Is Fighting Worth Your Time?
It's sad to say, but sometimes it's just not worth it to fight for your right to be paid. Nobody likes to say so out loud — nobody likes to be a quitter or to be taken advantage of — but at the end of the day, fighting takes a great deal of time. And in the business of magazine writing, time is money.
Time Is Money
When you find yourself in a situation where it's going to require a lot of time, effort, and arguing to collect the paycheck that you're owed, you need to stop for a moment, gather your wits about you, and think like a businessperson about whether the aggravation is really worth it. For instance, let's say you're owed $1,000 for a story, but it's going to take three weeks of your working hours to get that $1,000 paycheck. Perhaps you would be better off using that time to send query letters to other magazines that might be interested in buying the story, or a slightly modified version of it. Or, if your average income is $2,000 a week, you might be better served by using your time to complete assignments for magazines that
Of course, you have no way of knowing at first whether a paycheck disagreement is going to go on for weeks. But you can probably get a pretty good idea about where you stand after the first few days of dealing with the magazine. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't throw away your valuable time chasing ghosts when you could be chasing new assignments.
The exception here is if you're dealing with a repeat client. With editors from whom you typically get a lot of work — and with whom you've had no such payment problems in the past — your time may indeed be best spent resolving the problem, no matter how long it takes or how little the invoice amount.
To know whether it's worth your time to argue, you have to know how much income you're generating on a daily or weekly basis. Keep track of your average, and weigh that figure against the time you think it will take to get paid. If the invoice amount is small in the grand scheme of things, you might be better off letting it go and focusing on paying assignments instead.
Is It a Good Repeat Client?
The key in this type of situation is knowing whether you're dealing with any old repeat client or a
A regular repeat client is any magazine you've worked for more than once. It could be two articles over the course of five years, or ten articles over the course of two months. A
When you're dealing with a missing paycheck from a good repeat client, remember that your end goal is probably not getting this one issue resolved quickly, but holding onto the magazine's long-term business. Try to keep the big picture and future income in mind, even if receiving a missing paycheck takes months on end.
In some cases, you may be dealing with an unhappy editor who happens to be one of your best repeat clients. In this case, even if you believe that you've done everything in your contract, your smartest move might be taking the kill fee.
Taking the Kill Fee
Magazine writers accept kill fees for a variety of reasons, but on the whole, taking a kill fee simply means you're taking a shortcut to end a particular business deal. Whether your editor is unhappy or you think a magazine's financial situation looks so poor that you may never get your entire paycheck anyway, taking a kill fee can be a good route to ending the nonpayment nightmare and moving on.
Can a writer request a kill fee?
Yes — but it's usually frowned on by editors, especially if they're counting on your article to fill pages in an upcoming issue. On the other hand, there's no danger in requesting a kill fee from an editor who you don't think is going to pay your previously agreed-upon fee in the long run.
Sometimes, if a nonpayment issue is dragging on endlessly, an editor will offer you a kill fee just to make the hassle go away. Again, you have to consider the time you're spending arguing about what you're owed and weigh it against this partial form of payment. In some cases, you'll be better off taking the reduced check and simply being done with the particular editor, and the particular magazine, forever.
There will be times, though, when you will want to hold out for the full amount. Your editor can send you a kill-fee check, but if you don't cash it, then you're legally not accepting it, and you have the right to continue fighting for your total due or to write off the total amount when tax time rolls around.
Writing Off Losses
As with anything tax related, you need to consult your personal accountant to find out exactly which write-offs apply to you. Generally speaking, though, unpaid invoices — partial or full amounts — can be used as tax write-offs.
If you find yourself in what you sense is becoming a protracted battle over, say, an unpaid $500 invoice for a story that didn't take you too long to write, call your accountant and ask whether you'll be able to write off the amount on your taxes. He should have a good idea of whether it will be worth your time to fight for the payment or to just chalk it up to a lousy business deal and move on.