Help! The publication I wrote for hasn’t paid me yet!

So you've jumped into the world of Magazine and Newspaper writing, aced your pitches, written great articles, submitted them before your deadlines and now… the wait.

So… when do you get paid?

Well, every publication will have its own internal accounts payable policy.

Scenario 1:
They are quick payers. Long may they reign. (These are in the minority!)

Scenario 2:
They take longer to pay because it simply takes time for your invoice to go through their internal machine.

After you submit it, your invoice needs to be approved by the editor, who will then pass it on to the accounts payable department.

They then will have set payment schedules and your invoice will be included in one of those. This can then be affected by factors like how good their systems are, whether they have strong cashflow and if the person responsible for payments gets sick or goes on leave!

Scenario 3:
They pay upon publication. This means that you will to be paid until your articles gets published.

So even if you submit the article in January, you will not get paid til October if it's published in the October issue.

Before you go crazy at this, please remember that this used to be the norm in the world of publishing. It was simply of case of publications matching the timing of their revenues with their expenses.

While most publications have moved to Scenario 2, there are still a handful of publications that have clung on to the old ways of Scenario 3. This isn't a ‘hidden' thing – they will tell you that this is their policy.

Wait a sec: didn't write for a publication? Are you a copywriter or doing other kinds of freelance writing? Check out our post on late paying clients.

Editors are busy handling a lot of things – so it's up to you to find out when you are required to invoice, who to send the invoice to and any special references you need to include on your invoice. While you're at it – ask what their payment terms are. This will help you in the long run!

You need to submit your invoice on time for it to be paid on time. If you submit your invoice late, you cannot then go chasing payment because it's passed your expected due date when it's still going through the normal processes! There is no ‘express' process for late invoice submitters – trust me. If anything, your invoices will be put in the slow pile.

Tip: when it comes to accounts and invoicing, remember to add lots of detail. I like to call it ‘death by detail‘ but you can call it whatever you like as long as you do it!

For instance, when I wrote for Tech Life magazine, this is the level of detail I would add to my invoice:

“[Section Name]” [x page or x word] article on [App Name] for Tech Life issue [#], onsale date [dd mm yyyy]

Too much information? For sure. But would an accountant who has no idea who I am be able to figure out if my article was published and who they should contact for questions? Absolutely. And this is the key point: the person you are writing for is almost never the person paying you. So provide death by detail.


Everything that follows is based on the assumption that there's no dispute at play. You provided amazing work and invoiced on time, with the right details and to the right person.

Have a look: is the invoice actually late? It's standard business practice to provide some grace on payment – especially if you're dealing with a big publishing house that deals with lots of publications. It's safe to start following up on your payment once it is 14 days over due. That is: 14 days since the day it was meant to be paid based on the payment terms the business uses.

Once that time has passed, put you're investigative hat on, it's time to start calling people!

Establish the basics

90% of the time you will be missing payment because they don't have your invoice or it got lost on someone's desk. Shoot a quick (but polite!) email to the editor or assistant that you originally sent your invoice to.

Attach the invoice in question to this query email (in case they didn't get it the first time!) and be sure to ask:

  • Was your invoice received?
  • Was your invoice approved?
  • Was your invoice passed on to accounts payable (if so – who is the best person to contact?)
  • Is there anything else they need from you?

You'll usually get a quick response letting you know what's going on and what you need to do, if anything. If the invoice has been approved and passed on say thank you and move on! There is no point hassling the editor if they've done their job.

If they've provided you with a contact in accounts payable – great! If not, you'll need to get the phone number for reception and ask to be put through to the accounts payable department. Have everything in front of you before you call! Don't make people wait while you shuffle through your documents for the right reference.

Essentially you'll be asking this person the same questions to begin with:

  • Do they have a record of your invoice? (Be sure to have your invoice number or reference handy!)
  • Do they have all the approvals they need to pay the invoice?
  • Is there anything else they need from you?

Be sure to get their name and write down what they tell you – especially if it's regarding when payment will be made or if anything else needs to happen first.

Remember to be polite, respectful and appreciative of their time. If they've been able to give you a payment date, you now have to wait until that date has passed before you can follow up again (if you need to!).

If you need to leave a message

Remember my mantra of ‘death by detail‘ before? It comes into play here too. Most people I know hate leaving voicemails — but these ones should be easy! You know what you need. Write yourself a script before you call if you need to.

This message is NOT useful:
John, can you please call be back about my outstanding invoice? Thanks.

This message IS useful:
Hi John, it's Nancy Smith calling regarding invoice number 12345 submitted 3 March 2015 which is now 3 months overdue. It was an article on hamsters for We Love Pets mag, just wanting to make sure you have everything you need. You can reach me on 0400 123 456. That's Nancy Smith regarding invoice number 12345 on 0400 123 456. 

If you're not getting through to anyone… it's frustrating. We know. But you have to keep trying and above all stay polite and friendly. Speak to the receptionist again – could John be on leave? Is there someone else in the Accounts Payable department that can help? You can't start escalating until you speak to a human and know what's going on.

Be the squeaky wheel

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. It's not always the fairest distribution of the grease, but that's just how it works sometimes. But let's be clear: you don't want to be the squeaky wheel that everyone hates. You want to be the nice squeaky wheel.

If you're not getting answers from a human, you need to just keep trying. Have they asked you to call back in a week? Call back in a week. Exactly. Don't give them room to move. The more on top of it you are – the more on top of it they will be.

It's very rare that you'll get someone that can't tell you when you will be paid – or at least give a reason or more detail of what the delay is. But if this happens to you, you have a couple of options. If you're a member of the MEAA, ask them to help you. They will be an extra squeaky wheel on your behalf.

If not – you'll have to persist being the squeaky wheel on your own, for at least two months. Record every interaction you have with accounts payable – when you called, who you spoke to, what they said, and when you left a message. If you don't get any thing after two months, it's time to head to the small claims court.

Don't be disheartened by this post: most payment issues are solved after one phone call to accounts payable. But if they aren't – you now know what to do!

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