Editorial Freelancers Association

August 22, 2017 - 10:59 AM



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Chapter 3. Guidelines for Project Terms

Updated and revised: September 2007

  • Schedules and Estimates
  • Scope of Work
  • Location of Work
  • Subcontracting
  • Credit and Complimentary Copies

In addition to the freelancer's fee and payment terms, a contract between an editorial freelancer and client involves other considerations that affect the project's successful completion. The requirements of the job, the time it will take, and the site at which the freelancer will work are among these considerations. Although specific kinds of publications often involve project needs that both freelancer and client understand well, it is good business practice to define these terms in the contract so that all involved can verify their assumptions.

Schedules and Estimates

The freelancer and client usually discuss the schedule for a project when they begin negotiating its terms. The freelancer needs to ensure that the job can be completed comfortably within the time available, while keeping in mind any other jobs that require attention within the time period, any anticipated delays, and the possibility of unexpected problems. Usually the client also wants to determine the requirements for a job and, in most cases, both freelancer and client need to discuss the material in question to agree on the scope of work required and the amount of time needed to complete the job.

Estimating Time. In most cases, the freelancer can estimate a project's schedule accurately only after receiving a description of the client's expectations and reviewing a portion of the project or its specifications. For example, a freelance copyeditor might want to edit several pages from different parts of a manuscript before estimating the time the job is likely to require; a freelance technical writer might want to review the final document's planned scope and degree of technical information to ensure a reasonable estimate. The freelancer bills the client for any preliminary work requested as a sample. The time spent reviewing a project's needs is also included in the freelancer's fee. All estimates must incorporate time for at least one complete reading of the project from beginning to end and for correspondence, meetings, telephone conferences, and other ancillary aspects of the job.

Renegotiating Estimates. An estimate is only an informal projection and is subject to review and renegotiation when necessary. A preliminary schedule can, however, indicate the date the freelancer will receive the necessary materials to begin work, the date by which the client will receive some or all of the completed work, and the amount of time expected to be spent on the project. Late fees, rush fees, reservation fees, and cancellation fees might apply, as specified in chapter 2.

Scope of Work

In some cases, clients rely entirely on editorial freelancers to determine the scope of work a job requires. In other cases, the client and freelancer evaluate a project together. Both parties can expect that schedule and budget estimates might need revision during this analysis or during the early stages of the freelancer's work.

The scope of work required is often greater than expected. An index, for example, might require a more conceptual set of entries than the technical compilation originally envisioned. Or a set of proofs might require extensive checking, revision, or cross-references. The scope of work may also turn out to be less than expected. For example, a manuscript assumed to be poorly written might require no more than occasional corrections to fix lapses in spelling and punctuation. Both freelancers and clients need to be alert to such possibilities and prepared to revise the terms of their contracts to reflect the actual scope of work.

Because the scope of work required for a job greatly affects the estimated time the project will take, a freelancer evaluates a project's requirements carefully when beginning work. If the project does require more time and expense than originally discussed, the freelancer needs to inform the client immediately and renegotiate any agreed-upon terms or, if necessary, terminate work and return all project materials. If the agreement is terminated rather than revised, a cancellation fee might apply, as specified in chapter 2. The freelancer also informs the client when the project requires less attention and might be completed more quickly.

Location of Work

Another variable to consider in an agreement is the location at which work will take place. Some clients and some projects require an editorial freelancer to work on-site, in the client's office, whereas work on other projects is customarily done in the freelancer's office, which is often a portion of the freelancer's home. Because freelancers who work on-site do not receive employee benefits, their fees need to reflect the costs of self-employment, which are not part of an employee's wage.

On-site freelancers also need to offset the cost, in both time and money, of commuting to the client's office on a regular basis. In some instances, the client subsidizes the cost of commuting, either by providing a travel allowance or by paying for the freelancer's time spent traveling to the office. Alternatively, the freelancer's fee can reflect these additional expenses, usually through a surcharge of 5 to 10 percent.

On-site freelancers also give up some other benefits that come with freelancing, such as working for a variety of clients or on a variety of projects, and having access to new clients and projects. Termination of an on-site contract can be problematic if the freelancer has been away from other sources of work for the duration of the on-site job. Therefore, a contract for on-site work typically includes a termination agreement of two weeks' notice or two weeks' pay, with the freelancer's usual fee for a week's work as the basis for calculation.

Contracts for on-site freelancing must also clarify the freelancer's tax status. Federal tax law mandates that some companies withhold taxes from the paychecks of on-site independent contractors. For some on-site freelancers, the client is now expected to pay social security tax on the freelancer's fees and to withhold taxes as if the freelancer were an employee. Other regulations, particularly those concerning unemployment insurance and workers' compensation insurance, vary from state to state, as different criteria classify an on-site freelancer as either an independent contractor or an employee.


