The Freelance Writer’s Bill of Rights

This article is reposted from The Renegade Writer.  It is copyrighted by them and used by permission.  It is something I believe every writer should read.

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The Freelance Writer’s Bill of Rights

1. You have the right to say no.

An editor asks you to write for exposure? “No.” A source asks to see your article before you turn it in? “No.” A friend keeps calling during your working hours because “you’re always free”? “No.” See how easy it is? You have the right to say no — and not feel guilty about it.

2. You have the right to ask for more.

If an editor approaches you with an assignment that doesn’t pay what you would need to make it work, or asks for all rights, or offers a pay-on-publication writing contract, you have the right to negotiate for something better. The first offer from an editor is not the end of the negotiation, it’s the beginning. If the pay isn’t enough, say “That seems a little low…can you offer me X?” If the contract stinks, know what you want instead (pay on acceptance? First North American Serial Rights? More pay for more rights?) and ask for it. The secret: Be ready to walk away if you can’t get what you want. If you’re not prepared to give up the assignment, you have no bargaining power.

3. You have the right to control your own time.

Sometimes, editors come to you six months after you turn in an assignment and say they need a total revise plus three new sidebars — by tomorrow. You have the right to determine whether that fits into your schedule and act accordingly. After all, you’re a businessperson. It’s not like you’re sitting by the phone for six months, schedule cleared in case your editor suddenly needs a revision done like yesterday. You have other work now, and you’ve arranged your schedule the way you need it to be in order to get your current work done. If you do have the time, try to cooperate with your editor. But if you have three deadlines this week and would have to pull an all-nighter to do the revisions, you have the right to say you can’t get the revisions done when the editor wants them. Then negotiate a better timeline for yourself.

4. You have the right to be treated fairly.

If you wrote an article on assignment and it was accepted, and then the magazine changed editorial direction and your article was killed, what’s fair — getting a kill fee or getting full pay? Full pay, of course, since you did the work according to the contract. If you pitch a detailed idea and the editor says she wants to give it to a staffer, you have the right to say no (and sell it somewhere else) or to ask for an idea fee. If a magazine leaves off your byline, you have the right to ask for a correction, and ask for a PDF file of the story with your name on it. In short: You have the right to be treated fairly and professionally. After all, you are a professional.

5. You have the right to be paid for your work.

Some writers feel they aren’t worth fair pay. They write over and over for no-pay magazines in order to amass enough clips to finally move up to the magazines that do pay fairly. But do you know how many clips you need to command pay? Zero. One of my e-course students broke into SELF magazine with a front-of-the-book piece. (That’s a $1.50/word market, people!) How many clips did she have? None. My first assignment paid $500, and I had no clips. What you need is a strong query letter, not a portfolio full of non-pay clips. You have the right to be paid for your work, just like your plumber and petsitter do (even newbie plumbers and petsitters!).

6. You have the right to look good.

When you write and fact check an article, you have the right to see it printed error-free. You don’t have the right to complain that the editor has changed your perfect prose (so don’t be a diva!) but you can expect that your sources’ names will be correct, your byline will be correct, and the facts in the article will be correct. If any of these things are incorrect, you have the right to ask for corrections. And if a magazine is notorious about messing things up, you have the right to ask to see a galley of the article before it goes to print.

7. You have the right to be paid in a timely manner.

Something scary is going on in the women’s magazine world: They’re hanging onto articles for months and months before “accepting” them, which means that you wait months and months to get paid. In other parts of the publishing world, magazines are running into budget problems and putting their freelancers last in line for payment. Remember: You are a professional. If the printer and the electric company get paid on time, you should too. Can you imagine a lawyer politely sending e-mails after six months of no pay? How about an accountant? Well, you’re a professional just like them, and you provided a service according to contract. If you fulfilled your end of the contract, then the magazine should, too. Don’t be afraid to contact the accounts payable department, send certified letters asking for overdue payment, and, finally, threaten legal action (and go through with it if you need to).

What other rights should be in the Freelance Writer’s Bill of Rights?

10 responses to “The Freelance Writer’s Bill of Rights

  1. Kudos to Renegade Writer for coming up with such a great list of rights. Writers can be so self-effacing and this piece is a great mini-course in assertiveness training! Kudos to you, Sandra, for reposting—with permission, of course.
    Cheers! BCC


    • The Renegade Writer is actually an excellent blog of extremely helpful advice for the working freelance writer (or hopeful). I understand the blog is run by two gals, but I only know the name of one…Linda Formichelli. She’s the one who gave me permission and actually THANKED me for asking for permission. I was surprised at this.

      I got a huge kick and a great feeling out of reading it and thought a lot of the other wonderful writers I hobnob with in blogland might enjoy it too. Thanks for dropping by, Marsha.


  2. Excellent advice! Thanks for reposting, Sandra.


  3. Thanks for dropping by, Nancy. I was actually thinking of you with your legal background when I posted this…since it is a quasi-legal document (well, not really, since there are no parties to it, but it was fun thinking it could be).


  4. It’s a “single party contract” . . . an agreement with one’s self ~ similar to New Year’s Resolutions. 😀


  5. What a service to provide all these reminders in one neat little package! I think I need to laminate a copy for my office! Thanks for sharing this piece from Renegade Writer with us. It’s a site I’ll start referring to often now.


  6. Great post, Sandra! A lot of us don’t have the confidence to consider ourselves worthy of being treated professionally. Thanks!


  7. You should. You are an excellent writer! Nowadays, a lot of self-doubt is caused by the stress of marketing. We not only have to be good writers, but now we need to know how to sell our books, either to a publishing house or to the public in general. Lack of knowledge of this is NO indication of what kind of a writer we are. It just takes more time and learning to get this skill under our belts as well.


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