It goes like this: I open the door, look both ways and sprint for the mailbox in my footie pajamas (much to the delight of my neighbors). I reach up eagerly and open the cubicle, and pull out a handful of circulars and bills. It’s happened to all of us. You need to pay the light bill, upgrade your PC, and take your child to the orthodontist. You eagerly track the mailman’s progress and search your mailbox diligently. The promised check didn’t come and it doesn’t come the next day or the day after that either. You contact the editor rather humbly and ask him to check and be sure the money was mailed to the correct address. He either doesn’t answer your communications, or he makes a really flimsy excuse and mumbles those famous words, “It’s in the mail.”
Since I rely totally on my writing for a living, I have had to develop some fast, effective and creative methods of getting my money when an editor does not want to pay. So far, in ten years of writing, I have not lost a cent. Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
Embarrass him. Email his other writers, advertisers and subsidiaries. Go to the web site and get their names and emails; get the names of the other editors, and also, if possible, the president of the company. Send emails to all of them. Send only one email to each person and CC each one to the editor.
Surprise him. Is this a local company? Does the editor live nearby? Flukes sometimes happen. Keep your eyes and ears open. I once spotted an editor who owed me money on an online dating site. I chatted with him a bit, met him for coffee, introduced myself and asked for my money. Got it! He still had to pay for the coffee! Enlist friends, especially those who subscribe to the periodical or buy products advertised in the magazine or on the web site.
Tell him the truth about your situation. I once got a check by telling the editor that I had a sick child (true). I explained that I was planning on the expected funds to buy his medication and that without the medication he would get worse. He sent the check by Express Mail.
Threaten him. Tell him he’s in breach of contract and threaten him with an attorney. Don’t spend any money, but if you happen to a friend or relative who is an attorney, ask them to send an email on official letterhead requesting your money. Even if you don’t have a formal contract, in most cases, the emails between you and the editor constitute a contractual agreement. Be aware, however, that this agreement can be easily modified. Be careful what you say.
Scare him. Think about what might happen if you don’t get paid. I once got a check by explaining to an editor that I was a senior citizen and my lights would be disconnected if he didn’t pay me. If my lights were disconnected, I would lose everything in my freezer, would get sick from the cold and would be hungry because I would be unable to cook. Editors may not be swayed by threats of lawsuits, but the possibility of a lawsuit with damages is enough to make them perk up their ears-and trot out the checkbook. I am not suggesting that you lie; always tell the truth, but if you have a reason to get pitiful, do it.
Call his bluff. If an editor says the check has been mailed and you think he is lying, tell him you are going to the postmaster at your local post office to file a complaint, because you are not receiving your mail in a timely manner. Tell the editor you need the number of the check so it can be traced.
Make him nervous. Send his emails to trash. Once you are sure the editor is trying to stiff you, configure your email so that his communications will go immediately to trash when they come in. You will not have to feel nervous about how he is going to respond to your emails. Instead, this will make him nervous! After all, you want a check, not email promises! (But save the emails for evidence.)
Get gutsy. I once went to a social function that featured a speech by an editor who owed me money. He arrived with a pretty young lady on his arm and was clearly trying to impress her. I went over, introduced myself and reminded him he owed me money; then I turned around and left. In a few minutes, the girlfriend brought me over a check.
Use Political Influence. Tell him you are going to go to your congressman (This works especially well if you are military or a military spouse, son or daughter).
Mess up his calendar. If you owe him more articles, hold them hostage! Demand that articles that are unpaid be removed from the website. I once had five assigned pieces from the same editor. He was foaming at the mouth for those articles. I got them all ready but, when he failed to pay me for the first one, I refused to send the second article and demanded that the first be removed from his web site. He sent a check. I kept this up until I was down to the last two and insisted he pay me in advance for both of them before I released either one. It worked. I didn’t lose a dime.
Contact his ISP and report copyright infringement. If he hasn’t paid you and has published your articles online, you still own the articles and he’s violating your contract. Contact his ISP and demand they remove the infringing material.
One reason that writers get stiffed so much is that we try to always be professional. Professionalism is important, but there are times when you have to be realistic and take off the gloves and get tough. Most editors are honest and reliable, but the few bad apples that exist can keep you in a state of financial havoc. Don’t put up with it. Writing is hard work and you deserve to be paid!
Anita Biase is a retired teacher and holds a graduate degree in Educational Technology. She has written stories, poems, articles and columns in national, regional and online publications. Her specialties include topics pertaining to education, family, pets, travel and technology and social science. Anita can be reached by email at: emilyrose2342000 (at) yahoo.com.