What do you do when you’re stiffed?

A small group of freelancers recently had this experience. They were engaged by a Toronto-based publisher to provide material for some specialized periodicals. The terms of the contract were clear and unequivocal. The price and deadline were set. Payment was due 30 days after publication date.

Wait a minute. After publication date, not after submission? What happens if the issue isn’t published as expected, or the piece gets killed through no fault of the writer?

That’s just what happened to some of these freelancers. Some of the articles were killed – after the assignments had been completed and submitted. And then the issue was delayed at both the printing and distribution phases, and the publisher didn’t respect the 30-day timeline for payment for the pieces that were printed.

A group of these writers met with representatives from the Canadian Media Guild and legal counsel. It was agreed that the best approach to take was to speak softly and carry a big stick. The first step was a polite but firm demand letter to be sent by each writer, reminding the publisher of the contractual obligation to pay for the work. The second step – the stick – was a clear statement in the letter that a claim would be made in Small Claims Court if payment wasn’t made within one week. The strategy appears to have worked, and the publisher is making good on payment, at least for the items that were published.

There may still be issues (excuse the pun) with this engager. Some writers have alleged that items that were killed were later published in subsequent editions of the same or different magazines without payment. Hopefully, though, the publisher has learned that contracts are enforceable. And the freelancers have learned that you can’t really take anything for granted when you’re dealing with an engager.

Make sure you read any contract carefully and that you agree to – or at least can live with – the terms that are set out. If there’s anything you think should be added, taken out or changed, say so and be prepared to present alternate language. It’s better to have agreement going into the deal than it is to fight about it later.

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , ,