What Can You Do if a Publisher Prints Your Work Without Permission?

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Q: I submitted a piece on spec to a community newspaper and received no response from the editor. With the next publication, however, the manuscript was published in full without permission and without payment. What can I do?—John M.

A: Sounds like the paper might have confused “on spec” with “for free.” To get your rightfully deserved money, send an invoice to the editor to whom you sent the piece. You may have to follow up several times—by e-mail, phone or singing telegram, if necessary— to get a response. If you’re still getting the cold shoulder from the newspaper’s editor, turn to any writing organization you belong to. And if you don’t belong to one, join one. The National Writers Union (nwu.org), for example, has a grievance division that helps get recalcitrant publishers to pay up.

Your other option is to contact a lawyer and threaten litigation. But that will likely cost you more money than the article will bring in. If you never receive your money, report the paper to the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and Writer Beware (sfwa.org/beware). It may not help you, but it will help others from making the same mistake that company.

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