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Dispirited but not defeated

I don’t know about you, fellow freelancers, but the past eight weeks have felt like “The Twilight Zone” when it comes to getting paid.

Only you know that the problem won’t end after a 30-minute episode.

At first, I chalked it up to The August Doldrums: you know, editors and publishers going on that elusive thing called “vacation” while you continue to sit, fingers to keyboard, filing assignments and checking accounts to see if those outstanding invoices have been paid.

Once the calendar flipped its page to September, I was ready to follow up. With nearly $9,000 of unpaid invoices, most of which represented work filed months ago, I set aside time in my hectic reporting and writing schedule marked “INVOICE F/U.”

That “F/U” is for “follow-up,” in case you were wondering. I know- the temptation to read a double entendre into that is real.

I always feel resentful about spending time chasing down money I’m owed. It’s time for which I’m not getting paid, spent on work for which I’m owed, taking time away from new work that could be getting done, asking for something I shouldn’t have to ask for because I’ve followed all the rules and have honored my end of contractual agreements. But I suck it up, send out inquiries, pull up and reattach invoices “for your quick reference and convenience,” and look at what kind of crazy mathematics I have to pull off to cover my own obligations while I wait to get paid.

But this September has, thus far, been particularly bad. A publisher who owed $3,200, separated into two invoices, paid one invoice but not the other. When I followed up, they were surprised. There was another invoice? Well, yes. Yes, there was. Another publisher lost my invoices: could I send them again? And a third promised, repeatedly, that “payment was being processed this week,” only this week turned into three weeks, and no, I still haven’t been paid.

The kicker came today, when, after filing an assignment for a reputable outlet for which I’ve written a couple times (and have two more commissions in the pipeline), I wrote accounts payable to check on the status of an invoice filed at the beginning of August. I double-checked our contract: net 30. They were past it. Where was my money? I wrote, politely, to inquire.

What ensued has been an exchange of emails that has left me dispirited and disgusted, but not at all defeated. Many freelancers don’t follow up on payments; others apologize for doing so (“Sorry to be a pest, but I just wanted to check on my invoice, dated months and months ago!”). After the series of exchanges below, I am, more than ever, determined to be both diligent and dogged in pursuit of compensation for my work.

I hope you will feel the same. I also hope you will share this widely. Don’t let others devalue your work. Don’t continue to contribute to a system that doesn’t compensate you for your product; I can think of no other profession that permits this. Feel free to lift any of the language of my own emails and edit them to fit your own situation as you seek the payment you are owed.
**
Email One: From Me to the Accounts Payable Department of the Publisher

“Hello-

My name is Julie Schwietert Collazo and I’m writing to check on the status of an invoice that was filed on or around August 5. The project was [description of project], which was assigned by [name of editor]. The total due was [$xxx.00]. I have not yet received payment for this project; could you please advise regarding the status and when payment can be expected?

Thanks,
Julie”

**
Email Two: From Someone in Accounts Payable Who Did Not Indicate His Position/Title

“Hi Julie: We are currently have a backlog with our freelance payments, we will get payment out as soon as we can. Please be patient and we’ll get you paid. Thank you!”

Upon receiving this, I stepped away from the computer to think. Would I write a “Ok, thanks!” email or would I let him know that no, this wasn’t okay? I thought about it for about 20 minutes and then responded:

Email Three: From Me to Untitled Guy #1 in Accounts Payable

“Hi, [name redacted]. Thank you for the update. Do you have an estimate of when the invoice will be paid?”

Email Four: From Untitled Guy #1 in Accounts Payable

“Not at this time. Sorry.”

Email Five: From Me to Untitled Guy #1 in Accounts Payable

“Dear [name redacted]-

This is an utterly unacceptable response, and one that I find disrespectful and unprofessional. I am not writing for a hobby; this is my profession. Like [name of publisher], I have bills to pay and not a single one of the people or companies waiting for payments from me would accept this type of response.

