What Do I Do When My Publisher Will Not Pay Up?

freelancing tips
What to do if your clients ran away with your content

Speaking from experience, I have written for a number of sites over 22 years as a freelance contractor and can happily say 95 percent of those bosses paid me on time.

That being said, there is always that one individual or company that goes about hanging you out to dry, saying in essence the check is in the mail. Boy, haven’t we all heard that line a time or two in our lives?

A freelance agreement between writer and publisher should be entered into on more than just a handshake. In order to protect yourself and the integrity of your writing, you will want to have some form of written document that clearly states what kind of work you will be doing, who you will be doing it for, and what the terms of payment are.

Nevertheless, all of us have probably been guilty at one time or another of rushing into a situation as freelance businesspeople, just being so happy that someone wanted to publish a piece of our work and here we didn’t get a formal agreement.

One such event for me was a little of this and a little of that. The owner of a sports magazine had taken me on as a freelance writer and we had an agreement for me to provide “˜X’ amount of articles regularly for him at a set rate per article.

As fate would have it, the magazine did not do quite as well as he planned, and he ended up folding up shop. I, along with a number of other freelancers, would be left holding dozens of invoices that we had submitted for payment. There was always the option of small claims court, but in the end I was able to get some of the written material published elsewhere, hence most of my work did not go to waste.

So, what can you do if your publisher suddenly finds it convenient not to pay you as he or she said they would?

Among the things to consider are:

  • Did You Agree to a Contract? In the event the answer is yes, then you have at least some documentation that shows what you were asked to provide, what was expected of the publisher, and when you were supposed to receive compensation for your efforts. If the answer is no, then it pretty much turns into a he said/she said matter. Hopefully at that point you are at least dealing with someone who does not want to get the reputation of ripping people off;
  • Have you been up to date with invoicing? Some writers actually incur their own problems by not staying up to speed on their invoicing matters. Make sure that you have been turning them in on the requested date so that payments are not delayed. In the event you turned one in for June 30 with the agreement you were to be paid by end of July, follow up on Aug. 1 if you have not received payment. If you have to, submit the document one more time, alerting the publisher that you are expecting payment any day now. On occasion, emailed, written and faxed invoices will fail to get to their desired location, so give the publisher the benefit of doubt at first. Lastly, make sure the invoices are going to the right person to make getting paid on time more of a reality;
  • How important is the money to you? Like most of us, you want to get paid for your efforts. Assuming you want to pursue this matter with the publisher then be prepared to roll up your sleeves and dig in for a potentially long haul. While most publishers are on the up-and-up, some will try to get something for free. Whether it is $25 for a story or hundreds of dollars for your work, the feeling should be that you put the time and effort into the article, you certainly deserve to get paid in return;
  • Do you want to certify your intentions? If your letters and calls have not been productive, then it is time to get official with your publisher/s. Send them a certified letter with your invoicing matters, thereby having them have to officially recognize that you are trying to get paid for your work. In that case, they cannot turn around and say they never got your fax, email or written invoice. The certified letter, which can be a precursor to possible small claims court action, also ramps up the importance of your wanting to get paid;
  • People’s Court or not? When it gets to this stage, let’s face it, you have about a 50-50 chance of ever seeing your money.   While you should not have ended up in this position in the first place, how important is getting paid to you? Yes, you can probably get a few minutes of free legal advice over the phone or by doing some Internet searches, but how far do you want to go with this matter?

If the answer to the above section is all the way, then go for it and take away at least one lesson from this experience.

Get some referrals on the future people you write for before putting hand to keyboard and cranking out those articles.

About the Author: Dave Thomas, who covers among other items starting a small business and business proposals,writes extensively for Business.com, an online resource destination for businesses of all sizes to research, find, and compare the products and services they need to run their businesses.