October 31, 2014

Essential Contracts for The Modern Writer

Ed. note: Early on in my freelance career, I learned the importance of having a good contract after getting burned a few times. Now I don’t start work with a new client until I have a signed contract outlining the scope of the project, the terms of our relationship, and so on. In rare cases, I might outline the terms via email but having a formal contract is preferable. Read on for this informative post about the different types of writing contracts and what to look for. signing a contract

By Veronica Picciafuoco

A writer’s job is to write, not think about administrative and legal overhead. Still, a contract provides invaluable protection, and we hope you’re taking advantage of some legal resources for freelance writers. But what are you actually getting into when you sign a contract? Legalese can get cryptic and hard to read. It’s time to have a look at some samples of the most common agreements in the industry, and try to understand the legal implications, so you can be aware of what you are agreeing to.

1. Work For Hire Freelance Writing Agreement

This is the most common way to hire a writer. In a “work for hire” relationship, you are an independent contractor hired to create specific content for the client. Independent contractor status means that you are not an employee – that is, you:

  • work without direct supervision;
  • are not subject to to payroll taxes (but you must pay on your own);
  • procure your own materials (but you can charge for expenses);
  • are not afforded the benefits and protections of ordinary employees, like worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance.

Always read carefully the clause about intellectual property. In a work for hire, the ownership of the work is usually automatically assigned to the client. This means you won’t have much leverage if the client delays the payment for some reason. A good way to mitigate this risk can be asking for a downpayment, but you can also find ways to retain rights to the work should the client not publish it after a certain amount of time.

There’s also an upside to signing a work for hire. As a corollary to giving up the copyright to the work, the sample agreement above indemnifies you from potential liability stemming from the work. If someone sues for defamation or otherwise, it will likely be the client, but not you, who gets hauled into court.

2. Freelance Writer Assignment

Have you ever started writing for a publication with nothing more that an informal understanding? Bad! You should always have a written contract signed before starting the job, as it will be so much easier to enforce. However, you can still try to fix this mistake by creating a paper trail, an easy way to get the terms in writing and help your case should a dispute arise.

A letter of understanding to the client should not be confrontational, but should set out all the relevant details. What is the nature of the assignment and its parameters (subject, word count, deadline, etc.)? How much will you be paid and when? What happens if there’s a problem? The template letter provided by ASJA (American Society of Journalist and Authors) is a good starting point.

3. Copywriting Agreement

Copywriting is a good way for a creative writer to make some money. This sample contract for writing copy for a website is written from the writer’s perspective and in plain English. No matter the style, the basic elements remain the same:

  • the work to be done, it’s structure and deadlines, and provisions for editorial changes;
  • the copyright assignment, that occurs only upon full payment of the price;
  • the negotiated fee, and what happens if one of the parties wants out.

Note the writer here retains the right to display the work in his portfolio – not a bad idea if you’re thinking about the next job.

4. Consent, Release & Non-Disclosure Agreement

If you’re interviewing someone for a book or an article and plan to use their statements, it’s a good idea to secure your rights. In this contract, both the materials provided by the subject as well as the information that you disclose in the process may be valuable. This document covers the following main points:

  • the subject of the interview signs over her/his rights to the materials provided to you;
  • she is also waiving any legal claims she may have regarding the way you use the materials;
  • she is agreeing to keep confidential everything you tell her about the project
  • you are promising to keep confidential the interviewee’s identifying information unless and until she consents to its release.

This sample is biased in favor of the writer’s needs, but can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Make sure your contract gets across the necessary legal points while remaining proportionate to your aims.

5. Ghostwriting Agreement

Ghostwriting is very easy to understand: you write a first draft for someone, and they review it and publish under their name. Legally, it can be extremely complicated, as it clashes with paternity rights, that cannot be legally waived in some countries. In his simplest form, this contract is very similar to the work for hire agreement discussed above.