According to the contract with [name of publisher], it is clearly articulated that your obligation is to pay within 30 days of receiving the invoice. Please see the contract here, if there is any doubt as to that fact.

[I inserted a link to the contract, signed by both parties.]

If I do not receive payment by the close of business on Monday, September 21, I will pursue legal action.

Sincerely,
Julie Schwietert Collazo”

Email Six: From Untitled Guy #2 in Accounts Payable

“Hi Julie,

My apology for the delay in payment. Please understand that the AP team was in no way trying to be rude or disrespectful and we do appreciate the service you provide to our Company. I’d like to talk to you live if you are available this afternoon so we can discuss your invoice and payment. Please let me know if you are available after 2pm PST and if [my phone number, redacted] is still a valid number to reach you at.

Thanks,
[name of guy #2 from Accounts Payable, who also doesn’t indicate his title]”

Email Seven: From Me to Untitled Guy #2

“Dear [name redacted]-

Thank you for your prompt reply. I’d rather receive explanation and next steps/payment schedule via email so that we have mutual documentation.

Sincerely,
Julie Schwietert Collazo”

Email Eight: From CFO of Publishing Company to Me

“Julie,

[Name redacted] forwarded your email to me. I’m happy to jump on a call to discuss, but we will not discuss via email. Sorry if that is an inconvenience for you, but I’ve found email insufficient to discuss payment matters. Please let me know a good day/time/number to call you.

Best,
[Name redacted]”

Email Nine: From Me to CFO

“Dear [Name redacted]-

I’m not sure why you find email ‘insufficient’ for discussing payment matters; as far as I’m concerned, I only want to know when you intend to process payment and whether this problem with paying freelancers will continue, as I have another invoice I’ll be submitting for a work filed yesterday and I have two more assignments pending. If you are insistent that you must call, please be aware that I will record the conversation, which is legal under New York State law.

You are welcome to call me at [number redacted] anytime after 8 AM tomorrow. After tomorrow, I will be out of the country on assignment and without phone and Internet for 10 days, so I ask that this issue be resolved as quickly as possible.

Thank you.”

Email Ten: From CFO to Me

“Julie,

I’m sorry, we will not consent to being recorded. If you’d like to discuss payment without recording, please let me know; otherwise, we’ll tender payment when able.

Best,
[Name redacted]”

Email Eleven: From Me to CFO

“[Name redacted]-

I’m not asking for your consent. New York law clearly indicates I’m within my rights to record a call, with or without your consent.

It’s clear to me that you and your colleagues don’t intend to act honorably; you’ve made a clear-cut situation far more complicated than necessary, and your contract is absolutely clear about the terms of payment. If I do not near from you by tomorrow, whether by email or phone, with a specific plan of action and timeline for payment, I will initiate legal action.

Sincerely,
Julie Schwietert Collazo”

Email Twelve: From CFO to Me

“Julie,

I understand your frustration on payment (I would be frustrated if I were in your position). I would like to discuss it with you. Payment issues happen in business from time to time. When they occur, they are not necessarily (and absolutely not in this case) a function of dishonorable behavior or deceit. We had a significant partner file bankruptcy, which has created this issue. We are working through it. You will be paid in full. If you would like to discuss the timing of this, I am very happy to call you to do so. But, I am in California, which does not allow recording conversations without consent. I do not consent to being recorded. If you want to discuss your payment without recording, I am standing by to do so. If you do not want to do that, you will still be paid in full.”

Email Thirteen: From Me to CFO

“[Name redacted]-

I certainly understand that ‘payment issues happen in business from time to time.’ I’ve been a business owner and, of course, as a freelancer, I’m frequently in the unfair position of being put at the mercy of a publisher’s ‘payment issues’… though I doubt you or others on staff absorb the similar–and very real– tangible, literal costs of such issues. Nor does your landlord, electric company, or Internet service provider, I’m sure, wait until issues resolve for you to pay them. Yet [name of publisher redacted], like too many publishers, expects freelancers to bear the brunt of the effects of problems they didn’t create. And, unfortunately, too many freelancers don’t assert themselves because they’re afraid they’ll never get paid, or that they’ll ‘burn bridges,’ a ridiculous notion, considering that they’re not the one who caused the problem.

