Lessons from the Other Side of the Editor’s Desk: Getting Paid

The article (or short story or poem or essay) ran two months ago, and you haven’t gotten paid. Or, you were paid, but you’re disappointed in the amount. This is your sixth piece for them; shouldn’t you get a raise?

Well, dear writer, did you send the editor an invoice, a piece of paper stating what you have done for them and how much they owe you? Many publications don’t pay without an invoice for the editor to approve and send on to accounting. Publishing is a business, and so is writing. No invoice, no money, even if you have a written contract. So ask if you need to send an invoice, then do it. Email works, but so does a paper statement mailed with a self-addressed envelope for the check.

If you did send an invoice and still haven’t gotten paid, ask the editor, but don’t harass her. Except in the smallest publications, the editor has nothing to do with paying writers. Once she sends the invoice on to accounting, she doesn’t know anything about it. She’s in charge of words, not money.

Your invoice may have gotten lost. Call accounting. If they haven’t seen it, send another copy. If you still don’t get paid and months are passing by, feel free to complain, nag and threaten, politely at first, then irately. Worried about not getting another assignment? Do you want to write for a publication that doesn’t pay you? Organizations such as the National Writers Union or the American Society of Journalists and Authors have advocates who will help you get paid. Sometimes a note from one of these groups will get things moving.

As for your raise, have you asked for one? I discovered in my stint behind the desk that one writer was getting paid on acceptance and another was getting $200 per story despite the official policy that everyone was supposed to be paid $100 after publication. Why? Those writers insisted on better treatment. They had a record of good work for the magazine, they knew they were worth more, and they demanded it. And they got it. So ask. The worst they can do is say no.

A precaution: Many publications these days are living from check to check. They can’t pay you early or even on time because they don’t have the money. They’re already paying the printer and distributor with IOUs. If the magazine seems to be running fewer pages and payment is getting slower with each issue, watch out. They may be close to going out of business, and you don’t want to get stuck doing work that you never get paid for. It might be time to seek another market.

I hope these posts from behind the editor’s desk have been helpful. Be sure to look back at previous posts for information on Response Time, What Editors Want, and Surviving Rewrites.

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