Our third virtual mentoring session featured Mark Schrope (bio), SciLance’s resident expert on contract literacy. Throughout the conversation, Mark and Bryn discussed techniques that can help a writer ask for the contract changes she or he desires. Although Google Hangouts frustrated us by dropping Mark a few times, he and Bryn kept their focus, picking up the conversation seamlessly after each interruption.
The session begins with Mark answering a popular question: “How did you go from a science career into science writing for a living?” Then it’s on to the good, the bad, and the ugly about writing assignment contracts, taking questions from viewers on indemnity clauses, rights grabs, when to walk away from a bad contract, and more.
This video lasts about one hour. If you’d like to select particular sections to watch, refer to the time-stamped highlights, below. (If you can’t see the video at the top of this post, click here to watch it on YouTube.)
Guide to July 2, 2013 Virtual Mentoring Hangout, with Bryn Nelson (bio) and guest mentor Mark Schrope:
3:32 Bryn Nelson introduces Mark Schrope, SciLance’s resident expert on contracts and author of The Science Writer’s Handbook‘s chapter on “contract literacy.”
4:52 How did you become a science writer, Mark?
6:05 What’s the worst contract you’ve ever received for a writing gig, and how did you fix it?
8:10 Worst case scenario: Talking to the contracts administrator.
9:44 Are contracts with unacceptable rights and indemnity clauses an increasing trend?
12:12 What is an indemnity clause, and what makes a bad one?
15:09 How do I go about addressing bad indemnity terms with the publication?
18:08 Mark continues to answer the question, after Google Hangouts drops his connection.
20:35 What are reasonable “non-compete” terms for a writing contract?
22:10 What are typical rights terms in a contract? Who retains the rights to our words?
24:24 Two ways to handle reprint/republication rights.
26:36 If I can’t change bad contract terms, can I use them as leverage for a bigger fee?
28:36 On the magic question to ask the editor: “Is there a better version of this contract that is more writer-friendly?”
30:00 How can a writer approach editors about changing contracts? What’s the right tone to strike?
32:40 What about contracts that claim all my writing, even writing that’s “off the clock”? Can they do that? Is that enforceable?
34:33 Have you ever turned down an assignment, or been passed over for one, because you didn’t like the contract?
36:35 The power of community: If enough writers ask for the same changes, will contracts improve?
38:08 On talking with other freelance writers to get feedback, advice on contracts.
39:24 What is a fair fee for resale of my work?
41:41 Once I sign a contract, can I renegotiate the terms? When is that okay, and when is it a bad idea?
45:31 What happens once I’ve turned in my first draft?
45:48 When setting contract terms and fees, should I ask for different rates for different story elements, such as photographs or video?
48:46 What are some other, potentially problematic points of contract language that writer should pay attention to? (Kill fees, cancellations, where litigation would take place in the unlikely event we go to court?)
52:17 Libel clauses: What should I do when the contract’s terms around libel law are problematic?
54:25 What resources are available to writers who find themselves in contract disputes?
57:34 Thank you, Mark, for being our virtual mentor!
Looking for more on contracts? Check out this post. More questions? Let’s discuss those in the comments.