• Freelancing Woes: What to Do When a Magazine Just Won’t Pay Up

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 4 comments

    I recently had a rather frustrating experience freelancing for a magazine. The article I was assigned was large, while the pay, by professional standards, was small. But! I was enticed by the fact that it would be featured on the cover, give me a great clip for my website, and hopefully some great exposure. So for three weeks I researched and wrote, researched and wrote, researched and wrote. The result—a 6,000-word piece of article glory.

    When I submitted the final product, I was promised payment within 30 days of publication. The magazine was set to hit the stands early May. May goes by, June goes by, no check. I follow up, and get an apology, and a promise of quick payment. Two weeks go by, no check. To sum up a four-month big hot mess into a few short sentences, what basically follows is this: I have to follow up seven more times, receive three flat-out “payment’s in the mail” lies, I threaten legal action, end up driving a half hour to get the check in person, only to discover it is less than what I was promised.

    “Oh, it just must have been a mistake,” the publisher emailed me when I asked for the rest of my money. Um, obviously it was a mistake, please fix it. I politely requested another check, no response, no money. Frustration ensues.

    I worked really hard on that article. I met my deadlines, did lots of research, and triple checked all my facts. What I got in return was unprofessional treatment, disrespect, lies, and incorrect payment. Awesome.

    So! The point of me telling my little tale of freelancing woe is to share some helpful advice I learned throughout this process on how to deal with publications who just won’t fork over your money:

    1.  Upon receiving an assignment, make sure you get it in writing when you will be getting paid, and how much. Usually this information will be included in an email. Archive it so you can reference it if things start to get sketchy.

    2.  Make sure your invoice is extremely professional looking, and not something you just put together last minute on Microsoft Word.

    3.  Turn in your invoice at the same time as you submit your article.

    4.  Be understanding that the publishing world can be hectic, and things can get pushed aside or lost in the shuffle. But when one month passes since the time you were promised payment, feel free to follow up. Make the subject of the email something to the effect of “Request for Payment – First Notice.” Then in the body of the email, politely explain the payment is past due, and make sure you reattach your invoice.

    5.  What happens next depends on their response—if they respond at all. If they do, and promise payment by a certain date, wait. Another month past that new deadline, follow up again. Title the email “Request for Payment – Second Notice,” and attach your invoice. Then, again depending on their response, keep following up every two to four weeks in the same manner until your payment is received.

    6.  If you are not getting a response, or a significant amount of time has passed with no sign of your money, you can send an email threatening legal action. Again, this should be polite, professional, but firm. Title the email “Final Request for Payment – Pending Legal Action.” Hopefully this catches the editor or publisher’s eye, and they pay up.

    7.  If still no money or response, don’t worry—you don’t necessarily have to hire a lawyer. If you join the National Writers Union, they will defend you and take the appropriate action against the publication for you. If you don’t qualify for the union, don’t give up! Show up to the magazine’s office in person and demand your money if you have to, or do hire a lawyer if you find it is financially worth it for you. If you owed your healthcare company or didn’t pay your cell phone bill, they would hound you until they got their money or contact collections. Why should it be any different for you? As a freelancer, you are your own business—stand up for yourself and demand that you get the same professionalism and respect that you show as a writer.


    Your turn, WriteByNight freelancers. Freelancing horror stories? Do share.


    Katie’s work has been featured in Austin Lifestyle Magazine, Redbook Magazine, Thrillist.com, and Homerun.com. She is also excited to be contributing to the new Austin publication BE Mag, launching its first issue this November. Prior to moving to Austin, Katie worked as an associate producer for an NBC affiliate in South Florida.

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    Sorry to hear that Katie. It sounds like a carbon copy of my experience with another Austin-based publisher. Does anyone know what the legal ramifications of naming and shaming these publications are?


    You can also take the delinquent organization to small claims court. I thought the amount had to be less than $500, but this brochure indicates that less than $10,000 is fine (in Texas at least): http://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/ForThePublic/FreeLegalInformation/ConsumerTenantRights/HowToSueinSmallClaimsCourt.pdf

    Good luck, and I hope you get the rest of your money soon!

    Laura Roberts

    You can also get your allies beating the bushes on your behalf. Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly will follow up with editors for you, and when most deadbeat editors find out there’s a potentially reputation-damaging article being written about them, they tend to pay up pretty fast! You can find her contact info at http://www.writersweekly.com, as well as a great “Whispers and Warnings” section on preditory editors to avoid in the future. Along similar lines, check out Preditors and Editors (http://pred-ed.com) before you ever do business with anyone and make sure they’re clean. In case you find after the fact they’re… Read more »


    Hi Katie! Your story is quite similar to mine. The only difference is that the publisher and me are separated by miles and miles of sea. You see, I am from the Philippines. Apparently, we offer lower rates for quality articles so many US-based online publishing companies opted to outsource us. After less than a year of consistent payment, we (the entire team from the Phils.) experienced a delay in payment. I’m not sure if I can still consider it delayed because it is already 2 months late and the CEO of the company we worked for remained silent. Because… Read more »

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