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I consider myself extremely lucky to know many good people in the writing community. They share advice, commisserate on issues, and give each other a pat on the back when needed.
Then there’s Paula Hendrickson. Not only does Paula offer all of the above, but she extends herself even further. She managed my blog last year when I was in the hospital unexpectedly. She promoted the heck out of Writers Worth Day (its original incarnation) and convinced me to extend it first to a week, then to a month. She’s trying for a year of worth, but I’m not sure how to make that happen yet. 🙂
Paula is also an advocate for our profession. She’s a passionate defender of the freelance lifestyle and has been an outspoken proponent of increasing writer awareness of market value and self-worth.
What Paula also does well is write. Here is her take on payment and the business of running a business.
Stop Chasing Payments
by Paula Hendrickson
We’ve all seen job listings touting how you’ll earn exposure, experience and maybe – if you’re really lucky and willing to do some marketing on their behalf – even a little shared ad revenue. Anything but actual pay. Thanks to Writers Worth Month and Lori’s “This Job, Not That Job” series of blog posts, it’s easier than ever to spot those red flags and steer clear of people or companies unwilling to pay you for your time, talent and experience.
Some bad clients aren’t quite so obvious. A few may even be established and respected within their industry.
A few years ago I started contributing to one of the top (and only) trade magazines for a very specific industry. The editors were great, and the editorial director seemed keen on how my experience and connections could benefit the publication. The first assignment went well. Sure, they demanded a lot of their writers — including a weekly update to ensure you’re on track – but they had standards to maintain.
The magazine’s guidelines said payment was on publication, but right up front the editorial director told me that’s actually when invoices are “put into the system” so payment was actually within 30 days after publication.
Each client or periodical has its own payment terms, but as long as I knew when to expect payments to arrive I could budget around their timeline.
Before the first article ran, a second was assigned. Normally I refuse to take another assignment from a new client when there’s an outstanding invoice, but the process had been explained so I agreed to write the second piece. The payment for the first article came within the stated time frame and I felt comfortable accepting a couple more assignments.
That’s when things began to fall apart. Thirty days after publication became 45 days, then 60. Excuses were made. Past due notices were ignored. At one point I held an article hostage, refusing to turn it in until I was paid in full for all outstanding work. They finally paid. I turned in the article. And it started all over again.
The excuses usually involved the publisher being out of town or caring for his ailing father. Meanwhile the magazine ran photos of the publisher schmoozing with advertisers at golf resorts around the globe. Apparently no other employee, not even the editorial director, had authority to endorse checks, so everything waited for the big boss to actually show up at the office.
I refused assignments when money was owed. Faced with empty pages and a looming deadline, the editors usually persuaded the publisher to pay up. When that didn’t work, I resorted to saying I would be forced to seek “alternate means of collection” if not paid immediately. That’s when they overnighted checks to my door.
After six months or so I relegated them to “fill-in” status — assignments I’ll take, but only if I have the time.
The final article I wrote for them was nearly two years ago. I can’t remember the topic, but I wrote it in August 2012 and they published it that October. Even by their lax 30-days-after-publication schedule, I should have been paid by the first week of November, right? Around Thanksgiving I sent a past due notice. Nothing. The next notice went out in December with a late fee attached and a polite note saying, “I’m sure you want to clear your books by year’s end.” Crickets.
After my Happy New Year e-mails failed to elicit a response from the editorial director or publisher, I started calling. Funny how the editorial director and publisher were never in the office no matter when I called. At first the receptionist only said they were out. After a week of my daily calls she said the checks were written but the publisher had the flu and couldn’t come in to sign them. I told her if that was the case they needed to bring the checks to his sickbed, hand him a pen and get the checks signed and sent out.
Several days passed and still no payments. I e-mailed the publisher and asked: If elementary students can’t use the flu as an excuse to avoid homework, why would clients accept it as an excuse for not paying their invoices? I reminded him the rights to publish my copyrighted material were contingent on his paying me as promised, so if I didn’t receive payment by a specific date I would consult an attorney specializing in copyright protection.
He paid. He also backdated the check to December.
Shortly thereafter both of his editors resigned. At least one of the magazine’s other top freelancers quit as well. Within a year, that writer and I were both approached by the magazine’s unsuspecting new editor about writing for them again. We both respectfully declined. I believe I said they only way I’d consider working for that publisher again is if he doubled the rate and paid me in advance.
That’s about as likely to happen as him paying invoices within his stated timeframe.
The publisher’s lack of respect for the very writers who made his magazine attractive to both advertisers and subscribers was palpable, but I was willing to overlook his attitude because I didn’t deal directly with him. The real deal breaker was when his slow paying tactics caused me to spend more billable hours chasing payments than I did researching and writing the articles.
Sure, I lost a few thousand dollars per year when I fired that client, but it was one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. It also freed up time to seek out better paying clients who appreciate good writers.
Paula Hendrickson is an Illinois-based freelance writer specializing in entertainment and television, but also enjoys covering advertising and marketing, food, pop culture, writing, bungalows, fiber arts (knitting, crocheting, quilting), pets, education, career planning, personality profiles, neighborhood associations…and everything in between.