This sounds like a fundamental quest for any writer. The problem is that it sounds easy. If your writing career has been going smoothly, you are blessed. For the rest of us, let’s look at the issues realistically. Someone wants your work. You deliver and getting paid turns into one big headache. As far as I know writers are the only professionals who get treated this way. The world as a whole does not treat us professionally. Professionals get a decent wage and get paid on time.
This was all brought to the mind yet again when I was in the midst of negotiating a deal with a book publisher. He had already paid for a package of work. Later, he decided that a book would be great. I had explained numerous times, I get paid up front. He agreed, but when we ironed out the deal’s remaining questions, he added, “You can go ahead and get started any time.” He was waiting on a third party to get the contract together. I reminded him I start when I get an email from paypal. The deal is still not settled.
All working writers need to keep the following tips in mind when dealing with publishers. Fall asleep on the job and you will get screwed.
- Taking on corporate or public relations work has one big benefit. You can demand upfront money. If it is not going to be ongoing, ask for 50 percent upfront and make it clear that it is nonrefundable. Clients may have never dealt with someone asking for this. They may not want to go along. If so, move on. Troublesome clients who balk at paying a reasonable downpayment are worse than no clients.
- Editors seem to have more excuses than anyone about why a check hasn’t gone out. When getting on board with a new editor, try and find out what the turn-around time is once the work is accepted. Many times, when checking on an invoice, you will be told it’s in accounting. Find out the person to contact. If the person you need is out for any reason, ask for an expected return. Get the correct extension.
- In the early days of my career, turning in an article was enough to trigger a request for a check. No more. Most require invoices. Send one in with your articles automatically. Don’t be astonished when they ask you to resubmit because the first seems to have gone astray.
- I can’t count how many times I’ve been told I was unprofessional for wanting to know when I got paid; “most freelancers never get paid until after 90 days”; “no one else is complaining”; etc. Like the commercial: “It’s your money and you need it now.” Don’t be intimidated by their attitude.
- If you are on a monthly retainer for public relations work and the next payment is late. Don’t hesitate to call. If that doesn’t do the trick, stop work on the project until the payment has arrived.
- If someone has actually stiffed you, put the word out. It doesn’t matter if the publication is no longer paying their bills or a check bounced. Make a noise. Tell WritersWeekly.com and any other writers’ newsletters. I once talked about a nonpayment issue on an old writers’ chat board. A member answered, saying she was a member of a writers’ union that had people who helped with those problems. Even though I wasn’t a member, she asked the rep in that city to intervene. I got a nasty email from the publisher, outraged that I told someone he didn’t pay. The check showed up shortly thereafter. Two months later, he wrote begging me to write for him again.
- Don’t be put off by the small wages offered everywhere these days. If you really want the job, try negotiating. I did recently and got the work.
- Don’t be too excited when you land an assignment for one of the bigger publishers. It’s been my experience that getting paid from them takes even more time. They have more paperwork and the time lags are longer.
Make a New Year’s resolution: Don’t allow yourself to get into any more publishing nightmares. We have to be diligent on our side of the bargaining table.
Laura Bell has been a paid freelance journalist for 30 years. She has over 400 bylines to her name. Her work has appeared in: the Los Angeles Times,Playboy, the San Francisco Examiner, the San Jose Mercury News, the Chicago Tribune and Small Business Opportunities to name just a few. To see her recent work, go to: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com