When an Editor Shelves Your Article…Before They Pay You! By Angela Hoy

When an Editor Shelves Your Article…Before They Pay You! By Angela Hoy

This article may reprinted/redistributed freely as long as the entire article and bio are included.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a writer whose article had been shelved indefinitely by an editor. Here’s what she said:

Dear Angela,

I replied to an on-line advertisement looking for local freelance writers and supplied my resume and clips.

The editor promptly called me and assigned an article. We agreed upon a rate (both via e-mail and on the phone) and I sent her a brief outline. She approved my approach to the piece and I got to work.

I turned the article in on time and was very pleased with the writing. I was dismayed to receive an email from the editor on the day of the deadline stating that she had decided not to publish a Summer issue.

Where does this leave me? I requested a kill fee of 25%. She told me she liked the article and requested to hold on to the piece as she is considering a Fall issue, when she would then pay me for the completed article. She then asked for a few weeks to think about her next step. Time’s up and I’m wondering what to do now?

Any advice?


If this ever happens to you, remember, this is a ‘not your fault!’ situation. The editor gave you an assignment. You completed the assignment. The editor accepted your piece. The editor failed to publish the piece as promised.

If the article was accepted, the editor owes you 100% of the price of the article. Kill fees are for articles that are rejected for one reason or another. And, if this editor were a professional, she would pay you on the same schedule that would have occurred had the initial issue been published. So, if she promised payment on publication, she should pay you on the date the article was scheduled to be published.

Sure, things happen, budgets go awry and publication schedules get jumbled. But, this is never the writer’s fault and writers should demand payment when their article was originally scheduled to be sent out.

In my opinion, a publication that does this seems to be teetering on the brink of death (healthy pubs don’t skip issues), so you probably can’t count on many or any new assignments from them anyway. In fact, your article will, in all likelihood, never get published at all (and you’ll never get paid). They could leave you hanging for months or years because there’s nothing in their contracts that protect writers from this common practice.

It’s time for a change!

In the future, when negotiating the price and terms with a “pays on publication” publisher, estimate the date when the payment would be due if it were published on schedule. Then, include a clause in your email agreement or contract stating this:

This article is scheduled for publication in the Month/Year issue. Payment is due on publication or on MM/DD/YY, whichever occurs first.

The MM/DD/YY should be the date you estimate publication would occur if nothing goes awry.

Unfortunately, depending on what rights you’ve promised the publication, even if you get paid, your piece may never run and you won’t be able to resell the article until/if they do publish it. To protect yourself from this extremely common scenario, add this clause to your contract as well:

If the article is not published within ___ months/years, the contract will then be renegotiated (provided both parties desire the continuation of that relationship) or all rights will immediately revert back to the author, with no financial penalty to the author.

This will protect you from non-payment or an indefinite waiting period should the publication put your article on the shelf. If they put your article on hold indefinitely, this may prevent you from selling reprint/second rights later. So, their actions will then be impacting your income, again, through no fault of yours. You deserve to keep the payment you received for the article (after all, you did the work!) and you should be able to shop it elsewhere if they don’t publish your article in a reasonable amount of time.

No reputable publisher would refuse to allow these clauses in your contract. Think about it – why would they refuse to guarantee to publish an article by a certain date, often far into the future? A publisher who does reject these clauses can’t be trusted.

You should also be aware that some “pay on acceptance” publications occasionally accept an article and then renege on their acceptance while pushing the article back in their schedule. Another problem is publications that won’t send an acceptance letter or email until they plan to publish an article. So, writers working for “pay on acceptance” publishers should add a clause to their email agreement or contract stating this:

This article is due on MM/DD/YY. The editor will notify the writer of their acceptance or rejection of the piece, in writing, within XX days of submission.

The XX days should be a reasonable number of days following submission. I, personally, would say 10 days but you may want to give your editor more time. Definitely don’t go past 30 days.

Remember, no matter who you’re working for, and no matter how much or little the pay, never write without a contract. This is your only protection if the publication tries to take advantage of you, or make you a future victim. And, be sure that contract, whether formal or informal, is in writing somehow, whether on paper or by email.

Definitely don’t fall for that “I’m in a hurry! Submit the article now and I’ll send your contract later!” scam. You’ll never get that contract!

It’s also important to get all acceptance letters in writing (or by email). If you include one of the clauses above in your contract, once a piece is accepted, or once the scheduled publication date comes, the clock is ticking and your payment should be imminent.

Unfortunately, at WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings, we don’t have time to go after most the small-time offenders. We must often refer those writers to my article on how to collect from deadbeat publishers. If all these writers demanded contracts or more specific terms for their assignments in writing, it would be much easier for them to collect from these deadbeats.

Protect yourself and your family’s livelihood. Always get it in writing and always demand specific and non-wavering publication and payment terms.

Angela Hoy is an advocate for writers’ rights and publishes WritersWeekly.com, the free marketing emag for writers, offering paying markets and freelance jobs every Wednesday at no charge. She is also the publisher of Booklocker.com, Inc., an author-friendly POD publisher that takes no rights, pays high royalties on a monthly basis, and treats authors like people, not numbers.

This article may reprinted/redistributed freely as long as the entire article and bio are included.


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