One of the drawbacks of being a freelance writer is that you’re on your own. Whenever a problem arises you have to be the one who sorts it out. Sometimes this can be a little disheartening, but also frustrating. But don’t let this put you off standing up for what’s right. I’ll give you two examples:
I received a royalty statement showing my latest books sales, and on one section there were some deductions. I queried this with the publisher who told me that, as per my contract, the deductions were a contribution towards the cost of converting my book text into eBook format. I thought this strange, because I knew I wouldn't have signed a contract with such a clause in it, and when I went back to my contract I was heartened to see I was right! My contract clearly stated I was not liable for these costs. It took me 48 hours to get the publisher to see where they’d made their mistake, but the point was I was contractually entitled to that money, and therefore I wanted it. Of course, it wasn’t a huge sum, and if I calculate the amount of time it took me to get it sorted out, it works out at an hourly rate of £1.95! However, this just shows how publishers can make mistakes. It’s down to you to spot those mistakes and take action.
Another example was with a royalty statement (it’s always royalty statements, it seems!). One of my publishers had been taken over by a new publisher, so this was the first statement issued by that new publisher. The book in question is quite old now, so I was surprised to see a royalty payment of £10.68 due. However, the new publisher had printed at the foot of the royalty statement that balances of less than £25 are carried forward to the next royalty statement. This figure didn’t sit right with me, so I went back to my original contract and found the clause in question, and the original publisher only held onto balances of less than £10. Therefore, contractually, I felt I was entitled to my £10.68 royalty payment!
So I got in touch, and the new publisher accepted that my contract terms still stood and told me that the payment would be with me in a few days. Suffice to say that it wasn’t, and I had to chase up for it, but I did get it in the end.
So, if something is not right, make sure you bring it to the attention of the publisher/magazine. Stand up for yourself. In most cases, these situations can be sorted out amicably, which is the best situation, although members of various societies, such as the Society of Authors and the NUJ can get support for really troublesome queries. It’s rare for a problem to escalate to that situation though.