Monday, 10 May 2010

What to do when you don't get paid

This is such a thorny topic. But for some of us, writing is our job, and the income from it is what puts food on the table. So delays in being paid for accepted pieces can hit hard.

Usually, everything goes smoothly, and magazines pay when they say they will pay. Some magazines pay on acceptance - so shortly after the piece is accepted you should get your money. However do remember publishers may have a single end-of-month accounts run, so don't expect the money instantly. 'On acceptance' might actually mean 'end of the month in which the piece was accepted, or possibly end of the following month if it was accepted late in the month'.

Other magazines pay on publication. Again, 'on publication' might not mean 'the instant the magazine hits the shops', but could mean 'end of the month in which the magazine hits the shops, or possibly end of the following month depending on how up-to-date the accounts department are with their work'.

So don't hold your breath.

But sometimes it all goes horribly wrong. Maybe the magazine is putting a new accounts system in place. Or maybe there's been some other change of process, or a change in personnel. Or perhaps something's gone wrong with the actual payment process, and the magazine staff think they've paid you but the money hasn't arrived in your account.

Whatever, if enough time has passed and still no sign of payment, you're going to have to chase it up. I know we all get scared at the thought of contacting an editor and saying, um, excuse me, but can I have my money please? but that's what you must do. The editor will forward your email or letter on to the accounts department, and hopefully they will sort it out or get in touch. It might take several goes, and it's very frustrating (been there, done that, bought the t-shirt) but you are entitled to that money so you must keep at it.

So, how do you go about chasing payment? Well, to borrow from an article by April Aragam in the latest issue of The New Writer (in which, by the way, there is also an excellent article by Sally Quilford who asks Do Ghosts Kiss? - you're going to have to subscribe to the magazine to find out what that's all about!) try sending an email with the subject 'Payment Query' or similar, to the editor, worded something like this:

Dear (editor)
My story (title) was accepted/published on (date) and I was wondering if payment is on the way. Thank you for your time.
(your name and contact details)

Keep it short, keep it polite, keep it to the point. If you don't get an instant response, don't worry. The editor may be looking into it, or might have forwarded it to someone else to deal with, or maybe they are on holiday. If no response at all in a fortnight, send another mail asking politely if the editor has had chance to look into this yet.

What also happens sometimes, is that payment which should be sent automatically to your bank account gets rejected because not enough bank details were provided. Sadly, this seems to happen quite often with payments from overseas magazines. It's happened to me - I received an advice slip saying a magazine had paid me, but the money didn't reach my account though I kept checking. Eventually I had to query it, and then had to resend all my bank details. Then finally the payment arrived. So do check (especially if it's your first sale to a magazine) that you've provided all the details they need, and that the details are correct. Even if you're sure you sent the right details, send them again. And keep at it until you get that money.

It's frustrating, it's horrible to have to do, but selling stories is a business transaction. You kept up your side of the transaction, and provided the story. The magazine must keep up their side, and pay you. OK, things go wrong sometimes, but when they do, and you've chased payment, then the onus is on the magazine staff to sort it out and make sure you get paid. So don't let them forget about you!

I hope most blog readers will never have to refer to this advice. But unfortunately I know of a few who've been fighting for payment from different magazines for some time. Hopefully their payment issues will be sorted out soon.


Old Kitty said...

Oh that's horrible to discover this happens!

I do hope that this is more uncommon than anything - and I hope that writers whose stories have been accepted and published do get their payment.

Is there a contract involved? Something legal before a story is accepted/published that both mags and writers sign?

Anyway, good luck to all who are fighting to get payment due to them!

Take care

Patsy said...

I've had to chase up payments before. It's always been a genuine oversight, not an attempt to get out of paying and one e-mail (polite and to the point as you suggest) has sorted things out.

Nan Sheppard said...

Oh, I'm brilliant at tracking down payments... I have plenty of experience from previous careers! Now if I could just get published... :)

Glynis Scrivens said...

This is good advice, womag. It's always a bit embarrassing to approach an editor about payment, but I find it's often just been an oversight.
With magazines that pay after publication, it can be quite difficult tracking down payment from another country. For example, I sold a story to Fiction Feast about September and haven't received payment. I queried in February and found it hadn't been used yet. Am now deciding when to query again.

gaelikaa said...

