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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.
If you're interested in learning more about how to navigate writing for a living, please consider signing up for one of my classes.
Greetings pilgrim, welcome to my first blog post in several fortnights. It is days like this when I see that the date of my last blog post here was nearly two months ago that I want to send one of the deluxe Edible Arrangements to people who manage to actually send a Tinyletter every week. I try to have such discipline but I have been vexed of late! Whenever I sit down to write an update, I hear the impish whispers of the small avian specter that reigns over Twitter, summoning me back with an extended cyan talon.
But alas, I have a tale to tell that takes place primarily on that infernal nest so I have pulled away to write about it. As some of you may know, I receive several emails and direct messages every week requesting help with breaking into writing for a living. Most of these inquiries are polite and generally complimentary of my work, while others are demanding and entitled. I don't have fingers and toes enough to count all the times I've seen variations on the message: "NO ONE WANTS TO GET COFFEE WITH YOU TO HAVE THEIR BRAIN PICKED, YOU CANNIBAL," out there, but these posts manage to elude the more aggressive help-seekers.
Even among the more polite requests for help, people often ask what my "secret" is or request "tips and tricks" as if I had cultivated an entire career out of a handful of life hacks I could share in an email. So in April (the day after my most recent blog post) I started seriously considering running an online class on my own about the topic, in part because I semi-resent the idea that there is a single trick to making it happen and wanted to dispel such a notion by giving out concrete steps to building a writing career. And it was in part because I believe that my time and my knowledge are valuable and I should be compensated when I share them at length.
But because I am a deep well of insecurities, I asked the good citizens of Twitter first if such a class would be worthwhile and shared a description of what the four-part class would cover:
I followed up with a survey, ultimately resulting in 82% of 160 votes saying that I could indeed charge that for the class I was proposing. But one response and the ensuing communication soured the whole afternoon. Naturally, it came from a man I've never met or interacted with in my entire life:
Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good fucking scam but only when it is at the expense of the exorbitantly rich or someone who I feel has slighted me on the internet. As you can see, I made the mistake of interacting with him to demonstrate that perhaps my proposed class would be valuable, that I had sufficient authority in the field to teach it, and I even provided a Twitter search of evidence that my previous classes in a similar topic had been vouched for by students. Reader, it was to no avail. We followed each other and I, the foolish optimist, even took it to DMs to attempt to explain the course's potential value:
Let's break this down:
- $150 does not constitute "extraordinary amounts of money" in the same way, I dunno, $100,000 in MFA debt does
- Admits he doesn't have a good solution
- Cites "actual talent" and "inherent talent" as if these things are fixed and finite at birth, whereas there's a great body of evidence that writing talent can be developed
- Also, I'm not trying to sell these students a class called, "How To Write A Novel That Will Earn You Prestigious Awards And A Legacy In The American Creative Consciousness," I'm trying to teach them how to write mostly on the internet where content is regularly mediocre so if there's is even halfway decent, they have a leg up on the competition with the shit I teach them
- Even bigger LOL at the idea of an inherent hustle, a skill that is almost always developed out of necessity because you don't have to hustle for shit if you're already provided for
- HOW DID WE GET TO "TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN DEBT" from my $150 price point?
With months between the exchange and now, it is easy for me to posture like I'm a big tough mean bitch from the internet like, "LOOK AT THIS FUCKIN' GUY!" But the truth is, the opinions of men still have an outsized impact on my sense of self-worth and the whole thing ruined my day. I am a woman who built a six-figure income from writing after starting out with articles running $50 each if paid at all my first year. I've published a successful book and sold a second, more ambitious one. I presented him with substantive evidence from previous students that my classes on pitching had been worthwhile and still, he doubled down on the assertion that I was a bullshit con artist.
And so even with 82% of voters saying I could charge $150, I dropped the class price to $130 and added much more hands-on meetings with students when I did launch the class. It sold out in 24 hours. I taught the four classes and held one-on-one sessions with all of the students to zero in on what their next moves will be using the information taught in the class. In the time since I've been in contact with the students, I got messages from four of them stating explicitly that they used what they learned in class to successfully pitch these outlets: Racked, Women's Health, Brit + co, Refinery29, Catapult, Real Life Magazine, Extra Crispy. One student secured a regular blogging gig with a marketing firm. Another got a part-time social media job that will cushion their income as they pursue more editorial work. This was all just information they volunteered so far, I didn't demand they report their progress but I am glad that several of them have. In other words, my class wasn't fucking bullshit. My class was good. To my knowledge, none of the students have spiraled into abject poverty for having taken it.
In the first draft of this blog post, I wrote out the name of the dude who ruined my day several times as I wrote about how his presumptuous, rude, and diminishing comments were because it worked well for comedic effect. "[NAME] KNEW A CON WHEN HE SAW ONE AND [NAME] WASN'T ABOUT TO LET A GRIFTER LIKE ME OFF WITHOUT A FIGHT" type stuff, you know my schticks. But then I did a Google search of his name and found only the profound embarrassment that is the Earnest LinkedIn Profile and this New York Times article about how break-ups in New York City leave you with a lease together and why that's awkward and possibly heart-breaking. It talks about how his ex got full custody of their dog and the lead image is a side-by-side shot of him looking really bummed out on a bed alone and his ex absolutely beaming and holding the dog and it was both kind of hilarious and really sad. I don't want to further fuck up his search by being like, "LOOK AT THIS FUCKING GUY BEING A CONDESCENDING KNOW-IT-ALL TO WOMEN HE DOESN'T KNOW ON TWITTER." If I made a point of dragging every dude that pulled that in separate blog posts, it would become a full-time job.
Some people might read this and be like, "Of all the violent and cruel things that people say to you on Twitter, this seems like a fairly harmless offense." I understand that line of thinking because I engage in it often and it lowers the bar so fucking low for men online. I refuse to accept that the only thing you have to do to be a decent citizen of the internet if you're a man is not to issue rape threats or tell women they deserve to die in any number of unpleasant ways.
This was not an anonymous troll calling me an ugly idiot who will never marry, it was a man who works in mainstream media asserting that he could assess the potential value of my knowledge in a professional area that he doesn't work in. When presented with third-party evidence that he was incorrect, he redoubled his efforts with sweeping claims about the futility of teaching writing at all. The "lol" followed by the assertion that I was just tossing out editors' emails was especially cute considering that his initial response was to a tweet in which I included a full outline of what I would be teaching. And I wasn't even teaching writing. I was sharing knowledge of best practices in attempting to advance a writing career, which is a very different beast. I was teaching strategy, branding, communication, and time management.
I was teaching them because there is not a trick or secret or piece of knowledge to having a successful writing career. There are a fuck ton of secrets and tricks and pieces of knowledge. Having the "inherent talent" can give you a leg up but it isn't some magical key to the kingdom that recuses you from having to navigate an industry that people inside are desperately trying to keep people out of by saying its hopeless. Also, fuck the foregone conclusion that none of my students have the inherent talent to make it as writers. Fuck the notion that characterize people who pay for a class like this as naive chumps instead of people who clearly value my time, labor, and knowledge. And fuck the enduring insistence that women attempting to capitalize on their knowledge and expertise deserve to be taken down a peg. If you want to know about a fucking con, it is that we have let men with an inflated sense of the value and objective truth of their assertions about a career they haven't succeeded get a free pass just because some men are doing worse.
In conclusion, fuck all of that. I'm glad she got the dog.
PS: The class has been very popular so far. If you're interested in learning more about how to navigate writing for a living without losing it, please consider signing up for one of my classes.