Friday, August 24, 2007

Rant: why can't publishers be professional, too?

If there's one thing guaranteed to make my stomach churn and my blood boil, it's dealing with late payments. Publishers expect freelancers to be professional, to deliver on time, every time. That's fine, I absolutely agree with that attitude. Be it books, magazines or comics, publishing is a business and professionalism is the least they can expect from the people they employ. I don't even baulk at contracts that impose a penalty clause if freelancers deliver work late. Wish we'd had the same thing when I was a comics editor, it might have motivated some creatives.

But is it unreasonable to expect those same publishers to pay freelancers on time? I don't see them volunteering to pay a ten per cent bonus for every week they're late delivering the fees we've earned. I'm not going to name and shame the publishers currently dragging the chain in my case, but late payments are putting me in serious financial difficulty. I'm owed £3500 at the moment. I've got outstanding invoices that date back three months, and no money coming in. I'm having to borrow money left, right and centre to make ends meet until my employers pay up.

There's the publisher who's been promising me a royalty statement for months, along with the royalties they owe me. I try nudging them by email, I try nagging them on the phone. I get plenty of promises, but all prove hollow and worthless. There's the publisher that expects me to deliver 5000 words by Tuesday when they haven't paid me for work I did in June. I'm not alone in this, trust me. I know authors still waiting on contracts from a prominent published house for books released back in March. Contracts on subsequent books are promised on attractive terms, but those terms are withdrawn after the author has written their novel.

What's a freelancer to do? If you've still got a commission to deliver and a deadline looming, you could try holding the work to ransom - but that's the last resort, and certain death to a working relationship. You have to ask yourself how much you trust the people involved? Did you want to work with them again? It took me nine months to get £100 out of Chrysalis Books, after which I vowed never to work with them again.

The moral of this rant is don't depend upon one publisher at a time. If they muck you about, even for reasons beyond their control, the consequences can be ruinous. And could publishers please, please, please try to match the same standards of professionalism they expect their freelancers to meet? Or is that too much to ask?

No comments: