If you’ve been following my column, I’ve talked about how you need to assess your skills and find the right publisher to work with. You’ve also heard about how I feel it’s in your best interests to remove yourself from the drama, too. While figuring out who to work with (and when) can be its own set of trials and tribulations, today I want to talk to you about one of the reason why you’re freelancing in the first place – because you want to get paid and earn lots of gold.
The expectation to get paid on your terms originates from having a part-or-full time job where payments are made on a regular basis. When you freelance, you are not on the company’s payroll. Instead, you’re akin to a vendor that they have to pay bills to. This also means that you are not company staff and you don’t qualify for benefits, etc.
What does this mean for your pocketbook? Well, if you demand that you be paid on your schedule, then you probably shouldn’t become a freelancer. The switch from employee to freelancer can be very jarring for anyone who isn’t prepared for that financially because you also have to work with an accountant to pay your own taxes. Or, as freelancer extraordinaire Matt Forbeck likes to point out to people just getting into the business: “Don’t quit your day job.”
So how do you get paid? Well, when you get hired for a freelance assignment, you get a contract that spells out the terms of payment, what your rights are, and what the company expects from you. Typically, you are considered work-for-hire, so you don’t own the rights to the work that you’re submitting. Unless I am providing a rare favor for someone, I don’t work without a contract. This protects my interests and the company’s, too.
The terms of payment in a contract will say something like: “Payment after 30 days of publication” or “Payment upon receipt.” Payment after 30 days of publication means that you get paid after the project is available for customers to buy. If you’ve written a submission, that means the project still has to go through the line development process, playtesting, editing, and layout before the book sees the light of day. It is not uncommon for a project to get delayed, too, especially if licensing is involved. So, what that clause can mean, is that you may not get paid for six months, a year, or more.
Does that make a company evil? Absolutely not. In fact, complaining about when a company pays after you signed a contract is bad form – especially if you’re feeding the proverbial rumor mill. If you don’t like the terms in the agreement, then don’t sign the contract or work on the project. Period.
Is it possible to work on a project and never get paid? Yes. Can you self-publish a work and not make any money? Yes. In both cases, is the reverse true? Well, does a d20 have twenty sides?
When it comes to earning money as a freelance or independent creative professional (e.g. small business owner), there are no guarantees because you are not a salaried employee who is earning a regular stream of income. These are two separate business models and career paths with strengths, weaknesses, and different ways to earn a keep.
Regardless, I would caution any individual to believe a rumor or get sucked into drama — especially when you don’t have the contract or all the details in front of you. Be professional and you may just find that you’ll end up with more work than you can handle.
Next time, I’m going to talk about etiquette when you have questions regarding payment and provide some examples.