Friday, May 19, 2006

No Fun But Necessary

For the last several months, I’ve been had a repetitious email correspondence with a magazine editor at a well-known publication. According to my past experience with this publication and with the verbal and email reassurances from the editor, they pay on acceptance. My article was written and accepted months ago, yet I haven’t received payment.

Faithfully I’ve been checking on my check every two or three weeks. Each time this editor responds quickly and said she has checked again and it will be going out on Monday. Then two more weeks go by without payment so I check on it again. I needed to apply more pressure and wondered what to do next.

It’s a hard situation. You don’t want to kill your relationship with this editor (and publication) yet as a writer, you did the work and deserve to be fairly paid for that work. It’s a tricky balance. If you are too threatening and forceful, you may get paid but never write for them again.  If you are too lax about payment, you may get stuck.  After over 20 years of freelancing, I’ve seen many publications come and go for no explanation to someone on the outside looking in. The magazine business is a difficult one with small profit margins and it’s tricky to stay in business.

It’s in times like these where writers need to stand together and learn from the experience of others. It’s another reason I belong to several writer organizations and play an active role in one of them. The American Society of Journalists and Authors was formerly known as the Society of Magazine Writers. The organization is much broader than magazine writers so many years ago they changed their name to ASJA. The ASJA has a Grievance Committee to help members in this particular situation. The service is only for members so please don’t go to them with your payment problems (unless you want to join).

The Grievance Committee advised me to write a letter to my editor. The letter with my letterhead should go through the regular mail (not email) and be sent certified with a return receipt acknowledgment. In this letter, I recounted the history or our interaction on email, sent copies of the email, sent copies of my invoices and gave a firm deadline date for payment.  While it wasn’t any fun, it was a necessary step for me to take in this case. I wrote my letter and mailed it this week. Hopefully it resolves the situation and I receive my payment. If not there are additional steps I can take to apply more pressure on the publication. I’m not eager to take any of these steps but I will take them if necessary. Thankfully as a writer, I’ve never had to take these steps—even sending the printed letter via certified mail was a first for me. I hope it does the trick—spur whatever internal process to secure my payment.

You will note that I’ve tried to disguise the specific magazine where I have this “situation.” It may be quickly resolved (my hope) yet it’s probably happening to other writers. You need to stand together with an organization or take proactive steps for payment rather than just shrug it off. It’s another different glimpse into my writing life.

4 Comment:

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun Left a note...

I will pray that you get a satisfactory conclusion to this problem. It's always tough, when you need to get formal, it strains relationships.

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Cheryl Left a note...

Ugh. I hope you have a good conclusion to this sticky situation.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Bucktowndusty Left a note...

Terry, the emotional baggage isn't worth the worry of loosing this outfit. Take them to court if you have to, but most importantly do something and lobb the ball of stressful tension back at them. Let them wonder each night what to do. As a former web site coder, I've had to do just that when clients failed to make payment, and offered countless excuses. I never worked for them again, but it's invigorating to let them know with passion that they are failing in their responsibility to live as honest, respectable humans.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

It took some extra effort on my part--as I mentioned in this post and it went way beyond some email correspondence with my editor to check on the check.

I wanted to report that my payment showed up last week. It will be some time before I pitch another idea the direction of this particular organization. It's simply not worth the extra hassle from my perspective. Writers deserve to be paid on acceptance and paid promptly without this type of accounting shuffle.


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