How to Handle a Payment Upon Publication Offer for Your Article

How to Handle a Payment Upon Publication Offer for Your ArticleA “payment upon publication” offer from a magazine editor means writers get paid for article when it’s published. A “payment on acceptance” assignment, on the other hand, means the writer gets paid when the article is submitted.

Which is preferable for working writers? Payment on acceptance, of course! But, even the most successful freelancers get a “payment on publication” offer from editors occasionally.

“Payment on publication is not a fair deal for writers,” writes Thomas Clark, author of Queries and Submissions: Elements of Article Writing. “But it is a deal that will continue to be offered as long as writers continue to accept it.”

If you don’t value your work, then you can’t expect writers or publishers to! And valuing your work involves getting paid when you finish writing your article or book — not when the magazine editor or publisher decides it’s time to publish it.

If you’re serious about building a writing business, read Getting Started as a Freelance Writer by long-established freelancer Bob Bly.

And, here are a few tips on handling a “payment on publication” offer from an editor…

Why do Publishers and Editors Pay on Publication?

A magazine’s budget may prohibit editors from paying on article acceptance, even if they want to – the advertising dollars may not be in place, subscriptions rates may be low, or maybe (heaven forbid) they’re limping along from month to month. Writers are relatively easy to put off (in comparison to, say, paying rent, sales reps, post office costs, printing costs, etc). So, editors and publishers accept articles on a “payment on publication” basis.

Payment on publication can be a tough pill to swallow. In fact, I now only accept “payment on acceptance” articles because I’m determined to earn a living as a freelance writer.

Tips For Handling a Payment Upon Publication Offer From an Editor

1. Offer to accept a lower fee for payment on acceptance. “If you find yourself in a cash crunch, this deal may satisfy your priority of getting paid as quickly as possible,” writes Thomas Clark in “Turning Around ‘Pays on Publication’ in Writer’s Digest” He suggests proposing a fee reduction of 10%, for example, in exchange for payment on acceptance.

“One factor working in favor of this option is inflation,” writes Clark. “Let’s say the editor offered you $300 for your article, then kept it in his files for a year before publishing it (a not-unheard-of time period). If inflation has run around 3% during that year, the promised $300 will only be worth $291 by the time it reaches you.”

2. Ask for a higher fee in exchange for payment on publication. If the magazine is struggling to meet its budget, then this tip for handling a payment upon publication offer may not be effective. In fact, I did this for a natural health magazine a couple years ago – and it sorta backfired. The editor offered $100 for a 1,000 word article, and I said that’s a little too low, and we agreed on a lip-smacking $125. I sent the article, and they never paid me. The editor claimed the magazine went bankrupt. If a magazine can’t afford to pay upon acceptance, it may not be able to give you a higher fee. But, it doesn’t hur to ask.

3. Negotiate for a “payment on acceptance” agreement. “I was pleased to receive your offer, but I am troubled by the ‘payment on publication’ clause in the contract. I’m hopeful that we can arrange for me to be paid when you accept my completed manuscript.”  By the way — you should never write an article without an editorial contract. Even an email serves as a valid, legal contract!

4. Establish an end date to the “payment on publication” offer. If you agree to accept the editor’s payment on publication offer, ask for a light at the end of the tunnel. For instance: “Payable upon publication or six months from date of acceptance, whichever is sooner.” That way, you’re not sitting around for years, waiting for the editor or publisher to pay you for your writing.

“If an editor has offered to buy your work, it is because he wants to share the manuscript with his readers,” writes Thomas. “There may be a hundred other manuscripts on his desk, but he picked yours.”

Fellow scribes, celebrate when an editor offers to buy your article — but don’t give it away!

If you have any thoughts or questions on a payment on publication offer from an editor, please comment below…

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3 thoughts on “How to Handle a Payment Upon Publication Offer for Your Article”

  1. Good questions, Goerge, to be sure!

    I’m wondering why a national magazine would pay on publication. Usually, it seems that the ones who offer that are the smaller, newer, and/or less stable ones. This whole economy crisis is definitely affecting magazines — and I wonder if it’s even hitting the national ones?

    Anyway, regarding your second question: no, I don’t think you’ll be labeled a difficult writer if you negotiate the terms — just like any businessperson, entrepreneur, lawyer, salesperson, etc……..negotiation is an acceptable and respected part of doing business.

    And that’s what writing is – or should be, if you want to make a living from it. It’s business.

    Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can have their asses if you let them keep their faces”? To me, this means many things….and one is that you can ask for what you want without being offensive or critical.

    If you look at tip #3, you’ll see that it’s honest and friendly….which is the best way to negotiate!

    So, no, I don’t think you’ll be labeled a difficult writer unless you phrase your request or thoughts in an offensive or critical way.

    Regarding your first question……what do you mean, “critical to your portfolio”? I’m not sure what that means…do you think you won’t get other work without this piece of writing? I think clips are less important than solid article ideas and a well-written query — but of course it depends on what you’re using your portfolio for.

    I’ve only been asked for clips once. Every other article I’ve sold has been on the basis of my query and idea — so I don’t know about the power of the portfolio!

    If you’ve already agreed to accept payment on publication, then yes, I think you should move on to other projects until this gets published. But don’t be afraid to negotiate — most editors are adept that it. And if you do it right, it can win respect and honest communication.

    Good luck – and let me know what you decide to do!

    – Laurie

  2. Oh, this is a toughie.

    I have an article at a national magazine right now. They pay on publication which in this instance means that the article I wrote last September will earn me money nine months later.

    I have two questions:

    Suppose the article is critical to my portfolio. Is it best just to stay occupied otherwise until this gets published/paid?

    Don’t I have a chance of labeling myself as a difficult writer and reduce my chances for future work if I implement the suggestions?



  3. I really like your #4 option, and will try to use that one. I have written for “payment upon publication” and the magazine didn’t pay me upon publication! I kept calling and found out the assigning editor had left the company. After pestering for a bit they paid — and I still get assignments, so I didn’t burn any bridges there.