I'm just a girl standing in front of an editor...
Asking to be paid for my labour in a timely fashion
Last week I wrote about my parents’ well-intentioned questioning about when I’m going to get a proper job. I’m here with my hat in my hands to say that actually, my parents are right — there’s one major issue preventing freelance journalism from being a viable way to make a living.
Never mind how hard it is to land enough pitches to generate enough income to cover all your living expenses, I’m talking about the cashflow problem that comes with being a freelance journalist.
Because most outlets only pay on publication, it’s hard to know with any certainty when your articles will be published and therefore when you’re entitled to be paid. Unless you’re writing an article that is time-sensitive and hooked to an anniversary such as 9/11, it’s hard to know when your piece will go up — and there’s no guarantee you won’t be subject to a lengthy edit process that makes the whole process rumble on for weeks, all while your bank balance dwindles. I wrote and filed an article to a week deadline last month, and despite chasing the editor there’s no word on when it’ll be published (that’s if it gets published at all). I’m a state of limbo not knowing when I’ll be entitled to that £100. Sure, £100 doesn’t sound like a great sum of money, but all it takes is six articles for your monthly rent to be in question.
Even once your piece is finally published, you’re lucky if you get paid within the month. Usually, publications wait until the very end of the 30 day payment period to process the payment, which depending on when you first filed the piece could be at the end of the following month after you’ve paid your rent and utilities for the month.
Now, it’s not the responsibility of editors to help you budget your finances so you have enough money to keep the electricity on each month. However, editors do have a responsibility to forward your invoice to their accounts department and to follow up any late payments as a matter of urgency. Failing that, they should at least provide the relevant contact details so you can chase the accounts team directly.
Many early-career stage freelancers don’t know that you can charge a late fee and interest if you still haven’t been paid after the 30 day payment period. This is as good as an incentive as we get for encouraging publications to pay us on time — so do add the following notice to the bottom of your invoices, and keep a spreadsheet of any outstanding payments so you can chase as soon as the 30 day payment period is up. Make a note on your phone calendar, plaster your workspace in sticky notes (personally I’m more of a ‘one million scraps of paper littered over my desk’ kinda gal).
Please note: Under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, a £40 late fee will be added on non-payment of debts after 31 days, at which point a new invoice will be submitted with the addition of this fee. If payment of the revised invoice is not received within a further 14 days, additional interest will be charged to the overdue account at a statutory rate of 8%, plus Bank of England Base of 0.5%, totalling 8.5%.
Don’t be afraid to assert yourself in follow-up conversations with editors — if you haven’t been paid, be polite but firm about the money you are owed. And, if you know of publications who are repeat offenders when it comes to poorly treating freelancers, name and shame. If you don’t want to enter a public beef with the company, at least notify your freelancing colleagues so they can make a decision for themselves about whether or not to work with the publication.
… in editing
… in writing
Was a busy week with lots of pre-assigned stories so I didn’t pitch any of my own ideas this week, everything I wrote was assigned following conference.
Articles written: 6
Articles published: 2
Alongside four print features, here are the pieces I wrote for online this week:
… in listening/watching
We’ve been spoilt for new music of late — this week I sunk my teeth into the new Killers album (excellent), new Vistas album (great stuff) and the new Lorde (definitely more of a grower).
… in reading
Annie Lord is ever brilliant with her Vogue piece ‘Sometimes he really is just not that into you’
Why is this oral history of Adam Sandler, pickup basketball legend by Wuinn Myers for Mel Magazine so good?
What a wild ride is ‘The Spine Collector’ — a piece by Reeves Wiedeman with Lila Shapiro for Vulture — all about the mysterious figure that steals books before their release
I really liked this piece by Megan Sutton for Cosmopolitan — ‘My siblings are my true loves - why don’t we have a vocabulary for that?’
Join BBC journalists on 2 September and get your questions answered on what makes a great story and advice on working in journalism with their ‘Storytelling’ workshop, from 1.00 - 2.00pm. Register for free here.
Nottingham: Reach PLC is looking for a life writer
Stoke-on-Trent: Reach PLC is hiring a reporter for their Live brands
Wakefield: JPI Media is hiring a trainee journalist