Print Writing And Contracts

Today we are going to talk contracts.

When you write for a print publication, you will often sign a contract for the work agreement that you will have with the publisher. There's a lot to know about this subject. Although I can't cover everything here, I am going to go over some basics so that you aren't going in goes...

First of all, always ask about a contract when you get an assignment. You won't always get one (although for you it's better if you do), but asking never hurt anyone. As with nearly everything in the writing industry, what happens next will depend on the publication.

If you get a contract, be sure to read it. Yeah, I know, sounds basic, but in this industry you have to really know what you are signing. If you sign away your rights to everything, you can't use the piece again. This is generally referred to as "all rights" or  a "work for hire" agreement. Avoid that one if you can. You want to try and retain the rights to re-sell your piece elsewhere. Reprints bring extra dollars. And we can all use that.

"One time rights" means just as it says--the publication can use the piece one time. This is good.

"First rights" is also a good situation for the writer. It means that the publication gets to print the article before anyone else. (Be sure to read the fine print may not be able to re-sell it for a certain amount of time.)

Rights aren't the only thing that you need to pay attention to though. Also take note of whether there is a "kill fee". What is that? It is an amount of money that the publication will pay you if the article doesn't run. This is verrrry good--especially when it comes to print.

Why? Because they do kill stuff. Seriously. And it's bad enough that you won't get to see your hard work published. If you don't get paid for it--it's a double whammy. Not all magazines offer a kill fee, but it's nice to know if it is on the table. Usually it's only a small percentage of the agreed fee, but at least it's something.

Another thing to look for is time-frame. The contract should tell you when the piece is due, and if there are any revisions included in the fee. This is important, because if you hand something in and then suddenly get it back with requests for changes, you'll want to know if this is an expectation--or if you might actually get additional cash out of it. Good to know.

Some contracts are long. Some are short. Sometimes I've had an editor do a contract with me for the first couple of articles and then stop. It varies quite a bit, so get used to the fact that you'll be reviewing many different documents. That never changes.

Finally, always hang on to a hard copy of your contract. Always. I have a folder with my contracts so that they are all in one spot and they are accessible should I need them. I can't tell you how many times I've had to refer to the contract to see what rights I've sold. It happens a lot. My brain can't hold all the information.

If you are unclear on anything in a contract, just ask the editor. They can usually clarify. If not, they can look into it for you.

Do you have a good tip about contracts that you can share with your fellow writers? We all learn from one another...share your best info here!



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Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

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2 thoughts on “Print Writing And Contracts”

  1. Thanks for this post. I found it very helpful. I’m just starting out as a freelance writer so finding information like this is greatly appreciated.


  2. I agree, it’s imperative to read and reread a contract.

    Some clients request a photo to accompany a blog post or article. This should be covered in the contract as well. Freelance writers need to understand copyrights. Many believe they can reuse a photo they’ve purchased from a stock photography website over and over again. From what I understand, this isn’t true. If a freelancer wanted to reuse a photo for another client, the freelancer would have to purchase an additional license agreement. When in doubt, ‘chat’ with a representative from a stock photography company. If the rep doesn’t know the answer, they’ll ask the company’s attorney. Of course, a freelance writer can tell the client to find their own photos. Also, it’s important to give credit to an artist or photographer.


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