Archive for October, 2010

Collection Q&A: What Happens If I Don’t Get Paid?

This question came to me via email today from a fellow freelancer. Because this is an issue that all freelancers face at one time or another, I thought I’d share my response.

Q:  I wrote four pieces for a regional magazine, ranging from home design to education. Two pieces appeared in the summer issue, published in June, and two were to appear in the fall issue due out in September, but are now past due by two months. I have not yet received payment for any of my work. According to our email agreement, I was to receive payment within two months of publication of the issue in which my pieces appeared. I have called and emailed the editor and the business manager repeatedly, but they do not respond. I received one email form the business manager in September apologizing for the delay, saying he’d mail my check for the summer issue the following Monday. I have yet to receive that check. What resource do I have, if any?

A:   As a freelancer for seven years, I’m happy to say I’ve only had to use a collection agency twice, once for a publication in New York City and another for a wedding planner for whom I wrote web copy. In both instances, I continued the collection process by sending a letter (I’d send it certified or US Priority Mail so you have documentation of its receipt) demanding payment. The letter said something along the lines of “Per our email agreement, I completed the assignments in good faith and was told I would be paid by ______. To date, I have not received payment and am making one final attempt to collect on the debt before turning the matter over to a collection agency.” Give them a date certain and follow through if they balk. Then, when I did resort to collections, I had documentation of my emails, phone calls and final demand for payment. You will also need or want a record of the email or verbal agreement (who said what and when) to send to the collection agency and, if it is legal in your state, be sure you pass the collection fee onto the client. Also, when you choose an agency, choose one that reports to Dun & Bradstreet. That way you are sure the collection will be reported.

Another option is to write to Angela Hoy of Writers Weekly. She’ll sometimes serve as an intermediary to go after payments for freelancers, and she makes it public so clients and media organizations can’t get away with not paying for work used.

Keep in mind first, however, that I wouldn’t take any of these steps IF you want to write for this company or any related or sister companies again. If you do, you need to hang in there. If you are willing to sever the relationship based on this breach, then proceed by all means!

One last bit of advice – as these situations have occurred, I have added safeguards in my two-page business agreement which lets clients know that I will stop work and/or take them to collection if they don’t pay as agreed. This agreement is usually between clients and me, rather than publications and me, but I use it whenever I can.

Good luck and keep me posted!

~ Dana Neuts, freelance writer and SPJ freelance committee chair

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Bruce Shutan’s Six Web Sites Worth Checking Out

I’ve often heard that if you come away from a conference with just one great idea, then the travel expense was well worth it. I can say with confidence that the old axiom applied to SPJ’s latest annual shindig in Las Vegas, where I had the privilege of co-presenting with the Freelance Writing Committee’s new chairwoman, Dana Neuts and Holly Fisher, who’s also a member of the committee. I learned some new things from some of the workshops I attended, including my own, and decided to share hypertext links and brief descriptions of half a dozen Web sites that I think should be on all of our proverbial radars:

1.    Editorial Freelancers Association – Ever wonder what to charge for writing or editing? This group has prepared a handy table with some suggested pricing. Examples include $1 to $2 a word or $50 to $100 an hour for writing, $40 to $65 an hour for substantive copyediting, $25 to $50 an hour for researching and $3 to $5 a page for transcribing interviews from audio files.
2.    WritersWeekly – This popular destination has been described as a free weekly marketing “e-mag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings,” as well as the world’s “highest-circulation freelance writing ezine.”
3.    Freelance Success – The Web site bills itself as “an engaging community of independent professional writers and editors based in all 50 states and about 15 foreign countries,” with more than 80% of whom writing for newsstand magazines. Also featured is a forum that enables scribes to post questions and get advice from fellow freelancers.
4.    Custom Content Council – This group, a handy resource for trade publications that target a highly specific audience, promotes itself as a “leading association for the custom publishing industry in the United States,” as well as an “authoritative source of industry news, data and trends, information on the effectiveness of custom publishing, and referrals to the top custom publishers in North America.”
5.    American Society of Business Publication Editors – This group describes itself as “the professional association for full-time and freelance editors and writers employed in the business, trade and specialty press.”
6.    Association Media & Publishing – For every industry, there’s usually a trade association and publication to examine hot topics within that market space. This is the destination for finding those outlets. Formerly known as the Society of National Association Publications, the group “serves the needs of association publishers, communications professionals and the media they create,” including magazines, blogs and wikis.

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has written for about 75 publications or corporate entities. His extensive reporting on the American workplace dates back to 1985, with a showbiz sideline developed in 2000 when he began contributing to Variety, a must-read for entertainment industry insiders for more than a century. He can be reached at

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