Subcontracting occurs when a freelancer performs services for an agent (sometimes called a packager or developer). The agent, in turn, has an agreement with its client, who has initiated the project and usually controls its final form. Subcontracting also takes place when an individual freelancer engages the services of another freelancer to help complete an overflow of work.

When a freelancer works for an agent, the agent is in effect the freelancer's client. Thus the freelancer negotiates with the agent rather than with the party represented by that agent (which might be, for example, a book publisher or a software company). Because subcontracting adds another layer to the freelancer-client relationship, agreements with agents can be more complicated and therefore more problematic. Before entering into subcontracting agreements, freelancers need to consider a number of additional issues.

Disclosure. The freelancer who anticipates a need to subcontract work to another freelancer indicates this prospect in negotiations and in the contract with the client. If the need to subcontract part or all of a job arises in the course of a project, the freelancer discusses the situation with the client. If the client agrees in principle to subcontracting portions of the project, the client can expect to be informed about the portions being subcontracted and about who the additional freelancers are.

When a freelancer works for an agent, disclosure of the freelancer's identity is also important. The freelancer can expect that the agent's client will be informed of the freelancer's identity. It is also important that the project requirements be disclosed to all involved, so that the freelancer, agent, and agent's client all have the same expectations.

Payment. Freelancers should be paid by the agent according to the agreed-upon terms. In no case should payment be contingent on the timing or amount of payment to the agent by the agent's client.

Taxes. Subcontracting arrangements need to specify who will pay the freelancer directly and who is responsible for tax payments. State tax codes vary, and all tax laws are subject to change. Therefore, all parties need to determine their current tax status and liability.

Exclusivity. When a freelancer is asked to work for an agent's client only through that particular agent, the duration of this exclusive agreement needs to be reasonable but limited. Open-ended agreements that fail to limit the period during which a freelancer may not work directly for a client except through that agent are an unfair practice and of questionable validity. In general, a freelancer should be free to negotiate directly with an agent's client no more than six months after an exclusive contract (that is, a project) has terminated.

Each department of a large company represented by an agent is considered a separate entity. For example, if a freelancer works through an agent and contracts to index a book for a publisher's trade book division, this contract does not preclude the freelancer's working directly for the same publisher's college textbook division. Minimizing an agent's exclusive claim on a freelancer's services requires negotiating a separate contract for each project.

Control. The freelancer who takes work from an agent clarifies, in the contract with that agent, a number of issues related to control of the project. These issues include a determination of who makes the final decisions regarding the project's requirements, whether the freelancer has direct access to the agent's client (who might wish to make final decisions), the project's schedule, and the conditions under which the contract can be terminated.

In addition, the freelancer will want to protect a professional reputation with both the agent and the agent's client. Therefore, all important communication is documented in writing. For example, if an agent engages the services of a freelance technical writer to complete a partially finished manual, the freelancer and agent will document clearly the portions completed before the freelancer takes over the project. To protect the freelancer's interests, all parties involved need to receive documentation clarifying the role of each professional associated with the project.

Freelancers and agents also need to clarify in advance the way in which résumés and promotional materials will be used, especially when they are left with the agent. A freelancer can reasonably expect to be consulted before an agent shows the freelancer's credentials to any prospective client of that agent. The freelancer can also refuse permission for the agent to circulate such credentials generally or to send them to particular clients of the agent.

Agency Fees. In most subcontracting arrangements, the agent receives a percentage of the freelancer's fee. This percentage is the source of an agent's income, but freelancers should not make less than their usual fees to compensate the agent. The agency fee is an additional amount covered by the client, as compensation for the transaction costs that the client saves by engaging the agent's services.

Credit and Complimentary Copies

If receiving printed credit for editorial work is important to a freelancer, then the form of such credit is a matter for negotiation between the freelancer and the client. Freelancers might wish to receive printed credit in the final publication as a way to build a professional reputation, receive acknowledgment for contributing to a project, and obtain personal satisfaction. On the other hand, a freelancer might prefer not to receive printed credit because, say, of a lack of control over the form of the credit or the final publication.

Most freelancers not only want to retain the option of receiving printed credit but also want to reserve such an option until the end of the project. In no case should the freelancer's name appear without the freelancer's consent.

If a freelancer wishes to receive complimentary copies of a finished publication, this request is also subject to negotiation and agreement. Clients often consider providing complimentary copies a professional courtesy and send copies of a published work to all who contributed to it.

Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Appendix A | Appendix B


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