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Of Writers, Publishers and Pay – Ask Anne

slow pay for writers

Sandy Smith in comments asked: Why writers are always under the gun on deadlines but publishers take so long to pay us. 

If we were talking face-to-face I’d ask you who are you writing for and how slow are they?

I’d also ask who is setting the deadlines? Not all writing for pay has tight deadlines and slow pay. As a business professional with a valuable skill you may have more room to negotiate than you know.

For example, I have several clients to pay me as soon as I invoice them and I even have one who prepays me! But these are clients, not publishers. I’ve also worked with publishers as a freelancer and as an editor for magazines so I know all sides of these issues.


Deadlines for print publications, including books, are often tied to printing dates. Editors know when they have to have the manuscript prepared so the print date is met. Magazines must meet the publication date provided for by subscriptions and advertisers also often demand to know exactly when their add will appear.

Book publishers have a bit more flexibility, but not as much as you might think. All their marketing is predicated on the date the book will actually be available for purchase. Printing schedules must be met so distribution schedules can be kept… etc. etc. etc.

Content provided for clients has often been promised by a date certain, which means writers must produce by then.

But, you can always ask for an extension or let a client know that you need a week’s notice or whatever for new work.

In other words you don’t have to write ‘under the gun’ all the time. You have more say in how and when you work than you might suspect – a good way to approach a client is by asking if they really need it by tomorrow… and if they say yes, explain you charge more – quite a bit more.

Magazine publishers

Many magazines pay on acceptance which usually means about 30 days after they agree to publish your article.

If you write for a magazine that pays on publication you may wait forever. I won’t write for these because they can hang on to your work forever, effectively preventing you from offering it elsewhere.

Writer’s Market, both the print and online editions, spell out which magazines pay on acceptance and which don’t. In some entries policies like ‘net 30’ also appear.

You can also often find pay policies at the magazine’s website and you can ask. It’s perfectly okay to call and ask or discuss the terms of payment with the editor. Sometimes you can negotiate better terms and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

It’s also helpful if you include an invoice with your article. Even better, ask the editor who to send the invoice to – editors are notorious for not getting invoice information to the accounts payable people – you can actually make the editor’s life easier by offering to send your invoice to the right person which usually results in faster pay.

Client deadlines and pay

You didn’t ask about client deadlines, but many writers who work directly with clients wonder about these issues as well.

Make sure you know upfront, before you begin to write, not only what you’re expected to write, and how it will be used, but how much you’ll be paid, how that payment will be made and when you can expect to be paid after a piece of writing work is completed. Or, if you’re getting an advance, and several payments until the projects is done and the payments complete, make sure you have this in writing.

Getting clear on payment is just good business, for you and your client. While some individuals and organizations have policies and procedures set up around deadlines and pay, many don’t. A business-like question about how deadlines are set and how payment is made will let you know where they are with these issues, giving you the information you need to negotiate a deal that really works for you.

What’s your take on deadlines and pay? I’d love to hear how it works for you.


 Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by -= Bruce Berrien =-

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • This issue with “pay on publication” magazines that hang on to a writer’s articles forever is a major one! I’ve heard this from many people…

    Always check out payment terms on submission guidelines! (But, of course, you already know this) And, these missing, don’t be afraid to ask the editor for details — it’s the pro thing to do, after all.
    Helene Poulakou recently posted..Ideas Are Like BirdsMy Profile

    • right on, Helene… love it when people agree with me 😉

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