How Not to Get Paid for Your Writing in 20 Difficult Steps

Photo credit: Gastón Gaiduk, CC BY 2.0.

Other than personal finance, food writing has always been one of my great loves—and while I thoroughly enjoy writing about my financial affairs, I’ve always wanted to see my byline on a food website.

So, when my pitch was accepted in December last year, I was equal parts euphoric and nauseated. I was finally able to finagle my way into what I considered an elite microcosm of the food world. The editor accepted my pitch and wrote that the 500-word essay paid $250. $0.50 a word! Thus far, that rate marked the pinnacle of my writing career. To be fair, I’ve won a few thousand dollars for my writing but they were all meant for collegiate scholarships, so it wasn’t like I was able to spend a portion of it at Din Tai Fung. I thought this was a sign I should really put more effort into food writing.

I spent a couple of weeks emailing back and forth with my editor, wrangling that 500-word essay into perfection. I spent every break at work editing, and I read each word out loud just like I was taught in J-school to ensure it was publication-ready. I’ve never worked that hard on an essay in my life.

On January 5, my essay went live. I found out by visiting the website. I didn’t know my final draft had been approved for publication because my editor had gone silent for two weeks; I blamed it on the holidays. I thought it strange that she didn’t tell me when my essay will go live, like editors at The Billfold and a few other websites I’ve written for in the past had done.

The good news is I was published at a mega-conglomerate food site. The bad news is I didn’t receive any paperwork to fill out so I could get paid.

I remember when I got an email from Nicole asking me to fill out paperwork for my Billfold work. She sent a one-page document and later I got a check in the mail. I emailed my editor to ask if I needed to fill anything out, and she told me she hadn’t realized she hadn’t sent my paperwork—but there it was, in her drafts folder. I filled out about six to eight pages of paperwork and I stayed at work just to get it done since I don’t have internet at home (I don’t have internet at home because I’m an addict, not for financial difficulties or other reasons).

On April 29, I emailed my editor asking about my check. I had checked out Who Pays Writers? and saw that the site paid writers within two to four weeks. I was closing in on four months without pay. On May 3rd, my editor emailed me back saying their people never received my paperwork, so can you please fill out the forms and send it again? I drove to Starbucks, filled out the paperwork, sent it, and drove back home. The website has a platoon of freelancers and I was sure this kind of thing happened all the time.

On May 19, I got an email saying I missed a couple of lines on the paperwork and could I fill it out and send it back? (Drove to Starbucks, filled out the paperwork, sent it, and drove back home.) By August I gave up on the idea I was going to get paid.

Hard work is the longest relationship I’ve ever had in my life. I know all about working 2–3 jobs, 14–15-hour days to pay for college; to give up on a $250 check wrecked my spirit, but this ordeal was draining me physically and creatively.

On August 28, my boyfriend and I went to get our mail and when I didn’t see a check, I changed my mind and decided to email my editor one more time. I didn’t hear back within the business day, so I Googled what to do to get paid for freelance work. I thought about going to small claims court but I read that it was futile and to try “shame by social media” instead. So, I did what I thought I would never do: sign up for Facebook. I downloaded Messenger on my minimal data plan, and sent the publication a DM at 7:53 a.m. Eastern time (I’m on Pacific) asking about payment for my essay they published in January 5, 2017. My editor responded at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time—the quickest response I’ve ever gotten from her. She said they didn’t have any of my paperwork. I was incredulous because the last time she sent my paperwork back because I missed a couple of lines, and now they didn’t have my information?

On September 1, I got an email from my editor claiming they lost a page of my paperwork. (Drove to Starbucks, filled out the paperwork, sent it, and drove back home.) Not only is this enterprise time-consuming, my social security number, address, and what-not have circled the internet multiple times. I’m writing this essay on Labor Day, and by tomorrow, it would have been the eighth month anniversary of my publication and I’m still waiting to get paid.

Ruzielle Ganuelas is a writer, baker and PF nerd in Washington State.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.