Freelance Writers: Protecting Yourself

Freelance Writers: Protecting YourselfFreelancing is a tricky business. First, you have to establish what services you’ll be offering, and how much you plan to charge. Then you need to market yourself and make contacts, perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the trade. And then, after you finally get a client, you need to hash out a contract with clear terms so that you both understand what to expect from one another.

When I was contacted by my very first freelance client, I was delighted. We met, discussed the work, and then I asked if they wanted a contract. That was my first mistake. I never should have asked, I should have told them that one was necessary. Instead, they said no, they didn’t want a contract, and being strapped for cash and overwhelmed at venturing out onto my own for the first time, I acquiesced.

It was a disaster. Everything went smoothly at first, but after a few days the client checked in to see what the cost was at. I happily sent along a number, and immediately received a request to provide a list of every activity I had performed during every hour that I had charged for. Well, since we didn’t have a contract, we had never discussed it being my responsibility to do so. I certainly hadn’t cheated, I timed myself precisely. But I didn’t have a record of what I had done at each hour of the day for the previous week.

So, I wrote back and said, unfortunately, that since the work was mostly done, and that it was not something we had discussed, that it was quite impossible for me to oblige. I received a curt reply and a request to meet for payment the following weekend. I showed up, with the work I had done, and while the client was signing my check in a very full coffee shop, they loudly reprimanded me for my nerve and unprofessionalism.

Where some people would have wanted to cry, I just wanted to turn the table over. I had done the work, and I had done it well. I had charged a minimal fee because it was my first client, and they had declined a contract. They had never said, “Oh, and please keep a record of the time you spend on this to give me at the end of the project”. People were looking at us, and every word that passed through the client’s lips was like venom to me.

That experience taught me my very first freelancing lesson: contracts are a must, no matter how small the project, no matter how well you know the client, no matter how simple the terms are, you must have a signed agreement to protect both yourself and your work.

My first contracts were probably quite pitiable. I didn’t know how to make one or what to include. I never knew what I could and couldn’t put in writing, and I wasn’t sure what I could demand of my clients without scaring them away. But after improving them through the years with a variety of clients, there are a few key things that I always make sure to include no matter what they’re for.

To best protect yourself and your client, consider having clearly terms about:

  • Who will retain ownership of the work, and if you, the creator, may use the work in a portfolio or otherwise take credit for the work.
  • What exactly is included in the cost. For example, if you are charging a fee, does it include written and verbal communication, or just the actual work itself?
  • How much notice must you each provide to the other if one of you wishes to end the contract? This is important as it can help to give you time to replace the client and make up the income. I usually go with 30 days.
  • When invoices will be provided and when they need to be paid. I usually bill on the last day of the month and expect payment within two weeks. If you wish to charge a penalty for late payments, outline that in writing as well.

Of course, depending on the work, the client, and the freelancer, there are a number of other things you should include, but the most important advice that I can give is to have clear communication from the beginning.

As the contractor, you need to maintain control. Remember, you aren’t an employee, you are a strong, capable businessperson who is only interested in legitimate, paying, and solid contracts.

Before singing anything, talk to the client about every possible aspect of the relationship you may have together. Ask them about their expectations and requirements. If everything goes smoothly, do a draft of the contract and send it along for their review. This will help you to both understand what the outcome should be at the end of the term.

There’s no magic spell that will ensure a problem-free contract. There are always bumps, or sometimes even earthquakes, but by protecting yourself from the beginning you can help to ensure that you don’t get yelled at in a coffee shop by an ungrateful client while you try to keep yourself from morphing into a much less intimidating version of The Hulk.

What’s your best nightmare client story? Have you ever wished you had a better contract? Do you use contracts?

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Typos: When Are They Acceptable?

Typos and ErrorsTypos. Everyone makes them. Editors, writers, communications professionals, teachers, and just about everyone else in between. They can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright awkward. But sometimes they can do more than cause you to flush and send a quick correction.

Sometimes, typos can make or break a job application, or cause a reader to leave you a negative review. But how do you know when you should do an extensive edit and when you’re OK to worry a little less about the technical side of things? I mean, coming from a writer and editor, it’s just about impossible to produce error-free content every time.

First, let’s start with the difference between a typo and amateur writing. A typo is when you make a mistake, like typing “dacning” instead of “dancing”, or missing a single letter in a word by accident, like “smeling” instead of “smelling”. Common mistakes are acceptable in casual writing, like texts, blog posts, or quick emails to friends.

Amateur writing is when you use “it’s” instead of “its”, or you have trouble figuring out the differences between “to”, “too”, and “two”, or “there”, “their”, and “they’re”. These are the kinds of mistakes that push you below the competition, and send readers off to leave two star reviews after reading a few pages.

If you read my post from a couple of weeks ago, you know that I’ve spent a lot of time over the last month or so reviewing writing samples and resumes to fill a junior writing position where I work. To be honest, we have received a couple of samples that had errors that we were willing to overlook, but only because the quality of the writing was so high and the errors so small.

Even so, if you’re sending out writing that will likely be reviewed by expert readers or writers, you had better make sure that your spelling and grammar skills are up to scratch. A small error or two between a resume, cover letter, and 2-3 samples is understandable. But sending along a sample where your first word is “It’s” instead of “Its” is a little too  much.

The same goes for any kind of creative writing. If you’re scribbling in your journal, typo away! But if you’re either self-publishing or submitting to publishers, you should be certain to take a very, very close look at your writing. Like I’ve said before, if you aren’t willing to put in the time with your writing, why should your readers?

