A few years ago I worked at a local magazine that was constantly advertising for writers. It was a small publication, but I applied and was quickly hired to write several feature articles. They told me the amount they paid per article, and that they’d pay a month after publication.
Now, keep in mind, I was writing articles a month BEFORE publication. So that meant I would be paid two months after my article was turned in. I submitted my first couple articles, and immediately received an assignment for two more. The next month, I received a few more. I was getting very excited about my status as a regular contributor, and looked even more forward to getting paid.
The following month, I got an article assignment with a turnaround time of less than a day. Seriously. They expected me to drop what I was doing and turn out an article with barely any time for research, let alone writing. I was happy to do it, especially since I didn’t want to jeopardize my status as a feature writer. But then the editor told me something that made me take notice. She said, “Yeah, every few months I get a writer that leaves mid-assignment, and I have to scramble at the last minute to find someone to take their place.” When I asked why the writer just up and left (with an article due!) she just said, “Oh, no reason. Some people are never happy.”
Hmm, I thought. Could this be a sign of trouble? I put this together with the fact that they were constantly advertising, and realized it could. My fears were confirmed when it was time to get my pay. A week past the due date, I called the editor and left a message. I got a canned email in response (it was even addressed to “Dear Writer”) and said I would have to remit an invoice if I wanted to get paid.
I was happy to do that, but wished they would have told me that when I asked about terms of payment. Still, I submitted the invoice, along with several others for the articles I had already completed. I waited another week. I called again.
The editor called and wanted to give me a new assignment. Before I accepted, I asked about my late payment. She got angry and said it “wasn’t her department” and besides that “didn’t I know they were a small company?”
That got my attention. So I asked her, “What do you mean, ‘you’re a small company?’” She said, “Writers don’t seem to understand that we’re not like a big paper. Sometimes we don’t have the funds to pay right away. No biggie.”
I called the magazine again and asked to speak to accounting. I left several messages, and a week later (three months after I wrote my first article) I was told writers would be paid “when they had funds.” I sent them a polite but firm letter reminding them of our original terms. I followed that up with phone calls, which went unanswered.
I finally got payment four months late on each of my articles, and told them I wouldn’t be writing with them again.
Here’s the thing, even if a company is small, if they advertise payment and don’t follow through, that’s wrong. You need to be diligent to receive your income, and don’t let the “but we’re small, so…” excuse fly. Size doesn’t matter. If someone wants to renege on their agreement to pay you, fight back.