A couple of weeks ago I had a travel piece published in The People’s Friend. It wasn’t until I updated my records to show this had been published that I realised I hadn’t been paid. Or rather, I hadn’t updated my records to show this payment. The nice thing about DC Thomson, who publish The People’s Friend, is that they pay on acceptance.
I’d written the piece way back last July and submitted it in August, so it was bound to be back then. I went through my accounts and couldn’t find anything. It wasn’t easy, because I’ve done quite a bit of work for them this year, so there were several payments of the same amount, but all related to different projects. After much searching through my files and accounts I realised that I hadn’t been paid.
I know this is something many students worry about. but in my experience it is rare. In fact, I have more of a problem of being paid for pieces without knowing what the money is for! (I have one such situation now, where I’ve been paid for a piece, but the magazine has several, so I don’t know which piece it relates to, because it hasn’t been published yet.)
If you find yourself in this situation, whatever you do, don’t kick off. Nine times out of ten it’s a genuine clerical error.
I dropped the editor an email, asking if she could double check things for me. I’d explained I’f gone through all of my records and couldn’t find any trace of a payment, but hinted that it could be an error at my end. She was very nice about it (as they always are about everything at The People’s Friend). Twenty four hours later she replied by email saying she’d traced the problem and it was at their end, for which she apologised. However, she’d now sorted it and payment would be with me within days … and it was.
To new writers in particular, this situation can be unsettling, but my advice is don’t panic.
1. Firstly, always be polite, calm and businesslike in all communication.
2. Go through your correspondence/emails with the publication. Check you haven’t missed anything. Being paid varies from publication to publication. There are some who email me a Purchase Order reference that I have to quote on an invoice I have to send them, in order to get paid. Others simply send a payment without me needing to invoice.
3. It’s difficult to know whom to contact. Editors edit, and finance departments deal with accounts. However, it can be useful to drop the editor a short email asking if they can give you the relevant contact details of someone in their accounts department. In some smaller magazines the editor may be responsible for everything. In others you may need to liaise with Accounts, but the editor may need to forewarn Accounts and confirm that you are owed the money, because the editor has used your work.
4. Invoices do get lost, or go astray, whether they’re posted or emailed. If you’re asked to submit a duplicate, do it. And ask then when you can expect payment. Many businesses have set ‘payment runs’ where they issue payments on the same day of the week/month.
5. If you still have problems, then send a Statement of Account, showing the payment is overdue and that under the Late Payments Act you are entitled to charge interest. (Check out this website for more information: https://www.gov.uk/late-commercial-payments-interest-debt-recovery/when-a-payment-becomes-late
6. If, after several months of chasing, you’ve not got anywhere, it can be worth contacting any special organisations or societies that you’re a member of (such as the NUJ), who may be willing to take matters up on your behalf.
If you come across publications that regularly pay late, I would suggest you find a different publication to write for. At the end of the day, we’re writers, so we want to write, rather than spend time doing admin and chasing for payment. So move on.
I’ve often been told that the cheque is on the post, or that they’ve just changed accounting systems and there have been a few glitches. Often, this is just those at the other end trying to deal with their embarrassment, rather than any vindictive wish to get rid of you.
So always remain calm and polite. It’s worth it if you want your business relationship to continue.