Note that the ghostwriter not only gives up all rights to the work, but he will also indemnify the client from all legal claims relating to scandalous, libelous (defamatory) or unlawful content. While this provision has little applicability in commercial contexts like the one above, it can be definitely mitigate it with some exceptions or a cap.

Disclaimer: This article wants to be useful and informational, but keep in mind it is not legal advice and all the legal documents cited are only to be used as a starting point. The author, the publisher, and the original authors of the documents cited disclaim any liability connected to the use of these material without a licensed attorney.

Veronica Picciafuoco is the Director of Content for Docracy.com, the home for free, open source legal documents. She has a legal background and works closely with startups and freelancers in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her on TwitterLinkedin and Tumblr.

Image: freedigitalphotos.com

The 12 Days of Freelancing

The holidays are upon us, so I have a blog tradition of rounding up posts from across the blogosphere ala The 12 Days of Christmas. Here’s a look at some memorable posts about writing and freelancing from the past year. Happy Holidays!

santa and computerOne Simple Trick for Effective Self-Editing - Freelancedom

Legal Danger for Bloggers: Two Misconceptions, Three Resources, One Suggestion - ASJA’s The Word

Three Books Every Copywriter Must Read -Filthy Rich Writer

Four Ways to Find Your Business Voice - Words on a Page

Five Freelancing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way: Avoid These Career-Killers - Make a Living Writing

Six Ways Bloggers Can Earn More from Their Writing – The Renegade Writer

Seven Knows for Getting Started in Freelancing – Freelancers’ Union

Eight Ways to Master Cold Calls–or at Least Fear Them Less – Dollars and Deadlines

Nine Freelancing Tips for Handling Illness – Freelance Folder

Ten Ways to Use a Writer’s Conference to Market Your Work – WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age

Eleven Rookie Mistakes You Need to Stop Making NOW - Mridu Khullar Relph

Twelve Important Questions to Ask as a Freelance Subcontractor – FreelanceSwitch

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest Post: 8 Financial Tools for Freelance Writers

getting paidBy Julie Pena

For many writers, creating clear, descriptive prose comes naturally. But keeping track of money? Not so easy. For that, you can turn to the internet. There are hundreds of financial tools out there, but the following are some of the best out there for freelance writers.

  1. Freelance Switch Hourly Rate Calculator
    As a freelancer, you will need to know how much money you need to charge to survive. You simply plug in your costs, number of billable hours and amount of profit you’d like to make. The calculator then estimates how much you’d need to charge to cover all of those things.
  2. Mint.com
    Mint is a website that keeps all your financial accounts in one place (Ed. note: I didn’t tell Julie to include this one but for the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I’ve written for the Mint’s blog and several other websites owned by Intuit, which owns Mint). You sync the site up with all your banking accounts, including savings and investments. With all of that information in one place, you can see what you spend your money on, how much is in your account and generally keep close tabs on your money. It also has a feature that lets you keep track of your money on your phone, so you can stay on top of your finances, even if you’re on location working on a story.
  3. Google currency conversion tool
    At some point, you will probably write for a company in another country, and you will need to convert what you charge from one form of currency to another. If you know the abbreviation of the currency, you can use a simple Google search function to determine how much it is worth in your own currency. For example, if you live in the United States and you work for someone in Australia, you simply put “convert 150USD to AUD” to find out how much to charge your Australian employer in their own currency. In this case, it would be AUD$145.86. If you don’t know the abbreviation, you can, well, Google it.
  4. Instacalc
    Even if you use these financial tools, you may find yourself needing to do some more hardcore calculations. You can use Instacalc for those. It is an advanced online calculator that is more than just typing in numbers. You can build spread sheets and save calculations that you need to make all the time. What makes it great for writers is that you even use words. Simply type, say, “25mph in feet/min” to find out how fast that would be. It can help you calculate things for your finances, but it can also help you with some numeric research for your articles.
  5. Toggl
    Toggl is one of the top time tracking and billing sites on the internet. It allows you to track your time with a desktop widget. You name a project and put it against one of your clients’ names, then press a large red button. It then keeps track of your billing and syncs automatically with your online account. It could not be easier to keep track of how long you’ve been working on a project, ensuring you don’t work so long that it no longer becomes profitable for you.
  6. CurdBee
    You might prefer to use something like CurdBee to track your time and send out invoices. You can also draw up estimates, record your expenses, and accept online payments. It’s kind of like Toggl and PayPal, all in one site.
  7. Invoice Journal
    If you want to send as many professional-looking invoices as you want to a company anywhere in the world, Invoice Journal is perfect. It is completely free to use, and the invoices are completely customizable. You can even match it to the rest of your business design.
  8. Side Job Track
    All of these tools are useful, but they aren’t all made specifically for freelancers. Side Job Track is, however. You can track jobs, send invoices, prepare reports and manage your projects, all with a tool that is specifically designed for the unique needs of freelancers – or as they say, “part-time independent contractors”.

