An American Editor

April 27, 2020

On the Basics — Contracts, pro and con

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about contracts between authors and editors (or other editorial freelancers and other prospective clients) — should we use them, what should go into them, how do we implement them, do we need attorneys to create them, and so on and so on.

Plenty of editors say they’ve never needed contracts in their work with individual authors. I’m glad for them; I’ve also had good luck with clients who didn’t have contracts and whose projects went smoothly enough that I didn’t regret not asking them to sign one of my own. For the most part, though, I think it’s smart to have something along the lines of a contract between service provider (editor) and client (author, publisher, organization, publication, company, university, etc.).

The con

One reason, and probably the only valid reason, not to have a contract for working with a new client is that some people are scared off by the very concept of “a contract.” It seems so … legalistic … so serious … so untrusting or suspicious. Asking for or offering a contact apparently comes across as expecting problems to arise at some point in the relationship.

One of the telecommunications companies even uses that perspective by boasting that they don’t require contracts for their services, making it look like an advantage for the consumer over providers that do. The problem? The consumer doesn’t have any protection against rate increases, service reductions and other issues that can arise during the life of the relationship.

The pro

And there’s the concern: Not having a contract with a client means that neither party has any protection in case there’s a problem. It can be worth the effort to explain to a reluctant client that a contract protects both you and the client. It gives you protection against the client not paying, paying very slowly or adding to the project without additional compensation, among other potential issues, but it also protects the client against the freelancer not doing the work as expected. Not that any of us would do that, of course, but it’s something to use to reassure the client.

The process

With the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, the good news is that a contract doesn’t have to be complicated or heavily legalistic. It can take the form of a letter of agreement or a checklist, or even a confirming e-mail message. You can ask the client to sign and return the agreement, or use language like “Unless I hear otherwise by Date X, this will constitute our agreement/contract.”

And speaking of e-mail, a contract nowadays doesn’t have to be on paper. A chain of e-mail messages describing the project and setting out and agreeing to the parameters can be treated as a contract. Just be sure to include language like “As we discussed and agreed, I will do such-and-such for this amount by that date …” — and to save those back-and-forth messages, just in case.

Contract details

What should go into a contract for editing services? Here’s a checklist I use to identify what I’m expected to do (for writing assignments, I include number of interviews and who provides the interview sources).

Genre

Scope (topic and length)

Fee or rate (per hour, word, page, project, etc.)

Definition of page

Payment policy and timing

Deadline(s)

Number of passes

Number of revisions (for writing projects)

Fee or rate for additional work beyond original scope

Expenses

Mediation jurisdiction if any problems

What you don’t need or should try not to agree to

One reason contract questions come up is the increasing tendency of clients to include draconian terms in current contracts, especially businesses and companies that aren’t used to working with freelance editors. The most-common one is expecting the freelancer or independent contractor to have liability insurance. Something like errors and omissions coverage might make sense for an investigative journalist, but editors rarely need something like liability coverage. That kind of policy is usually intended for situations where the contractor works onsite at the client’s office or property, uses heavy equipment on the client’s behalf or project, has subcontractors, and otherwise is likely to have access to the client’s information or property.

Accepting liability for your work is especially an issue for writers, editors and even proofreaders, because other people are likely to change (or not accept) what you submit. The publication process is fluid and involves people we never meet; even printers/production people have been known to introduce changes — and, unintentionally, errors — after an editor or proofreader signs off and gets paid for our role. We can’t be responsible for what happens made after we finish our part of the project.

Pointing out that you are a sole proprietor who works from home and doesn’t use heavy equipment or subcontractors can help carry the day when you’re asked to provide liability insurance to a client. If they still insist, add the cost to your contract and include language to the effect that you aren’t responsible for any changes made to your version of the material.

Authors new to the publishing process also might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These are usually benign and more valuable as assurance for an author that an editor won’t steal their precious words for some reason than for any other reason; they generally commit you to not telling the world all about the author’s work, or perhaps that you worked on their manuscript. If you’d rather not sign an NDA, you could point out that any editor who would violate an author’s trust in such a way wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

What you don’t want to sign is a non-compete agreement that limits how you can use your skills with new clients in the future, even the near future. Signing such an agreement can lock you out of doing similar work for similar (or any!) clients, which would interfere with your ability to pursue your career or business.

