Invoices: How to Make and Send Them

Sometimes you'll run across a time when you'll need to.

My paid subscribers have been enduring a handful of posts lately about how the global pandemic is affecting publishing, but I promised to try to get back on track with regular business advice. And as subscribers also know, the current situation has knocked off my scheduling a little bit, for which I apologize. I’m trying to get back on track for this last month.

And we have a few last queries and frequently asked questions I want to get to before wrapping up the column. So let’s get to it. Here’s one that actually especially applies right now, as freelancers are trying to make sure they have all their payments in pocket:

Today’s question: I’ve been asked to send an invoice to get a short story payment. This is unusual, isn’t it? But more importantly, uh, HOW do I make an invoice? What should it look like?

Invoicing for short story payments is on the rarer end, but it’s definitely not unheard of. I’ve had to do it a bunch of times now, particularly with corporate-backed anthologies (which tend to be both better-paying and have a lot more bureaucracy; I’ve also had to register as a vendor a few times). It’s not at all a red flag to have to invoice.

And fiction writers often write nonfiction on occasion, too, like promotional, business, or genre articles — and if these are paid, the requirement of an invoice is very likely. I think the vast majority of nonfiction writing I’ve done has been paid via invoice.

Now, venues might have their own invoicing guidelines — I’ve written for at least one venue that has very strict requirements about what the invoice should look like because it’s paid via an automated payroll system. If you get guidelines like that, follow them. But the good news is, if they don’t give you any guidelines, you can usually just google up an invoice template, download it, and fill it in.

It doesn’t really matter what template you use as long as all the information is present and clear. Here are the most important things to include:

  1. Your name as the payee (which might be legal name or LLC rather than byline, whatever you’re getting paid under);

  2. Remittance instructions — for example, a Paypal email address or an address for a check;

  3. The piece(s) you’re invoicing for (title, and byline if different from payee name);

  4. The payment per word/piece (whichever applies);

  5. The total amount owed.

Other standard things that often go on an invoice:

  1. The word “Invoice”;

  2. A date and invoice number;

  3. Your contact information (many invoice templates include fields for full address and telephone number, but you don’t have to include all that; you can limit it to an email address);

  4. The name and contact info of the entity you’re invoicing (such as the company name, optionally address / email address / contact person);

  5. A timing guideline, such as “payment due upon receipt.”

If you download an invoice template, a lot of them will have fields you can fill in. But you can play fast and loose with a lot of things on the second list — for example, if you don’t know anything about the company you’re invoicing other than the name, just delete the fields for, say, their address. I’ve never run into trouble doing that.

I’d look for an invoice template on the simpler end, as some invoice templates have stuff that wouldn’t apply to invoicing for writing. You’re looking for something basic that has a column for describing the work product (in which you’ll list the story or articles you wrote), a column where you can put in the per word or per piece rate, and a column for the total amount. Then fill in whatever header information you have, making sure you have all the really important info on the first list above, and delete all the other fields. Make a PDF and email it to your contact.

If templates frustrate you instead of making things easier, you can also make your own simple invoice in a word processor. You don’t need any special formatting, letterhead, or anything fancy — just list all the important information in some clear fashion.

Or if you use accounting software like Quickbooks, you may be able to generate an invoice automatically, which is even easier.

Above all, don’t panic about doing it wrong! Generally, I’ve had very few problems aiming for a professional-looking invoice that hits most of the above information and then sending that along. And the worst that can happen? They politely tell you they need something modified. This has happened to me twice, and it was no big deal at all. Once was because I had formatted incorrectly for an automated system, and once had nothing to do with my formatting but my address on the invoice didn’t match my address on the vendor account because I was in the middle of a move. Both times my contact just replied saying oh, we actually need XYZ, can you send us a new copy? And I did, and it was fine.

So don’t stress about invoices. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this question come up, and people get really worried about doing it “right” — but you can relax. Grab a template, make something clean-looking, and if they need you to modify anything on it, they’ll tell you.

Then, hopefully you’ll get paid promptly. Just like with non-invoiced payments, sometimes invoices need a lot of follow-up just to get the money you’re owed… and don’t be afraid to do that, either.