Everything Creative People Should Know About Contracts

We admit to feeling totally out of our element when it comes time to negotiate/sign a contract for our writing work. We further admit that we feel so totally out of our element that when the dust has cleared we often discover that we’ve just helped ourselves get screwed.

This article on 99u.Com could be our salvation. And – if you’re as like us as we think – yours as well:

572x429_handshake-425x319Taking Control of Contracts: What Every Creative Should Know
by Vinay Jain

If you’re like most creatives, dealing with contracts is one of your least favorite tasks, a dreadful but necessary part of business life.  It doesn’t help that many contracts seem to have been written in language from the 1800s that was designed to confuse more than clarify. The good news is, you can overcome your apprehension about contracts with the right mindset and a few handy tips.

Let’s start by debunking a common misperception: that the point of the contract is to protect yourself from a client who wants to stiff you.

Misunderstanding, not bad faith, is your enemy.

Lawyers don’t typically advertise this, but the happy truth is, most people aren’t looking for ways to take advantage of you.  A more common problem – but one that can be just as costly – is that people tend to interpret the same information in different ways.

Here’s an example: Say you’re an illustrator. Your client asks you for a drawing of a runner enthusiastically breaking through the tape at the end of a marathon. No problem — you start the drawing and email it to her a few hours later. She replies telling you that, for someone who just won a marathon, the runner doesn’t look happy enough; would you please redo it?

You’re tempted to say, “Hey, I gave you what you asked for. You never said to make him look ecstatic. A redo will be extra.” Leaving aside the question of whether you want to risk upsetting your client, are you within your rights asking to be paid for a redo?

People tend to interpret the same information in different ways.

At this point, you’ll both think back to your previous conversations.  Your client will remember that time that you told her “Client satisfaction is my top priority,” which of course meant (to her) that you’d keep working until she was satisfied. You, on the other hand, clearly remember her saying that the runner should look “happy,” meaning (to you) a normal level of happy. And obviously, you’re right.

But guess what? So is she.

She was unclear about wanting an extremely happy runner, and you were unclear about expecting to be paid for revisions. This lack of clarity created gaps that you each filled in with facts and information that supported your own hopes and expectations.

Psychology has a name for this phenomenon: confirmation bias. We tend to see and remember things that confirm our beliefs. It’s just human nature, really: when you don’t set and record expectations in advance, you sow the seeds for disagreements later – even when both of you are acting in good faith.

On the other hand, when you take the time to come to a written agreement, the very process allows you to reconcile different perceptions in advance.

When you’re ready to begin that process, here are a few tips that should help:

Read it all (the end result is a lot like, oh, wearing a condom – think about it)