage of that. Same with not getting paid for articles in the attempt to amass clips, build your name, strengthen relationships, and so on.

    Ultimately, you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve, because folks take you for a ride. You almost have to act like you don’t want to do it. There’s a fine line that you have to walk (sounds like you did with Frank Lucas, I have an interesting story about that guy and his opportunist offspring that plays along these lines as well).

    I’ve adopted the mentality of just being coin-operated. I won’t move until I get paid, basically. Or, I won’t move unless I have sufficient reason to believe I’ll get paid. If I feel skeptical, in my gut, that I won’t get paid, I just won’t do it.

    The other side of the coin is, hey you didn’t have a signed contract with this cat, but you had the book completed…. You might have been able to use the book or the editorial content in some other manner

  26. Aliya S. King Says:

    @paulcantor: Hmmm. You mean like, I could post chapters of the book right here on my blog…. Is that what you’re saying Paul? Huh, is it? ‘Cause I could totally do that. Couldn’t I?

  27. paulcantor Says:

    Well, yeah that’s one idea. If it’s as salacious as you made it sound, it could make some serious noise online, where you could serialize it here over the course of a couple weeks or whatever. Just get your ad network game up and let it monetize itself. You’ll also be drawing major traffic to your site, and probably get a shitload of offers to do other stuff.

    You might even be able to regenerate some interest in the original work to the point where the original publisher or a new one steps back to the plate with an offer to put it out. He’s a music industry guy, right? Pretty sure he’s interested in making money. And it wasn’t like he got paid a lot for it in the first place, so to buy the rights back from the original publisher (who lost interest) probably wouldn’t be that difficult. Just speculating though. I mean, where there’s a will there’s a way.

    I mean, you could self publish it too http://www.selfpublishing.com/, perhaps under a pen name (if you want to really protect yourself), and deal with a 3rd party distributor who works in the street corner book business. There’s a huge profit potential there if you know what you’re doing. It’s like mixtapes and the music biz, black market money (ask Drama). You can also publish it online for the kindle through amazon. Money is money and content is content, you can monetize that shit for sure.

    Or, you could take dudes name out and perhaps weave the story into some type of fiction book about the music business. I mean, you’ve got his story. Stories are stories. Great ones work no matter what the person’s name is. Adam and Eve could have been Bill and Amanda, we’d still be talking bout them.

    These are just off the top of my head.

  28. SoSoulfull Says:

    @paulcantor I am SO digging your ideas! Good stuff.
    @aliya OH-M-GEE, this is just too much for words. Sadly, if I were in this position, I would’ve done the same thing. Probably would’ve pressed it more in the courts though, on a verbal agreement tip. Overall, it just totally sucks that someone could be so damn scandalous-kinda ironic though considering the nature of the book. But hey, time will reveal. Karma is a bad mama jama with good memory – he’ll get his!

  29. jovi Says:

    So glad I took my blood pressure meds this morning cause I am HEATED. Sounds like you handled yourself like a LADY, not sure if I could have done the same. I know someone that ‘knows’ someone so that dude would have paid me something and would not even THINK about publishing a word.

    Love the ideas of your bloggers. Hit him where it hurts and get it out before he does so no one will buy ‘his’ book.

    Been away from your blogs for a while but get excited when I have to play catch up.

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