13 things to include in every freelance editing contract

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June 28, 2021
5 minute read

Editing is unfortunately a know-it-when-you-see-it type of work. A well-edited piece of content reads beautifully and is easy to spot. Conversely, a poorly edited piece can be painful. However, it can be difficult to quantify “editing,” which makes it all the more important that your freelance editing contracts have the right clauses included. Not only will your contract define your work and protect you against scope creep, it will also ensure you’re paid on time—and paid fairly. Here are 13 things you absolutely must-include in your freelance editing contracts.

Things to do before sending a contract

Contracts are meant to confirm and clarify, but not create your scope of work. So before you send a contract and land your first editing client, make sure you have verbal or written agreement from your client that they:

  • Want to hire you
  • Are aware you provide editing services (not writing)
  • Have seen your resume, including previous editing work
  • Know your rates
  • Have shared their goal outcome (i.e. is the edit for proofreading, grammar, strategy, storytelling, something else?)
  • Have defined timelines for delivery
  • Know whether they want a retainer / ongoing project or if it’s a one-off / deliverable-based project

This can all be confirmed either on a sales call or via email, but it’s important to know these ahead of time so the contract process focuses on confirmation and clarification. Having these admin items sorted out early is just one of a few areas that many editors wish they knew before starting out.

13 things to include in your editing contract

Once you have agreement on what you’re going to do for them (and how much you charge), it’s time to send a statement of work and contract.

Statement of work in plain language

The statement of work explains in plain language what you are going to do for your client.

Key items to include:

  1. What’s included in this scope: How many articles are you going to edit? How many words each, and total? Get down to specifics and tie those specifics to your rates.
  2. The definition of success: Write it out clearly. Do they just want grammatical proofreading? Great, put that in to ensure you’re protected if they come back later wondering why you didn’t reorder the paragraphs.
  3. The core engagement team: Name who is going to work on this project from the client side. You can’t succeed if your client isn’t engaging or delivering their end of the project.

Scope of work details

After the plain-language explanation of your work, it’s time to get down to the details:

  1. Timelines: When deliverables are expected and the dependencies on that timeline. For example, if you say it will take a week and be done by X date, but the client doesn’t deliver the material until the day before the “due date,” how does that affect the deliverable timeline?
  2. Anything the client has to provide to you: If you have any dependencies before you can start work, name them. This will help you later with any timeline issues or claims that you didn’t deliver.
  3. Rates: Be very clear on your rates as a line item (per item, per word, etc.) and the total cost of the project (what the client will be invoiced) to avoid any confusion.
  4. Any other expenses and billables: If you have to travel or incur expenses just for this project, who pays for them? And if it’s the client, do you have to agree in writing before spending the money?
  5. Work process: A high level explanation that you are a freelancer and can set your own hours. You are not bound by the client’s working hours, provided you meet agreed upon deadlines.
  6. Billing triggers: Clearly state when you will send an invoice and your payment terms.

These details offer a perimeter around the scope. So it’s not just that you’re “editing,” but that you’re delivering editing in this specific context.

Additional items

After you’ve defined the scope, you can include additional terms if they apply to your working relationship:

  1. Sharing work examples: Giving you explicit permission to share the work you do as an example for potential future clients (this can be handy if you’re ghost-editing).
  2. Cancellation or late fees: Include any terms if you charge late fees or what the process is to cancel your contract.
  3. Recourse: Explain what recourse the client has, if any, if they are unhappy with your work.
  4. Relationship of the parties: This is explaining that you’re a freelancer, not an employee, and therefore the company cannot treat you like an employee (for example: withholding taxes from your rates).

Not all contracts need these additional clauses, but you can add them depending on your context and depending on what your lawyer has advised in your unique situation.

Example contracts to take inspiration from

Building your own freelance contract can be difficult. While we advise you seek legal counsel for your unique legal situation, there are multiple legal templates online that you can start from.

Two that we like are from Editors Canada and Bonsai.

You can download the Editors Canada template HERE.


You can download the Bonsai contract template here.

Contracts are about clarity

Contracts are fundamentally about clarity: what you will do for a client, how much you charge, and the finer details of scope and success. The legal system is built to understand and work with contracts, so don’t be afraid to use them in all of your deals. When things get busy, contracts offer the clarity everyone needs to get back on track.

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