Because while you might be the artist, a lot of clients appear to forget you're not also psychic.
|This looks great, Jim. But can you change the font, the location, the color scheme, and get it to me yesterday?|
Question #1: What Is The Project?
This is probably the most basic question, but too often we let clients make vague, hand-wavey gestures about something they want us to work on. So, before you get roped into an ever-blossoming bloodstain, make sure your client gives you a specific description of what you're expected to do. Is it a short story, is it a re-write, is it a chapter in a textbook, etc.? Get every detail you can, from the genre and tone to the word count. The more specifics you nail down, the easier it will be on you in the future.
Question #2: When Do You Need It?
Due dates are important, and if your client tries to hedge by saying, "well, whenever it's convenient for you to get to it," don't let them weasel out of picking a date. Set a time for when the project is due. Also, it's a good idea to set times for reviews and check-ins to be sure the project is turning out to be what your client wants. Having a due date makes sure you know when it needs to be done, but it also ensures your client can have your money in hand when you turn in the piece.
Question #3: What Am I Being Paid?
Perhaps the most important question in the whole negotiation is what your client is offering you to do the job in question. Are you getting a by-word rate, are you getting a single payment for the whole project, or are you going to get a cut of the royalties? Or is it some combination of all these things? Also, will you be paid on acceptance, or on publication? Make sure you know what you're getting out of this project, and when you should expect it before you put a single word on the page.
Question #4: Where is My Contract?
Not every project requires getting a legal team to draft a huge agreement. With that said, you should get something on paper that draws out the broad strokes of the project. Especially if you want to make sure the client is going to uphold their part of the agreement, and you want something more than a hearty handshake, and their word that they're good for it.
Question #5: What Rights Am I Signing Away?
This is one a lot of us don't think about, but it's worth considering. If you're doing a work-for-hire project, you often give up all rights to the work you produced once you've cashed the check. Is that what your client wants, or do they want your name on the piece to draw an audience? Can you republish the piece later, or do they have exclusive rights? Can you tell other people you wrote it, or are you sworn to secrecy? These are things you need to know before you get started.
That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully it's helped some of my fellow freelancers out there, or that it prevents pitfalls from those who are just thinking about getting into the life. If you like what you see, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on my posts. Lastly, if you want to throw some support my way, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month helps a lot, and it gets you some sweet swag in the process.