For some publishers, paying the freelances who fill their pages is low down the priority list

Today is a day for celebration. It is a day that at times, I thought I might never see.

The great event that has happened today is that an invoice for work completed by my agency, Talk to the Press, has just been paid.

Yes, invoice number 2029 will no longer sit forlornly in my invoice book. There should be singing from hilltops and dancing in the street.

You see, what makes this particular invoice special is it that it was issued on 31 August 2012. Yes, that is August two thousand and TWELVE. It has taken nearly a year to get this particular invoice paid.

Now, I’ve asked myself many times how has this invoice got quite so old. Admittedly my invoice chasing hasn’t been quite as hot as usual due to a period of maternity leave in the past 12 months (although I must point out I did still chase this invoice whilst nursing a newborn).

Other problems have been a commissioning editor who, whilst enthusiastic when it came to commissioning the story, was not interested in replying to my emails attempting to discover why the payment was taking so long.

And then problems in ‘internal communication’ meant that the lady in the accounts department seemed under the impression the story hadn’t run. Which it had…

Anyway, invoice 2029 is no longer the oldest invoice in my book. Now I can turn to attention to invoice 2036. Not a year old yet, but approaching that. It was issued last September.

The pattern goes like this. You pitch a story. Editors love it and you get quick responses to your emails and phone calls. Wow, this is great, you think. You write the story, file it, it’s published, all seems great. Then you invoice for the story.

Now, I should point out that in most cases, invoice payments run fairly smoothly and hats off to News UK, Associated Newspapers and Bauer.

But sadly, there remain publications and publishers to whom paying those who have filled their pages with stories seems to be low on the priority list.

The other issues we face is what happens to an invoice if a story ends up not being used. I spoke to one freelance journalist recently who had sold numerous features to a tabloid paper that had then decided not to use any of them. Whereas she’d thought she’d be receiving several thousand pounds in fees, and had written the features in good faith, she would now be receiving nothing at all.

Over the years, through losing out financially, I’ve thankfully now reached formal agreements with nearly all publishing houses that a kill fee or an agreed fee will be paid to my press agency in the event of a story not being used.

If I bought a dress from TopShop then decided not to wear it, that would be my problem, not TopShop’s.

We file copy because we have struck a deal with an editor. If any editor decides weeks or months down the line that they don’t want the story after all, why is it the agency or freelance writer who risks being penalised? My only consolation when it comes to that monthly task of ‘chasing unpaid invoices’ is that I’ve come to realise that eventually, in most instances, nearly all the invoices end up getting paid.

It might involve many phone calls and email chasing (sadly I can’t invoice for the time I spend on this task) but in the end, painful as it may be, all the money does usually arrive.

Now, let me just chase invoice 2036 again…

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