Pay on Publication

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Pay on Publication Needs to Die: A Rant

by Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions

Pay on Publication contracts need to die a fiery death, folks. These are contracts that say to a writer, editor, artist, graphic designer, or other creative worker on a game project that they won’t get paid until the project they’re working on sees publication.

This is utter crap.

As a publisher, there are a few things you’re bringing to the picture:

  • Overall vision
  • Implementation coordination
  • Connections and clout for publication and distribution
  • Sales and marketing
  • Funding

All of those go into the activity of actual publication. They are your goddamn responsibility.

The creative folk you hire to do work that fits your vision do not carry any of this. Their job is to produce components to spec that you can get assembled into a final sellable thing. Once that work gets into your hands, they’ve done 100% of what you’ve asked them to do.

If, in the face of that, you ask them to wait to get paid until publication, you’re asking them to wait to get paid until you can get your shit together. They have no control over your actual ability to get to that publication date. You’re asking them to trust that you can do so at best possible speed. You’re asking them to extend you a loan (think about how ridiculous that is) equal to the full value of their work at 0% interest for an indeterminate amount of time.

This is an incredibly dishonest and shifty way to do the work of being a publisher. It’s also, frankly, just bad business. It gives you a chance to fail in a way that affects folks’ livelihoods. Those failures, even if they happen for good reasons, become a reputation. If you’re eager to make a lifestyle out of publishing, your reputation is your make or break asset. While there will always be new, fresh, gullible talent to come around to accept these sorts of terms from folks like you, you’re going to end up hurting the experienced folks (which hurts all of us, as it can end up ejecting them from the talent pool for good) and perpetually saddling yourself only with inexerpienced talent. And worst of all, you’ll be their first impression of how the industry operates.

Bottom line: If as a publisher you don’t have the money already to pay someone for work when they finish doing it, you should not be hiring them in the first place.

Publishing can be a juggling act but your funding should not be. See the list of bullets up at the top of this post. It’s your wheelhouse. It’s your responsibility. It’s your burden. It’s the service you’re providing to creative folk. You shouldn’t provide those folks less value than they can provide themselves as self-publishers. Those bullets are how you offer added value and none of them are optional.

At Evil Hat we pay on the accepted delivery of the work. Because that’s the end of the freelancer’s responsibility. Where there’s wiggle room, it’s in how that “accepted delivery” gets defined. Maybe it means a writer doesn’t get paid until after the editing and revision cycle is completed. That’s fair: the editor can be seen as your mechanism for determining the acceptability of the supplied work.

But however you define it, it sure as shit shouldn’t be “until you get off your ass and get the thing published”.