If you’re writing you’re writing a query letter to a magazine or book publisher, you probably will only be accepting or working with a proposal or contract that they write and send you.
When you write for individuals or organizations you usually have to generate the proposal yourself.
Proposal writing is not rocket science, but it does take some work and some understanding of general business ideas. And yes, you will find job postings for writing proposals. Some of them will fit in this model, but many won’t.
Here are the nine elements of a great proposal for freelance writers:
Understand what the client wants. Your first job is to understand what the client wants. If you’re talking with them you have ample opportunity to ask questions. If you’re responding to an ad or job posting you’ll have to do your best to read their minds at a distance. Even when you’re using services like Elance which allow you to ask the potential client a question you’ll find they often don’t answer.
Define the scope of work exactly. Your proposal needs to include the details about what you’ll be writing. You need to define the goal or purpose of the work. Other items that may need definition may include things like research and who will do it, how any recorded material will be transcribed, interviews, approximate number of words, and the ultimate deadline. The more specific you are the fewer problems you’re likely to have. This is particularly true of big projects.
Spell out the client’s responsibility to the project. Your client has things they must do in order for you to succeed. In general, these have to do with reviewing and commenting on what you’ve drafted for them. They may also need to provide information, interviews, etc. etc. etc. The possibilities are almost endless. Make it clear what they need to do.
Define milestones. Milestones are signposts that progress is being made. On a single press release this might be 24 hours for the draft and it’s implied when you send it to the client. On larger projects you need a more formal definition. On a book they might be chapters. On a grant your milestones might be sections. You get the idea. Milestones let both you and your client know when the project is on track and when it isn’t.
Address who owns the copyright if necessary. If there’s any question about who owns the rights to whatever you’re writing spell it out.
Quote the total price. Yep, you’ve got to clearly state the total price. When you’re making a proposal this is actually what you’re offering to do the project for. If you’ve already agreed, just use that number.
Explain exactly how the payment is to be made. Define the payment terms. Sometimes this is a single payment, sometimes payment is tied to something else, like chapters or months, etc. You want to be clear when to expect payments and your client needs to know when to make payments.
Provide a way to get out if you need to. On longer projects like ghostwriting a book you may want to include some sort of escape clause. I often will say something like “This is a personal service contract. Although both parties intend to fulfill it as written here, both also recognize that sometimes projects fall apart. Therefore either party may cancel with 14 days written notice.” I only use this for ghostwriting books because the truth is I can’t proceed if the author changes their mind and I want a way to get off the hook.
Make the next step clear. I usually write the proposal so it can also be the contract and include a statement something like “initial payment indicates acceptance of this proposal in its entirety.” There are other possible next steps, like signing of a contract, an initial interview – just be sure everyone knows what it is.
Exactly what your proposals will contain will vary from contract to contract. In a ghostwriting contract, for instance, I often include the language of a non-disclosure agreement in the copyright section. For a series of press releases that’s unnecessary. Understanding each of these nine elements of good proposal writing however will help you get more contracts and avoid problems with the contracts you land.
What do you include in your writing proposals?