Collecting the money owed to you can be frustrating and time consuming. In this business, we call it a “money migraine.” Some markets pay on time all the time, other are just the opposite. I got paid for my first article exactly one year after I sent it to a magazine. At the time, I was so excited about being published in a national magazine that it didn’t dawn on me that if I wrote full time that I would starve if I had to wait that long to be paid.
The better markets out there do pay on time and do respect writers. But some of the middle markets and, especially those at the bottom of the ladder, drag their feet. One magazine even offered me free advertising for the $1,500 they owed me for several articles. Now why would I advertise in their magazine?
The first step in timely payment is to find out when you’re supposed to be paid. Don’t hesitate to ask a publishers when they pay writers. Some pay on acceptance, some on publication, and some after publication. Knowing when you should expect payment will help you know if you should take further steps.
If payment time passes, send a second invoice, accompanied by a friendly reminder. Hopefully, the publisher may have just forgotten. Editors are busy and sometimes overworked. Or perhaps your invoice got misplaced. If you receive no answer or money after 10 days, it’s most likely that you’re being ignored.
Send another letter, reminding the editor that you met your obligations and insist that the publisher meet his or hers. If not answer again, it’s time for you to call. But often this has no effect.
What should you do now? If all else fails, you can take a publisher to court-–small claims court, that is. The only problem with this is that you have to do that in the county or town in which they’re located. For a small fee, you can file a claim or have someone locally file one for you. There’s a good chance you’ll get the money owed you, but you’ll have lost that market.
In my experience, nearly all publishers eventually do send payment–albeit very late. Continuing to work with a slow-paying publisher is a decision you’ll have to make. Sometimes, it’s a one-time event, but there are publishers who operate by the seat of their pants. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth continuing to work with that publisher or should you put your energies into finding a new one.