How Freelancers Can Survive (And Thrive) in Bad Economic Times

An enterprising freelance writer that I know is a good example of how to survive, and even thrive, in tough economic times. When the large company that she worked for downsized, my friend negotiated with the company to continue doing her job on a contract basis.

It was a win/win situation. The former employer continued to benefit from the services of a highly skilled writer without having to pay for vacations and health care or for training, office space, utilities, and other overhead costs. My friend used those points to negotiate a contract that provided very good compensation that covered her former salary and benefits, and more.

I used some of those same points successfully when discussing freelance jobs with prospective clients (although they weren’t former employers) during the economic downturn of the 1980s. I’m sure my friend could offer her former employer additional cost-saving reasons to contract for her services during their negotiations.

Several talking points come to mind (especially useful when negotiating with former employers):

  • 1. Employers reap the benefits of working with highly motivated individuals (most freelancers are extremely motivated or they wouldn’t become freelancers in the first place).
  • 2. As freelancers, they don’t have to attend time-wasting meetings not directly associated with their jobs.
  • 3. They already know the company structure, its goals, its corporate culture, and its politics and they know how to work within that environment.
  • 4. They know the company clients and the clients are used to working with them–in fact, clients may not even need to know that freelancer are no longer company employees.
  • 5. With fewer distractions, freelancers in home offices can be more productive than some office employees. No time-wasting chats while visiting the cubicles of other workers; no showers and office parties during work hours.
  • 6. Freelancers don’t require overtime pay because they are not limited to a 9 to 5 schedule to get the job done. They can work after hours, holidays and weekends if they prefer.

Other freelancers, I am sure, can come up with additional selling points to promote their services. My freelancing friend knew exactly how to use those points to turn hard times to her advantage. Savvy employers like her former bosses knew that it makes sound business sense to hire experienced freelancers to help them through economic downtimes.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Contracts and the Magazine Writer — Part 2

Earlier, we presented a basic overview of some risks that writers should be aware of before signing contracts for periodical articles. This time, we tackle a few specifics.

Ideas for this post came from the website of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and especially from their free writer’s resources section. The site reminded me that some phrases in publishers’ contracts may contain traps for writers. To find out more, I clicked on a link called What to Watch Out For. What appeared was a distinct learning lesson. Look at one example that deals with publishers’ contracts containing the phrase ” the nonexclusive right….

the nonexclusive right…. This may sound OK, but it often isn’t. Any right — Exclusive or Non-exclusive — must be paid for and must be paid for appropriately. You should receive at least 50% of the gross revenue or a fair percentage of the original fee for each usage that occurs as a result of the publisher’s sublicensing or reuse of your work. (The editor of an Australian magazine who loves your piece is going to call the U.S. publisher, who will make the deal; you’ll never know. And if you approach the Australian editor yourself, he may well ask for a month’s exclusivity in Australia; you won’t be able to provide it. Because your publisher in the US may be selling it to the Australian’s competitor, you lose the sale. In market terms, ‘nonexclusive’ wipes you out. Exclusive or non-exclusive, if the publisher wants the right, you ought to have separate compensation for that license.”)

Here’s another short segment from the Dangerous Clauses section:

…the right to publish, distribute and license others to publish and distribute the article in all its forms (or in any media)….” These words do not spell it out, but they mean you transfer electronic rights along with print rights.”

The “What to Watch Out For” section helps to shine a warning light on a dozen or more examples of wording that can trip you up if you aren’t alert. If you sign contracts containing those clauses, you may lose some rights or income you are entitled to receive.

Along with warnings, the ASJA authors offered two additions to the rights clause that writers can add to documents to make contracts more equitable. They suggest that, instead of First North American Serial Rights, you make contracts read, “First North American English Language Print Serial Rights.”

And also add this sentence: “All rights not expressly transferred herein are reserved by the author.”

In addition to reading the ASJA Contracts Watch newsletter that is sent to my inbox, I make regular stops at ASJA website to keep up with the latest developments in publishing, copyrights, and contracts and to learn how the developments could affect me as a freelance writer. It may pay you to do that, too.

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©2007 by Laverne Daley
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Contracts and the Magazine Writer

What Every Writer Needs to Know About Contracts

If you’ve been freelancing for any time at all, you’ve probably learned that contracts — or lack of contracts — vary from magazine to magazine.

Some publishers send writers extremely detailed contracts when assigning articles. Others give assignments to writers during a phone call or they send an email stating scope of the assigned article, word length and other requirements, plus payment and deadline information.

If a publisher makes no mention of a contract when assigning you an article, it’s appropriate for you to send the publisher a letter of agreement specifying the assignment details as you understand them — what the article will cover, number of words, deadline, payment amount, payment date and the specific rights you are selling (First North American Serial Rights, Reprint Rights, One Time Rights, etc.). Sign two copies of the agreement and send them to the publisher to sign, and ask that one signed copy be returned to you.

If you do receive a formal written contract from a publisher, it can be daunting. Examine the document carefully. Does it ask for all rights? Is it a works-for-hire agreement? Does it demand electronic rights along with print rights? Find out exactly what rights you are expected to give up. Understand and agree to everything on the page before signing any contract, or cross out what you do not agree to and return the contract to the publisher noting changes you would like to make. Remember that all contracts are open to negotiations.

Freelancers need to know ahead of time what rights they are willing to sell. If you hope to sell your article to other magazines down the road, you should insist on selling only First North American Series Rights to the original publisher. If you expect to receive payment for electronic rights, be prepared to explain why you should receive compensation for those rights.

Publishers want to be able to use the work in any way and every way possible, now and later on. Most writers are interested in limiting the publisher’s ability to have extensive use of their work. These are the basic beginning points for negotiations, along with the amount of compensation writers will receive.

Negotiations need not be confrontational, and politeness is always appropriate. You might say, “The rate you offer is very low. Can you do any better than that?” Or maybe, “I’m so sorry, I always receive extra payment for electronic rights. I’ll be glad to assign them to you for 90 days following print publication for XXX dollars.”

Writers should also be aware that they could lose rights even after publication, especially when endorsing checks. I wrote quite a few articles for one magazine that several times tried to pay me with checks rubber-stamped on the back with a statement that my endorsement transferred all rights to the publisher. I always returned those checks to the editor I worked with and reminded her that I sold first rights only. Then I waited for a replacement check to arrive. The magazine (now defunct) was always slow to pay and I believe they played this little rubber-stamp game to hang onto money for a while longer. And I still think they wanted to grab all rights.

For much detailed information about contracts, I suggest that you visit the Resources for Writers section of the American Society of Journalists and Authors website. The free Information Sheets are great, especially “Why Writing for Magazines Isn’t What It Used to Be, And What Writers Have to Do About It,” and “Contract Tips for Freelancers.”

I’m not a member of ASJA but I’m a fan of their website because of all the help it provides freelance writers. It was there that I learned about, and signed up for, their free Contracts Watch newsletter several years ago. You can sign up at the ASJA site to receive the newsletter by email or RSS feed.
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©2007 by Laverne Daley
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