Does a Freelance Writer Need a Contract?

The first time a magazine sent me a freelance writer’s contract, I was a nervous wreck. The editor of a different national publication was a friend of a friend, so I sent him a copy and asked him to decipher it for me. I’ve since become more comfortable with signing on the dotted line and wish more freelancers were, too.

Does a freelance writer need a contract? I hear this question all the time on social media. A freelance writer agreement doesn’t just protect the publication, it’s also important for the writer. Let me tell you a story, then you decide.

Freelance Writer's Contract--Who needs one? | Be a Pro Writer

Freelance Writer’s Contract

Why a writer needs one

My first regular writing gig was a natural health blog. Then next, I started writing for a personal finance blog. Several posts a month paid promptly via PayPal quickly became the grocery money my family needed.

Then one holiday season, (Why do financial crises always seem to happen at Christmas time?) the blog owner emailed the writers and said that he was working on a special project and wouldn’t need any posts until January. I wanted to shout,

Hey, buddy! That’s my kids’ Christmas present money you’re messing with!

But what could I do? I didn’t have a contract. I didn’t even have any kind of a commitment from this guy. What was I doing? I committed to providing regular content for him, but I never thought to ask him for a commitment in return.

My fail.

The same holds true if you’re writing content for blogs or businesses. If the other party doesn’t send you a contract, send them one of yours. Don’t have one? Try RocketLawyer, or another similar service.

Why a publication needs one

Here’s another example, but from the other perspective. As the editor of a regional lifestyle publication, I encountered quite a few writers who couldn’t remember the details of their assignments. (Sad, I know. Maybe a topic for a different post. ) They frequently emailed me for a deadline or word count. But the most frequent inquiry was about payment. More specifically:

Hey, I turned my story in last week. Where’s my check?

Because we used a contract with every assignment, I could always show the writer where they signed agreeing to be paid 30 days after publication.

Of course, this is only one reason publications use a freelance writer’s contract or contributor agreement. This legally binding document spells out quite a number of things, like:

  • The scope of the work
  • Payment terms and kill fees
  • Who owns the rights to the content and for how long
  • Whether a byline is given
  • Other legal things like exclusivity, warranties, liability, and indemnification.

For more detailed information read Carol Tice’s “A Crash Course in Writer’s Contracts.” (She explains what those legal terms mean better than I can.)

So, if you’re that person on social media asking if you need a contract, learn from me. Get one, and use it for every assignment.

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