If you enter into a business transaction with a buyer for words you have written you should see that transaction through to the end.
The end is receipt of payment from the buyer.
If you choose to donate a piece of work – for the exposure, because you believe in the cause the publisher represents, or just because you want to – then fine (up to a point – but back to that another day).
But if you have discussed money, and its exchange in your favour has been agreed during negotiations, then there should be no shirking from your responsibility to see it remitted to you.
For it is a responsibility. You owe it to yourself, first and foremost. Writing what you wrote for money may well have been the only reason you did so. You (presumably) expect to be taken seriously as a professional writer. Well, professional writers are paid. You cannot expect others to look upon you as a professional if you do not look upon yourself as one.
You owe it to other writers too, and to the publishing business which you expect to pay you at least a partial, if not total, living. The business is a business because money changes hands. I’m not an economist, but it appears that model works. Please uphold it – for all our sakes.
Sadly, as most of us who have been in the game a while know all too well, not everyone is particularly keen to send the dosh. Regular clients may well be excellent – as mine are. Others drag their heels, promise to send money which never arrives, and come up with a selection of dog-ate-cheque-like excuses.
So you have to chase. You chase when the payment is overdue. It’s overdue when the date by which settlement was agreed has passed. If none was agreed, then the default is 30 days after the date you delivered the work or the given deadline (whichever is later).
How to chase? Politely, always, at first. Professionally, too. Increasingly firmly, if you have to. You can start by email, then move to phone. It’s the accounts department you want, but you may need to check with the editor that your invoice has been passed on. Get a firm commitment to pay, by a named date, and preferably in writing. Follow up if there are further problems. Become more persistant and dogged. Make yourself a bit of a pain.
This mistake is called ‘not chasing your dues’ not ‘not obtaining your dues’ because I don’t believe you should run yourself into the ground, into a state of mental delerium, and into the law courts to chase down every penny you are owed. There have been times in my career – an overseas client, an amateurish UK outfit with which I should never have become involved – when I’ve just not had the stomach for a bloody battle. My point is you must try, quite hard, as I did. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small amount (I once chased, and got, £35), it’s the principle. How bruised you wish to get, I’ll leave to you, but don’t just turn your back or you’ll feel rubbish. It merely makes it that little bit easier for dodgy dealers to get away with it again. Instead, send them a message that it may not be worth the hassle. And report unscrupulous dealers too, to the NUJ or to Writers’ News.
Ditto if your copyright has been breached and someone has reprinted an article of yours without permission. Don’t steam in with a litigious head: get in touch, point out the mistake (it could well be a genuine mistake), and request removal (if online) or payment.
You may only get a small fee, but I believe it is a duty you have to the writing community. It’s important to convey the sense that words are a commodity, carry a value, and should be paid for. It’s the principle on which our livings rely.