To avoid mistakes and errors that make your writing look poor, try to:

  • Pay careful attention to the beginning and end of your piece, errors stuffed within the content are a bit more understandable and harder to find.
  • Re-read after every edit as making changes can leave behind unintentional errors.
  • Take time between edits and reads so that you don’t hurry through the content out of boredom.
  • Make sure that you take time to learn best spelling and grammar practices, even if it isn’t your thing.

And remember, everyone, even pros, make mistakes. It happens. But if it’s something important, take the time to make the piece shine instead of risking a job offer over a silly typo.

What’s your editing process like? How do you make sure your content has no errors? Have you tried to learn about spelling and grammar from a professional standpoint?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

A Day Without Words

Sometimes, we have days where there are no words, usually caused by exhaustion, heartbreak, elation, excitement, or a plethora of other emotions. They happen, they are normal, and sometimes they are all we can offer.

Today is one of those days for me, not a bad one, just a contemplative one, so I am just going to share a quote.

A Day Without Words

 

Wishing you all a safe, peaceful, and quiet Sunday.

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

A Writer’s Notebook

 

A Writer's NotebookWhen I was younger, I would fill journals with poetry. Page after page, in different colors of ink, from well-formed letters to passionately scrawled lines. Then, I used writing as an outlet. It was personal, never meant for anyone else but me. It was the voice that had to stay silent, the one that spoke my truths.

Now, after passing through the teen angst and parting ways with my childhood demons, I write for others. It’s not about letting go of emotions or feelings anymore, it’s about creating something worth sharing with others. I used to be that person that would carry around a notebook and pen everywhere: to work, to school, at home, even to the bar. But that’s when it was for me.

And it isn’t just that I matured, or that I changed, it was also the type of writing that moved on. Poetry called to me less and less, and longer, more complex pieces started to pull at my thoughts and ingrain themselves into mind.

And as my writing matured along with me, pouring my soul into a notebook no longer seemed necessary. Instead of only having a voice on paper, I started to exercise my thoughts in speaking, which gradually changed how important I felt writing tools were to me.

I only use my notebook now to jot down things that I know will take me a long time to get to, or minute details that I want to remember for a future story. I save my laptop for when I am actively immersed in writing a story or a post.

I rely on my memory to keep all of the thoughts and ideas and possibilities stored in folders and files and bins, lightly covered in dust, in the corners of my mind. Of course, this is probably a highly irresponsible way to keep things, but when I have an idea, it has to reach a certain point before it deserves to go on paper, just having the thought isn’t enough for it to deserve a physical form.

What was once something that I couldn’t be parted with no matter the cause, is now something that I use on occasion to keep track of long pieces. The tools that I use are no longer as important to me compared to the value of the idea and the purpose of the content. Though I won’t say no to a nice moleskine, and I did receive a feather quill and ink pot as a gift once (though, as far as I can tell, their only use is in creating Shakespearean-style signatures that banks do not appreciate).

Do you go everywhere with a notebook? What kinds of things do you put in it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

 

Welcome to my Bookshelf

Welcome to my BookshelfI find it fascinating to observe the bookshelves of others. When I visit friends or family, my eyes will inevitably wander to where the books are, whether stacked on an intimidating shelf in the sitting room, or piled in a small stack on an end table.

You can learn so many things about someone from what’s on their shelf, and I don’t mean just the books alone. Aside from books, I’ve got seashells, a few keepsakes, a beautiful picture of my grandmother on her wedding day, and some candles.

And whenever one of the various book-related Facebook pages that I follow asks their followers to post pictures of their shelves, I love to look at the colors, how the books are stacked, how many empty spaces there are, and what they have that I do too.

So today I want to share my bookshelf with you. And I’ll do more than just post the picture. Since 7 is my favourite number, I’ll give you some insight into the 7th book on each shelf, depending on how well my memory serves me. Let’s begin:

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, J.R.R. Tolkien. Much to my shame, I haven’t yet read this book. I bought it when it first came out, and then it kept getting put aside for lighter pieces. That’s one of my favourite things about my shelf; I haven’t read everything on it yet.

Lady of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is part of Bradley’s Avalon series, which I love. It’s an adult, feminist take on the legend of Arthur, saturated with real Celtic traditions and history.

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett. This was the first book that I read by Follett, and it was after I watched the mini-series. I would highly recommend both, since one won’t spoil the other. It’s a rich, standalone book that baffles in the way that it comes full-circle between the first chapter and the last.

The King’s Grace, Anne Easter Smith. My grandmother sent this book to me because of my passion for historical fiction. Though a steadfast fan of Philippa Gregory, I enjoyed reading about the Plantagenets from a different perspective.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. I first watched the movie, and then read the book. Because it often happens that I watch a movie only to discover that it was based on a book in the end credits. Now, I loved this story. The relationship of a father and son is told with simple, honest writing, and the book is deeper because of it. However, McCarthy didn’t use contractions. Enough said.

Each one of the books on my shelf has a story outside of the one within it. Like the ones that my grandparents read and then send on to me; the pages turned by their hands, just as I turn them myself. Or the ones that I dropped in the snow or the tub or that were lost for a few years and then found again. Or the ones that are on one of my other shelves, the ones that hold places of prestige in my home, that I read over and over again.

To me, my shelf says that I’ll always believe in dragons. It says that I’m an adventurer, and even a little bit of a romantic. But mostly, it says “me”.

What does your shelf say? What is the 7th book on it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.