Collecting What’s Due

I haven’t completed much this week (other than sending a proposal for the Origins Awards to the GAMA board). Instead, I’ve been busy invoicing for services rendered. As with most freelance gigs, it’s one thing to get the job and something else entirely to get paid for it.

I’ll probably jinx myself by saying this, but I’ve only been stiffed personally once, and that was a long time ago. The company, New Infinities, went bankrupt and owed a lot of people a lot more money than me. It still stung, and it was a lousy way to start out working in the industry, but that’s bankruptcy court for you.

Actually, one other time I didn’t get paid. ICE owed me a few hundred dollars in back royalties for Western Hero and Outlaw when it finally went bankrupt a few years back. The funny thing is I didn’t even know I was owed the money until the bankruptcy notices went out. The money had accumulated over the better part of a decade of slow sales, so I never missed it. ICE is back now under new ownership, of course, and that debt is now off the books.

Part of freelancing is keeping good records about what you’ve done and how much people owe you for doing it. You can’t just turn in the work and expect for a check for the proper amount to show up in your mailbox. Some companies require invoices, others just an e-mail. Either way, most need to be reminded from time to time.

I have had some people put off paying me for a while, but I’m dogged about collecting what’s owed. I call regularly until the debt’s paid. I’ve only had to threaten legal action a couple times, and it’s never come to more than that.

One of the best ways to collect is to meet your debtor at a convention. If you hit the company up on Saturday afternoon, most of them are flush with cash from the weekend’s sales. It’s hard for them to cry poor when they have a full cashbox.

Most of the time, though, it’s just a matter of making sure all the paperwork’s done properly and on time. More than ninety percent of the companies I’ve worked with have been great about paying me when they say they will. Some have even paid me earlier.

While I love writing and game design, I can’t do it for free. It’s what I do for a living. I treat it like a business, and it usually treats me just fine back.