Freelance Writing Contract
November 30, 2016 10:35 PM   Subscribe

What are the best terms for a freelance writing contract?

Generally, I write contracts all the time, so this isn't a general contracting question. I want information specific to freelance writing. I got this awesome gig (almost anyway), and now we need to negotiate the contract details. And as someone who has never had a professional writing gig, I don't really know what to expect and how these issues are typically dealt with in professional writing circles.

For the purposes of this question, assume that the gig is reasonably well compensated and that I provide a valuable service that is hard to replace (this is technical writing and I'm from within that technical industry). This is supposed to be a long-term arrangement.

1. How should I charge? By the word or by the piece? I specifically do not want to be reimbursed on an hourly/time basis. Should I ask for some sort of upfront payment or monthly retainer?
2. What happens when edits are requested? Do I just do them? Do I include 1 set of 'light edits' per piece? What if they basically have me rewrite the whole thing?
3. What happens when they completely scrap a piece? They do not plan to give me the topics- they want me to come up with the topics myself
4. What about miscellaneous time spent at their insistence, not time that I put in naturally in order to get the piece written. For instance, what if they have me fly in for a couple of days to their headquarters? Or spend a few hours interviewing someone on their staff to inform a story?
5. What needs to be included if the writing is "ghostwriting," and my name will not be associated with it?

Thanks so much, everyone!
posted by cacao to Work & Money (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Spend $99 for a year's membership in, a great resource for both beginning writers as well as veteran ones. You can ask this question there after checking the archives for related topics. Totally worth the money IMHO.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:04 AM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

As for 3: Put in a "kill fee." Make this higher than your fee if they run in. You did the work, you want to see it in the world. If they decide to kill it, you should be compensated.

And make sure you put an arbitration clause in there as to what jurisdiction will control any disputes? You don't want to have to go fight them in court in New York if you don't live there.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:18 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

First, I think you should get a lawyer to help you. You sound like you're in way over your head when it comes to this. I can practically guarantee there are all sorts of issues (liability for one) that you haven't even considered.

As for your specific questions, let me try to address them in order.

1) You need to figure out what makes the most sense for you. You need to calculate how much you need to earn to consider this a profitable contract and how hard you need to work in order to make that amount. It doesn't matter if you want to get paid by the word, by the hour or by the piece. All of those methods can work. Depending on the type of writing this is (I know you said technical ghost writing, but there can be different versions of that) a partial payment is either customary (50 per cent down, 50 per cent upon completion) or not done at all. Unfortunately in that type of industry the best answer I can give you is "it depends on the details."

2) You need something spelled out in the contract (or not, again it depends on the type of writing) about the edit procedure. You could be working for a place where everybody from the janitor to the CEO gets to chime in with edit suggestions (all conflicting) or you could be working with a professional wordsmith who understands how to get things into shape as quickly as possible. Typically a round (or two) of edits is included. Where edits become full rewrites is something you'll have to decide for yourself.

3) Yes, you want a kill fee. Typically they are less than what you'd get if your work is published (say roughly half) but if you can swing more, go for it. In addition to the fee, you need something that outlines the process, such as when the fee kicks in. It's fine if you come up with the topics, but what happens then? Do you have to submit them for approval? Do you just write the piece up and hope for the best? You need to get this hammered out.

4) What I said above about making sure you're earning enough per hour/per word/per story reflects directly on this issue. Typically this kind of stuff (interviewing people) falls under the costs and time you have to absorb to do your job, in pricing your work, you have to account for x hours of research, plus x hours of interview time, plus x hours of writing time, plus x hours of editing time, plus x hours of general work (answering their e-mails, responding to their phone calls, doing your invoicing, etc.). If there is a specific time and place they need you to be (at our offices for three days for our annual general meeting) then you need the contract to cover that and include provisions where they'll be covering your expenses (and possibly time).

5) Typically a writing contract includes things like rights, including publication and moral rights, and limitations how the content may be used (print, online, database, etc.). As a ghost writer you'd likely be giving up a lot of your rights, but in exchange you should be getting a higher overall compensation. But as a ghost writer, you really need to take into consideration liability. If something you write proves not to be accurate or problematic who is taking the fall? You or the named author? And how are you going to resolve any disputes (see above re: arbitration).

Sorry, but I'm barely scraping the tip of the iceberg with these answers. As I said, you really need to get some professional help from somebody who understands the writing business (and that's not every lawyer--most will have no clue).

If you're looking for some online resources, try here or here to start.
posted by sardonyx at 9:14 AM on December 1, 2016

Look here for help figuring out your rate. Believe me, the answer you get is likely to be a shock.
posted by sardonyx at 9:16 AM on December 1, 2016

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