It’s not unreasonable to want to be paid according to the contract we both signed. In addition, what continues to confound is: (1) why you would feel it is at all ethical to allow editors to continue commissioning freelance content in the midst of such problems (which clearly don’t have a resolution), and (2) why you wouldn’t inform freelancers who are due money what the generalities of the problem are, detail how it affects them, and present them with a reasonable resolution, one that has a timeframe attached to it. That’s fair and professional business.

I am not willing to have an off-the-record phone conversation. You can expect to hear from my lawyer.

Sincerely,
Julie Schwietert Collazo”

and his final reply, which will not be met with a response from me, other than the one I’ve clearly indicated is my recourse:

“Understood. Please put him or her in touch with me. Happy to discuss with them.

Best,
[Name redacted]”

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80 responses »

  1. Ugh, unfortunate that this is happening, but I’m glad you’re being strong with the situation.

    Reply
  2. Reblogged this on Creating Journalists at Emmanuel College and commented:
    Reality check for students considering a career in freelance writing: Getting paid is a job in itself.

    Reply
  3. This is a tough situation Julie. I once had a publisher that tried something like that, until I pointed out that use of my intellectual property without my consent was a federal crime, and that they didn’t have my consent without payment. I then explained that they had two choices, the first was to physically remove every copy of the article I’d written from their magazine (which had already been mailed out) or to pay me. I said that my next call would be to the FBI to file a criminal complaint. The check arrived by FedEx the next morning. I never wrote for them again, but why would I?

    Also, there’s no requirement that you inform them that you’re recording the conversation. Just record it.

    Reply
    • Aahhh, I’ve been recording phone conversations with companies for a long time for “proof”, but I was afraid to say anything for fear that it was a crime to record without permission. lol At the same time, a judge would probably deem the recordings inadmissible in a courtroom regardless, for fear of tampering. sigh

      Reply
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  8. As a freelancer, I admire your willingness to put into words what so many of us have thought. I have, in fact, used the same phrasing – this is not a hobby, it’s my profession. Overall I’ve been pretty fortunate, but I did send a certified letter once to all parties involved including the top editor after I was told that “HR was just swamped” and couldn’t put through my payment. Just out of curiosity – could you have recorded the phone call without informing the other party, since in NY you don’t need consent?

    Reply
  9. Awesome chronicle of a freelancer trying to get paid.

    Reply
  10. It was good of you to stand up for yourself

    Reply
  11. Pretty frustrating obviously for you, Julie. And the issue needs to be read and discussed widely to ensure freelancers like you don’t have to beg for your own money to publishers

    Reply
  12. I can not believe that! I hope that you do get in touch with a lawyer and some type of legal action is taken. It is hard enough simply being a writer and getting paying gigs, but then you have to be concerned about getting paid when you finally get a chance to write for pay? That is unbelievable. Good luck moving forward!

    Reply
  13. This post is such a great example of how to conduct business as a freelancer. The behavior from the publisher is extremely suspect – what would be discussed on the phone rather than in an email? Would there be pleading or intimidation involved? It’s very odd and a reminder that people think of writing as being a fungible commodity, rather than a product and service provided. Hopefully it will be resolved soon for you.

    Reply
  14. Wow, that is absolutely ridiculous that you have to go through all that bull!! Exactly as you stated, you have a CONTRACT with a specific date and you did NOT meet it, so I need some answers and an explanation. What kind of crap was that with the not emailing and not talking if being recorded? That is so shady. They have a contract and owe you money but have no idea when you will receive the money. Then she throws in there that someone went bankrupt, a significant partner, nonetheless. It is amazing that this is how they do business and represent a publishers name. Completely unprofessional! I feel like this was an eBay exchange gone wrong.

