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8-2 Collecting What's Due You

*NOTE: The following material is for educational use only and may not be used for any other purpose and may not be published in any format due to the nature of releases I've secured.

Collecting What's Due You
(c) 2003 by Eugene Mallay

This is a common problem in all work-for-hire fields, not just writing. In my experience it comes down to recognizing that getting angry at the publication isn't likely to get you your money any sooner and only serves as a distraction / irritation for you personally. I suggest the following:
  1. Write a short, professional letter / email acknowledging their situation, expressing appreciation for their being upfront but dismay at their inability to adhere to their contract.
  2. Note that you are a professional and that your writing fees represent your livelihood. Hence, this will affect your own cash flow. However, "in consideration of your situation", agree to provide an additional 30-day period for them to make payment. Make this statement formally, though – not in a "whining" manner.
  3. Ask for their confirmation, in writing, that payment will be provided within this time frame and that no further extensions will be required.
  4. Express your hope that you will be able to work with them again in the future.
The point of the above is to establish a positive, professional, and business-like relationship that will hopefully keep you from the very bottom of their payables list. If you get too aggressive too early, they'll simply write you off as a lost cause and you'll fall to the bottom of their payables. Acting too understanding and 'soft', however, tells them that they can delay your payment while they deal with "more pressing" payables.

Negotiate whatever payment period seems reasonable and do-able (maybe 30 days isn't achievable for them). Whatever. But make it clear through your tone that your flexibility is limited to them delivering on these renewed terms.

Ultimately, you may choose to never do business with them again. However, you never know where editors may end up in the future. Keeping a business-like tone throughout can pay dividends down the road.

Last comment -- even if you hate the business side of writing, you should put solid effort into it. While you may categorize yourself as a "writer", you are in the "business of writing". If you really don't want to deal with the business side, hire someone to handle that for you (or set up a 'co-op'-type arrangement with a few other writers wherein you hire an administrative person to handle the business side for all of you). To my mind, putting all that creativity and effort into your writing then seeing it undervalued or wasted due to a lack of a strong business aspect is a shame.

Cheers, Eugene Mallay

Also, read Jeffrey Zeldman's 2002 article, Getting Paid, that addresses the difficulty of collecting what's due you,

Chapter 15 - The Many Facets of Freelancing:

Next, Chapter 16 - Education and Reference:

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