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