How to Get Paid By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Sometimes the check doesn’t arrive or the automatic deposit doesn’t hit the account. Then what? I’ve had a few editors not pay when they said they would. What a writer does next can affect not only when he gets paid, but also the editor/writer relationship.

Don’t write for anyone without a contract that states how long the piece will be, due date, scope and content, and how much, when and how you will be paid (most still pay by check, but some publications and clients like PayPal, for example).

It’s bad business to forgive a missed payment and think you’ll make up for it next time. Don’t think that receiving the byline is “payment enough.” A byline won’t pay bills.

Unless he’s a complete curmudgeon, your editor won’t be upset with you for inquiring about a payment you haven’t received yet if: 1) you followed all the terms of the contract, 2) the payment is more than a couple days late, and 3) you follow through politely.

If the contract terms say you will be paid for an accepted article and your article was approved by the editor, you should get paid. Keep that documentation in case an editor holds onto your article for a while before printing it and you’re supposed to be paid on publication.

Don’t jump all over an editor if the payment was supposed to arrive today and it didn’t. Sometimes mail lags or the editor might be a little behind. Structure your business and budget so you’re not living check to check and you aren’t absolutely desperate for the money.

After a week has passed from the date when you expected payment, read through your contract again. Make sure you understand the terms and double check the date. Perhaps you forgot to invoice an editor who requested an invoice. Or maybe it was due for publication later than what you had remembered.

Then, a polite follow through is in order. Communicating via email helps control emotions unlike a phone call. It also sounds less demanding than a printed letter. Depending upon your familiarity with the editor, you might write:

Hello, Jane. I usually receive payments for my column by the 5th each month. I appreciate your usual timeliness; however this month I have not received payment yet. By when can I expect it?

Thanks for your time.

John Writer

The above example is firm but friendly. Don’t accuse the editor (unless you’re writing for a very small operation, the editor doesn’t cuts checks), ask “if” you will be paid or stress how much you need the money. It’s not about your personal problems but a business contract.

I have waited on late checks because of an internal gaffe and the editors truly didn’t know I had not been paid yet. Sometimes invoices get lost or overlooked. Low ad revenue may delay your payment. In cases like these, try to be flexible if the editor usually pays on time.

Another time, an editor flat out refused to pay for an article after he accepted it. He claimed he never paid writers despite the writing guidelines and emails stating otherwise. I didn’t know about Writer’s Weekly at that time but contacting Angela Hoy would have been a good next step. Save those letters and emails and send them to her with an explanation of what’s going on.

Unless it’s a very substantial check, the time and expense of taking someone to small claims court usually isn’t worth it. I know there’s a “principle” involved, but I write for a living and spending hours chasing a modest check isn’t worth it.

A life emergency sometimes gets between my payment and me. I once had a husband and wife editor team unexpectedly pass away before their small publication could pay me. After weeks of my receiving no responses, the wife’s brother called and explained what happened. After the estate was settled, I was paid. In cases like these, demonstrate sympathy and understanding. Life’s unexpected twists and turns can make it hard for a publication (especially a small one) to get a check out. Don’t assume that they’re lying, especially if the publication’s staff has always been upfront.

You may feel bashful or bold about asking where your payment is. Regardless, a polite, well-timed request for information is the best way to get paid.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes for a variety of consumer and trade publications. She also writes PR, advertising and web copy. Visit her online at or