The Ghostwriting series: My Start | 5 Ingredients I Bring To A Project | Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement | The Working Table Of Contents AKA Outline | Is Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro Writer | Interviewing To The Working Table Of Contents
As a freelance writer I usually generate my own contracts. Of course, I don’t call them contracts, I call them Letters of Agreement. I like the less formal, less adversarial, tone.
My goal is to make sure the client and I are crystal clear on what we think we’re doing before we actually start the project. One way I judge that clarity is to ask myself “if I took this to a judge would she know what we were trying to achieve?” So far, I’ve never had to take a client to court so I haven’t tested my contracts at the bar so to speak,’ and that’s just fine with me.
Here are the elements in my letters of agreement:
- The goal or purpose of the work. The goal is the overview of what we’re trying to do – get a book written, write a book proposal, create an article series, whatever.
- The method we’ll work together. Since I’m usually ghostwriting books, how the author will get the information to me is critical. So I spell it out, like “a series of face-to-face meetings,” or “the author (client) will provide drafts in Word” or “a series of phone calls which will be recorded. The client is responsible for transcribing said recordings.” Often its a combination. I’ve got one client who has sent me both PowerPoint slides and a DVD of a talk he gave. We also talk on the phone.
- Ownership/copyright. This part spells out that the client (or author if I’m ghosting) owns everything including ancillary products, original material, the copyright on the work, my notes, etc. in perpetuity. Once and awhile I’ll take a percentage. That percentage is spelled out here with something like “except Anne will receive 10% of the net profits from the sale of the book” or some such.
- Confidentiality/non-disclosure. Here I agree to hold the information the client gives me in confidence and not to disclose it. I often offer an non-disclosure agreement when we first start talking. In that case, this is a repeat.
- An approximate date the work will be finished. If it’s a book that date often slips because books are complicated to write.
- Cost and way cost is to be paid. This is where they promise to pay me a million dollars a day plus expenses. Well, I always ask for that – it’s a great way to break the ice around money. If it’s a book I may take $x per chapter or a third up front, some sort of formula that makes sense. Recently I’m experimenting with asking for $x a month hoping to both smooth out my income and to get the client busy doing their part of the book. It’s sort of working.
- The pace of the work/responsibility of each party. Here I speak about roughly how much time per week I expect to devote to the project, keeping it really loose. I also spell out what they will have to do – get me the information and read and comment on what I write.
- Escape clause. I give us both a way to get out of the contract if the project isn’t working, Usually I say something like “this is a personal service contract. Although it represents our mutual understanding at this date, we both recognize that the situation may change. This contract can be amended by mutual agreement or canceled by either party with 14 days notice in writing.” Some would argue against this but I don’t want to try to force anyone to work with me if it isn’t working, and I don’t want to go to court if I can avoid it. I pick my clients carefully and this has worked well for me.
I like it, mainly because I think it would get the attention of the occasional client whose attention wanders from the book.
I draft my letter of agreement, print a copy and read it slowly and carefully. Sometimes I may show it to another writer or business person. I then make corrections, put it on my letter head, date it, sign it digitally and ship it off.
Sometimes the client will want changes, sometimes not. Either way I know we’re clear on what we’re trying to get done as we get started. If it’s a book length project it will change, but this gives us a good place to start.
You may also want to read Renegotiating A Writing Contract.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu