Payment Terms Every Nurse-Writer Should Know

What is “net 30”? “Net-45”? “On acceptance”? What does “on publication” mean? How about “kill fee”?

These are all types of payment terms offered in the publishing and content industries. In order to manage your business’ cash flow, every nurse-writer needs to understand what different types of payment terms mean – and how to negotiate them to your satisfaction.

The Process of Payment in Freelance Writing

Perhaps it would help to start with an overview of how payment “works” in freelance writing. It’s not as if some accounts payable person pays your invoice instantly upon receipt. No, usually what happens is:

  1. You submit an invoice to your editor or client at the time (and in the manner) specified in your contract or assignment letter.
  2. Your editor or client approves your invoice and routes it to Accounts Payable for payment.
  3. An Accounts Payable person enters your invoice details into the computer system and schedules the invoice for payment at the time specified by the contract (i.e.: “net-30,” “on acceptance,” etc.).
  4. Eventually a check arrives in the mail or gets deposited to your bank account or via whatever payment method you agreed to with the client.

Many snafus can arise during this magical invoice journey. Invoices can get lost. They can fail to be forwarded to Accounts Payable. They can be scheduled for payment incorrectly. The software can glitch and cause the invoice to be marked “paid” when it has not been.

And on and on.

As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to keep track of your invoices and follow up on unpaid ones. It is not the responsibility of the client or editor to do this.

But back to payment terms.

It’s generally impossible to specify identical payment terms for every client. One client may agree to net-30, while a magazine editor might be required to adhere to an “on publication” policy. As you track your invoices, you also need to track the payment terms of each invoice so you can follow up in a professional manner. This also allows you to reasonably predict your cash flow, which is crucial for any small business.

Now let’s delve into the payment terms themselves – and what they mean.

Because the specific payment terms offered in publishing (media) tend to differ from those offered in content writing, I’m breaking this down into two sections.

Media Publishing Payment Terms to Know

Generally speaking, media companies (I’m speaking here of magazines, newspapers, and similar outlets) offer three main types of payment terms in their contracts:

  1. On submission
  2. On acceptance
  3. On publication

What “on submission” means

You may never encounter “on submission” payment in your entire career because it’s very rare. The Contently platform used to offer this, which was a big selling feature for attracting high-quality freelance writers. When you clicked “submit” on your Contently assignment, the payment would automatically be available for you to transfer into your business bank account, even before the client ever got a chance to review your work. Voila!

But I don’t honestly know of any outlets today that do this. I wanted to cover this payment term here to be thorough more than realistic.

What “on acceptance” means

When you submit an article to an editor, s/he will usually request revisions that range from minor grammar tweaks to wholesale rewrites of various paragraphs. “On acceptance” means that you won’t be allowed to submit an invoice (get paid) until the editor fully accepts your article for publication.

This timeframe will vary, depending on the editor, the number of revisions your article requires (at the editor’s sole discretion), and the publication’s requirements. But, at a certain point, the editor will “accept” your article and give you the green light to invoice.

Or s/he won’t. What happens if your article is never deemed “acceptable” by the editor?

What “kill fee” means

The term “kill fee” refers to a small amount of money the writer will be paid for work that never reaches a standard required for publication. A kill fee also can be paid if the editor simply changes his/her mind about the article, in general – such as in deciding s/he doesn’t really want your story about widget manufacturing, after all.

You should scrutinize your contract for any reference to kill fees – how much money the publication will pay, and under what circumstances. Kill fees can range from a defined amount (e.g.: $50) to a percentage of the originally negotiated article fee (e.g.: 50% of the $1,200 you and the editor agreed to for the story).

Some contracts expressly denote “no kill fee will be paid.” That’s not good. Try to negotiate that.

In fact, I suggest you should always try to negotiate a kill fee, if it comes to that. Make your case for compensation for time invested in the project, even if the article is being killed “for cause” (because you couldn’t quite hit the editorial mark in your work).

What “on publication” means

Moving on from the kill fee discussion, another payment term to know is “on publication.” This means you won’t be allowed to invoice until the article is actually published. Since many magazines and other outlets work on editorial months in advance, “on publication” means you may not get paid for months after your editor accepted your work.

Another pitfall of “on publication” terms lies in the fact that an editor can delay your article time and again, shifting it from the planned publication date to the next one…to the next one.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that when you agree to payment “on publication.” I recommend you always try to negotiate this to “on acceptance.”

Content Writing Payment Terms to Know

Moving to the content side, it’s a bit of a frontier atmosphere. On the one hand, some clients (especially big corporations) will have massive contracts with standardized payment terms that they’re unwilling to change. On the other hand, you’ll be able to present your own proposals and contracts to smaller clients, and this might allow you to specify your own payment terms – or at least negotiate them to mutual satisfaction.

In general, content contracts use the “net” language regarding payment. This is simply a legal term that means you expect full payment within a specified number of calendar days after invoice submission. Thus, “net-30” means payment in full within 30 calendar (not business) days. “Net-45” means payment within 45 days. And so on.

That said, if you’re offering your own contract to a client, you can try specifying any payment terms you wish. Perhaps you desire “payment due upon receipt.” That means the client is expected to pay your invoice immediately. Or maybe you want to bill for “50% of the fee in advance, with the remaining 50% due at the midpoint milestone of the project,” with all invoices “due upon receipt.”

On the content side, even with large clients, much of this is negotiable. I mean, it never hurts to ask. I’ve had contracts changed from egregious terms like “net-60” to “net-30” by pleading the case that I’m a very small business – and they’re a very large corporation with plenty of resources.

What to Do When a Client Doesn’t Pay

Well, this is a discussion for a different blog post, but personally I take a four-step approach to late invoices:

  1. My Quickbooks account is set up to send a reminder invoice with an interest fee tacked on when an invoice goes five days past due.
  2. I again nudge the client when an invoice becomes two weeks past due.
  3. If an invoice goes 30 days past due, I suspend work.
  4. If an invoice goes 60 days past due, I threaten legal action.

Again, this is a blog post unto itself. I mainly wanted to cover payment terms every nurse-writer should know and explain a little more about how the invoicing process works in publishing and content.

I hope you can see how it’s crucial you find the payment terms in your contract before you agree to them. In the event a client doesn’t pay you, your contract will govern how any court proceeds. Remember, it’s your responsibility to adhere to any contract terms you agree to.

What questions or payment horror stories do you have? Post them in the comments!

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