September 13, 2006
Do You Owe Writers Money? Advice For Deadbeats! By Angela Hoy | printable version
This article is for all those deadbeat editors and publishers out there who owe writers money. Here's my advice on how you should or should not react when the press contacts you about your deadbeat status.
WHICH TYPE OF DEADBEAT ARE YOU?
First, know there are three types of deadbeats. There is Deadbeat #1, who is actually not really a deadbeat. This is someone who started a business, got in over his or her head, and is desperately trying to earn the money to pay off the mounting bills. Then there is Deadbeat #2, someone who had good intentions initially, but who now thinks he doesn't have to pay his bills because he's not making any money. And then there is Deadbeat #3 - a true criminal who may have started out like deadbeats number 1 or 2, but who now intentionally hires freelancers with no intention of paying them at all.
If you are #1, please know that we understand your predicament. Who hasn't gotten in over their heads on one occasion or another? If this is you, please don't make promises you can't keep. If you can't pay someone right now, you must first apologize and then tell them when they can expect payment. If you can't pay the entire bill, send them an installment. Whatever you do, do NOT ignore their correspondence and do NOT send nothing after you have promised to send something. Even 5% payment on a bill is better than sending nothing. If you keep making payments on a regular basis, the writer isn't likely to report you to any websites or consumer organizations.
If you are deadbeat #2, you should know that what you're doing is wrong and, depending on your actions, maybe even illegal. You can't hire someone and then simply decide not to pay them because your income has dried up. You can learn a few things from #1. Be respectable, have integrity, and don't ruin your reputation or get dragged into court because you made a mistake. Clean up your mess respectably by apologizing and paying your bills, and then move on.
If you are Deadbeat #3, know that we and our fellow writing websites, discussion lists, and forums are all over you. If you think you can hire one of our own and not pay them, and get away scott free, think again. We're going to alert everyone we can of your deadbeat status. We're going to publicize your website, your publication name, and your name as well. Once that happens, you can bet your name will forever be synonymous with the word DEADBEAT because that's exactly what you are.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR NAME STARTS TURNING TO MUD
What should you do if writers start posting complaints about you online? What should your response be if the press contacts you? First, research the United States Constitution, particularly Freedom of Speech. Some people think it's illegal for someone to post their experiences about a company online. It's very legal, provided the poster tells the truth.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the complaint. If you think writers aren't going to post your name when mentioning your company, think again. If/when you try to find a new job someday, employers are going to be googling your name. Some employers even run job candidates' credit reports. If you started a company in the past and left a string of unpaid bills in your wake, anybody who googles your name is going to know about it. And, they should!
Whether you are #1, #2, or #3 above, if the press contacts you, or if you find negative postings about yourself online, the best thing you can do is apologize for your mistake. Nothing turns fire to steam faster than an honest stream of "I'm sorry. I messed up. I want to correct my mistakes."
The worst things you can do:
Blame the writer in anyway whatsoever for your failure to pay.
Falsely claim the writer has already been paid.
Tell any lies whatsoever. Dishonest statements are easily proven false with archived emails and other electronic documents.
Blame your failure to pay on your advertisers, your bank, your ex-spouse, your health, your family members' health, the death of a loved one, and any other of a hundred lame excuses we hear all the time and that we all know are bogus.
Invent an attorney and send a fake "legal" response. This is practicing law without a license, which is illegal.
Lie to your attorney and have them send threatening letters when you know you're guilty. Everyone knows that attorney is going to cost more than you owe your victims, which makes you look even worse! And, your victims will then start contacting your attorney directly and providing him/her with proof of your unpaid bills. Your attorney is then not only going to know you lied to him/her, but is also going to bill you his/her high hourly fee to handle that correspondence. And, your victims are going to keep contacting your attorney directly until they have been paid.
Threaten to sue the writer for "tortuous interference." Contacting the press or the BBB or writing-related discussion boards is not "tortuous interference." Read the definition (http://www.commercial-litigation-lawyer.com/business_torts_litigation_07.php4) of this term before casually throwing it around!
Threaten to sue the writer for libel, slander or defamation. If you owe someone money, they're going to have documentation, either electronic or in print, to that effect. You should also read the definitions of those words before using them!
Threaten to sue the writer for anything at all. Saying you'll sue someone for claiming you owe them money, when you do owe them money, will make you appear foolish and will only do more damage to your reputation.
Threaten to sue the publication / forum / discussion list where the complaint is posted/published. The owners of these publications and services are often sent false legal threats, have been advised by their attorneys, and know your threats are baseless. Trying to frighten them into hiding your deeds won't work and will only enflame the issue.
Basically, it all boils down to this. If you owe someone money and then get hostile, make up excuses, and lie, your reputation is toast.
But, if you apologize, immediately try to right your wrong, and take quick action to correct your mistakes, things will turn out just fine in the end.