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7 Reasons Freelance Writing Contracts Are About More Than Getting Paid

contractsYou’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.

What your contracts should include

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 definitions 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 words. The number of press releases for the series or exactly what the white paper is about are also examples of a clear definition. Any detail that makes what’s expected of you or what’s to be included should be in your agreement.

The method. This is where I spell out how I’ll get the information I need to write the project. It’s often an interview with the client or a series of questions by email. If I will need to do research on the topic that will be included.

Here too you may spell out how you’ll get the work done. For example when I’m ghostwriting books the letter of agreement usually says something “I’ll devote up to 15 hours a week on this project.” If it’s an article or a blog post I don’t include that unless asked.

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.

Revisions. Usually you’ll want to include the number of revisions you’ll do for the quoted price. I generally say something like “writer will do up to three revisions; changes after that will be billed at the writer’s usual rate of $xxx per hour.”

Client’s responsibility. The client also has responsibilities. For example, you may want to spell out how long they have to return edits – a week, 10 days, etc. You’re setting boundaries here and letting the client know how they need to work with you to get the project completed.

Price. Of course, you want to be paid. The total price of the project must be stated clearly.

How the cost is to be paid. In some cases you’ll get 100 percent of the money up front. On others you may take a percentage to start with the balance paid 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. You also want to state how you’ll receive your payment – cash, check, via PayPal or Payoneer, etc.

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… add one }
  • 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.

    • Anne

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

  • 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

    • Anne

      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.

  • 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.

    • Anne

      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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