by Grace Szucs 

CMG Freelance president Don Genova

CMG Freelance President Don Genova

More often than not, writers are being asked to sign contracts these days, says Don Genova, president of CMG Freelance. Contracts can protect you, but they can also put an unfair burden on the writer.

Genova went over some freelance contract basics at an info session hosted by the Canadian Media Guild and CWA Canada in Halifax last week.

Take the time to look over these areas of a contract before you sign:

Moral rights and indemnification

Giving up moral rights means the publication can remove your name from the work, use it for advertising, break it up into pieces and use it in other articles, and they can change the article however they see fit.

Some contracts ask you to indemnify the publication in the event that they get sued. Check out this recent Story Board post by Lesley Evans Ogden about her experience with being asked to do so.

Genova notes that if you give up moral rights and you indemnify the publication, you could be responsible if the publication makes a change to your work that causes them to get sued.

Kill fees

A kill fee is the amount of money you will receive if for some reason the publication accepts your pitch but decides not to run your story. If a story is killed, all rights should revert back to you so you can try to sell it elsewhere. The amount of the kill fee should depend on how much of the work you’ve completed. Genova recommends splitting your work into three parts. 1. The research you put into the story after the pitch was accepted. 2. The first draft of the story you submitted to the editor. 3. The final, edited version of the story that has been accepted by the editor. #1 complete, ask for a third of the fee. #2 complete, ask for two-thirds. #3, you should be paid the entire fee you negotiated in the first place.

Copyright

In the event that your story is killed, the copyright should revert back to you. If you don’t have a contract with an employer, this is automatic. Note that when a publication gets copyright, they only have the rights to a specific piece. You are still able to reuse your material to create a new, different, story and sell it elsewhere.

When will you get paid?

The best contracts pay writers once the story has been accepted and edited, “on acceptance”. With many of these contracts, you can expect a cheque around 30 days after you send your invoice. Some publications pay writers “upon publication,” which can be three, six or even 10 months down the line.

As a final note, Genova advises you keep three key numbers in mind when negotiating the price of your contract:

  1. Your ideal fee. This is the number to give when a publication asks, “How much would you like?” You can negotiate from there; just make sure the final fee falls somewhere within price two and three below.
  2. The amount you feel is fair for the work.
  3. The amount below which you will not accept the work. (Numbers two and three may be the same!)

Grace Szucs is a writer and editor living in Halifax, NS. Find her portfolio at graceszucs.com.

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