Five Writing Tips for Managing Creative and the Bottom Line


By Robert Israel

Writers continually struggle with creative demands versus the bottom line. While there are no easy solutions to achieve an even keel between creative pursuits and fiscal realities, here are several writing tips to keep in mind when searching for a balance in two areas that often seem like polar opposites:

Know Your Buyer

“When you are negotiating a contract, know who you are dealing with,” Susan Rayne, a lawyer who advises clients on matters of business, corporate, technology, and licensing law, said in a recent conversation. “Think of the worst-case scenario: you complete the assignment, submit it, your client won’t pay you, so you end up filing a complaint at small claims court that could drag on for months. You can avoid having to take this legal course if you perform your due diligence first. Do background checks on your clients. Make sure they have good records when it comes to paying their bills. Read the fine print on the contract. If you find the language of the contract perplexing, consult a lawyer—ask them to interpret it for you.”

Set Expectations

If you are drawing up the terms of an agreement or helping to draft one, make sure the terms are clearly defined. State your requirements and those proposed by your client. Set dates and tasks. Specify how many drafts and revisions you estimate are needed to get the job done. Clearly define when you will deliver the final copy of a given assignment. When it comes to payment for services rendered, be sure both parties agree on the stipulated arrangements.

Know Your Copyrights

Whether you are a freelance or full-time writer, you can benefit from educating yourself on copyright rules and regulations. This can help make the creative process smoother. Many publications require writers to review and sign a contract outlining their adherence to copyright laws. For example, if you are working with a financial service client, you should be aware of all the compliance steps required before an article can be distributed. Freelancers should be aware of copyright requirements and budget that time into their schedule accordingly. By better managing your time and having an understanding of various industry regulations, you can free up time to achieve better, more creative results.

Keep an Idea Ledger

Playwright John Guare, whose script, Six Degrees of Separation, was made into a popular film, said in an interview that while he was extremely displeased his new Broadway play closed after only a handful of performances, “I always have new ideas jotted down in my notebook and a new play in my typewriter.”

Not all your ideas will catch fire. You will hear “no” uttered far more frequently than “yes.” Use your idea ledger as a home for your backup plans. List publications you may want to approach. Make notes of any feedback you receive. Scan publications for editorial calendars and contacts and record them in your ledger. Draft queries about your story ideas before you dispatch these to editors.

Keep a Financial Ledger

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously kept a ledger, available for viewing in a facsimile edition, in which he documented how much money he was paid for his short stories, treatments, and novels. Fitzgerald lived lavishly and spent more than he earned. In your ledger, set up columns for income, expense, and time devoted to each assignment. Make sure you keep a watchful eye on all columns. In this manner, you will avoid Fitzgerald’s fate.

By practicing fiscal discipline and reading the fine print of all contracts, you will gain more control over the business aspects of your career. Through these writing tips, you may one day arrive at a place where the creative and fiscal realities of writing are balanced. It’s possible to break even, or better yet, to come out ahead. But that will only happen if you keep your creative and fiscal houses in order.

Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer and editor. This piece appeared in The Content Standard, published by Skyword, Inc.


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