Freelance payment...
October 28, 2011 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I have a day job, and I also freelance as a graphic artist/illustrator. I've only been getting paid for my work for the past few months, and I haven't had a problem getting compensated. Until now.

For a couple of years I've been posted my art on a web site that connects artists with potential clients. I've been on there without much activity for two years. I'd never had reason to doubt that this site was on the up and up - there are thousands of other artists registered, and they send out a weekly newsletter congratulating this or that person on having scored a paying gig with someone who wanted one of their drawings.

Two weeks ago I got a message from the moderator of the site, saying that a German publication wanted to publish one of my cartoons. I instantly said yes! They asked me to email them a high-res file. They asked for my email address so I can receive payment from them via Paypal. Sounds good to me, though the amount isn't specified.

I emailed them the file. Heard nothing for a couple of days, but figured it's okay - times zones are different. Another email from them: the publisher wants to use my art in a print publication, so they need an even bigger file than what I gave them originally. And they need it NOW.

Unfortunately, this email hits my inbox at 3:00 in the morning, when I'm asleep. I didn't even get the message until 7:00 am my time.

I emailed them again, asking if they still want the file - or did I miss the paper's deadline? Didn't hear anything for a few hours, so I sent them the larger file anyway (went to a lot of trouble to do that, too, since it was on my home computer, not the one at my day job).

So I get a message from another site mod, telling me she's sorry, but I've missed the deadline, and the paper went with another artist. I figure easy come easy go, and that's that.

Days later, one of my fellow artist pals on the site, who lives in Germany, tells me my cartoon was published in a local newspaper there. I'm happy they used it, but miffed that I haven't been paid yet, and never received word from the web site that my art was going to be used after all.

A flurry of emails since then, with promises from three mods so far that I'm going to get paid. It's been two weeks, though, and I figure each day that passes halves my chances of getting paid anytime soon. I feel I'm going backwards by Xeno's paradox-type increments here. Not looking good.

So - I haven't had any problems with the site until now. It's been nothing but a good-karma place for me. I've built up scads of contacts with other artists that have been valuable for me. My work is neatly arranged in an easy-to-navigate online gallery that anyone can access, and I enjoy being a part of their community. But I feel burned, and I'd like to know how to approach this next time (if there is a next time).

If they approach me again with promise of a paying opportunity, I'm thinking I need to make sure of a few things: The name of the publication, the fee they're paying me, and the date I should expect payment. I would also like to ask them for a contact name at the organization, but other artists on the site have said that it's verboten to contact the site's partners. I suppose it would also make sense to simply refuse to send the file until I get something in writing from them. Sending a watermarked file doesn't really do anything for me in this case.

What else should I ask for or make sure of next time? Am I leaving anything out?

Also, I'm unsure how to approach the non-payment issue. How long should I wait before bringing it up again, or should I? I've been on friendly terms with two of the mods, who've asked for my help in translating some of their press releases into English. I don't want to start a fight, but I could use some answers. Any thoughts appreciated.
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What else should I ask for... next time?

Cash. Up front. There's no practical way to enforce a written contract for a small amount when the other party is halfway around the world.
posted by jon1270 at 12:59 PM on October 28, 2011

A good general rule is to always get payment before sending a usable file. There is no reason whatsoever that they can't paypal you the money after they have seen and approved an image.

For people I don't know very well or companies that aren't in the country, I don't even start work until I see half the cash. I may have lost a few jobs here and there for being a stickler, but I have absolutly saved my butt from getting burned a couple times.

(im a free lance artist working for the last five years as a pro)
posted by Blisterlips at 1:01 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

ALSO- it's a pretty standard thing- so no experenced art director would be surprised but this rule.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2011

Mike Monteiro's Fuck You, Pay Me is my go-to for any questions related to getting money out of people who have used your creative work. As you can guess from the title, lots of swearing inside. Perhaps NSF(day job)W.
posted by looli at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Am I leaving anything out?

You have asked for a date that you can expect payment, but I think you also need to ask for the steps you can take if the expected payment does not appear within, say, two days from that date. So, essentially if they don't fulfill their end of the bargain, you both agree on further terms, like late fees, who you contact and what kind of response time (from both them and you) is acceptable. It would be great if you could have a single mod to talk to about a single transaction, but that may be asking too much.

promises from three mods so far that I'm going to get paid. It's been two weeks, though
Is there any way to escalate? Can you keep asking the same mod, instead of spreading the responsibility across three of them? When they promise, ask for a date. Until you have a date, I think one email or inquiry a day is acceptable. Once you have a date, stop until that date comes and goes without payment and start one per day again.
posted by soelo at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Contract, stipulating 1/3 up front, 1/3 on delivery. 1/3 within 30 days. Non-negotiable. This works well for me.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about "starting a fight". Too nice and you'll get ripped off. Never send a high-res file w/o either a contract or at least half the money. Tell the mods, either pay up, or not only will you not work with them again, you'll make sure everyone else on the site will learn of your situation.
And don't make a deal without knowing how much you'll get paid. This is the sign of an eager amateur, not an actual pro.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:25 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

geeze. this is freelancing 101. unless you already have a working relationship with the client, never, EVER give anyone work without a) contract, and b) at least partial compensation up front.
posted by violetk at 3:52 PM on October 28, 2011

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