Avoiding Payment Snags in Your Writing Career

Freelance writers can often find themselves in a down spin if they do not take precautions up front with their clients. Clarifying payment terms and contract specifications from the beginning will save you a lot of grief. Let me explain.

I once had a client who did not play by the rules of the game. I never accepted checks for payment. I also requested a signed contract and NDA before starting the assignment. It is helpful to have your ducks in a row ahead of time. Because the project paid an exuberant amount, I insisted on a down payment firsthand, assuring that I would receive payment for some of my time and energy put into the project, should the customer not follow through with the terms of our agreement. It is perfectly normal as a freelance writer to ask for an upfront deposit in such cases. If I have worked a while for someone on a repeat business status, I do let the deposit slide. After all, they have established a solid working relationship with me.

Initially, the client decided he would send a check to my P.O. Box for the deposit, even after I sent him an invoice for the deposit on PayPal. He then sent me an email telling me what he had done. I educated him again in my payment requirements, and that I would not start on the project, until I received his check. People are strange. I am confident in some instances it was an innocent mistake or oversight, but in others, they deliberately involved me to try to get something for nothing. It happened to me a few times, until I finally caught on to it.

It is my fault that I ever accepted the check, because I set the precedence that this was acceptable, by not insisting he pay online. Time passed and the client reviewed chapters of the book, one at a time, as I completed them. Each time he had nothing but praise and admiration for my work. He never had any corrections or suggestions. Being thrilled with my creativity, he did all but applaud aloud when he contacted me. He emailed me often and called, which never bothered me. He was always accessible should I question anything about the project. He would email me back or call me immediately if I left a message.

As we approached the final deadline, I wanted to make sure that all was well and sent him the entire manuscript upfront for review, should he have any changes. Well, that was the last conversation that I had with that client. All of a sudden, he was unobtainable. I called and left messages and his brother called me back a few days later. He informed me that my client had a severe upper respiratory infection and that he will be sick for at least three weeks: how convenient. The deadline for the remaining payment was in two days. I smelled a rat, but kept my mouth shut and decided to invoice him, since he had the finished product for a week now. The agreement was payment upon completion. I stretched it to the original due date, because that is the kind of person I am. Maybe he is sick….but for three weeks? Come on!

Three more weeks came and went and nothing: not an email, not a call, and not a response to any of my extremely polite messages. My contract had a loophole. I had forgotten to mention in the case of nonpayment that all creative rights to the material are solely mine until I received the last payment.  SHOOT! He had me, and I think he knew it.

By then I had received a check from him, again, but it bounced. I kept calm, cordial and respectful, regardless. It is a long story, but his ex-wife got involved and paid for the project.

During this whole ordeal, I learned a lot about myself and what I needed to do to prevent this from happening to me again. First, stick to my own rules. Secondly, update my contract. Finally, yet most importantly, always remain hospitable to all parties involved, even if you have the right to blow your top!

Best Wishes!