Talking Point: Sarah Beattie: May 2021

Each month we invite a Guild member to launch a discussion on a subject that matters to them. This month Sarah Beattie, who looks after Professional Affairs for the Guild, urges members to ‘Think Twice’ before signing contracts.

As freelancers, we’re used to speculative work: the synopses, pitches, chapter etc we produce for publishers, in expectation of a paid project. It remains our property, our work.

I’ve been trying to assist a member who finds their work is no longer their work and payment may not come. Embarking on a project with A N Other can be exciting. We’ve members who are acknowledged ghostwriters and some who work anonymously. It can be a mutually beneficial, sustaining relationship and it can be difficult. Before agreeing start, you should be very clear what the arrangement between you is – make sure you have it in writing. Often those seeking a ghostwriter are those who talk a lot, are hugely positive, promise much but are unhappy about being pinned down for detail, commitment and terms. You need these to protect your interests. Get a contract. Confirm all verbal agreements in emails directly afterwards. Add a Read Receipt.

Once a project has started, you may find things are not as described – from needing family recipes knocked into shape to trying to make a book from hours of disjointed rambling, perhaps. If agreed payment is no longer fair, call a halt and renegotiate.

Be clear what you want. Try not to get bullied: tough when one person has celebrity – but you’re a professional food writer and it’s your work too.