Most outlets should pay you within 30 days of receipt of your invoice.
Interestingly, even if there is a 30 day clause in your contract, it doesn’t leave you, as a writer, with much recourse to add a penalty if a web site or magazine doesn’t pay. If you create your own contract in a business other than writing, you can place a clause within that reads, ‘X must pay X percent of the invoice for each month that goes by without payment.’ I’ve never heard of a journalist doing this, however.
Yet when they don’t pay you, it’s time to take action. Dealing with your assigning editor in a pleasant, positive manner to get paid is likely the best route — even if you’ve begun to fume inside. If you’ve heard ‘the check’s in the mail’ more than you’d like, however, it’s time to talk to the business folks who handle the invoices. Your delay may simply be a case of an invoice that never reached their desk or computer.
If you get no satisfaction from them, try to talk to other writers for the outlet. Find out how long it took them to be paid. If you find two people who say, ‘Yeh, it took two months. But I did get paid,’ you know it’s coming, however slowly. You can still try greasing the wheels by emailing or phoning both your editor and the invoicing department.
The key is not to show anger or impatience during this whole process. Ideally, you want to be paid with alacrity. But you still want to continue writing for the site or the publication — at least at this point. With each passing email, you want to be both affable and firm.
Unless you have the personality of an apologizer, there’s no need to write, ‘Sorry to bug you again.’ They know they owe you money. You don’t have to apologize for it. A genial email reminder once a week after a month has gone by is not unusual. Even if you’re angry about the lack of payment, never show it in an email. It’s not going to help, and it can hurt.
But what if nothing happens. What if months have gone by and you haven’t seen a red cent?
Is it time to show your ire, your growing, desperate anger?
I’ll look into when it’s right to lay down the law tomorrow.