Dear Writers: A Note From Your Lawyer

This week I went to a writer’s meet-up and, as often happens, as soon as people found out I was a lawyer, the questions started rolling. While I’m not one to give out free legal advice (it is how I make a living, after all), a couple of things became very clear. So here are my two cents.

Yes, You Need a Contract

Ghostwriting for a friend? Negotiating with an agent or a publisher? Cooperating with other writers on an anthology? You need a written contract. If you are working with friends you trust, a contract makes explicit what each person is assuming is true and can avoid “but I thought…” issues later on. If your friends turn out to be frenemies, that written contract will protect you and your hard work.

Consider this: even if you and your friends agree 100 percent on who gets what, will your friend’s creditor? If one of your co-writers owes child support or a medical debt, the collections agencies will try to garnish any money he or she earns. You need a contract to show the courts what part of that money belongs to you and get your money back.

Get Your Contract Signed

It’s not enough to present your collaborator with a draft of a contract. Be persistent and get it signed. Stand up for yourself and your rights – don’t start writing until the contract is done! If there’s a dispute later, the fact that you jumped into the project could be used to show you gave up on your terms.

Stop Taking Legal Advice from CPAs

Several writers reported that they had been advised by accountants not to incorporate because it is a red flag for the IRS. Avoiding an audit is one thing, but there are lots of reasons why you may want to incorporate that have nothing to do with tax. Before discarding the LLC concept entirely, sit down with a competent business lawyer and discuss your risks and your options. CPAs know a lot about tax, but they aren’t trained to recognize the possibility of lawsuits and liability the way lawyers are.

Nothing says being a freelance writer is an easy job, but there’s no reason to make it harder by avoiding the legal protections available. Paying for a bit of a lawyer’s time could help you appear more professional, earn more from your writing, and protect you from future lawsuits.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist and a lawyer for Schmidt Law Services in Ferndale, Michigan. She prepares professional web content for lawyers and other professionals seeking to improve their online visibility. If you or someone you know is looking for a new marketing strategy, contact Legal Linguist today.