How to Get Paid as a Freelancer
Okay, so you're a freelancer. I feel your pain! I've been doing the freelance thing for a dozen years. I started writing for blogs that didn't pay and worked my way up to what you're currently reading, as well as places like Publishers Weekly and NPR. I've learned a lot along the way, especially in terms of getting paid. I will give you some pointers below. Some are more serious than others, but all of them will be useful to you. Let's get going.
Let people know you're a professional
You're a professional who writes for a living. Act like it. When someone contacts you to write for exposure, tell them exposure is something you die from, or gently explain that the last time you tried to buy milk and bread for your kid the grocery store refused to accept your exposure as payment. Sure, there are some exceptions. You can read all about them in my column, Never Write for Exposure...or Should You? But this is a different column, and the point is writing is work, and you should be paid for your work, talent, time, and effort. Oh, and turn your work in before the deadline. If you're going to let people know you're a professional, act like one.
Only write for legit venues
Ah, this is a hard one. Everyone has a website and an email. Anyone can pretend to be an editor online. That said, be careful and make sure you only send work to places that are legit. Ask around if you don't know. The internet is a great place to find dirt on others. The same goes for asshole publishers who don't pay their writers. It's all online, so dig around a bit. You might spend ten minutes and find nothing, but maybe you find something that sets off your alarms, and those ten minutes save you a lot of heartache.
Make sure there's paperwork
Filling out paperwork is a hassle, but it's necessary. A legit source will send you an email requesting information/bank info/a W-9/whatever before or immediately after you send them your work or sign a contract to do so. When there's paperwork involved, knowing who to contact and what to say is easier. It also helps ensure that you keep track of what's happening with your money. Really great venues will even have a place online where you can go check on invoices and other things. Having one of those or a department that deals with money is always a good sign.
Direct deposit is best
It's best for everything. Try to use it whenever you can. If a venue wants to set that up, take it as a good sign. I like getting surprise checks in the mail, but they are a surprise for a reason. Usually because I forget about them until they show up... or until my broke ass can't pay for something and I start looking around to see who owes me money.
Keep track of things and stay in touch
Listen, I suck at this. Seriously. That said, I know I shouldn't, so do what I say and not what I do, kids! Sometimes companies will have one person dealing will invoices. Sometimes people simply forget to process things. Hell, sometimes you're the one who forgets to send the invoice (guilty!). Try to stay on top of things and, if you've done everything and haven't heard back, drop them a polite email inquiring about your payment. Most times you'll get an apology and an update.
Become a master of passive aggressive discourse
You know what people who don't reply to an email get? That's right, another email. Become a master of passive aggressive emails. Let them know you emailed them a week go and haven't heard back. People answer email on the road, on the toilet, while eating lunch; a week is too damn long.
No more Mr. Nice Guy (or Mrs. or Ms. or Mx)
There's a spectrum to this thing. There are many emails in between, but sometimes things escalate from...
Hope this email finds you well. I know you're swamped right now so I wanted to bounce my previous email back to the top of your inbox. Many thanks!"
"WHERE DA FUCK IS MY MONEY, ASSHOLE?!"
You need to know how to start, how to proceed, how to escalate...and then how to blow up. For example, I recently wrote a third email to a publisher in Italy. It was passive aggressive. The fourth one will be...stronger, but no need for foul language...yet.
Become vocal and use social media
No one wants to pay attention to your demands until you text them a compromising photo, right? The same thing is sometimes true in the freelancing world. When someone has ignored you for too long, make your grievance public. Those things have a tendency to get around. Remember what happened with ChiZine? None of us would've known no one was getting paid if author Ed Kurtz hadn't gone public. Use Twitter and Facebook. Tag the fuckers who aren't paying you. It works. Burning a bridge? Sure, but sometimes you have to let the bridges you burn light the way to better things.
There are also other little things you can do. For example, list the venues you've written for before. They are your CV in this gig. Once folks know what other places you've written for they'll know you expect, and are used to, getting paid, and that deviating from that could mean trouble. Now go and start pitching. Wait...should I do a column on pitches? I'll pitch it to Joshua and Dennis here at LitReactor...
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