An Amusing Bit of Unnecessary Encouragement

Royalty check yesterday afternoon, for Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream, from Tor/Macmillan (I handled that deal myself; all the other novels are handled through my agent, who in fact e-mailed me today with news of other royalties to be sent my way. It’s been a nice weekend). In the royalty package, a note, on bright yellow paper, warning me and presumably all authors receiving checks from Macmillan, that the check is only good for 90 days, so to be sure to cash it before then.

Which leads me to wonder if the Macmillan accountants need to be remembered they are talking to authors, the motto of whom, as a general class, is and always shall be cash the check before they change their mind. My check didn’t last 90 seconds before I endorsed it and handed it to Krissy, who will in turn get it to the bank pretty much first thing tomorrow. Indeed, if it had arrived on a weekday, it would even now be happily digesting in bowels of our saving account.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the note. I just don’t know any single author for whom it’s not entirely superfluous. I don’t expect I ever shall.

40 Comments on “An Amusing Bit of Unnecessary Encouragement”

  1. I don’t know–I’ve left a check sitting for something like 6 months, just because until then I wasn’t at the eating-one-potato-a-day point. Of course, when I am at the point where I’m scrounging for change to buy a sack of potatoes, any incoming checks don’t even go into a bank account…I go find a branch of the bank it was drawn from, and have them turn it into cold, hard cash right away. (You can typically cash checks at their banks of origin even if you don’t have a bank account with them. Just need ID. Chase/Bank One is an asswipe, though, and demands 2 photo IDs. In case anyone needs to know.)

    Of course, I’m not a professional writer. But I can see myself, if I was one, forgetting to cash a check if I wasn’t literally looking for where my next meal was coming from. Just depends how deeply into survival-mode I am.

  2. I know a Director of Photography who is the cheapest bastard I’ve ever met. During the course of pre-production and production, he’ll always engineer things so that he never misses an opportunity for free food. He’ll wait around the production office 4 hours after he’s done with anything he needs to do just because he knows the office will be ordering dinner. While shooting in his hometown once, he invited me over to dinner and there, sitting on his kitchen counter was a stack of every paycheck (un-deposited) he’d earned so far on the show…thus proving further that he did his best to have no living expenses when he could find a way to have it on someone else’s dime.

  3. Holding on to checks has never been a priority with me, but I have a friend who does. He deposits his paycheck in a box on his dresser and whenever he needs money, he’ll dig out the oldest and go turn it into green.

  4. Ha! Always goes onto my to-do list and handled ASAP. And more than once I’ve pulled up to my mailbox in my car when I came home from somewhere, saw I had a check, opened it and promptly drove to the credit union to deposit it. The money’s mine now, I’ll garner the interest on it, not you, thank you very much.

  5. Several years ago I wrote a technical book. It sold quite well for that field at release, but is now somewhat out of date. The quarterly royalty checks (mostly PDF and translation sales) fluctuate between $20 and $70. Those checks are not a high priority for me to cash.
    In fact, I think I have one sitting on my coffee table now.

  6. I’m with Mark.

    Checks that I’ve put into my account earn me interest.
    Checks in my dresser are just pieces of paper waiting to get lost or burn in a fire, or any number of other unpleasant things that do not result in more money.

  7. Banks have long been extremely inconvenient for me: they open way too late and close way too early, and are just far enough away to make going on a lunch hour a chore. And I refuse to leave a check in an ATM without a receipt from a human being. So any checks sent to me often go months un-cashed. In this day and age of direct deposit, e-checks, Paypal, and whatever else, this is largely not a problem… or maybe it is the problem, since if I had to visit the a to deposit my paycheck, I wouldn’t build up piles of these miscellaneous checks.

    Also, banks these days don’t even pay enough interest to cover inflation. So as a practical matter, the few pennies of interest I’m missing out on do not bother me at all.

  8. For some reason this reminds me of the story Harpo Marx tells in his autobiography about his brother Chico, who was apparently not much for managing money. Chico once gave a creditor a check with the admonition that he should get it cashed by noon. When the check bounced, the angry creditor sought Chico out.
    “I told you to get it to the bank by noon,” Chico said.
    “Damn it,’ the creditor snarled, “I only got there five minutes AFTER twelve!’
    “Sorry,” Chico said with a shrug, “that was too late.”
    With that story always in mind, I get checks to the bank ASAP.

