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Renegotiating A Writing Contract

All of my writing and ghostwriting contracts contain language that let’s either party cancel or change the contract. I usually do it more or less like this:

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.

I do this because, particularly in big writing projects like books, things are bound to change. In fact, sometimes there are big enough changes to warrant a renegotiation.

For example, I’m about 7/8th of the way through a book that, at the author’s direction, has an almost academic tone. The author has finally realized the tone is too dour and together we’ve worked out a whole new, almost light-hearted approach.

Everything needs to be rewritten except the title! But not everything that’s been written will be wasted. Instead I’ll take that 7/8th or so of material and reshape it so the information, which is solid, is the same, just presented in the new, fun, much more accessible way. (I told you I was good – keep your fingers crossed.)

I told them I’d send them an amended contract. I’m going through the original, doing some rewriting, particularly about pay and deadlines since this client has been, well, not prompt.

The biggest issue in my mind is how much to charge for what is almost a totally new book. It’s tempting to say it will cost as much as the original book, but that’s not right. Fortunately I have a couple of business and writer friends to consult with and they have encouraged me not to sell my self short by charging only 50% of the original fee. Three quarters seems to be the number I’m comfortable with. So that’s what I’m proposing.

I think it will fly, and if it doesn’t I know we both want the book badly enough to make any compromise pretty smooth.

I’ll keep you posted.

You may also want to read Ghostwriting – 9 Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement.

How do you renegotiate writing contracts?


Photo by Evan Earwicker, http://www.northwestgraphic.com/ from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Finishing projects: I have no iron-clad, sure-fire, whizz-bang answer. I can list what might work for me, but I’m a guy with 8 novels in various states of dishabille in my lower right hand desk drawer, figuratively speaking, of course. Two are in final draft. I have five plays in the box, ready to go…somewhere.

    What the client lacks in persistence and motivation, you may have to provide, though it’s a pain in the dumpadeedus. If you can get him/her to pay the entire amount up front, do so. Another ploy is to show him other people’s completed projects, hard-bound, complete with a well-designed graphic cover. Get the client to focus on producing a completed work like the sample. (It helps me to print out a dummy cover, too, but others might have their enthusiasm dissipated by having it to display.)

    Frequent progress graphics can motivate some clients to expedite their side of the work. Bar charts, pie charts, page counts, anything that shows how much is done and how much is left to completion. Maybe for show-and-tell, an example of an unfinished book: a volume with a big hole in it. Daily reminders may become necessary.

    Another important thing: Warn the client: never discuss work in progress with anybody. I’ve attended maybe 500 fiction workshops over the years, and again and again I’ve seen writers tell the group or a relative exactly where the story is headed and then have an awful time scraping together the inspiration to continue. This premature ejaculation (if you’ll excuse the metaphor) has kept probably a million novels from seeing the light of day. It may affect non-fiction projects, as well. If the client is supposed to provide rough drafts or outlines or anything else in writing, avoid listening to high-level verbal explanations of material you haven’t actually seen yet.

    Stress the fact that you will be working on the project on a daily basis, and that the client needs to return any input or proofs quickly by sticking to the same schedule. As a professional, you know that a little progress every day is better than huge progress one weekend and then……nothing. You need to get the client to really take that to heart, as well.

    Better is the enemy of good enough. Perfectionism is the bane of adequacy. Get as much client input as quickly as possible and don’t let him/her get into paralysis by analysis. Don’t let the client ask for rewrites until you have the whole m/s in first draft form. (There will be exceptions to this if the client is still doing research and/or the project is in early stages. But if halfway through, the client decides to change her detective from a bisexual, Tibetan pastry chef to a blonde, Puerto Rican horse veterinarian, tell her to put that great idea on the back burner until the m/s is complete as originally outlined.)

    Which reminds me: Obviously, normal practise is to make sure the client either provides an outline or signs off on the one you create. Whatever form it takes, the outline is a primary contract document, not subject to casual revision.

    Ask the client if he/she has enough cash already set aside to finish the project.

    Advise the client not to start any new projects until this one is done and not to move to Nogottatoga, either. Not much you can do about them starting new relationships, which can also kill a project. Maybe advise them to join a convent or a monastery or something. Just kidding; that might not work, either. If you know the client is getting married, try to get the book done (or at least paid for) a month before the nuptials.

    It’s a matter of priorities. If finishing the book isn’t the client’s number one priority, bad things will happen. You may want to stress this subtly and in different ways every time you contact the client, as mentioned above. Keep a mental image of their book in finished form always in front of them. Remind them that the process is easy if they follow the tried-and-true path you lay out for them.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      Jorge, all this makes sense in theory and sometimes clients just quit in the middle – it’s a puzzle. Doesn’t matter how much they pay or what they’ve signed off on…

      • jorgekafkazar

        Fer sure. There’s a lot of dysfunction out there. All we can do it try to tilt the table a little, get the odds in our favor, and detect as early as possible when we’re dealing with a flakeazoid. And praise others often for what’s right about their project. GGMS2…

  • Yeah, this should be interesting. But, like, my gut, however, has raised a flag, like, if you’ll pardon mixing my similes. At 7/8 completion, something tells me to just finish the book per the original plan, get paid, then go back and change only the first chapter or two for a little extra fee. The client shouldn’t balk at paying 100% of the current chapter cost for this small amount of new material.

    Assuming it’s something that’s going to be submitted to publishers, I’d recommend that the client then test the waters with sample chapter(s) in the new voice, and not rework the rest of the material until he/she gets a clear signal from the market. At that point, if all goes well, the client has a check and or a contract in view, and will feel better about putting out the cost of a complete rewrite at full price.

    Or, for a self-published book, if the content is good, the ultimate reader may not even notice as Anne cleverly segues from one voice to the other at the top of Chapter Three.

    There’s some risk whichever way you move, and this wouldn’t apply to all types of m/s, but this could be discussed with the client.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      Lots of discussions with this particular client… lots of promises on their part to do the edits/provide needed info etc. that have yet to be forthcoming… some people never finish their books which I don’t really understand.

      • jorgekafkazar

        An friend of mine once saw a plaque on a Russian ship. Translated, it read: “BETTER IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD ENOUGH.” I guess I see a chance that half the book will be beautifully rewritten and the project come to a quiet halt as the client runs out of mental energy/inspiration/dough.

        • Anne

          That’s what happens… and I haven’t found a way to avoid it… any suggestions?

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