Your query was given the go-ahead and the editor has e-mailed you with specifics about the slant, word count and the rights the publication is interested in buying. But even though you got the article in well before deadline, you find yourself waiting by the mailbox weeks after payment should have arrived.
Because a great many print and electronic publications pay writers after the article is printed, waiting is often par for the course in the world of freelancing. Still, since we have overhead of our own to pay -- including on-line fees, telephone bills, postage and that nagging need to eat on a regular basis -- it is more than a little frustrating to have checks arrive much later than promised.
Some things -- like the speed of the US Postal Service once your check has been mailed -- are almost impossible to control, but there are few things you can do to help make sure your payment finds its way to your bank account in a more timely manner.
Check Them Out. The truth of the matter is that there are publications that take their time about paying writers. To make sure the one you've just received an assignment from does not have a history of slow or non-payment, check out Jenna Glatzer's list of publishers to avoid at Absolute Write. If an agreed-upon payment never arrives, you can post a warning on the site or even file a claim with the National Writer's Union. Angela Adair-Hoy also posts a list of "bad markets" on WritersWeekly.com.
Get a Contract. Contracts that detail rights, kill fees and payment terms protect both the writer and the publication buying the article. Although some magazines don't offer contracts, a great many do, even if it's not mentioned up front. It never hurts to ask. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If a publication does not offer a contract, you can always draw up a letter of agreement of your own; see Understanding Contracts for more information.)
"I always advise writers to never, ever work without a contract," says Angela Adair-Hoy, co-owner of WritersWeekly.com, a free electronic magazine for writers that features freelance jobs and paying markets. She says that any publication worth its salt should be willing to draw up a contract if the writer requests one. "If an editor refuses to work with contracts, there is something very wrong with that publication," she adds.
Consider an On-Line Payment Service. Some publications now offer payment through Internet-based payment services like PayPal.com. These networks allow writers to open an account that publications deposit payments into. You can then transfer the money into a personal bank account or have a check mailed to you. Since payments can go directly to your bank, it saves time and eliminates the daily mailbox run. Check with the editor to see if on-line payment is an option.
Send All the Information. Even when publications pay quickly, editors are usually not the ones responsible for cutting the checks. That means your social security number, address, phone number, title of the article and the issue in which it was scheduled to appear still have to find their way to the bookkeeper's desk or computer. Even if you have written for the publication before or contribute regularly, don't assume that everything is on file. A search through back invoices to find your information could delay payment up to a month.
Include an Invoice. Late payments can sometimes result if you don't send an invoice for your services. Some publications won't even process your payment until they get a bill, so if your editor never mentioned that one was needed, your check will be delayed. Always attach an invoice to any article you send, whether the editor asks for one or not. That way, when the publication receives the article, you know they also get the bill.
Sending an invoice doesn't always speed up the process, however. "I've been in situations where I've had to send in the same invoice multiple times because the editor-in-chief 'didn't have it on hand,' 'didn't know why it wasn't taken care of,' claimed she 'handed it in months ago but will do it again anyway,'" says freelance writer Dawn Mocharski. Even though she usually sends an invoice with her completed articles, Dawn often still finds herself snail-mailing, calling and e-mailing the editor when payment doesn't arrive. "I can't scream loud enough [about] how much of a hassle it's been."
Save Everything. Keep copies of all correspondence to and from the editor (including e-mails) from the time the article is assigned through acceptance (including all correspondence relating to your efforts to collect payment). If there is ever a dispute about the expected payment date or amount, the messages you saved could help settle it a little quicker and easier.
Check the Terms. Many publications have what are called 30-day payment terms. In other words, if your article is printed in the May issue, your check might not even be cut before the end of June, a whole 30 days after the month of publication. Be sure to check the writer's guidelines or the terms outlined in the contract to be certain.
Send a Reminder. If more than a little time has gone by and you still haven't gotten your money, sending a certified letter to both the editor and publisher is definitely in order. In it, detail the agreed-upon payment, the date the article was scheduled to run and any attempts you've made to contact the person who agreed to buy the article. Allow at least 10 business days for a response.
Be Persistent. Whether writing is your livelihood or a hobby, you have every right to expect to be paid in a timely manner for your efforts. Once you've held up your end of the deal by getting the article in on time with everything that was requested, there should be no question about whether (or when) you'll get paid. E-mail or call them, but do stay on top of it.
"No honor system applies to the world of writing, [but] I do believe that publications and editors tend to respect you more when you stand your ground," says Mocharski. "Don't be wishy-washy. Be persistent. Eventually, you'll get it."
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Copyright © 2001 Felicia Hodges
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.