How to Collect From A Slow Paying Publisher

Having trouble collecting from a publisher? It's time to get proactive. The older the debt gets, the less chance you'll have of collecting. Ideally, you will have avoided sales to them by the strategies in Getting Paid After Selling Your Writing. But we all know ideals are often forsaken. Once the publication has not paid on time, you need to be proactive in your efforts to collect.

1) Rudeness rarely works. There  is a fundamental reason why you haven't been paid: either the editor hasn't approved payment, the publication has a cash flow problem or they are deadbeats with no intention of paying. Rudeness won't change those circumstances.  Since your goal is payment, you should be requesting information on why it isn't paid rather than picking a fight.

Keep in mind that the person you are talking to on the phone is rarely the person who has the authority to sign the checks. No matter how you yell and swear, that won't change either.  On the other hand, being nice to an accounts payable (AP) clerk might reap rewards, so give it a try.

2) Find out if your invoice was posted and if it is marked for payment. If it is, ask when it will be paid. If not, ask why.  Be prepared to ask to talk to the person who can cure the problem if one exists.

3)   Ask her what their payment schedule is. This should include what days of the week they normally pay, how often check runs are made. who approves which invoices to pay, how long it takes to get a check signed and in the mail once a check is printed,who signs the checks, who okays their mailing and if they have checks that have not yet been sent. If the answer to the last question is yes, ask if your check is in that queue.

This information is valuable. If you know what day she prints a check run, you can call her the day prior and ask to be on it. You can call the day checks are sent out and remind her you'd like yours to be in the mail.  You can call the person who okays payment, signs the check or permits it to be mailed. The larger the corporation, the more likely it will be for these to be different people, so you may need to hand walk your check through each step of the process.

4) Let her know you are trying to be reasonable, and you can understand if there is a cash flow problem. When cash is in short supply, companies pay their most important vendors first. After that, they decide who to pay based on several circumstances. If they have $50,000 to pay out and their important vendors total $49,000, no remaining vendor will be paid more than $1,000. That's simple math. Whether they pay the remainder of the money to one or several vendors will probably be a toss-up, so set your goal to be part of that remainder if you don't qualify as their most important vendor.  If you've made friends with the AP clerk, she can get you on that list. If she's angry, she might prefer to give that slot to someone else. So make your choice between friendliness and rudeness before you speak to her the first time.

5)  Let the AP clerk know you are willing to accept partial payment if full payment is not available. That will help her fit you in when there is little money left. It is far better to get three payments of $100 over a month's time than to hold tight for full payment all at once. She may never be able to get the entire invoice approved if money is really tight., but every check run has the potential for a few dollars coming your way if you are willing to negotiate for it.

6) Send reminders. Statements and payment reminder notes are important. They keep the AP staff aware you haven't yet received payment. This is truly a case of "out of sight" is also "out of mind." Every AP desk deals with myriad accounting details all day long.  So remind them often.  If you are reminding them by phone and the receptionist quits putting you through, that's not a good sign. But stay polite and give her a detailed message for AP. After you hang up, you can decide if you need to take the final step in collecting bad debts: going to court.

7) Most states have a small claims court. Learn how to use it. Usually, you have to file in person using their forms. Fill them out completely, attach any required documents and pay the filing fee. Once the suit is recorded, you will need someone else to serve it for you. There are companies that specialize in serving court papers. They too will charge a fee. Once the service is complete, make sure proof of service is filed with the court and then show up fully prepared on the assigned court date. You will need the records you've created, including a contract, a copy of the piece you sold, the billing invoice, the reminders and statements you sent and the letters you sent to formalize oral agreements. You should also bring your completed contact sheet.

Most companies will find it cheaper to pay your invoice rather than send someone to court. If they do pay and the check clears the bank, send a copy of that payment to the court and ask them to dismiss the suit.  If they offer payment on the day you are supposed to be heard in court, make sure you are still heard and make them put that offer on the record unless it is in cash. That way, you can use the court judgment to collect if you have any further problems.

Going to court will probably insure you will not get any more work from that publisher. Some people hesitate to sue for that reason. However, if you are considering suing, then you haven't been compensated for prior work and probably shouldn't consider future work. That is a choice that will take a judgment call. Your decision may be different for each publication. If you've enjoyed a long-term relationship, you might want to give that publication more leniency than if this is your first piece they've agreed to purchase.

So weigh your options carefully. Once you've filed, stick to your guns. If you back down without being paid or having your day in court, that payment will never hit your mailbox.  You would have been better off never submitting your work to them in the first place because you've wasted a lot of time and effort.

The companion piece to this article is: Getting Paid After Selling Your Writing.

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