By Kevin Rhoades
Every so often I receive a phone call from a member asking for help to solve a business dispute. Most common complaints involve publishers who are slow to pay or won’t pay for submitted articles and/or photos. Disputes that typically land on my desk are informal agreements between individuals and publishers, perhaps a phone communication or e-mail exchange, something like this:
“I’ll buy the article and two bear photos, and we’ll publish in the May issue.”
After reviewing all the written communications between the author and the editor, I often discover insufficient reference to payment, rights purchased, a kill fee or how or when the contributor’s property will be returned.
This, of course, is a problem.
For some authors, months go by and the article or photos may or may not be published – or no payment is received. This is when the impasse lands on my desk.
To avoid problems, review and/or familiarize yourself with several key points:
- Your outdoor communications career is a business; treat it as such
- Avoid oral communications and firm-up agreements in writing
- Ask for and keep copies of submission guidelines
- Ask for the publication’s payment policy and include provisions for imbursement
- Specify how you want your property returned
- Keep copies of published work
- Stipulate rights offered and rights desired in the initial communication
- Understand up front whether you’re working on assignment or speculation
- If sending unsolicited work, understand the risks (your transparencies might not be returned!)
- If working on assignment, address in advance the rate of payment, deadline, kill fees and expenses
- Prioritize your best material for publications that pay on acceptance (rather than on publication)
- Keep excellent records
More helpful hints:
(1) If payment is late, demand prompt payment while remaining businesslike and professional.
(2) If your e-mails aren’t being answered, try the telephone. If you are unable to connect with your initial contact, talk to someone else and ask whether the editor remains in the same job, has been promoted to another position or changed employers. Too often I learn that the author has tried to correspond with an editor who left months ago.
(3) Use some sort of mail service that provides evidence that your articles, artwork, disks or transparencies have been received. One example: Try certified mail with return-receipt requested. If you mailed transparencies two years ago with no record of delivery or receipt, there’s little anyone can do to prove the publisher received your property.
(4) Don’t burn your bridges, and remain professional. If your communications have been hostile, it’s more difficult to help yourself and for OWAA to help you.
(5) Meanwhile, and according to existing policies, OWAA will be happy to use its fine name as leverage to help retrieve your property or get you paid. Two-thirds of the time we’re successful in helping members with the rightful return of their property or we’re able to initiate payment.
(6) Legal action is the last resort. Before going down that road, consult with OWAA headquarters. If we believe it’s unlikely headquarters can help resolve your business dispute, we’ll put you in touch with OWAA’s attorney so you can learn more about your rights and venues for recourse.
I’m optimistic that you will routinely avoid steps 5 and 6 if you follow the aforementioned suggestions and study Parts 1 and 3 of OWAA’s new Freelancers Guide to Business Practices.
Now onward with your very successful business in outdoor communications!
Want to read more on this subject? Check out “Getting paid: Chasing down those overdue accounts” by Chip Gross.