7 Reasons Freelance Writing Contracts Are About More Than Getting Paid

by Anne Wayman

writing contractYou’ve heard lots of freelance writing pros, including me,  talk about the need for contracts when you’re working with clients.

Generally this advice is aimed at making sure you get paid, which is important.

However, the properly drawn agreement between you and a client does more than make sure you’re not working for free.

Good agreements contain the following:

Goal or purpose of the writing work. Although not found in many writing contracts, knowing the larger goal or purpose of what you and the client are trying to accomplish adds clarity. For example, the goal might be to write a book, or create  press release series, or develop a white paper, or… almost anything.
Clear definition of the work you’ll be doing. This is sometimes called the scope of work. If it’s a book, it might be the number of pages or who the book is for. The number of press releases for the series or exactly what the white paper is about are also examples of a clear definition.

The method. This is where you explain how you the writer will get the information you need to write the piece you’ve now defined. It might be through interviews or working with existing material or research. Whatever it is write it down.

Timing or pace. Here is where you talk about when the work will be done. If there are firm deadlines for the project spell them out. If the schedule is more flexible, state the parameters.

Client’s responsibility. This is the review process if any. How is the client supposed to respond when you send draft. For example, the client might need to review and comment on the material within three days, or other reasonable time period.

Price. Of course, you want to be paid. The total price of the project should be stated clearly.
How the cost is to be paid. For simple projects it might be 50 percent up front and the balance on completion. On big projects payment might be made a third up front, a third at some defined middle, and a third on completion. Monthly payments may be the best way to go on projects like books or some ongoing writing relationship.

I write my own contracts or letters of agreement. Many of my contracts also contain some sort of statement about how we can change the contract (in writing) or cancel it when it isn’t going well. My goal is that the client and I know as clearly as possible just what we’re doing. I don’t ever want to go to court and so far I haven’t, but I also create my agreements asking myself “If a judge read this two years from now, would she understand what we were trying to do.”

What do you include in your writing contracts?

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer

 

 

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Steve Snodgrass

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Schoolcraft November 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hi Anne, I’ve included a link to this article in my first issue of Freelancing Weekly.

http://freelancingweekly.heroku.com/issue-1 but should be http://freelancingweekly.com/issue-1 once DNS updates.

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Anne November 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Thanks Jeff, nice collection, glad to be a part of it.

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John Soares November 8, 2011 at 11:40 am

I use all seven components you discuss above, Anne. Most of my contracts are actually written by my clients, so one important thing I always look for is a non-compete clause. If I see it, I have it stricken from the contract.
John Soares recently posted..Why Writers Must Avoid PerfectionismMy Profile

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Anne November 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm

John, oh, you mean your text book contracts are written by clients… the publishers… do I have that right? And yes, I’d scrap any non-compete. Good idea.

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Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter) November 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

This is excellent advice, especially for freelancers just starting out. As exciting as it is to land a project, that excitement can die as soon as misunderstandings arise. A contract like you describe here is an asset for all parties. One thing I also add to my contracts are names (such as key contact, key leadership who must approve drafts, etc.). This helps me know how to plan time for review process, and also helps deter clients from adding more “cooks to the soup” at the final review stage, which can derail a project and its deadlines pretty quickly. I also find that clients tend to appreciate the fact that I put forethought into the project before beginning and take the time to prepare such a document.

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Anne November 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Jessica, I’ve turned down work when the client wasn’t clear on the review process and unwilling to get clear.

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