    I love how you responded though. I hope you kick their butt and get all of your money!

    Reply
  15. Wonderful post! Don’t be defeated because life is full of problems, but learn to overcome or make ourselves used to them. One day problems will get tired of attacking our life. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  16. Idk about this, I have similar issues with affiliate programs but there’s a simple solution, send proof of your payments to a debt collector, they’ll pay you what they owe on the spot and charge them more, seems like a fair deal to me!

    Reply
  17. Please allow me to interject. From my experience, it isn’t a matter of disregard for the writer, but the self-employed. Time and again, self-employed is equal to “flexible”, “without defense” and “forgiving”. When you examine the fact that we are sole operators, proprietors without a visible structure of bylaws and rigid bureaucracies (corporate), to the minds of companies and other self-employed business owners, we are the passive middle child, so to speak. It isn’t until we let out the horns that other businesses regard us with the same rigid standards for payment and communication of intent. I fact, it has often been suggested that self-employed contractors work only with retainers. Demand a portion up front as part of the contract, say 40-60%. That way, they are legally bound and obligated to complete the promise. You, the self-employed will then have the resources to produce your best without worry. I understand that many companies insist that they don’t do business that way, but if we accept that inflexibility as standard and “fair”, payment systems will never change. Think of you first. We are the ones who think so little of our professional worth. As with all relationships, we get what we expect.

    Reply
  18. As someone who toys around with the idea of one day writing on a professional basis, I found this to be a very eye-opening piece. I’m quite ignorant of how the world of publishing works so reading this was intriguing, if slightly disheartening at the same time. Nevertheless, thanks for writing this Julie. I hope it works out for you in the end.

    Reply
  19. Julie even good people have bad days. Great that you wisely managed disappointment form your debtors. Truly, champions are never defeated even if dispirited. But I take to your advice; I will no more contribute to a system that doesn’t compensate me for my product except it is God’s work.

    Reply
  20. Thanks for sharing – it’s interesting insight into the freelancer life and difficulties. I do hope it gets resolved as well; and also I hope others see that indeed professional writing IS a business for people and not a hobby or a pass-time. Sure getting our work out there is for the enjoyment of readers – but that is a service. Probably one of the rare services people enjoy doing because not everybody loves their job 😉 thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  21. Brilliant article. I read it all aloud to my OH and 17yr old son. Said Soon immediately said ‘that would be of the record’ as he heard about the phone calls. #proudmummymoment
    You handled this so well.
    Can you put a ‘failure to meet terms will incur surcharge of 10% of total invoice Plus £50 per communication to chase invoice’?
    Sadly I guess you fear not ever getting any work with terms like that in your contact. #wrong #unfair #freelancersUnite

    Reply
  22. Stonewall them in future, as they seem to treat you with disrespect, let them know just how you feel’s to be left in a pile.
    Ah but sadly you need them more than they need you, that’s the power that is used and abused too much these day’s, so I sympathise, but you at least have work if that’s any consolation. best wishes Alex

    Reply
  23. Sorry…i really can relate to this

    Reply
  24. I provide hoof care for horses. It is a monthly service. Payment is due at the time of the service, though I am lenient about allowing payment to be mailed to me later if for some reason the owner can’t be there. Most are great and get it out to me right away or even send it in advance. But I’ve had a few who don’t seem to think that timely payment matters. One recently fired me when I finally complained about having to ask him to pay me, sometimes more than once within the interval between trims.
    He told me, “better late than never” when the check was finally in the mail. Well, that may be true, but I am much happier being paid immediately from the client that hired me right after he fired me. I always drag it out with these clients because I get attached to the horses.

    In your case I find it curious that they wouldn’t discuss how they would resolve payment with you via email when they clearly weren’t having any problem emailing you about not paying you.

    I agree the email or text record is invaluable. It helped my in my argument in the case I mentioned. More power to you – good luck!

