From my InBox:
This is for that section on your blog when you give advice. I am so mad. It’s been a year. And a magazine that I wrote a story for still has not paid me. I have called, emailed and sent snail mail. At first, they just kept saying one more month. And now, no one is even returning my calls or emails.
This was my first story for this magazine. And it’s a national publication. I know that all magazines are going through it right now. But I’m pissed. It’s not like I don’t need the money.
And how come they can’t even reach out and give me the real deal on what’s going on? That is so disrespectful to me.
Now what do I do? They owe me 500.00. Which is nothing to them. But it’s something to me.
My friends have told me that if I try too hard to get the money back, I won’t be able to write for the magazine ever again. I’m just starting out. I don’t want to lose this connection. But it’s been a year and they have not assigned me anything else anyway.
Have you ever been in this situation? What did you do?
Broke in Brooklyn
My (extended) response to Broke…
Yes, I’ve been in this situation. More times than I care to recount. I’ll just tell you about two.
Back in 2000, I started writing celebrity profiles and music reviews for a well-known, mainstream fashion magazine. The money was good. The work was coming in fast. And I loved the lush, high-fashion look of my clips. I interviewed Missy Elliot for them. (She told me she belonged to Janet Jackson’s fan club and used her lunch money to buy stamps so that she could write Janet and Michael a fan letter ever single day. She met Janet years later and said, “You never got any of my letters? Are you sure?” And that made me crack UP.
Anyway. So all’s going well. I’m writing for the magazine we’ll call Blush. And then, the payment for my Missy story was 30 days late. Then 60 days late. Then 90 days late. The editor did stay in touch with me. She told me they had a money crunch. She then told me I would get paid immediately–IF I agreed to another assignment.
I said sure. And a few days later, I got my check for the Missy story.
This went on for months. They were late with payment on the Missy story. Then the editor offered to pay me immediately—if I agreed to write another story.
Now I was in my first year of full-time freelancing and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off. So I wasn’t about to rock the boat. But the stories at Blush were beginning to pile up and they were not able to keep up with my payments.
Meanwhile, I’m seeing the editor-in-chief and the owner/publisher of the magazine in Us Weekly and on television, looking fabulous at various events. And I’m haggling with the editor over which story I’ll be paid for this month?
I realized what a fool I’d been. I was making deals, allowing them to work me to the bone and not pay me?! I know my editor and her higher ups weren’t making deals to get paid! They got their checks on time. I was an idiot to settle for anything less. I had been so blinded by the idea of stacking up more and more clips that I was allowing myself to be disrespected.
Finally, I’d had enough. When the editor called and asked if I’d do yet another assignment in exchange for getting paid for ONE of the stories I’d already done, I turned her down.
At this point, the magazine owed me almost two thousand dollars. (I’m fuzzy on the exact amounts. But it was in that range).
I wanted all my money. And I was done writing for Blush.
And suddenly, I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. No one returned my emails. It was a ghost town over there.
I was torn. I knew I could put in a claim in small claims court. But when word got out, would other editors think I was troublesome? Would it be worth it?
I’d have to find out.
But first, I put in a call to Keith J. Kelly, a media columnist for the New York Post.
“Mr. Kelly, I have a story for you,” I said. “I’m a freelance writer for a magazine that will not pay me.”
“Talk to me,” Kelly said.
I told him my story and the very next day, his column had the headline:
FASHION MAG ON HARD TIMES.
And there I was, quoted on what was going on at Blush. There was a quote from the publisher, who denied being behind on any payments. He said she would “look into” my invoice. But he said he was sure that it had been paid.
I marched right downtown and filed my claim in small claims court. When I was done with all of the paperwork, they gave me a little slip with a court date. I was told that the magazine would receive the court date as well.
They must have. Because I got a check two days later. Shipped overnight. And it wasn’t a payroll check. It was just a check, like the one you have in your checkbook right now. That joint was hand-written and signed with a regular ball-point pen.
The next day, the editor called me. She apologized for all the drama. And she assured me that there was no bad blood. She told me she would continue to assign me stuff.
And I never heard from her again.
I pitched her a few stories. She didn’t respond to my emails.
She soon left the magazine and went to another magazine I wrote for. I reached out to her there as well. She didn’t respond.
So, there you have it.
Maybe I should have taken a loss on the two thousand dollars so that the editor wouldn’t have to deal with the drama? Maybe then we’d still have a professional relationship today? And I’d recoup my money plus more?
But I think I took the right route. Freelance writers often get shafted. We have no real protection. We give away our product and then have to wait until after it’s been published to get paid. So what recourse do we have?
It’s a tough industry and we’re a one-man army! We have to do the creative stuff and we have to be the accounting department as well.
Early in my career, I let a lot of things slide in the hopes of building relationships. And that worked for me—to a point. But there does come a time when you have to fight for yourself—and know that if they kick you to the curb, it’s their loss.
If I were you, I’d keep the money and the work separate. I would not ask the editor anymore about the money. It’s out of her hands. Call the office and ask for Accounts Payable. Hound them instead. Meanwhile, if you still want to write for the magazine, you should be pitching stories to the editor who assigned you the first story.
I have to be honest, if I continued to get work, I probably wouldn’t flip out over the first check. That’s only if I was just starting out. Now if you write another story and don’t get paid, that’s another story…
I wanted to share two stories with you. But I’ve run out of time. Check back tomorrow. I’ll tell you about the time I wrote an entire BOOK and didn’t get paid one red dime. (Not one. And I’m still pissed off about that. And if I see dude in the street, I’m clocking him in the jaw. Okay. Not really. But maybe.)
Dear readers: How would you advise BIB in this situation? Fellow freelancers in any industry: have you ever gotten shafted on payment? How did you deal with it? How long do you wait before you act?
BIB and I would love to hear from you….