I've had six pieces published in my womagwriting life, and never had any problem. They paid at the end of the month the piece was published. But it's always good to have the info on what to do if it doesn't run smoothly. Thanks for the info WMW!

Caroline said...

Thanks for the info. Caroline x

Keith Havers said...

Looking forward to the day when I have to worry about such things.
But it's posts like this that make this such a brilliant blog for those of us who don't know about these matters.

David said...

In my day job I sometimes have to process one-off freelance contacts pay claims. I always prioritise them as I realise once you have done the job you need to get your money ASAP and some people are really relying on that money coming in.

Thanks for the info on this though. One to store away for when I get published.

Elaine Everest said...

The trick is to send an invoice when the fiction department notify you that they have bought a story or when you file copy for a commissioned article.
Also, when discussing fees and deadlines etc when you are being commissioned ask when you will be paid. Editors expect you to discuss these important points.
If the date should pass and the payment has not hit your bank account telephone the accounts department before bothering the editor.
Your invoices should show your terms and that you will charge interest on late payments.
Finally, join the NUJ if you write features.

womagwriter said...

Glynis, you need someone in the UK to email you and let you know when your story's in FF. I subscribe, so if you email me via the link on this page, I can email you back if/when I spot your story.

Glad everyone's found this useful. I should have stressed more, perhaps, that missing payments are 99% of the time down to genuine mistakes and oversights.

womagwriter said...

Oh, and Old Kitty - yes you usually have to sign a contract when you sell your first story to a mag.

Ann said...

Unfortunately I've discovered it happens more and more as publications try and hold onto their money for just a little longer.
I had one accounts department actually tell me that it wasn't their fault because they hadn't received the money from their distributors.
I told him that my contract was with him and not his distributors
Don't apologize - they should be apologizing to you.
I usually email the editor, explain that I haven't been paid yet and ask her for the contact email of the accounts department.
This gives her the opportunity to contact the accounts dept herself if she wants to and also reminds her just in case she hasn't submitted a payment request ( that can also happen and if the editor hasn't asked for payment for your story/article then no one is going to know they have to pay you.

Suzanne Jones said...

Great advice. I've had to chase payment from magazines twice - and, as you say, a polite e-mail normally does the trick.


LilyS said...

This is great advice. Thank you!

LilyS said...

This is great advice. Thank you!

N. T. said...

A very important post. Late payment is becoming a problem in so many sectors these days. I agree with you that writers should remember that they are entitled.

(I am very curious about the "Do Ghosts Kiss" article you mention...)

rossmountney said...

So excited to have found this blog! I'm in awe of anyone who manages to do so much!
Thanks for sharing it all. Ross

rossmountney said...

So excited to have found this site. I'm in awe of anyone who manages to do so much!
Best wishes, Ross

Anonymous said...

So excited to have found this site. I'm in awe of anyone who manges to do so much. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - computer's going mental! Ross

Sylvia Phoenix said...

I'm new to this game, so please forgive me if I've got the wrong end of the stick. After reading this article and some other ones like it (can't remember where — sorry), I get the impression that non-payment occurs rather more frequently in this industry than in other businesses. If this is the case, even if due to genuine errors rather than anything more sinister, then I wonder what is at the root cause of it. I could put a number of theories forward but does anyone know for sure?

There would also seem to be some differences between the way fiction and non-fiction are handled. Can anyone shed light on that?

This blog is a very useful resource for a beginner like me, so thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for a query not on the topic, but I was wondering if anyone could give me a bit of advice. I'm writing a story for PF and it's 1800 words. I was wondering if this was a 'funny' length and if it would be best to cut to 1500 or extend to 2000?

I was also wondering (sorry!) if people send cover letters with subs? I don't but I'm not sure if this is right.


womagwriter said...

Anon - I don't think PF are all that fussy about length so 1800 will probably be ok. Re cover letters, some people always include them, some don't. Personally, I do. It probably doesn't matter. But what IS important is a cover sheet with all your details on, and also include a contact method on every page of your submission.

Ali W said...

On a slightly different point, I recently sold a story to Billy at the Weekly News. I have received payment and also a contributor copy - though not with my story in it.