    Reply
  25. I should have added that by my accepting payment later, it was to be sent within the week after the service.

    Reply
  26. Being a “freelance wannabe” I am grateful for this post for a number of reasons, the least of which is the valuable “F/U” e-mails. As for writers being shy to request payment, I can’t imagine why, especially if you are proud of the service provided. A mechanic or plumber doesn’t mind asking and writers are no different. Service rendered is service rendered.
    Again, although the dream is not new, the writing is. I thank you for the value this little piece brought to me and I will be reading more of your work.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • My head agrees with you. My heart feels like a hard-assed bitch demanding payment. Yet the non-payor is the real low life. Why am I feeling his or her feelings?

      Reply
      • Same reason I feel like a lazy bum for such late reply when there’s really no such thing. Your human and people (I are one) can think crazy sometimes. Bottom line? ” The chasm between the way we think the world should be and the way the world really is gets bigger by the day.” I enjoy reading your post

  27. I recently went through something similar. The marketing firm that I wrote for replied after 3 months of sending the assignment and repeated follow up that ‘unfortunately our client didn’t accept the submission and didn’t pay us so we can’t pay you’. This was despite getting the subject of the articles approved months before and letting them know that I would be open to correcting it if they wanted changes. I applaud you! Do keep it up. You deserve to be paid in a timely manner. Should share this with other freelancers.

    Reply
  28. They were certainly quick to hop on a high horse! Hope you get your pay & your lawyer sets them correct.

    Reply
  29. It’s unbelievable! I’ve managed finance teams in the past and would never have condoned responses like that. I’m glad you pushed back on them, if more people did the issues would be resolved.

    Reply
  30. I’m sharing this with my readers at my online business/freelancing blog. This is exactly what they need to understand they are professional biz owners and not just hobbyists.

    Reply
  31. Wow. I would just like to say, as someone considering going into the freelancing business but not having made that dive yet, this is preposterous and you handled that amazingly. I was infuriated just reading their responses. I would definitely stop all work for them and even warn others to not work for them. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  32. Wow, I just retired from the Navy after 28 years of service and have to go back to college to learn something new so I am studying medicine, but I have always wanted to write a paper back or Novel. Right now I am writing what I hope to be a paper back novel but seeing how hard it is to get someone to pay you for your work makes me shy away. You’re a professional, would you please take a quick read of what I have and let me know if I have enough talent to stick with it. You can find my blog at http://www.BushGod.com I would really love to hear from you.

    Reply
  33. Wow. Sending you good luck vibes that this gets settled quickly

    Reply
  34. Oh, Julie. How horrible!

    How right you are. This is unacceptable for professional publishing companies no matter their form. Magazine, newspaper and business marketing departments should pay on time. You have provided a product, which they have ordered, accepted and used. This experience being universal in freelance writing puts freelance writers in a constant stress and struggle. Independent contractors need to resort to legal representation much more often.

    In our small business we have had to do so. Small claims court awarded in our favor every time. But what a hassle and time suck to get all that documentation together, file and show up in court!

    On your side of things in this ongoing problem, keeping up-to-date records and chasing the money is the way to proceed. Too bad the industry stand is so low in paying freelance writers. Perhaps there is a class action or larger legal issue, which would require future writing projects be prepaid by sending in 1/2 the project word count and receiving 1/2 payment before publication? I am assuming these business who contract with you keep editorial and publication

    Reply
  35. I hate typos! in the third paragraph that should be “industry standard.” At the end, as I was interrupted, insert the word “calendar” or “project timelines.” Thanks for writing and posting this. Good luck with winning your due payment.

    Reply
    • Typos! I am the world’s worse speller! And relay on my Android Smartphone to spell for me which us a double edged sword because the phone is “predictive” and I can get lazy. A combination which makes even smell check not work.

      Reply
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  37. I just started freelancing and though I am not owed thousands of rupees this is really demotivating and a eye opener.
    Like you too, I make sure that all my conversations are recorded and via email. Thank you so much for this, now i am more alert.

