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Why Every Writing Contract Needs an Escape Clause

escape clauseYesterday I stated that every contract needs an escape clause.

It’s something I believe in because the wheels can fall off of a writing project in any number of ways and for all sorts of reasons.

Sometimes it simply becomes impossible to move the project forward.

I’d rather have a way to gracefully end the arrangement than try to force myself or someone else into performing when the truth is it’s not working and there is no way to force it to work.

Let me give you some examples.

  • A book ghostwriting client came to me and told me that even after working with his therapist for several weeks he found himself completely blocked about writing his story. He asked to be let out of his contract. I pointed out that there was already an escape clause for both of us and assured him I wouldn’t try to make him let me ghostwrite his book. He actually got tears in his eyes when I said that. He assured me i could keep the advance and that he would contact me if he ever felt he could proceed. We both moved on, gracefully.
  • I invoked my right to cancel when on another ghostwriting project the client simply didn’t read or make any corrections to the materials I had submitted. Our agreement clearly spelled out that she would have to provide feedback if the book were to sound like her at all. I got promise after promise that I’d receive the information I needed “shortly,” “within the week,” “by Monday at the latest.” When it became obvious to me that she not only wasn’t keeping to her end of the agreement, she apparently couldn’t I took us both off the hook and stopped the project before it really got started.

Ghostwriting books may be more prone to project failure than other kinds of writing, but it can happen anytime in any type of writing. Plans and budgets, and needs change, and sometimes that means a writing project is no longer wanted, needed, or even possible. Better to make it possible for either party to back out under certain conditions than to try to force a project like this to completion.

Writing the escape clause

I write letter’s of agreements rather than contracts. They represent my best understanding of what the client and I are trying to accomplish with the writing I’m doing. The client is welcome to make changes before we begin – and that may actually become part of the negotiation.

Regardless, each of my agreement contains an escape clause that recognizes the work I’m contracting to do is a personal service contract, and that problems may arise. It then spells out how either party can end the agreement before the project is completed. Here’s a sample:

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 is alterable by mutual agreement of both parties in writing fourteen or more days in advance of the change. Should this end the contract, Anne will keep any money paid her at this point. (Client) retains all rights to the work and any derivatives.

Usually the ‘in writing’ is done by email in an informal manner. After all, it rarely happens that this comes as a surprise.

I did get bitten once by not including the 14 day warning period and a project was stopped in what seemed at the time like a heart beat. I don’t think the 14 days would have made any difference in terms of the ultimate result, but it would have been a gentler way to proceed, which really is why I include it now.

What provisions do you make for wheels coming off a writing project? 

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Write well and often,






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