Getting Paid After Selling Your Writing

There are two parts to earning money from your writing: selling the product and collecting the money. Most writers invest quite a bit of time in learning how to do the first while ignoring the latter. But a sale isn't complete until the money is in your bank. Here's five things you should know about business that will help you collect in a timely manner and avoid writing off bad debts.

1) Know the reputation of the publication before submitting your piece. Some publications are notorious for stiffing the writers. There is no point in negotiating and "selling" a piece if the publication has no intention of adhering to the agreement. The two writer's lists I included in Online Opportunities Abound for Creative Writers are places where writers post warnings and ask questions. Here's a few other places:

Writer's Weekly's publishes a Whispers and Warnings page.

You can receive the latest news on publications, including bankruptcies or pending closures, at Editor and Publisher

The National Writer's Union represents freelancers and posts alerts on their website. Some information is only available to members. Some of it you can access for free.

2) Understand the terms as offered and/or negotiated. If an editor agrees to accept a piece with payment on publication, you won't get paid unless they actually publish the piece. Sometimes this agreement is abused because the publisher doesn't want the piece but also doesn't want a competitor to have an opportunity to publish it. They hold it until it is no longer relevant, then reject it. It's better for the writer to receive payment upon acceptance, have a date of guaranteed publication or have a kill fee built into the agreement.

All writers should learn the meaning of contract terms, try to learn the normal terms for each publication before they submit their work and learn how to negotiate with the publisher for better terms.

3) Once the piece is sold, send an invoice. Most accounts payable systems require an invoice before they begin to their process for payment. An invoice is your demand for payment. It should include the terms you agreed to accept when you sold the piece, the name of the piece, the editor who accepted it and the date when payment is expected. It should also include a date when interest will start to accrue and the percentage of interest that will be charged. You may or may not receive the interest for late payment by including this on your invoice, but you definitely won't receive it if you omit that information.

The accounts payable department's first step is to verify with the editor that this is an accurate invoice for the piece they purchased. Only after the editor approves the invoice will it be input onto their accounts payable system. Be diligent. Call within a reasonable period of time to ask if the editor has approved it and if it is on their accounts payable schedule. If not, ask to speak with the editor. A polite reminder is usually all that's needed to get the process rolling.

4) Keep a log of all phone calls and correspondence with the editor and accounts payable. Include the date, time, who you spoke to and what was said.

When appropriate, send an email or letter recounting the details of oral agreements. You should begin with "This is my understanding of our telephone conversation today." This creates a record of all agreements and gives them a chance to correct any misunderstandings.

5) Keep an eye on the calendar. If you don't receive the check within a few days after the expected payment date, call the accounts payable department and ask why. If they say the check is in the mail, get a check number, date issued and date mailed. Be sure you send an email as described above just in case the check never arrives.

Most publications pay their bills on time or close to the due date. However, those that are in financial trouble will pay late. Some may never pay at all. To avoid being victimized by the latter, try the strategies in: How to collect on a bad debt.

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