Journalist and photographer Wudan Yan went on vacation in May with about $5,000 in outstanding invoices for her work from three different publications yet to be paid. She didn’t think it would be a problem, until she came back to find that they hadn’t paid her.
So, Yan did what any good journalist would do: reported on how they tried to dodge her late fees and exposed the harassment she faced after attempting to collect the money owed to her by these publications.
Though she didn’t name the publications, the stories were still stunning. One publication refused to honor their own contract, which said they would pay within 30 days, opting to pay her what they owed her past the deadline, but not the late fee. It took quoting NYC’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act and another invoice for the late fee before she got paid. Even then, the company said they paid the fee to settle the matter “amicably” rather than acknowledging that a late fee is a standard practice for things not paid for on time.
It’s quite frustrating as a freelancer when companies pull this sort of behavior. Most landlords won’t waive a late fee because your clients didn’t pay. Banks don’t hesitate to add late fees for missed credit card payments (I had a bank shut down my card after I missed one payment in one decade). Freelancers are no different, and timely payment should be the norm, not the exception.
Yan notes that from this experience, one of the things that was most helpful was the “whisper network” that fellow freelancers shared among each other about which publications pay on time and which don’t.
Yan shares a few more horror stories from the other publications, and though she was able to recoup her money in this case, there are many times when others don’t.
Do you have a freelancing horror story? Share yours in the comments below.