The Importance of Reading Writing Contracts

Sunday, October 09, 2022

My eagerness to earn more extra income these days can be blinding. Many times, it's led me to say "yes" to projects when I was already stretched thin. I've also fought the temptation to "try out" a project when I knew deep down I wasn't suitable for it. 

But lately, that terrible habit of mine has changed, and I'm thankful to God for it.

I only came to realize that part of me has changed when I talked to an editor about a possible writing job. It was well-paying and not outside of the kind of topics I'm interested in writing about.

Then I googled the company. And it turns out, it didn't have the greatest reputation but was not a company that fell in the "scam" category. Its issue was that it inflated growth numbers, which isn't good, but in my mind, I figured, "Well, I'm not looking to do award-winning journalism, so I can't imagine I'll be that impacted by all of this mess."

Of course, that should have been my first red flag.

Then I thought, well I see how it goes, so I told the editor I wanted to move forward and she sent me a few agreements. The first was a standard scope of work agreement. 

Then I got another agreement that talked about non-disclosure policies and who has rights to my work, etc. All standard, until I read closer.
That's when I noticed they wanted me to agree that if I wrote an article for them, I was supposed to agree to not write about that particular topic for another website again without their permission. 


Never in my time of writing have I seen this type of expectation. Sure, I've seen non-disclosures and even non-compete agreements but never something that wouldn't even let me write about a topic again.

I told the editor I didn't want to move forward. She understood although she told me she hadn't ever seen that pursued by the company. Still, I didn't want to take that risk and I'm glad I declined the opportunity.

So, my lesson from this is: know what you are signing. Don't sign something without understanding what you are agreeing to, and make sure to always read the fine print.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks for sharing this, and good job reading the fine print, Nicole! Writing on the same topic is a writer's bread and butter - it's also called a niche! I've seen contracts where you can't publish the same article on other sites, but the way this is worded leaves things way too open for interpretation.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Nicole,
Excellent reminder! I've had contracts that said "don't write about the same thing for x months." But it was a short enough time that it wasn't a big deal. Ever? Um, no.

Nicole Pyles said...

@Angela - it really, really does! That vagueness is what makes it far too uncertain to feel right.

@Sue - Yeah, I'd get it for a certain period of time but for good? Yikes no!

Renee Roberson said...

That was a great catch, Nicole. This also brings up something else I've seen mentioned regarding freelance writers and content strategists on LinkedIn. I feel like we also need to be mindful about drawing up our own contracts with new clients. Some writers stipulate that they'll only attend X amount of Zoom meetings per month and will not be on call on weekends or late nights. And only X amount of revisions are included in fee. I think this is a smart move going forward, and having been burned by clients in the past, probably a wise move! If someone doesn't want to agree to terms, then they probably aren't worth working for.

Nicole Pyles said...

So true Renee! I've seen that same thing about drawing up our own contracts. I've never felt sure enough about doing that but it's absolutely something to keep in mind.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, that's a smart idea! I ALWAYS add a stipulation in my graphic design work that I only do 3 revisions because occasionally some clients will keep changing things until I'm in the red. It rarely happens, but it's good to be upfront about it, so they know what you expect and then can make all their change requests at once instead of little things here and there. I never thought about the Zoom meetings, but that's such a great idea.

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