Carolyn Crist (@cristcarolyn) helps AHCJ’s freelance members find the resources, tips and contacts they need to create and run a successful business. A freelance journalist and author, Crist covers health, medicine and science stories for national news outlets such as Reuters, Runner’s World and Parade. She also writes for trade and custom publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For some of AHCJ’s freelancers, payment issues were already a hassle before 2020. Now they may be even more difficult, depending on the publication or editor. In several writer groups online, fellow freelancers have cheered for a surge in work but also bemoaned payment hiccups. Individual situations vary, of course, but a few common threads have appeared.
Jeanne Erdmann is an award-winning health and science writer based in Wentzville, Mo. A member of AHCJ's board of directors, she is the chair of the organization's Freelance Committee. Her work has appeared in Discover, Women’s Health, Aeon, Slate, The Washington Post, Nature, Nature Medicine and other publications.
Few moments are more gratifying to a freelancer than a new contract landing in our inbox.
Contracts solidify the hard work and the leap-of-faith that began with a pitch. They begin what could be a long, profitable relationship with a publication, perhaps a dream publication that’s finally taken a pitch. They’re a physical sign that – for another month at least – we can pay off bills, college loans, cover the rent. Continue reading →
Jocelyn Wiener is an award-winning independent journalist based in Oakland, Calif. She writes regularly for Kaiser Health News and the Center for Health Reporting. Her work has run in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, Pacific Standard and newspapers around the country.
Two top freelancers at Health Journalism 2018 – Linda Marsa and Heather Boerner – and attorney Ruth Carter offered a series of great tips to help you start thinking of your freelance work as a real business … and make it pay like one.
Marsa kicked off the session, “Unleash your inner entrepreneur,” with advice about getting a good mix of work, and getting paid for it: Continue reading →
Photo: Pia ChristensenHeather Boerner (left) moderated a panel that included freelance science writer and editor Kendall Powell (middle) and independent journalist Greg Smith.
Almost every freelancer has a horror story or two about contract negotiations gone awry. To help freelancers avoid the most common pitfalls when negotiating contracts, Health Journalism 2014 included a session titled Contracts 101. This session was important for independent health care journalists concerned about the business side of freelancing. Among the topics covered were the dreaded indemnity clauses, liability exposure, and how to estimate fees accurately.
Contracts 101 featured two freelancers (Kendall Powell, a science writer and editor, from Lafayette, Colo.; and Greg Smith, a photojournalist from Westcliffe, Colo.) and a lawyer in private practice, James Gregorio of Greensboro, N.C. Heather Boerner, an independent journalist from San Francisco, was the moderator. Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, a freelance writer in Connecticut, organized the panel but was unable to attend the conference.
Each speaker offered excellent advice on how freelancers can avoid the problems inherent in contract negotiations and what to do when publishers insert indemnity clauses in contracts. When they include these clauses, they often say, “Take it or leave it.” Whenever possible, Smith suggested freelancers should use their own contracts rather than settle for whatever publishers offer. Publishers draft contracts to suit their needs and rarely consider the needs of freelance writers, he said. Continue reading →
Being an independent journalist doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce to the dictates of sources – or of clients. The key to having a say, though, is negotiating contract terms that provide a framework for high quality journalism.
It took me years to figure out how to build into standard contracts the tools I needed to protect the integrity of my work. As a new freelancer, I was timid about challenging these legal documents. Today, I regard every contract as a first draft, and liberally cross out language that I don’t understand or that binds me to promises I couldn’t possibly keep. Among the latter are indemnity clauses, which saddle the freelancer with legal liability for anything that goes awry in the publication process.
But it took me seemingly forever to get to where I am now so I’ve recounted my long journey in an article on AHCJ’s website in hopes of making it a shorter one for you. I’ve also collected tips and resources from fellow AHCJ freelancers. I hope this will be the start of an ongoing conversation among AHCJ freelancers on this vitally important element of sustaining yourself financially and professionally as an independent journalist. If you have a tip to share, please leave a comment and we’ll add them to the list of tips with the article.