jordanrosenfeld

Get it in Writing: Why Writers Need Contracts

In 1 on October 3, 2009 at 3:01 pm

A lovely writer who is new to the freelance trade recently wrote me an email in a state of panic. Several publications that she had turned in assigned work for had not paid her long past the date she had expected to receive payment. In one case, she’d never even heard if her assignment had been accepted.

“What should I do?” she asked.

My first question was: “Do you have contracts with these publications?”

She did not.

Which means her avenues of recourse are limited to only two things:

Persistent pressure via email or phone

Choosing to take the loss

In the instance of taking a loss, at the very least she might have the opportunity to repurpose the material and try another publication. BUT…let me stress:

Always get a contract, no matter how small the job. Whether you’re writing for a corporation or for an individual, getting things in writing, while it may not deliver your money right away, gives you the legal right to pursue the money you’re owed. More so, generally I’ve found that publications or people who will not agree to a contract aren’t worth doing business with anyway.

Address issues. If there’s something in the contract that doesn’t feel right to you, bring it up! Until you ask, you won’t know how much wiggle room you have. Be tactful, but if you don’t think you can write five sidebars or if you feel that it’s unreasonable not to be reimbursed for driving 200 miles, you need to say something. They may not agree, but at least you’ll have tried.

Don’t forget the kill fee! If the contract you sign offers you a “kill fee” in case the article you write isn’t accepted, remember to ask for this in the instance that it really isn’t accepted! You signed a contract; they agreed to pay you.

Stand up for yourself. Lastly, if an editor or anyone at a publication is asking you to do more than you feel you agreed upon in the contract, the only person who will advocate for you is YOU. Let me share a story here.

I landed a high paying assignment in a glossy regional magazine some years back. I was so excited, but also extremely nervous. My contract offered a kill fee. I turned in my work on time, made some minor edits for the Editor-in-Chief, who then ran it by one of the owners of the spouse-owned magazine. She also gave me the thumbs up. I sent my invoice. Signed, sealed, delivered.

TWO WEEKS later the male owner called me up and told me that the story didn’t work for him. He wanted something different, oh, and in two more days’ time. My first reaction was: “I’m a bad writer! I have to do what he asks.” Then I talked to fellow freelancers and my husband. They convinced me that this was an egregious request. My original article, per my original contract, had been accepted by Editorial and one owner.  And the article he wanted was, essentially, an entirely new article.

Knowing that I might be burning a bridge, I nonetheless decided to stand up for myself here. I told him that I would accept the kill fee for the story he didn’t want to use, and that I would write the new article for a NEW fee, and that I needed a week, not two days.

Amazingly, he agreed. My second article was accepted and I was handsomely paid.

But had I turned to fear, I would have been out in the cold, doing twice as much work for less money.

Always get it in writing!

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  1. Thanks for the great post Jordan. Sometimes I feel timid when I’m dealing with a magazine editor ~ I’ve even had editors say they “don’t have time” for contracts ~ but your story convinces me that I really need to stand up for myself.

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