Madeline Ashby is one of those people who is so damn smart she kind of intimidates me. Luckily she’s very kind and awesome, so I’m delighted to feature her on a guest blog to talk about an aspect of the writer’s life that many find difficult to navigate: money. Watch for an upcoming interview with Madeline on Ditch Diggers, and hear her previous interview on ISBW #316. And THEN get her new book from Tor, Company Town.
Beyoncé Was Right
When I asked if I could write up a blog post in support of my new novel Company Town, our dear hostess asked for a guestblog about the business of writing. So I thought I would tell you all a juicy story about a time that I didn’t get paid, and how I resolved the situation.
First, some background: I’m a science fiction writer and a futurist. What that means is that I write science fiction prototypes for clients who want to know how humans will use their products, platforms, or technologies. Or, alternatively, I write stories about the future of a given thing: like a world without antibiotics, or urban warfare in a smart city, or disaster management, or what have you. It was on the strength of this career that I was asked to write for a publication that was expanding its subject area, and adding a technology vertical to its existing masthead.
Right away, something seemed off. I had to fight for a byline, despite already having my own bylines elsewhere. And, as so often happens, that first impression was dead on. My pitches went ignored. My content management software license took forever to appear. When it did, it was bloatware that crashed my computer — but the editors knew the developers, so there was no other alternative. One simple 350-word assignment was turned back nine separate times, with nine different contradictory edits. After a week without answering any of my emails, they fired me.
Then, for months, they refused to pay me.
Now, I have been very lucky in my career, to work with wonderful clients who value my work. I am truly privileged in that regard. I’ve been invited to board rooms and hard lofts, by startups and industry leaders. With my clients I’ve collated sticky notes, appeared at day zero events, and even taken part in group meditation sessions, and I’ve had great fun doing it. And then I’ve gotten paid. Promptly. So this was a new situation for me. I asked other freelancers how they had handled similar issues, and they told me I should probably wait at least three months before seriously raising the issue.
So, I waited. And waited. And waited. And then I raised the issue with one of my contacts at the company. I raised it again. And again. And again. When emails didn’t work, I called. Week in, week out, I called. When it was clear that my calls weren’t providing the proper motivation, I realized I had to get creative.
With that in mind, I called the publisher’s main office. I explained my situation as plainly and politely as possible. The young woman on the other end of the line was very pleasant, and very sympathetic, and had no idea how to help. “Do you have a payroll department?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said. “We all just get paid by Mr. ______.”
“Yeah. I think so. It’s his name on the checks, anyway.”
“….Can you spell that for me, please? Thanks so much.”
Mr. ______ turned out to be very accomodating, once I found him on LinkedIn. I explained the situation, and named the people I had dealt with, and the fact that I hadn’t been paid for months. The next day, my money arrived.
What is the moral of this story? First, trust your instincts. The gig was never a good fit for me, and I should have bailed earlier to save myself the stress and to give myself the opportunity move on to something better. Second, you can always go another level higher on the food chain to resolve a problem. Anyone who’s ever worked a service job knows this — “Let me find my manager,” is the most magic phrase there is, aside from “Let me buy you a drink.” Third, and most basic, don’t talk to editors or administratives about missing money. It’s literally not their department. That’s a job for finance, or accounting, or payroll. They’re the ones who process checks. Your editor doesn’t know where your check is. Your editor will ask someone in payroll. So, save yourself and your editor some hassle and ask payroll. That will help preserve your relationship with the editor and it’ll get you your money faster. When in doubt, trust in the wisdom of Beyoncé: Always stay gracious; the best revenge is your paper.