Most people think freelance writing—and travel writing in particular—is glamorous and exciting.
Here, I give you an insight into the less glamorous side.
One of the more disheartening problems I’ve encountered during my freelance writing career includes non-payment by publishers.
Although it’s never fun to read about this sort of thing, you need to understand this sort of behavior does exist in freelance writing, as it does in almost every other business. And if you know about it, you’ll be better prepared to recognize it when it happens to you.
And if you can recognize the warning signs, you can take pro-active measures to maximize your chances of being paid for your work, before you walk away from the magazine.
Fortunately, this sort of thing is a rare exception, so don’t throw your writing quill away just yet.
Here’s some data that illustrates just how infrequently editors and publishers welch on their debts . . .
I’ve written for more than 200 editors of print magazines, e-zines, websites, on-boards, in-flights, trade journals, specialty magazines, and custom publications at the regional, national, and international levels. Of these outlets, only five have made my “Duds and Deadbeats” list for non-payments.
This tiny percentage (2.5%) should not discourage you from taking up freelance writing. But be assured, the longer you’re in the game, the greater your chances of meeting a deadbeat editor or publisher—it WILL happen to you eventually.
So, what exactly should you do when it’s clear that the editor or publisher has no intention of paying you?
Bear in mind that with most magazines it’s the publisher who is welching on the debt. The publishers usually control the purse strings. Editors of most magazines have no control over accounts payable. Therefore you need to correspond with the publisher and accounts payable department (but make sure you copy the editor with all invoices and correspondence so that he/she knows what’s going on).
Here are the steps you should take to ensure you receive your payment.
- Adjust Your Mindset and Emotions
When I encountered my first non-paying magazine I remember being reluctant to make a fuss about collecting the money (which was rightfully and legally mine). I thought, “If I demand my money, that magazine will never let me write for them again”. I was so emotionally involved—and idealistic—that I couldn’t see how ridiculous this attitude really was.
Then, I wised up.
Newsflash! If a magazine does not pay for your story, or is habitually late with your payments, you should cease writing for it.
- Remove the offending magazine from your list and move on to greener pastures. With 17,000 magazines and newspapers in the English speaking world, the freelance writing expanse is vast and practically limitless.
- Always Send an Invoice for Your Work
Have an agreed fee for your article, established before you write the piece. This should be your standard practice. Then, send an invoice attachment when you submit your article to the editor. (See Invoice sample at the end of this article.)
- When Payment is Not Forthcoming
If your payment is not received by the agreed due date, send one more invoice (as an email attachment) to the magazine’s editor, publisher, and accounts payable department. “PAST DUE” should be written across the top of the invoice in large, black letters.
- When Your Reminder Invoice Does Not Work, Send a Collection Letter
After several months of non-compliance, and it’s clear that the magazine has no intention of paying you, you need to take more concrete action. It’s time to bare your fangs and show the publisher that you are not going away. Unscrupulous publishers know that many freelance writers are too timid to request their payments, and they prey on these people like wolves. You need to be the writer who takes a stand, and eventually the publisher will figure out that it’s easier to pay you to get rid of you, than to keep stringing you along.
Here’s the invoice I send as an attachment with my articles. Please feel free to use this as a template, and to add anything else you think is important.
TO: Accounts Payable
FROM: Your Name
FOR: Article appearing in Month Year, issue of XXXX Magazine: (Name of Article here).
TOTAL: $(Payment Total)
DUE: One month after publication date.
Please mail payment to above address.
Your Name & Signature
Here’s a real Collection Letter that I send by email AND registered mail to the magazine’s editor, publisher, and accounts payable department. I’ve used this three times and it has worked every time.
This email is about the payment for my article that has been published in XXXX Magazine. This payments is long overdue.
The article is:
LIST NAME OF ARTICLE HERE
Date of publication
Length of article
Number of pages
Amount owed for article.
Despite my sending repeated invoices by registered mail and email, these invoices have been ignored. It is clear that your magazine has no intention of paying me what I am legally owed for these articles, and I have been very patient.
Unless payment is received immediately, I will be forced to take the following steps.
1. I will report XXXX magazine to several freelance writing websites for delinquent payments. These websites include xxxxxx.com. In many cases these listings show up near the top of the major search engines when someone is searching for the name of a company.
2. This report will also go out to the National Writers Union and several other freelance writing watchdog groups.
3. I will report this lack of payment to the Better Business Bureau in the state of XXXX, where your magazine is registered.
4. I will send a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General of the State of XXXX.
5. I will hand the invoice over to my attorney to file for payments in small claims court in the State of XXXX.
I trust this email will suffice to have the magazine pay me immediately what is owed to me. I expect to receive my payment within five business days. The invoice for the article is attached.
As you can see, this non-nonsense letter makes it clear that this is their final chance to clear the matter up.
This Collection Letter worked well. Within 10 days I received full payment for three past-due articles (one, more than 12 months overdue).
Would I have followed through with the steps outlined in my letter?
Yes! I was prepared to pursue this all the way to court, if necessary.
Final Advice: Some of you are probably thinking, I should let the publisher have a piece of my mind because they tried to rip me off. My advice is to avoid the temptation to send hateful emails to the magazine and just move on. Why spend any further time and emotional energy on these dogs?