January 13, 2009

Writing and Non-Payment - What would you do?

Many publishers, like other businesses, are facing financial difficulties. I came across an interesting situation that I thought was worth some discussion.

The dilemma: what would you do if a magazine published your story and then said they had no money to pay you?

This happened to one writer, as described in a letter published in a recent Funds for Writers newsletter. The company, which publishes several children's magazines, shall remain nameless.

The writer was told after her story was published that the magazine was having some financial problems and had no money to pay her. Would you accept that?

My take: sorry, but the publisher is a business. If they chose to publish a writer's work, that writer should expect to be paid as the guidelines state and not have the editors suddenly say, gee, sorry, we can't pay you.

The editors likely knew the financial situation before they chose to publish the writer's work. Ethically, the editors could have been honest and told the writer upfront, giving her the option to pull her work or let it be printed gratis. They didn't do that. But even if they didn't know about the budget problems until later, unless the publisher is legally bankrupt, the writer is still owed.

Angela Hoy with Booklocker.com also recently addressed this same issue of nonpayment in one of her newsletters. Her point was that you can be sure other staff and bills were getting paid. I'd ask the editor if he/she got a check that week. (You bet they did). Did the printer and other vendors get paid? Were the lights and cable still on?

Writers shouldn't let themselves get pushed to the bottom of the pack. If a publisher is still doing business, they are paying their bills (or at least some of them).

Unless writers choose to write for free, they should be paid for their work, just like anyone else. And they should keep asking - via emails, certified letters, etc. - until they get that check.

** What do you think?


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  2. I agree. The magazine should have contacted the writer before the article was published to let him/her know there would be no payment. Since they did not, the writer is definitely owed the money.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  3. Unless the publishing agreement stipulated that this was unpaid work, the writer is due the payment that was promised. It's got to be a tough situation to have a contract and then have the publisher unable to pay, but they're likely to get sued if they don't. Would they grant their own employees such clemency if they didn't uphold their end of the bargain? I rather doubt it.

  4. An assignment is a contract to do professional work. If you've written the piece, you have a legal right to get paid. Take it to small claims court if you have to (usually a letter saying you're about to do that will suffice). I have!

  5. The lawyer in me is about to come out.

    I am morally certain this violates any states wage and labor laws. In addition it probably is also a breach of contract.

  6. I learned from the editor and writers on a sculpture magazine that is common for artists to attend showings (at their own cost) where they bring and sell a one-of-a-kind piece of art, but then the organization that put on the show does not pay the artist for the piece (even though the organization was paid by the buyer), claiming the show did not break even. The practice of this is appalling, but what was more shocking was the matter-of-factness with which the story was told. The art community accepts this as part of the business. If we allow it to happen to one writer, it will happen to more, so I think we must all stand up for ourselves, no matter how great the experience/exposure or how small the fee or how exhausting the hassle.


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