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The Strong Writerly Contract

writing contractBy Lori Widmer

You and your client have a contract for that project, so you’re in good shape, right? Maybe. Just because you’ve signed a contract doesn’t mean you’re protected. When putting together a contract, or when reviewing one supplied by your client, make sure you include the following:

Payment terms

You’d be surprised how many people overlook this one. It’s not simply putting a figure down. You need to spell out how you expect that client to pay you – weekly, monthly, in installments, etc. If you’re ghostwriting a book, this is especially important, for you don’t want that last payment to be “upon delivery of final product.” It’s a lesson I learned the hard way when one project dragged on for years. Put an end date to that last payment. Trust me. Been there, suffered that.

Revision timeline

Ever sat for months waiting for clients to get back to you on revisions? That’s why your contract needs a clause that explains that the client has 14 days from delivery (or 30 days if it’s a huge document) to get back to you with changes. On day 15 (or day 31), you’re working under a new to-be-negotiated agreement.

Client expectations

This may sound odd, but you do have to get them to understand that you can’t deliver on time if they don’t review on time. I’m a big stickler for deadlines. If I have to meet them, so do the clients. I will deliver that project within two weeks, but they have to review it and get their revisions to me within an equally tight deadline or that project will never get completed. Clients have to be as committed to their project as they expect you to be. Our job is to help them deliver. If that means putting deadlines on them (and making it clear that the contract is void and payable upon breach), do it.

Additional work will be negotiated under a separate agreement

This does a few things – it guarantees the work you’re about to sign on for isn’t going to snowball into massive amounts of work that you’ve bid only a pittance for. If your agreement is to write two articles, write two. Don’t take on a third under the same agreement, for that turns into six and now you’re unable to pull the plug. Also, it forces the client to consider exactly how much work is needed.

Define your word counts or per-piece counts

While writing the company’s corporate profiles or two ghostwritten articles may seem like fairly specific jobs, how many “executives” are they expecting to pile on to your profile heap, and are those articles in your mind 1,500 words and in their minds 30-page white papers?

No third parties

By this I mean no one new enters into the project at any stage expecting you to follow their advice or handle their edits. This keeps projects from spinning out of control. State that any introduction of a third party into the project who isn’t listed in the contract will void the contract. That allows your client to consider who might be involved at some later date. And it safeguards your client/writer relationship, which can be altered or destroyed by a pushy third party with big ideas and no vested interest in the project.

What else do you put in your contracts?

Lori Widmer has spent the last 10 years of her career perfecting her contracts and covering her assets. She blogs about all things writerly every weekday at Words on the Page. She and Devon Ellington are co-hosting a one-day writing Webinar, The Confident Freelancer, Saturday, March 26. For more information, visit The Confident Freelancer.

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • My internet connection just erased my comment but I am not giving up:)

    Thanks for all the great tips- I think I’ll make you proud when I say I recently put together a proposal, keeping in mind almost all the terms you listed. I didn’t include revision timeline, but it is not the official contract and the job requires %90 social media management. So I think I’ll be good.

    Stumbled upon and bookmarked for future use:)

    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..Castle TV Series- Recommended for All WritersMy Profile

  • Lori-Excellent contract provisions. I like your revision timeline and plan on stealing it. 🙂 I have had a few revisions go on a tad long, but have not been burned by it – yet. This just tightens it up.

    Your “additional” work is what I call “outside the scope of services.” I have a separate section that outlines the scope of services and that’s where I put the type of project (e.g. white paper, blog posting, etc.), the theme, word count, number of consulting/planning calls included in the scope, and the amount of research I handle vs. the client.

    My timeline includes a statement (like you recommend) that it is based on an assumption of the timely receipt of requested information from the client. I specify a time-e.g., assumes requested information is received from XYZ client no later than 5 days after request-or whatever time you want to put in there.

    I don’t have the “third parties” language and would have to think about that. I assume you mean third party as in outside the company. I’ve never run into that problem, but like John said, the more detailed, the better.

    Great post, Lori.

    • Cathy, you may steal at will. 🙂

      I love the idea of a separate scope of services section. It’s pretty much how I have things worded.

      My third party language is anyone who isn’t part of the original agreement. That means the client’s business partners, coworkers, or friends. I’m fine if they want to include three people in the process. I’m not fine if they’re suddenly bringing in seven more at the end. If I’m to work by committee, I need to know that upfront so I can price accordingly.
      Lori recently posted..Faking It- Knowing Your LimitsMy Profile

  • Lori, this is SUCH a great, bookmark-worthy post. Actually, we should probably make a checklist out of it.

    I especially love how in the “payments” section, you go a step further to point out that we should outline what the payment SCHEDULE will be. I’ve failed to do that before, and suffered the consequences.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this!

    • Thanks for the kudos, Alicia. I’m sorry you know that from personal experience, but as they say, it happens only once, then we learn! I’ve learned the same way, unfortunately. 🙂
      Lori recently posted..Faking It- Knowing Your LimitsMy Profile

  • HI Lori,

    Very timely blog!! Thanks for the great tips!!!!!


    • You’re very welcome, Helen! Hope it’s helpful to you.

  • Lori, you have excellent advice here. I’ve found that the more detailed the contract, the better is for both me and the client.

    And it’s so true about specifying what will be paid and when. I had a six-book deal with a major publisher fall through in the late 1990s, and part of the problem was my insistence on better terms for when I would be paid and what the conditions were for the publisher to cancel the contract.
    John Soares recently posted..Just Released — The Second Edition of My Writing College Textbook Supplements E-BookMy Profile

    • Ouch! John, that’s awful! I’m sorry you went through that, but I’m sure you landed on your feet. Something tells me a writer who can score a six-book deal is skilled enough to recover from that disppointment. 🙂

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