Protecting yourself

You might not need a formal contract of your own that’s packed with dense, incomprehensible legalese, but you at least need someone with legal knowledge to rely on when a prospective client offers a contract that seems impenetrable. It’s one thing to say, “Read any contract before signing it.” It’s another to actually read and understand some of these documents.

My attorney is an old friend from back in high school whose practice is in intellectual property, copyright and contracts. I have her look over any contract or NDA that I’m asked to sign; we swap services, but it would be worth whatever she would charge if I were paying for her help. If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to review contracts for you, check with your local bar association or chapter of Lawyers for the Arts; some professional organizations also have legal services where one consultation is free, or there’s a substantial discount on an initial request. Such reviews shouldn’t cost much, and any expense is deductible at tax time.

For a template or boilerplate language, look to professional organizations and online resources like LegalZoom. Pick one and tailor it to your needs and each project.

The ideal resource

You don’t have to take my word for any of this, and you can get a lot more advice from colleagues Dick Margulis and Karin Cather from their book, The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client. That’s a must-have for every editor’s bookcase — and well worth having no matter what kind of editorial or publishing work you do.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor, which was founded by Rich Adin. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned this year for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

May 11, 2019

Check out the topic and speaker lineup for 2019 Be a Better Freelancer® conference

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE and Communication Central owner

For those who have been eagerly awaiting information about Gateway to Success, Communication Central‘s 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, you need wait no longer! Here’s the lineup of topics and presenters; specific days and times will be announced soon, along with detailed speaker bios.

The conference will be held October 11–13, 2019, at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Hotel rooms are $150/night (plus taxes) and are comfortably shareable. (The conference rate is in place starting on Thursday, October 10.) The conference runs from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Central time on Friday and Saturday, October 11 and 12, with continental breakfast and lunch included, and 9 a.m.–12 noon on Sunday, October 13, with coffee and tea provided. Dinner outings at nearby restaurants will be organized for the group, but are not included in registration.

This year’s conference is cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) — an exciting first-time partnership. To register, go to https://naiwe.com/conference/ or www.communication-central.com.

The central location should be appealing for colleagues who have been interested in previous Communication Central events but found the East Coast location a challenge. We look forward to welcoming you to the Gateway City and an exciting panoply of resources to make your freelance efforts more productive and profitable!

