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How Writers Can Collect Unpaid Invoices

freelance writers get paidHi Anne,

I am a freelance writer, but currently a starving one. I have outstanding invoices in the amount of about $1000—do I have any recourse regarding getting them paid, or have I just been “stiffed?”

Thanks for any help you can give me,


Hi HJ,

Drat. I hate stories like this.

You don’t tell me what kind of writing you’ve not been paid for, and that does make a difference.

You also don’t tell me what your invoicing procedure is – that is, when do you invoice and how do you follow through?

Start with Whispers and Warnings at Writer’s Weekly. See if there or on their forum you can ferret out any information about the organization or individual that’s stiffing you.

Nest, if it’s a business you can locate, the first step is to telephone and ask for the accounts payable department. If they don’t have one, ask for the bookkeeper. Your goal is to make sure they actually got your invoice – it’s absolutely amazing how many times invoices get stuck on an editor’s desk. Tell whoever you talk with that your invoice is XX days late and you wanted to check with them about payment before you add a late fee.

Once you’ve made that statement, shut up until the person you’re talking with speaks; that will tell you a great deal about your next step.

Alternatively, you can call the editor or person who hired you and ask when you’re going to get paid. Again, ask the question, then don’t say another word until they speak.

You may be able to hire a collector – but be warned, you will only get 50% or less if they are successful. But it’s your right to try and collect.

Small Claims court is another possibility, particularly if you and the person who owes you are in the same state and it’s only one person who owed you the grand.

Finally, you can file a complaint with Whispers and Warnings – if they take your case they may be able to get you paid, at least in part.

Now, next time get paid at least 50% up front before you do any work. If you hang out here you’ll find most of us charge up front in this manner, and charge late fees. This may just be an expensive lession.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

How do you collect past-due invoices?


Write well and often,


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Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

If you can’t find a phone number send the invoice with at least a 10% late charege, return receipt requested. That way you’ll know who, if anyone, gets the invoice.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • If you do decide to do something creative with your invoice, it is important that you don’t go overboard; it should be very easy and simple to read. Also, avoid using color. Many invoices are printed out, and recipients don’t always have, nor want, to use a color printer.

  • I’ve been a “freelancer” for a very long time, and have had literally dozens of incidents with slow payers, companies going out of business, or people refusing to pay for no good reason.

    Although freelance writing is a little different to my historical IT consultancy, for larger projects, get solid terms and conditions written. Cost me about NZ$1,800 and has allowed me to recover tens of thousands over the years.

    50% on any project over $250 is a good rule of thumb, and I always ask for payment in advance on jobs $250 or under. If they insist on payment after the work is done, than I add a surcharge for “admin” of $50, and get the 50% $150 total up front.

    Also, as with any business, you need to build bad debts into your fee, because it will happen one day. My rule for IT rates and writing rates is 5% of the rate is attributed to future “bad debts”. Cynical but based on the reality of business.

    And for projects as small as $1,000 it is often not worth chasing, you are better off focusing on getting more work than burning energy that will likely cost you more in time. Send it to collection, and settle for the 50% commission the collection people will charge. Remember, good terms will protect you here as well, as unless it is clearly stated that collection fees and additional charges are to be added on in case of default, you can’t legally charge them (not without them being disputed)

    And one last thing, if the client disputes the debt, because they say the work was not of satisfactory standard or delivered, then you can not use a collection agency.

    Wow… sorry for the long comment! 🙂
    Karl Rohde recently posted..Do Your Potential Customers Forget About You?My Profile

    • Anne

      Well said Karl, and I love the idea of admin, etc. up front fees… hadn’t thought of that one.

  • Fortunately, for me, it’s only happened once that I had to follow up on an unpaid invoice more than once. That was with an online magazine that lost funding and it took 6 months of emails, phone calls, etc. but I FINALLY did get paid my $150–woo-hoo! 🙂

    Typically, my process is to send a second invoice with PAST DUE in red on the invoice and to attach it to an email that is a polite, “This invoice is past due. Can you please let me know the status?” To date, I have received the payment shortly after that, usually with an apology.

    Like you suggested, Anne & Rebecca, I require 50% up front before starting a project. The lackadaisical attitude toward paying freelancers was one of the biggest surprises to me when I started freelancing. You have to protect yourself.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Business Blog Post ProtectionMy Profile

  • A woman didn’t pay me for a resume I created for her. I decided it wasn’t worth it to go to court for $50. I kept calling and sending emails but she ignored them. She was a single mother and probably thought the $50 wasn’t a big deal. This is why I now require half up front. I require a third of the payment up front if the project takes place over a longer period of time. Live and learn.
    Rebecca recently posted..Freelance Writers Interview Like Katie, Oprah, and DianeMy Profile

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