Billy said the story would probably be in at the beginning of May - however it hasn't been in yet. I suspect that they may not send me another contributor copy and it's not always easy to find the WN. It's only the second story that I've sold so I don't want to miss it! Is it acceptable to ask an editor when a story will appear in the publication?

Tickle said...

I would be very wary of asking when my story was going to appear. If you ask an editor when the story will appear, you are admitting you don't buy the mag every week. This breaks the one golden rule that you must buy and read a target mag you going to write for. I know if you write for lots of mags it is hard to buy them all every week/month but if you are serious about it, you have to. You need to keep your knwoledge about the mag up-to-date and there is no better way than buying it. TWN is not quite so available as other mags but it can always be found in larger WH Smiths, Morrisons and I've bought copies in Post Offices that also sell mags/papers. Failing that you can always order it from a newsagent. Well done, for selling the stories!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice. I'll leave my story the length it is!

Ali W said...

Thanks for your response, Tickle. Unfortunately I can't afford to get every issue of every publication that I would like to write for (much as I would like to).

I wonder whether there is ever a mix up about whether a story has been published (I'm confused about getting the contributor copy without my story in it).

Susan Wright said...

Ali W,

I don't think the Weekly News would mind at all if you emailed to ask about the mix up with your contributor's copy. Jill and Billy are both really nice people, but poor Billy must have been finding it very hard to cope while Jill was away on maternity leave, and maybe there was a mix up somehow.
I've always received the correct contributor's copy, but if you email Jill, who is back at work now, I'm sure she'll be able to help you, and hopefully, she isn't inundated with queries just yet.Womag posted Jill's email address quite recently.
I always buy the Weekly News though so I'll keep an eye out for a story by Ali W, and I can always keep it and send it to you if womag lets us swap addresses through her email address.

Ali W said...

Thanks Susan for your kind offer. I've just submitted a story to Jill and took the opportunity to enquire about the last one. I'll see whether she can give me any info about a date. If not, I'll see whether I can contact you via womag's email.

Susan Wright said...

Ali W,

Your story isn't in The Weekly News today - not unless you write under a different name. Hopefully, Jill's been in touch with you by now to tell you when it will be in though, and hopefully you haven't missed it.
I'll keep the paper if I come across a story in there by Ali W one week just in case you don't get your contributor's copy, but usually they're very good and the paper turns up in the post within the week.

Ali W said...

No response from Jill yet - other than an automated reply to my email to say it had been forwarded to her personal email. Billy used to reply immediately with an indication of when he would have a decision, but maybe Jill works differently.

Thanks for looking out for the story (I write under my real name Alison Walton). So far I've managed to get each issue, but I have to go out of my way to get it - it would be typical if the week I don't get it is the week it appears!

Susan Wright said...

I'm sure Jill will reply to your email very shortly, Ali. I sold her a story last night, which I only submitted on 13th May so she's keeping well on tops of things at the moment!

Will keep your story if I see it though, as promised.

Ali W said...

Susan - I emailed Billy and he said the story will be in the 12th June issue, so that's good news. However I've haven't heard from Jill (I submitted a story on 16th May). Do you know if she normally sends an acknowledgement or just her final decision?

Susan Wright said...

No, Jill doesn't do acknowledgements, Ali. You'll get an acceptance or a rejection.
It's good that Billy has given you a publication date. I look forward to reading your story, and I'll keep the paper until you've confirmed you got your contributor's copy OK.

Susan Wright said...

Ali - don't know if you'll read this, but thought I'd just confirm that your story is in today's Weekly News.
Hopefully, you've managed to get hold of a copy or your contributor's copy will turn up in the next week. I'll keep hold of my copy just in case though as promised.

Ali W said...

Susan - I have managed to get hold of a copy. Thanks very much for keeping an eye out for me - much appreciated. Do you know when your story will be in?

Susan Wright said...

No, I don't know when my story will be in. I've been paid though so that's the main thing!
I've read your story now, and I really enjoyed it, Ali. Well done!

Ali W said...

Thanks. I find it amazing to see my story in print. They did make some changes and completely removed my three favourite lines!
I'll try to make sure I see your story.