Friday, October 11, and Saturday, October 12, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
• You Oughta be in Visuals: Make Your Social Sizzle to Fire Up Your Freelancing, Walt Jaschek
Most of us are “word people,” but nowadays, it’s more and more important to promote a freelance business through visual media as well as the standard networking, social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), website, press releases and other traditional efforts. Video content is expected to make up 80 percent of all Internet traffic by the end of 2019. Learn how to use video, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, podcasting and similar visual outlets to get the word out about your skills and services. This lively session will get you excited about adding visual elements to your promotional efforts.
• Finding and Working with Independent Authors, Dick Margulis
Independent authors might be the best, and fastest-growing group of, clients for many freelancers to work with, especially because many will pay for skills and services in editing, proofreading, design and layout, and publishing. Learn how to build up your freelance business by finding clients in, and structuring effective, profitable working relationships with, this sector of the publishing world.
• New Angles in Editing, Marilyn Schwartz
Those who revere Amy Einsohn’s classic Copyeditor’s Handbook will be thrilled to know that the University of California Press has published a new fourth edition, substantially revised and updated by Marilyn Schwartz, along with a new companion workbook prepared with co-author Erika Bűky. The Handbook has long served as
a valuable resource for writers and an essential reference for editors and proofreaders at every stage of their careers and in all areas of editing. Get the insider’s take on both the timeless wisdom of this beloved text and some critical new angles in editing that are explored in the revised edition and its accompanying Workbook.
• Working with Word/Acrobat, April Michelle Davis
Whether we like it or hate it, Microsoft Word remains the big dog on the word-processing playground and we all have to use it for writing, editing and proofreading work because it’s what most of our clients use — but using it effectively still presents challenges for many freelancers in publishing. Acrobat is also becoming a standard for not only proofreading, as it was originally designed for, but editing as well. Learn how to make the most of these essential tools, including practical tips and shortcuts/macros, educating clients unfamiliar with the programs, and rescuing documents from those dreaded crashes.
• Build a Better Website to Promote Your Freelance Business, Meghan Pinson and Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
It’s become common knowledge that freelancers need websites to build and support their business efforts. Find out why, and learn how, with tips on how to name your site, what to include, what not to do, how to make your site — and your business — look their best, and how to generate traffic through effective search engine optimization. If you don’t have a website yet, this session will get you started. If you already have one, this session will help you make it better at promoting your business and laying the groundwork for better interactions with clients.
• The Art of Persuasion: How to Get Paid What You Deserve, Jake Poinier
Getting paid what we’re worth is a challenge for freelancers both new and established. There always seems to be a new twist in how clients try to pay less than we expect or think we have earned. Pick up on practical, effective insights into positioning yourself with clients to ensure you generate the fees, rates and overall income that your experience and skills deserve, including tactics for increasing rates from current clients, developing referrals and more.
• Get it in Writing!, Dick Margulis and Karin Cather
The very idea of a contract for freelance editorial work scares many of us silly, so we often agree to projects without having agreements or contracts in hand. That can work — but it can backfire. The authors of The Paper It’s Written On (developed as a result of a previous Communication Central presentation) — one long-time freelance editor/book developer and one attorney/editor — will walk you through why a contract is important and what to include in one.
• The Business of Being in Business, April Michelle Davis
It takes more than good writing skills, a sharp eye for typos, a love of reading, the ability to alphabetize, a cellphone camera, etc., to be a successful writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, graphic artist or any other freelancer. Succeeding means being serious about the concept of being in business. You can be brilliant at what you do and still fail if you don’t set up your freelance effort as a business and treat it as such. Find out how to incorporate key business skills and tools to make your freelancing a success — or a bigger and better one.
• Effective Résumés for Freelancers, Rose “JobDoc” Jonas
Even in these days of online visibility through websites, LinkedIn profiles and similar ways to tell the world how great you are in your freelance niche, you often still need a résumé. Crafting one that works is a challenge, especially for those turning to freelancing after (or while still) working in-house. Find out what does and doesn’t work so you have the right document at hand whenever you need it.
• Your Best Publishing Option: Traditional, Hybrid or Entrepreneurial, Roger Leslie
As a freelancer, you decide how your books come to life. Knowing the key elements of book production, marketing and distribution direct you to the best publishing option for you. Choosing the publishing route that best suits your time, money and energy empowers you to do what you love most as your business and brand grow from a colleague whose goal is to help you “Live the Life You Dream.” Writers can use this session to get their work published; editors and proofreaders will find the session helpful in understanding how to work with aspiring authors.
• What Freelancers (Can) Do, Panel Conversation
You don’t have to be a writer or editor to freelance. Learn about opportunities for proofreaders, graphic artists, website developers, indexers and other types of freelancers — and resources they can use for success.

Sunday, October 13, 9 a.m.–12 noon
Freelancing 101: Launching and Managing Your Freelance Business, Meghan Pinson
Freelancing is a dream for so many people nowadays, and the “gig economy” is only expanding as time goes by. Learn when and how to launch and manage your freelance business to minimize the risks and maximize the advantages, along with tips about balancing work and family, among other important considerations.

2019 C-C conf Registration

2019 C-C Conf Topics and Speakers1

May 25, 2018

Special AAE conference discount extended!

The special discount for AAE subscribers for this year’s “Make Your Own Luck,” Communication Central’s 13th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, has been extended to June 25. The discount offers substantial savings (even better than the colleague’s discount for past participants and members of professional associations) on this invaluable event.

Who says 13 is an unlucky number? The 13th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, September 21-22 in scenic Rochester, NY, with an extra session on the morning of September 23, is a great way to improve your luck in launching or enhancing your editorial business.

Go to https://www.communication-central.com/aae-registration to download a PDF and register today. The AAE password is Register2018.

There’s only a very narrow window for this rate, so be sure to take advantage of it soon!

Familiar presenter names include Victoria Brzustowicz, April Michelle Davis, Ally Machate, Dick Margulis, Chris Morton and Pamela Hilliard Owens, with new insights and topics to share. Adrienne Montgomerie will be back with a lively session on marketing your business. New to the conference are Ann Kellett and Brenda Siler, along with Susannah Noel and Nancy Marriott of the Editorial Arts Academy.

Sessions will be of value to aspiring and established freelancers, as well as in-house professionals in editorial work.

Speaker bios and session info will be added to the Communication Central website over the next week or so. Owner and conference hostess Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has only one functional hand and arm for the moment, so site updates will take awhile.

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