Like many writers, I can turn my hand to many different types of writing. I write fiction and non-fiction; books and articles; blog posts and PDF guides. Writing articles is a good way to earn bread-and-butter income while you are working on a longer project, like a novel. However, if you write for magazines, you need to be wary of the pay-on-publication trap.
I got caught when the publisher of a national magazine switched from pay-on-invoice to pay-on-publication. For several years, I had written articles (all commissioned) with the agreement that when I sent the final article – plus any accompanying photos – I would also send an invoice. This invoice would go into the system, and sit in in Accounts until the calendar flipped over to the following month. In that month, it would move one step forward – into the to-be-paid queue. The cheque for the article would then be sent out in the first week of the following month.
At best, I was paid within around five weeks. At worst (if I submitted an article plus invoice within the first few days of a given month) it might be 7- 8 weeks.
Fast forward to a couple of articles that were commissioned last year. In July, the request came via email: could I write an article on so-and-so? Deadline: ASAP, but by mid-August. Sure, I said. I submitted the article on August 13, along with an invoice. Given my understanding of the way their Accounts system worked, I expected a cheque in the first week of October.
Meanwhile, in September, the same magazine requested another article: could I write a piece for a special issue? Again I said ‘yes’ and submitted it on October 2nd – with the invoice. This cheque would lob in, I thought, in early December: handy for Christmas.
October came – but the cheque for the August article did not. I left it until mid-October to query the magazine, thinking that if there had been a delay it might arrive in the second week… but no.
To my astonishment, the (new) Deputy Editor informed me that “…we generally pay for the article at about the time that it’s due to be published”. Moreover, she wasn’t sure when the article would appear; it would be “a few issues yet” before it was published. (I’m paraphrasing, but that was more or less the information.)
To say that I was annoyed is an understatement. To change the goalposts in this way without notifying a regular freelancer was, I thought, pretty weak.
Since then I’ve exchanged emails with the Deputy Editor and with the Accounts personnel to whom I was referred. Today, six months after I sent the original invoice, I finally opened my mailbox to find a cheque. Hallelujah!
One down, one to go: the article for the Special Issue. When I last spoke to Accounts, about five weeks ago, I was advised that the invoice would be paid “one month after the on-sale date of the issue it is featured in” – and also that they had “not yet placed that article so the invoice has not yet gone to accounts”.
In other words, that.special issue has not even been slated for publication yet. The article is therefore in limbo: it may or may not ever be published.
And that’s why I have, in the past, opted not to write for any magazine with a policy of ‘pay on publication’. They can hold any article until they feel like using it; if they never use it, you never get paid. You should check a magazine’s payment policy before you do the work and meet their deadlines. Some magazines have a ‘kill fee’ (they’ll pay you a smaller sum if they don’t use the article); many do not.
Unless they change their policy, I don’t plan on writing for this magazine again. If I agree to write an article to a deadline and submit it on time, I think it’s fair enough to be paid for my efforts in a timely fashion.
Six months from invoice to payment? Nope, far too long to wait.