Writers, have you used any of these tools? Which would you recommend?

This is a guest post contributed by Julie Pena. Julie enjoys sharing her experiences of freelancing.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

Top Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest Post: How I Began My Freelance Writing Career Online

By Carey Cruz

Before I started my freelance writing career online, I had over fifteen years of professional experience working in the media as writer and TV producer and then I got married, got pregnant and became a stay-at-home-mom. Yes, we’ve heard this story a dozen times. The reality is, it happens to a lot of women – and it happens to men, too. In today’s harsh economic climate where childcare is expensive, a lot of mothers or fathers opt to stay at home to care for their kids – I did.

Why do online freelance writing?

A lot of us want to raise our own children, be there in every milestone from their first steps to their first words and working from home allows us to do that.  The other advantage to doing online writing is that you can live anywhere in the world and still be able to find writing jobs online.

It isn’t easy though, especially if your child is a toddler like mine and your husband or partner is working full-time. Be prepared to do your work in snatches, in between your children’s naps or late at night when everyone is sleeping.

Can I be a freelance writer even if I don’t have any writing background except as a blogger?

If your blog is popular and you have a more than a thousand hits a day, then yes! It’s obvious that people are coming back and eager to read more of what you have to say. However, enrolling in writing workshops, attending writing seminars or even joining writing forums will not only boost your ego, improve your skills, but it will also help you connect with other writers as well.

How to start?

There are several ways to jumpstart your online freelance writing career. If you’re a blogger, you’ve done it already. On the other hand, for new writers, especially if you don’t really know how to market yourself as a writer yet, signing up on one of the many freelance writing platforms online is for me, the best way to do it. Make sure though that you have a good portfolio to show even if you don’t have much writing experience even if it’s just linking your blog to your profile.

Two popular writing platforms online:

  1. Elance prides itself in being the oldest online employment platform for freelancers. Today, it has about 140,000 clients or businesses and 1.4 million contractors.Pros:  Elance offers better-paying-one-off writing contracts. Plus, they have an escrow system which protects contractors from unreliable clients who sometimes refuse to pay.

    Con: To be able to bid for more writing projects, you have to pay a membership fee.

  2. oDesk is considered to be the largest among the online platforms today and is expected to grow more each year. According to a techcrunch.com article, oDesk contractors reportedly logged a record of 2.1 million hours and clients posted about 109,718 jobs in October 2011.Pro:  If you want a long-term working relationship with a client, oDesk is your best bet.

    Cons:  oDesk is notorious for low-paying clients. As long as you set your rates the way you want to be paid and stick to your guns, good paying clients will find you. However, oDesk does not have the escrow system unlike Elance.

Carey Cruz is a published freelance writer for one of the most renowned writing services available worldwide. She prides herself on being proficient and knowledgeable in essay writing. With a commitment to providing meticulous essays, she strives to demonstrate that she is a motivated and competent writer.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

Top Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net