  9. I simply do not trust banks. I mean, I keep 99% of my money in banks, but I know how arbitrary they are with fines, fees, ID, and cashing checks, so I do what Dominion (#1) does, if only to keep a firewall between the banks. If the outside bank doesn’t have my information, then they can’t decide that it was a bad check a month later and take it out of my account (which, yes has happened to me, thanks SunTrust!)

  10. Would that the State of Hawaii was so quick to cash checks. It’s had my 2007 tax check for two weeks now, but has it cleared my bank? Not so you’d notice.

  11. If I could figure out a way to get you all to deposit your funds with me, and then I can pay your funds out to you sans interest whenever you finally get around to wanting your own money, I could make a decent little living.

    Who wants in?

  12. John, you and your writer acquaintances are sensible, professional authors. But there are lots of unearthly littérateurs out there, especially if they write for small markets and don’t make much money from their books. Poets, for instance. Or even writers of sci-fi in non-English speaking countries.

  13. Ummm. Well.

    When doing taxes this year, I discovered that not only had I filed my statements, but for one (albeit small) cheque, I had filed the cheque as well. So I had to write to my agent and explain that I am, unfortunately, a complete moron, because when I recovered the cheque it was beyond stale.

  14. It takes you that long to deposit a royalty check? :-)

    Actually, it would be nice if everyone went to direct deposit. While I like the visceral feeling of taking a piece of wood pulp with ink scribbles on it to the tellers at my bank, what would be better would be to not have to do that. Then I just see numbers magically increase when I log on to my bank account.

  15. When I was in the Army, my paychecks tended to sit around for weeks before being deposited or cashed. Back then, though, I pretty much never had to spend any money unless I wanted to; I had free housing in the barracks, the mess hall was attached to the backside of the building, and since I was the company clerk, my workplace was in the building as well. Except for the short walk each morning to deliver the Morning Report to Battalion HQ, I never had to leave the building at all.

    Domini @ #1: “Chase/Bank One is an asswipe, though, and demands 2 photo IDs. In case anyone needs to know.)” M&I Bank is even worse; when I tried to cash a check from one of their own customers, they charged me a $5 fee.

    (Say wha…? Any chance of my becoming an M&I customer flew out the window right then. Had to pay the fee, tho’, because I knew from experience that that person’s checks, by the time they processed thru my own credit union, would invariable bounce.)

  16. I think you underestimate some people’s laziness (or their lack of a Krissy in their life). Why, I know of some households where cheques remain on the fridge for days, and sometimes weeks, because the five-minute trek to the bank is just too long . . .

  17. Well, you know one, John. I didn’t really do the whole “get up in time to go to the bank when it’s open” thing for a while, so at one point Pocket had to call me up and ask me to please send back a check they’d sent me 18 months before so they could just transfer the money.

    Another time, I was digging around in search of a publisher’s check for a game milestone they’d approved. The company was just seven young guys, four of us living together in a old house called the Digital Ghetto. The electricity bill was bigger than the rent. Apparently, I’d thrown the check somewhere in the pile of design docs, concept art and whatnot when it showed up, and after a month or so my partner remembered it and thought that maybe someone should get around to depositing it. My girlfriend managed to find it and just about keeled over when she saw it was for 100k.

    But who needs money when you’re young and you’ve got eight computers networked together, a pre-release copy of Heretic, and a botany project in the basement?

  18. John, authors are known for two things.

    One of them, as you say, is “cash the check before they change their minds” (or go broke).

    The other is sort of like “mañana” but without the sense of urgency.

  19. I once had an employer who always said he would appreciate it if we could “hang on to that for a couple of days” when handing out paychecks. Needless to say, everyone made a beeline for the bank it was written on to cash it.
    He was out of business about three years after I quit.

  20. I happen to have a bank account that is online-only, and they send me prepaid envelopes to mail in with deposits. Without that ease, I suspect I’d be another one who took a really long time to get to the bank.

  21. At most I wait a few days if I know another check is coming in. Other than that, you can probably still smell the Post Office employee’s hand lotion when it makes it to the bank.

  22. I work for myself, so checks rarely sit for more than a day if it’s a weekday, unless I know more will be arriving in a day or two.

  23. I once accidentally left a check uncashed for a little over 2 years. When I found it, I took it to my bank, who cashed it for me. Next time I saw the author of said check, he told me what terrible things I had done to the company’s bookkeeping system, but I still got my money. You just need to have a nicer bank, I guess.

