Though I talk a strong, no-nonsense game on the internet about the importance of getting paid and paid well and paid ON TIME, the truth is, most of my emails inquiring about late payments are lily-livered, apologetic little dispatches hoping that accounts payable will have mercy on me. Well I did something differently this week that I want to share with you because I think it will be helpful to writers (or other contract workers) tracking down their payments.
Some of the most common phrases I have written in my correspondence going after payment are, "I wondered if you could tell me the status of my invoice payment" and "I was wondering when my check might be processed." Wondering, always wondering. As if I was thinking about the prospect of whether or not I'd do well as an ex-pat on the Baja Peninsula or if I'm cut out for space travel if the Earth is set to explode. The truth is, I am never just sort of thinking about my money passively when I try to get my payments. I am actively seeking them because I need them, I earned them, and I should be able to rely on them coming on time.
So when I politely "wonder" where my check is, what I really mean is:
But living in fear of being perceived as unpleasant, I have resisted the urge to be curt, unpleasant, or otherwise difficult and actually say that. Until this week. Monday was my birthday and I was feeling feisty still the next day and so on the exact day that an invoice payment was overdue, I sent the following email to the accounting contact and my editor:
Reader, I was terrified. This is possibly the meanest email I have ever sent about getting paid and after all, it was a single day late. From 10:04am when I hit "Send", I embarked on a wild journey in my imagination where they were all talking shit about what a demanding bitch I was, that I'd never work for them again, that they would tell every publication in town that I was terrible and difficult to work with. It continued until 10:23am when I received the following email back:
Not only did she apologize only 19 minutes later, she looped in the most appropriate contact to deal with the issue, signaling to me that it wasn't being thrown by the way side. Readers, I was flabbergasted at the speed. What followed were these email exchanges:
The last email is from the contact I was put in touch with at Accounts Payable who made clear that my payment was being processed, but that the issue was indeed resolved. It was seven emails total, which is short for these kinds of exchanges but not unheard of. What is WILD about it is that the last email came at 10:50am, just 46 minutes after my initial email.
I have spent weeks and even months trying to track down the right accounts payable contact only to find them and have them start the invoicing process from the beginning, delaying my payment by a few more weeks. Now I intentionally left the identity of the contacts and the publication off of this post because I didn't want to shame them for being late or congratulate them for doing exactly what publications should do when a payment is late: apologize and fix it really fucking fast.
Now I wrote this because I am still sort of shocked at how well it worked. I did it again with another publication today and got similar results. And because I want everyone to get paid on time, I'm sharing it here because I know so many people are too scared to be assertive in these matters. So I've broken down what I think worked in it and what I left out (that's sometimes tempting to do).
WHAT I DID
- Had a clear subject line indicating a required action on their part
- Mentioned my contract and the date I signed in, signaling that I was reading my contract and knew what it contained
- Used the dates of the invoice submission to clearly demonstrate they were, in fact, late
- Made clear they had made an error that was fixable without being accusatory
- Asked for reply confirmation to ensure they'd seen the message
WHAT I DIDN'T DO
- Apologize for asking
- Use phrases like "I was just wondering if...", "Do you have an idea of when...", or "When you get a minute, could you..." All of those remove the urgency of the fact that they've made a mistake that needs fixing
- Issue threats, those are unnecessary and usually don't work
- Take it to Twitter to shame them instead of dealing with it privately
I don't know if this was a fluke or if I just happened to encounter a team that actually cares about paying on time, but I can't help but believe that changing my tone and asserting that they did something wrong without making it about drama and shame had something to do with it. Though the last email made it seem like it may be a few days before I got my paycheck, I could at least confirm it was coming. Until around 9pm that night when I got this message:
From now on, I'm never going to waste time "wondering" about my lately paycheck again.