Thursday, February 21, 2008

More on sustainability

Yesterday, I met with some extremely successful, prodigious freelance writers, and we shared what was working for us and what wasn't. All that talk got me thinking of sustainability in another way.

Let's just talk about money for a minute.

I touched on this yesterday. Sustainable work may be calculated by dividing the money you're earning by the amount of time you actually want to spend working, but there are other calculations:

* How long does it take to get paid?

It's been my experience that, as a writer, it's not sustainable to work for places that pay on publication. Why? Because by doing so you're essentially giving your client a business loan: I'll write this story for you, and if your publication folds, I'll agree to take the loss. Pay on publication also hints at a client who's having financial trouble. Think of it this way: If you told the electric company that you would pay them when you had the money, they'd shut off your lights. Why are your services any more expendable?

I've had lots of clients like this, and many of the staff people I dealt with were a delight, and I loved the work itself. But I couldn't sustain myself on the several month pay cycle pay-on-publication requires.

Of course there's a place for long-paying clients, but waiting a year for payment is egregious. Especially with a startup, you may be putting yourself in a position to never get paid, and that kind of stress can cloud your serenity and your thinking, leading you to believe that the client has more power than you do.

It's okay to say no.

One of the writers I talked to last night had a brilliant plan: She went out and had a stamp made up. On her new pay-on-publication contract, she stamped it with, "Payment due by ____"--a date that was 30 days from acceptance.

She got paid in one week.

She also approached her editors and told them politely that she had "changed my payment policy. I now only accept payment on acceptance."

It worked.

Not only will that kind of self-advocacy pay for itself with a quicker--and guaranteed--return on your investment, but it creates sustainable work that allows you to keep going in a field you love.


Anonymous said...

Golly, it sets me back a little to be described like that. I think I'll tuck my shirt in and comb my hair today.

Great post; I'll be back. Good to make a connection with you yesterday.

Kim said...

Right you are! If a publication can't pay in a timely manner, it could be a red flag. An editor at one of my "pay on publication" clients (a start-up magazine) just confided to me that they're struggling financially. I've made arrangements with them to get paid now, in case they pull the plug. Yikes!