Freelance Writing Contracts—Navigating Negotiations

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Freelance writing contracts are the written form of the full agreement between you, the writer, and the client. They’re the failsafe of any professional freelance writer’s business, no matter what you’re writing.

Think of them as your safety net in the world of freelancing—they protect you, give you confidence, and, most importantly, ensure that both parties know exactly what’s expected. That’s right! Because a good freelance writing contract protects both the writer and the client.

I know what you’re thinking; they can’t be that important, right? Listen, without a contract, you’re essentially walking a tightrope with a blindfold and nothing to catch you if you fall. Working without a contract can lead to late payments, scope creep, or, in the worst-case scenario, not getting paid. 

I created this quick article to help guide you through the essential elements of a freelance writing contract, from the scope of work to NDAs, and give you the lowdown on negotiating terms that work for both you and your client.

Ready to make your freelance life a heck of a lot easier? Let’s dive in and iron out exactly what goes into a freelance writing contract and how to make one!

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What Elements Should a Freelance Writing Contract Include?

Crafting a contract that’s easy to understand and includes all the most important details might seem like a daunting task, but it’s easier than you think, I promise. Here’s everything I always make sure my contracts include.  

Scope of Work

Straight off the bat, this is the foundation of your contract. Do your best to clearly outline what the project entails, including deliverables, word count, and any other expectations in a neat and concise way.

This should be 100% clear, with no room for assumptions or misunderstandings. It’s like creating a roadmap for the project, keeping everyone on the same page right from the start.

Payment Terms

Let’s talk money—how much, how often, and how you want to be paid. Make sure to include your standard rates, payment schedules, and what happens if a payment is late. Don’t forget to discuss kill fees for projects that get canceled halfway through.

I cannot stress enough about how important kill fees are. I once entered into a contract to ghostwrite a nutrition e-book for a client. The contract included all the basic details: the scope of work, my fee, and when I’d get paid.

About halfway through the project, after I’d spent several weeks researching and writing, the client decided to kill the project because they’d landed a full-time job as a nutritionist. Because we hadn’t discussed kill fees or worked it into the contract, I received zero dollars for a solid month of work. Not fun!

I’d recommend discussing kill fees with your client and including the agreed-upon details in the contract so that they can be clearly seen and understood. A good rule of thumb for pricing on this is to take the whole cost of the project and charge for the percentage completed.

So, if you’re writing something that will take a month and charging $1000, but the client kills the project about a week in, you can invoice them for a quarter of the project fee ($250).


Every project has a timeline, right? Define the project’s start and end dates, any milestones along the way, and specific deadlines for revisions. This helps keep the project on track and ensures you’re not waiting on feedback forever.

For example, when creating a month-long contract to write all the website copy for a client, I might set the timeline like so:

  • Week one: Finish Home Page and About Page
  • Week two: Start Product Catalog
  • Week three: Finish Product Catalog
  • Week four: Set Up Newsletter Landing Page and Blog Page

This gives a clear layout of how things will go and prevents the impatient client from messaging me on week two asking why the product catalog isn’t done yet. In freelancing, communication is of the utmost importance.

Copyright Ownership

Who owns the work once it’s done? Spell it out right here for everyone to see. Typically, the client will want full ownership, but you can negotiate terms, especially if you want to showcase the work in your portfolio.

If it’s a ghostwriting basis, you’ll likely not get any rights to use the work as examples in your portfolio, and you definitely won’t get any sort of credit or byline.

But if it’s not ghostwriting, then don’t be afraid to ask how they feel about giving you writing credit or even a byline. If you want to use the content as a working example in your portfolio, ask for a testimonial when the project is finished.

Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)

Sometimes, you’ll be privy to sensitive information, especially in fields like science and health. Alternatively, you might work closely with a client who wants to hand everything over to you—handling WordPress, ad creation, etc.—giving you access to passwords and financial info. An NDA ensures you keep this information confidential, protecting both you and your client.

Termination Clause

Life happens. This part covers the circumstances under which either party can terminate the contract, providing a clear exit strategy should things not go as planned. This is different from a kill fee! If a client abruptly ends a project, a kill fee clause makes sure you get paid.

However, a termination clause is more appropriate for situations where you or the client can’t continue for reasons beyond your control. Maybe you broke your hand and can’t write. Perhaps the client’s house burned down, and they can’t afford to do the project anymore. Like I said, life happens. Termination clauses help protect both sides of the contract.

What Else Should You Consider?

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You thought that was it? Nope! I have a few more factors to consider when drafting a freelance writing contract.


For the love of…everything, please specify the number of revisions included and what happens if the client wants more changes. This prevents endless tweaking without compensation, and you definitely want this ironed out before you start. Trust me.

In my early days, I accepted a pre-done contract to ghostwrite a novel. It said nothing of revisions, but I assumed there would be very little anyway. The book outline was pretty straightforward, and the client was super nice.

Then I finished the first draft, and the second draft, and the third, and even the fourth! I spent more time on revisions than I did writing the darn thing, to begin with. And the worst part was that it was my fault on my end. The client was just very indecisive but refused to pay until they were happy. And, because the contract said nothing of a revision clause, I was stuck. Don’t let this happen to you!

Dispute Resolution

No one likes to think about disputes, but it’s better to have a plan in place and not need it than the opposite. Ideally, outline how disagreements will be handled before they escalate to legal action. This is a contract-by-contract basis and should be discussed with the client first. Then, lay out the terms you discussed right in the contract.

Where Can You Find Resources and Templates?

You don’t reinvent the wheel here. There are plenty of sample contracts and contract creation tools online that work as a great starting point. Websites like the Freelancers Union or legal sites offer templates tailored to freelance writers. Just remember to always customize them to fit the specifics of your particular project.

Do You Feel More Confident About Contracts Now?

Freelance writing contracts aren’t just a formality—they’re an absolute necessity, so don’t let me find out you skipped it! They should set the tone for a professional relationship, provide peace of mind for everyone involved, and, most importantly, protect your rights and interests as a freelance writer.

With a solid contract in place, you can focus on what you do best: writing awesome content that captivates and engages readers. Remember, a good contract is a sign of professionalism, not mistrust, because a great contract covers both butts!

I really hope I cleared up any worries you had about freelance writing contracts! Let us know if you have any questions. And be sure to have a look at our other helpful guides for freelancers like you and me!