Dealing with Late (or Missing) Payments

Publish date:

Q: If a writer has jumped through all the hoops (finished the assignment, submitted a proper invoice, etc.) and is not being paid, what steps should he take before resorting to having a lawyer write a letter or taking their case to small claims court, etc. —Anonymous

A: Always contact the editor first (second and third) and try to work through the issue. Editors typically aren't out to stiff you. Many of them have been on the freelance side of things, too, so they know how important it is to get you your money. Sometimes it's as simple as the editor nudging the accounting department.

Also, don't forget to carefully read your contract. Accounting departments differ with each publisher—some pay 30 days from the day the invoice is submitted, some pay 60 days from the publication date of your piece. Be sure that the proper time period (plus an additional two weeks) has passed before raising the red flag. And remain calm, cool and collected when you send your "checking in" e-mail.

If e-mails or phone calls go unreturned, or the editor can't offer a resolution or an acceptable explanation as to why it's taking so long, then it's time to contact a lawyer—and the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind, once you do that you've burned that bridge with that editor/publisher once and for all, and you may not want to do that. But if they weren't paying you to begin with, what did you really lose?

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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