You accepted the assignment. You did the work. The editor or client accepted the piece. So where is your money?
Usually an invoice will do the trick, but what happens with a client doesn’t pay? Then you’ll need a demand for payment, or what I call “pay-or-die” letters. You'll want to detail the terms of your contract, prove that you have satisfied your contractual obligations, and describe the attempts you’ve taken to get paid. I’ve found that threatening to turn the matter over to my attorney usually provokes payment.
One more thing--find out who actually cuts the checks and pursue that person for payment. You can certainly enlist your editor's help, but I've found that going to the person who holds the purse strings gets me paid more quickly.
Here’s an example of one such letter that I sent to the owner of a publishing company which had owe me money for months (with identifying information redacted). As you'll see in the letter, I'd already pursued the controller (i.e. AP manager) with no success:
Dear Mr. Badman:
I am a fulltime freelance writer who has spent over six months trying to collect payment for work performed for No-pay magazine. I first sent invoices for the work last August after my articles were accepted, but have never been paid for them.
In the past two months alone, I have sent two letters with copies of invoices to Michael Nogood, your controller, and have called him on nine occasions. He has never returned my calls nor paid me for the outstanding sums owed me. Your company still owes me the following amounts:
“Fit on the Street”/November/December, 1999/$270.45
“Ten Health Club Commandments”/January/February, 2000/$750.00
As all of this work was long since performed (back in the summer of 1999) and these issues have already been published, I would appreciate it if you would immediately issue me a check for $1,020.45. If I don’t receive payment within five days, I’ll turn the matter over for collection and will involve my attorney.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you and receiving my check soon.
Very truly yours,
This letter worked--I finally collected my check, and it cleared. And before you ask, no, I never wrote for the publication again!
Readers, what do you think of my pay-or-die letter? Do you use something similar? What do you do when you don't get paid?