It's never happened before and it will probably never happen again, but last week I had a 'first'. No, not a first place in a competition, but a first experience. I got paid ... for being rejected!
The cheque in question was from The Lady. In 2008, I'd submitted an article, which they accepted. It had a topical hook and ideally, needed to be used in November sometime. But, it didn't appear in the November 2008 issues. (remember, The Lady is a weekly publication.) Then, in 2009, The Lady went through it's revamp, so when it didn't appear in the November 2009 issues, I sent a polite letter inquiring as to whether they still planned to use the piece. They replied, quoting the magazine's revamp as the reason as to why the piece hadn't been used, apologising for the inconvenience and saying that they saw no opportunities for being able to use it in the near future, therefore they wished me luck in placing it elsewhere.
I duly tweaked the article for another magazine, submitted it, and they accepted it! So, no skin off my nose really.
And then last week I received the letter with the cheque. It was certainly a surprise. They enclosed my original material and apologised, saying that despite originally accepting the material, they no longer felt they had a need for it and were now returning it. The cheque was a small gesture of recompense for the inconvenience and because they had changed their minds.
There are two points I want to make here. The first, is that clearly, not all magazines keep accurate records. If they did, The Lady should have realised that they'd already 'rejected' it last year. This is another reason for keeping key paperwork until a piece has been published, at least!
The second point is, this cheque is not a 'kill fee'. A Kill Fee is a payment made to a writer when they have been commissioned by an editor to write a piece and then the editor decides not to publish it. This fee varies but is usually around 50% of the fee that would have been paid, had the article been published. A Kill Fee is designed to be some recompense for the work and time that the writer has put into producing the article because the editor had commissioned them to do the work. In theory, a writer may have turned other work down in order to concentrate on completing this commission. (Update: please see the comment made by Alex (Mistakes Writers Make) about the 'rights' side of things with regards to Kill Fees.)
My article to The Lady had been submitted on spec. I had not been commissioned, so no Kill Fee was due. The £30 cheque they sent was merely a polite apology for not publishing after originally accepting the piece. If only more magazines had a conscience like this! I could certainly get used to being paid for being rejected. It would take the sting out of the experience wouldn't it? Hey, I could probably earn more money from being rejected too!