After the rush of seeing your byline in a national publication wears off, eventually, you want to get paid.
If you’re trying to live as a freelancer, then you quickly learn that the bank won’t take the masthead for payment. Ronald won’t give you a Big Mac in exchange for a photocopy of your grooming bit in Cat Fancy. And the pimply faced kid at the checkout counter doesn’t really care if your name is in that rag with Tom Cruise’s face on the cover.
Cash. We need cash. And we need to be paid for the articles we’ve written. If it was a freebie you wrote in order to get the byline for your resume, then that’s one thing. But if a contract was signed, payment agreed to, and services rendered, then we need to be paid.
The problem is that some, not all, but some, national magazines know they’ve got a hundred other potential writers waiting in the wings. Like a spoiled beauty queen, if you’re not willing to tolerate their idiosyncrasies, then a dozen other guys will.
You remember that scene in Goodfellas? The one where nightclub owner Sonny Bunz has the audacity to ask Tommy DeVito to pay his tab? Psychotic Tommy, pissed at being embarrassed in front of his friends, breaks a bottle on Sonny’s head while the table laughs at the restaurateur’s misfortune. Try pestering a national editor for your paycheck and that will happen to you. Except they’ll hit you in the head with a dictionary.
It’s important to note that not all national magazines are this way. I’ve been lucky to deal with some great publications that are responsive, respectful, and courteous. However, you do hear horror stories of waiting more than a year for payment if you talk to enough freelancers.
The real point of this post is not to complain, however, but to give credit where credit is due. Sometimes smaller, regional magazines handle their business better than the big boys. And for that, I’m grateful and I’d like to suggest that you don’t overlook the smaller pubs when pitching stories. I recently placed a story with a regional magazine that has a circulation of about 40,000.
Less than one month after acceptance and the check is in my mailbox. Unbelievable. The story wasn’t even on the newsstands yet but the check was here. Fantastic!
As an aspiring freelancer, you get so used to the big magazines giving excuses about nothing having enough staff, or mistakes in the accounting department, that payment becomes almost a nice-to-have. A bonus. But when you deal with a magazine that really has its act together, it’s such a pleasant surprise and experience. So don’t forget to query the smaller publications. You’ll be pleased at how nice it is to work with people that run their business as well as they run their magazine.