  24. I would have gotten a giggle out of that note myself. Our paychecks are on direct deposit, but my husband receives checks in the mail from a side business. For those, I am a big believer in the ATM. You can put money into it as well as take it out, you know. I haven’t dealt with an actual human at the bank in a couple of years. Shucks, I haven’t gotten out of my car at the bank in at least that long.

  25. As a night owl, I specifically look for banks that have generous evening and weekend hours. The ones that have branches in grocery stores tend to be the most optimal.

  26. checks .. how quaint. AFAIK they stopped using them around here quite a few years ago.

  27. I recently had a weekly rag send me a check and told me that I couldn’t cash it until I heard from them. The check was only for $60. I don’t expect I’ll be writing for them much longer.

  28. Spice was very careless about depositing paychecks until one year she discovered one that was returned as too old. Direct deposit … seems to work well now, but when it started there were horror stories galore.

  29. In recent years I used to get a regular check from a large US bank, but because their printing system couldn’t handle the line stating “country” when the envelope was produced, it used to wander around the USA and other countries until – some time after check expiry – it got to Australia.

    Finding themselves unable to address this problem properly, they had to manually readdress an envelope every 3 months or so, BUT not until the original had wandered the globe and had expired….

  30. One case where the warning might be justified is for people not living in the US. I live in the Euro zone, and with exchange rates being as they are, I know more than one person who holds on to US cheques until close to the expiration date hoping that the exchange rate will go up. Of course, it frequently drops even lower, so it is a gamble.

    I finally found a bank that let me open a US currency account, so I can hand in the rare US cheque I get at once and let the dollars sit there until the exchange rate goes up or I get really desperate. But I still have approx. 125 USD in cash sitting in my jewelry box and waiting for the exchange rate to get out of the gutter.

  31. Working in the Navy, everything’s by direct deposit by now. Though I still have to cash checks for side projects. On the other hand, I’m a person that will wait for them to unlock the doors so I can cash those checks…

    And yet, I have a four month old winning lotto ticket for three dollars I haven’t turned in yet.

  32. “I just don’t know any single author for whom it’s not entirely superfluous.”

    I am warring with the desire to name the instantly-recognizable Hugo and Nebula Award-winner, a lion of SF-as-literature, for whom this advice is far, far, far from superfluous. Hint: he ain’t rich.

    Moral: writers vary as much as, you know, people.

  33. What? Nonsense! They all conform to my expectations!

    I hope for his sake, then, that the little yellow notice works as intended.

  34. I realize that other countries have other customs, but here in europe (the countries here vary a lot for the most part), I don`t know anybody who still gets payed by check. You leave your account info and the money is transferred into your account. Is there a reason why people still use checks in the US? Seems rather inefficient ( you know, make up the check, mail it to the recipient, who in turn has to cash it). I just checke my account once a month online to see wheather my fearless employer paid me.

    I am really curious.

  35. For many of us, Christian, it’s the bank fees. When my employer opened a branch office about a year ago, we looked into direct deposit, and we learned that the fees would cost us more than sending the checks by FedEx once a month.

    I’ve had the “don’t cash this until after 2” experience a number of times, but in our case it’s because we no longer trust the bank to transfer the money from operating account to payroll account in a timely manner. The bank gets overdraft fees if they process the checks before the transfer, you see. It’s a very profitable racket the banks have going.

  36. well the fun part here in Germany is that noone will pay you in checks, because banks don’t handle checks any more. It’s been like that for a while now, you can’t get employment without a bank-account wo which your wage can be deposited.

  37. This reminds me of an anecdote Dr. Ben Bova related at Mid South Con.

    When he was a teenager he had received a small check for publishing his first story. He cashed the check right away and then grabbed a bunch of other stories he had written and practically ran over to the publisher to see how many more they would buy.

    He got to the building they were in and they had closed and and gone out of business. He said that taught him to cash any check from a publisher the same day he got it.

  38. For what it’s worth, if someone else sorts your mail and/or deposits checks for you, you can obtain a self-inking rubber stamp that says …

    PAY TO THE ORDER OF
    Bank of Blog Commenters
    FOR DEPOSIT ONLY
    Al K. Ali
    ACCT. NO. #000123

    … and that person can just stamp and deposit without the need for your actual signature.

  39. That note might also be for the authors (unlike yourself) with checks having more digits to the right of the decimal point than to the left. Such checks are far more likely to end up as souvenirs than as rent.