    I hope you get your payment soon.

    Reply
  38. wow! I thought it was just Italy! I’ve had long-drawn out issues with 2 publishers this year (translations) and with other business clients it’s also the August doldrums every year, simply because their employees who deal with paying freelancers are too busy vacationing. As you say, it’s the time & energy involved in chasing payments that’s so disrespectful

    Reply
  39. Good for you for standing up for yourself! As a consultant, I have so many things I’d like to say to avoid such situations, but you were absolutely brilliant in your approach!

    -Nauman

    Reply
  40. i am a new blogger and i would like to know i will be paid

    Reply
  41. That’s rather upsetting really. I can’t believe people would go back on their word. I’m a face-value, pinky promises, heart of gold kind of person. So, knowing me, I’d apologize for hassling them as I wait eagerly for my next meal. Heh

    Reply
  42. Life of a freelancer seems so tough 😦

    Reply
  43. loved you post.really informative ! hope you got your payment.

    Reply
  44. That’s some straight up bullshit. I’m glad you’re taking legal action, you have every right to receive the compensation you were contractually promised. Keep kicking ass!

    Reply
  45. Good post. Get what’s yours, but… never reveal your plan. Don’t ever say you are going to record them, just do it if you don’t need consent. The reason they don’t do email is they don’t want it in writing. And saying you will send the lawyers after them always closes the conversation. Just have your lawyer mail the letter, record the call, send them a copy of your contract, but never show your cards. Good luck.

    Reply
  46. “Feel free to lift any of the language of my own emails and edit them to fit your own situation as you seek the payment you are owed.” Appreciate that you want to help freelancers in similar situation. Please keep us posted.

    Reply
  47. Wow! That’s just wrong. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    Reply
  48. Kudos to you for being assertive, some I know would just simply walked away without so much as an angry email. You did good and you did the right thing. We need to protect ourselves as nobody will protect us against corporations who abuse and misuse the trust.

    Reply
  49. thank you
    Fantastic blog
    Good luck to you
    ——————————–
    http://www.apkfrog.com

    Reply
  50. Thanks for being strong
    Check out my blog

    Reply
  51. Wow you go girl! That was impressive!

    Reply
  52. Wow. Once I started getting into the flurry of emails going back and forth, I realized that the company was low on funds before they owned up. Ouch. Glad you’re sticking to your guns.

    Reply
  53. Unsettling, literally.

    Reply
  54. I’ve been lucky to submit invoices that are honored (so far!) but I want to thank you for standing up for yourself and therefore the rest of us to send the message that our freelance work is a business (not a hobby). I hope the contractor finally honors your request that never should have had to be made.

    Reply
  55. Thank you much for sharing this post. I read every line and it’s sad fact that situations like this exists. We do not ask for more, still we see ourselves in such tough situations to ask for what they are supposed to. I know how frustrating and annoying can that be, as I have been in such situations too.

    Reply
  56. Wow, Julie! That is maddening. Good for you for asserting yourself. I hope that your lawyer is able to talk some sense into them quickly (and that they cover your legal fees on top of the money you’re owed).

    Reply
  57. wonderful title ..life is really tough ..we should not defeat at any moment

    Reply
  58. Wow, that is so unprofessional of them! They can’t just pay you ‘at their convenience’ for work you’ve done! Especially when a contract has been signed!

    I’m only brand new to writing, and am only blogging. I’m not expecting to ever do paid writing work: I’m just writing because I love to write, and I want people to know more about life with chronic illness. But if I ever DID get contracted to do paid work, and then they didn’t pay me, and there was no forthcoming genuine apology or explanation of when payment would be made (soon!), I would be heartbroken, confused, and MAD.

    That whole exchange with their office just turned my stomach (their responses did – not yours: yours made me cheer). They’re totally making out like this is just a normal thing, and you’re just being a whiny baby. I hope your lawyer roasts them.

    Reply

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