As a freelance writer, it’s your job to keep editors and publishers happy. Aside from the issue of professional integrity, it’s a good way to make sure you are asked to write for a publication again. One of the best ways of doing this is to be clear on exactly what a commission entails. To do this there are five questions that writers should get the answers to before starting work.
1. What Should I Write?
It is important to get a brief from an editor about the piece of writing you are being commissioned to write. At the very least, the brief should cover how long the article should be and what the article needs to cover. If the commission has resulted from a query, then you may already know these things. However, it is always best to make sure both you and the editor are on the same page. Writers should also find out whether editors will require additional material (such as photos and sidebars) to illustrate the article.
2. When Do You Want It?
Establishing a deadline is essential for keeping the professional relationship running smoothly. Having a deadline means that writers can plan their writing time well. Meeting a deadline will make an editor love you and is likely to result in repeat commissions.
3. What Credit Will I Get?
Writers usually get a byline for their writing and some publications even allow a brief bio. If you find out which the editor prefers, you can include this when submitting you article instead of having to write a bio in a panic at the last minute. Make sure you ask for a copy of the magazine, too. This will help to build your portfolio.
4. What Rights Am I Selling?
When an article is commissioned, the magazine is buying the right to use it. However, you still own the copyright. It is important to decide what rights are being offered. It is normal to offer the right to be the first to publish a piece of writing in a magazine in a particular country. This is known as ‘first serial rights’. Online rights are often requested, but writers should make sure that any exclusive period is for a limited time so they can republish the article elsewhere after the rights have expired.
5. What About Payment?
Payment for writing varies widely from country to country and publication to publication. There are several organizations that give price guides, such as the National Writers’ Union in the US (members only) and the National Union of Journalists in the UK. Other resources for setting prices include Writers’ Market, which has free information available online, and is also available in print. However, small or startup magazines may not be able to pay even the minimum price. The best thing to do is to negotiate a price you are happy with.
Once you have established the details of the commission, deadline, rights and payment, it’s time to get to work. Happy writing!