One of the things about writing for a living is that you have to get paid for your writing or else there is no living being made. Many people out there who want to be clients of a writer forget that they are purchasing your services. They are hiring you for your expertise, your creativity, capability and skill. You deserve to be paid for what you know and what you can do for your clients, do you agree? Of course you do but do you really?
If you do agree with me, why do I still find myself in discussions and email exchanges with eWriters who fail to get some portion of their payment up front? A ‘Commencement Fee’ is vital to setting the tone of the arrangement. It demonstrates you are a professional whose time is valuable and that you are an equal partner in the transaction. You will expend time and focus getting started on the client’s writing project and that needs to be paid for. You see, too many clients change their minds, suddenly find other priorities in their busy schedules or simply lose interest. They have no idea you have spent hours of precious time communicating with them to arrange the project, read what they send, draw up a plan or outline and give some serious thought to the job. All of which takes up time and requires you to use your skills and experience on the client’s behalf.
If the client changes their mind for whatever reason then that is not something you should be penalised for. They should have been given sufficient examples of your writing to know if you are the style of writer they are after before they sign the Letter of Agreement (you do send them a Letter of Agreement, right?). If they discover this after you send them the first block of writing for their consideration then fair enough, that happens, but you still worked for them up to that point and you should be paid for that work. This is the nature of and the risk run with work of a creative nature like writing, sculpting, painting and so on. If they wish to cancel the project then you should have been paid enough through the ‘Commencement Fee’ to cover yourself up to the point where you send them that first draft of the first block of writing. Some writers even charge, and get, a ‘Kill Fee’ if the job is cancelled.
Recently a client asked if he could cancel a project we had begun and for which he had paid a Commencement Fee. I realised while I could argue the point, there was no point in doing so as it would ruin what had up to then been a good working relationship. Basically, after reading my massaging of his first chapter and despite loving my work, he had realised he didn’t want a ghost writer, he had to write this book himself. Fair enough. He asked if the ‘unused portion’ of the Commencement Fee could be refunded to him and he would, of course, give me positive feedback on the crowd sourcing site he had used to solicit for my services. Quite frankly, there was no unused portion. I checked my time sheet and found I had easily used up the fee value in time, reading the previous books he had written that he had sent me asking me to read to get a handle on his writing style and so forth. I had spent over an hour on a Skype call as well as other exchanges of correspondence and on top of that a couple of hours arranging and organizing the project, producing a scaffold for him to follow and so on. I had well and truly earned every cent of the commencement fee. I explained this to him in detail and he cancelled the job, I accepted the cancellation and gave him fair and very positive feedback and I am sure, one day, maybe one day soon, he will do the same for me as he said he would. Then again, he might not because people do tend to change where money is involved.
The moral of this story is that you need to be professional, get it in writing and get some commitment off the client up front in the form of a commencement fee. I usually ask 25% on jobs over $1,000 and 50% on smaller projects. No doubt with the matter over with, my client simply forgot to honour his promise to leave feedback and as I have more than enough there already, it won’t harm my prospects of winning the next job but one would be forgiven for thinking that sometimes people are all very nice, until money is involved and especially when it is their money. Had I not obtained the commencement fee before beginning the job I believe I would be out of pocket and have spent several hours working on his project for no pay. This is without considering the loss I am carrying at the moment for the hours I set aside for his project and now have to use to find a new client. I had actually knocked back a job because I felt I had too full a schedule with the now-cancelled project and I never want to take on too much, promise the world and then fail to deliver.
Commencement fees soothe some of that hurt and I am always glad I ask for one these days. Too many times in the past clients have simply not respected my professionalism and treated me like I’m doing them a favour, mostly because ‘well it’s only writing and everyone can write and besides, you said you love what you do’. Well, writing is what I do, I do it well and I deserve to be paid and if you could do it then you wouldn’t need me, right? Get paid, people. It is your right.