7 Steps to Collecting Freelance Writing Payments

I recently found out that a publisher I wrote for is facing a lawsuit because of a debt he owes to a printing company. Needless to say, I along with other freelance writers haven’t been paid, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever see payment. I should have known something was awry when the publisher didn’t want to discuss signing a contract. He wanted to do everything via email and told me to invoice him. I should have insisted on him providing and signing a contract, and walked away from the opportunity. This was a tough lesson to learn, but I know I’m not the only freelance writer who’s learned it.

7 steps for collecting payments

  • Contact a lawyer for advice. Find a lawyer that specializes in small businesses. Before you set-up your freelance writing business, get sound legal advice on how to do it. Not only will you have established a relationship with your lawyer, you’ll know how to handle clients who aren’t paying you. And, you’ll already have a lawyer should you choose to file a lawsuit. However, it’s recommended that you do what you can to avoid this if at all possible because lawsuits are energy drainers filled with negativity.
  • Use contracts. Protect you and your clients with a contract. You sign a contract when you get a cell phone, you sign a contract for lawn service, and you sign a contract for cable TV or Direct TV. This document is not new and businesses use them and so should you!
  • Send your invoice in a timely manner. When you complete your work, send your invoice (unless you specify a time frame within the contract). Make sure your terms are listed on your invoice.
  • Keep your files organized. Make sure you know when you sent your invoices and to which clients. Freelance writers may not like the ‘administrative’ part of running a freelance writing business but it’s necessary. An electronic or paper trail is a great way to ensure you get paid for your work.
  • Send a second invoice after 30 days. If you haven’t received payment after 30 days, send another invoice and call your clients.
  • Enlist the services of a collection agency. No one wants to do this but sometimes it’s necessary.
  • Set-up a schedule to call and email clients. Make sure you keep track of clients and publishers who didn’t pay you. Keep after them because sometimes they overlook payments — it does happen.


  • Utilize the BBB and other organizations. You may choose to report unsavory clients to the BBB and other organizations. If you’re unsure about this, you could always report them anonymously.

Owning and running a business means you have to deal with the good, bad, and ugly. Okay, perhaps bad and ugly are strong words but sometimes life throws you curveballs and you must know how to handle them. Don’t take it personally if a client or publisher doesn’t pay you. Remember, karma comes back to us in one form or another. Keep yours clean by running a professional freelance writing business and treat others how you want to be treated!


When has a client or publisher refused to pay you? Share.


  1. Rebecca, I’ve been fortunate to have only one significant payment problem in my 16 years of full-time freelance writing. This editor found one error in a 200-page instructor’s manual I’d written, but the error was not mine — it was due to her giving me an earlier version of the textbook manuscript to work from. She said she was withholding payment so she could hire someone to fact-check my work.

    I wrote her, but she wouldn’t budge. I then immediately e-mailed her superior and explained the situation. He e-mailed right back and said he had just approved my full payment.

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  3. John,

    I can’t believe an editor would withhold payment for one error that wasn’t yours! Thank goodness her superior was
    smart enough to approve your payment. Sometimes I wonder if people in publishing know and understand how
    business works.

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