Why You May Want An Escape Clause In Your Writing Contracts

by Anne Wayman

escape clause in writing contractsAll of the freelance writing contracts or letters of agreement I write include an escape clause. It generally reads like this, or something close:

It is recognized that this is a personal service contract and that although this represents our mutual intention on this date, things can change. Therefore, this Agreement can be modified by either party in writing with 14 days notice and is terminable by either party in writing with 14 days notice.

Why would you want to create a way for a writing client to change or  cancel a contract with as little as two weeks notice? The truth is with even the best writing skills on your part and good intentions on the part of both you and your client, the wheels come off writing projects.

It happens I think because writing and editing is far from an exact science. If you want to buy a physical widget of some sort and I want to make it our deal is fairly straight forward. Think of the last pair of shoes you bought or even a cup of coffee. You see the shoes and unless you’re shopping online, get to try them on. The coffee is brewed for you and it’s either good, bad or indifferent. You pretty much know what you’re getting.


When a client chooses you to do a piece of writing, even if you’ve worked together before, exactly what the product will look like is unknown. In a very real way as a writer you’re both designing and making the product. Each piece of writing you do for a client is unique, even when it draws heavily on something else you or the company has written.

When you agree to do a piece of writing for a client you’re making some assumptions like the client knows what they want, can describe it to you and will recognize the finished product.

When you realize all of what’s going on, it’s easy to see there are lots of places this can all fall apart, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • The client doesn’t know what she wants or needs.
  • The client has some idea but fails in describing it to you in a way you understand.
  • The needs of the client change mid-project.
  • You discover you simply find the client’s demands unreasonable.
  • You realize there’s been project creep and its crept into a place you don’t have the skills for.
  • The client gets sick.
  • You get sick.

Each and every one of these reasons and more are exactly why I include an escape clause. If the project falls apart I want to be able to exit gracefully, and I want to let my client exit the same way if they need to.


This is just another reason I believe that you should be paid in advance for your writing, or if it’s a big project, be paid in stages.

While many issues can be solved by complete descriptions of the scope of work, the milestones, the review process, etc. neither you nor you client can predict what will actually happen. Allowing a way to end the contract before it’s completed only makes sense to me.

What do you think about escape clauses?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitch Mitchell May 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Very good stuff Anne. I have to admit that I’ve not used such language in a writing contract or most of my short term contracts, but whenever I’ve had a gig that would potentially last at least 3 months I’d put it in there, mainly to protect myself to make sure I got paid those last 2 weeks.
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annew May 15, 2012 at 10:02 am

Love that we’re mostly on the same page, Mitch.

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Paul L. May 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Hi Anne,

What DO you put in your writing contracts? I have found that every writing assignment is different, so how do you adjust for all the different assignment variables?

Thanks,
Paul

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annew May 4, 2012 at 7:53 am

Paul, you may find 9 Elements of a Great Writing Proposal (http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/2012/02/9-elements-of-a-great-writing-proposal/) helpful. I have a basic proposal/letter of agreement that I adjust for each situation. I just edit it like any document.

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corinne May 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Great idea! There have been many times where an escape clause would have come in handy for me. You know, those clients who claim they need only a few pages and you agree to get it done by a certain date, only to find out a few pages has turned into 20.
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annew May 4, 2012 at 7:49 am

In that case you might find that defining the ‘few’ pages – ie, 5 pages with two revisions – and stating that anything over that will be billed at $XX per hour will also help… clarity in contracts is an art form all its own.

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Carrie Schmeck May 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

How have your clients reacted to the clause? Has anyone ever questioned it?
I guess contracts are supposed to cover the contingencies but I get a little worried that I’ll sound too negative or apt to flake if I even broach the negative possibilities.

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Sharon Hurley Hall May 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

Good idea, Anne; wish I’d read that before sending off a contract this morning. Usually I spend a lot of time thrashing things out in advance and generally people are happy, but it’s something to keep in mind.
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annew May 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

Oh lordy do I know what you’re talking about… I just sucked into doing what turned out to be a college student’s homework because I didn’t ask enough questions. It too will make an upcoming blog post… today is one of those omg I’ve got too many ideas… which of course isn’t even close to true.

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