Dealing with Nonpayment for Your Writing

To oversimplify things, there are two types of writing I do: the kind I do purely for fun and the kind I expect to get paid for doing. When I write fiction, I mostly do it because I love it, not because I expect to get rich from it. Of course, I still send out my work to paying publications. Naturally, sometimes the fun writing brings in some money, and sometimes the paid writing ends up being a rather enjoyable process.

Unfortunately, just as my fiction sometimes brings me a nice check, the writing I’m supposed to get paid for sometimes yields nothing. Even more unfortunate is how tied my hands are to really do anything about it.

I recently completed two blog posts for a company that had promised $25 per post. Okay, so it’s not a fortune, but $50 is plenty of money to buy a few books. After delivering the two posts, my contact asked for just a few revisions but said the pieces fit exactly what he wanted and were almost ready to go. I took care of the revisions promptly and delivered the finished product right on schedule. A week went by, and I heard nothing about my revisions. I contacted him again. No response. Contacted again. No response.

That company’s blog is still active and has since posted twice, but my articles are nowhere to be seen. And the money is nowhere to be seen either. So what do I do? I’m out several hours of time and have two blog posts that I have no idea how to use.

With most freelance gigs like this, there is no contract. The two parties agree to terms through email or phone call. A method of payment is established and assignments are given. If one of the parties fails to follow through on these terms, there isn’t too much that can be done. I’m certainly not going to sue someone for $50, and that’s true even if there had been a contract.

This type of thing happens pretty often, but it seems less likely to happen when dealing with a legitimate company. No matter what the circumstances are, the end result is wasted time.

So, again, what do I do?

Do I smear the company’s name in mud, posting rants about how they don’t fulfill their promises?

Do I hurry up and post the blogs somewhere else just in case they try to publish them without paying me?

Do I continue to hound the nonpaying party over and over, resulting in even more wasted time?

Or do I just let it go and hope for the best?

Sometimes, these things do work out for the best. Over a year ago, one of my stories won a paying contest. A month passed and I still hadn’t received my prize. I sent the editor a gentle reminder, and the editor informed me that my money would be coming soon. It never came. It wasn’t a big sum of money, and I didn’t want to raise a big stink about it. After all, bad mouthing a particular writer, editor, or journal is a great way to give yourself a bad name.

A year later, the publication held the contest again. I decided to submit a story to see what would happen. The editor responded to my submission and again apologized for not sending my prize, promising that it would be delivered soon. Still, it wasn’t. Until last night, over fifteen months after the initial contest, when the prize finally showed up (and was a larger amount than had been promised). In this case, it all worked out.

Unfortunately, it won’t always work out. If it’s a small amount of money, my best recommendation is to send a few reminders to the nonpaying party. If you get nothing, then tell them that you are going to try to find another use for the material and that you are withdrawing it from them. If it’s a larger amount of money, make sure you get part of it prior to starting the project. If they aren’t willing to put down that investment, then you might want to consider passing on the project.

All of the writing we do has value. Whether it’s gaining experience, developing our craft, or bringing in a boatload of cash, we get something out of it. While things sometimes don’t go as expected, the best solution is always to take the highest road possible. And of course, to continue writing.

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with Nonpayment for Your Writing

  1. I can relate and empathize brother. This kind of stuff drives me crazy, and even more so when the amounts in question are not even that much ~ but it’s about the principle of the thing, and about honor and perhaps most importantly, about trust. I’m reminded of a passage from a Charles Bukowski poem The Shoelace:

    “it’s not the large things that
    send a man to the
    madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
    murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
    no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
    that send a man to the
    madhouse…
    not the death of his love
    but a shoelace that snaps
    with no time left …”

    Anyway, hang in there, keep on keepin’ on and keep the faith. You’ve got some good karma in your account for organizing that benefit and good things are destined to come your way.

  2. Speaking as someone who has earned a whopping $10.15 for his fiction (a bit more for his nonfiction), I don’t suppose I have much to offer.

    Is it possible that they still intend to post your contributions? And that they will pay you upon publication? Maybe it’s all still in the works?

    If I were in this situation, I’d make some good faith efforts to find out the status and then, assuming you never get an answer, consider it a lost cause and move on. Maybe you can place the items elsewhere, but you don’t want to be stuck with ongoing annoyance and ill will.

    1. Paul, thank you for commenting. It is possible that it is still in the works, but with the amount of time that has passed, I’m becoming a bit skeptical. One of the topics was also pretty time sensitive, and it is pretty close to becoming irrelevant.

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