Avoid Hassles With A Freelance Writer’s Basic Assignment Checklist

Carol Tice

freelance writer assignment checklist

I had a great conversation with one of the writers in my mentoring program recently. She’d screwed up her courage, called the editor of a local lifestyle magazine, and been invited to pitch an idea! She was all excited.

There were a few hitches, though.

When she called to follow up on the pitch letter she sent, the editor was confused. He thought he had already given her an assignment.

To write a piece of unspecified length.

On spec. Fee to be determined later, if he liked it.

Oops.

When you’re out trying to land those first assignments — or even your first recent assignments, if you’re getting back into freelancing after a hiatus — it’s easy to get excited when you get a nibble.

You practically shout: “Yes, yes, pick me!”

And off you go, grinning happily, with only a dim idea of what you’ve agreed upon.

This causes a lot of problems later, especially when you realize you’re being paid a big $50 for your article. Or that you’re expected to develop 35 pages of content for $150. (That second one happened to another writer I know recently.)

Also, that tiny payment is due to arrive six months from now.

After this sad experience, my mentee suggested I offer a short checklist of the most important questions to ask when you’re getting a writing assignment, whether it’s from a magazine or a business. So here you go:

A Writer’s Basic 10-Point Assignment Checklist

  1. What is this assignment? Is it an article, blog post, white paper?
  2. How many words or pages long is it supposed to be?
  3. When is this assignment due?
  4. How much will I be paid for this assignment?
  5. What are your payment terms (i.e. 50% up front and the rest on publication, 60 days after I turn in the first draft)?
  6. Will I be expected to provide any photographs, images, charts, resources links, sidebars, a source list, or other related materials?
  7. Are there some particular sources you are expecting me to talk to for this assignment?
  8. Who will own the rights to what I am writing? For instance, might I be allowed to reprint the piece elsewhere after 90 days?
  9. Do you offer a kill fee if you don’t end up using the piece?
  10. Do you have a contract to offer me, or shall I draw one up? (Because you definitely want one, even if it’s just one brief page.)

Do you have more basic, important questions you ask? Leave them in the comments.

18 Comments

  1. Lakshmi

    Thanks, Carol, for this checklist. It’s a validation that I’m on track and more often than not it has helped me. The editor of a well-known travel magazine contacted me to do a story (this was my first assignment for them). I was surprised there was no clarity on per-word rate and it took a couple of mails back and forth to decide on one. No kill fee either and payment only on publication. Having burnt my hand a few times in the past because of this clause (over $700 unpaid), I turned down the offer.

    But, the positive of a checklist is I’m surprised how many times clients say yes when you ask.

    • Carol Tice

      Ouch! That’s a lot of revenue to be stiffed for, Lakshmi.

      I hate it when publications only pay ON publication. Then you’re basically at their mercy. They could decide to run it 6 months from now, or never…and they’re off the hook for payment until then.

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