Make it Work
Make It Pay
The day has finally come. Your girlfriend signed your lease, your buddy Mike inked your unspeakably cool Popol Vuh tattoos, but now you’re about to sign your first freelance writing contract, complete with scary clauses and small print. You’re no lawyer (thank you, universe!). How do you know if you’d be a sucker to sign?
When it comes to contracts, this lawyer says “read the fine print.” But just as important, watch out for the holes in between.
You’d be surprised how simple a legitimate contract can be. Contracts don’t always have to be signed. Sometimes they don’t even have to be in writing.But every legally-binding contract requires Consideration. Consideration is legalese for “we both have to give up something of value,” whether that’s work, money, or anything else people care about.The warning light should go on if your contract doesn’t say what your client will pay, what service you’re going to give, or leaves things “to be determined.”
What happens if, after signing the contract, the piece gets cancelled? It happens all the time.I guarantee you that on April 13th 1912 somebody was writing a review of the buffet menu on the Titanic. The better contract is the one that guarantees you a “kill fee” – often 25% – if the piece gets cancelled before the deadline.
Freelancers’ contracts commonly stipulate a “work made for hire” product. In a WMFH agreement, your client will likely invoke the U.S. Copyright Acts of 1976 and 1998 to retain the rights to whatever you submit. But even if your client holds the rights, she may want to publish the piece with your byline, and she might let you refer to the piece in your portfolio. If the contract doesn’t specify whose name will appear on the work or mention ownership, be sure to bring it up with your client.
Even if your client drafted it, the freelance writer’s contract can be your safety net, putting you and your client on the same page in terms of price and performance. But isn’t a net mostly made of holes? As you read the fine print, ask what the contract isn’t saying about the price, the deadline, the byline, the rights, or the approval process.
After all, a writer with your tattoos is far too clever to fall through the holes in the net.
(Image by NobMouse via Flickr, Cc2.0)