Kill Fees (and Why You Need Them)

What is a kill fee for freelance writers...
and why do you need one?

A kill fee isn't nearly as dramatic as it sounds.
 by Angie Papple Johnston for Freelance Writing Tips

In the writing world, a kill fee is a predetermined amount of money both you and your client agree upon - and it's for work you've done but the client doesn't want.

Why You Need a Kill Fee
  • A kill fee covers your butt and ensures you're not working for nothing
  • A kill fee shows your client you're a serious businessperson and should be treated as such
When You Need a Kill Fee

You need a kill fee every time* you agree to write something for someone.

Whether you're writing Web content, a press release, sales copy or a blog post (or absolutely anything, for that matter) and you want to get paid for it, you need a kill fee. 

*Skip down to "When Not to Charge a Deposit for a Kill Fee" - sometimes you might not feel a kill fee is necessary.

How to Make a Kill Fee Work

In order to work properly, your kill fee should be part of the initial deposit you require in your freelance writing contract.  (If you're not using a writing contract, come... closer... so... I... can... smack you!!!)

With a kill fee in your contract, you've already got part of the money you've earned if your client cancels or changes the project.

To be fair, make sure your client understands that their deposit is non-refundable before they make it.  I have a line in my standard contract like this:
"Publisher will furnish half the total estimated fees ($ amount here) as down payment at onset of project, which will serve as a non-refundable 'kill fee' for portions of work completed by Contractor but not accepted by Publisher."
I discuss the payment schedule with my clients before I even send a contract over for their approval - and that way, they know just what they're getting into.

How a Kill Fee Can Save Your Butt

Clients may be under the impression that when they cancel the project, it's just too bad for the freelancer - but you and I both know you've already put work into it as soon as they signed and returned your contract.  If you've got a kill fee in place, all those hours you put in (putting off paying clients, at that) will have already been compensated... at least partially.

How Much Should a Kill Fee Be?

The amount of your kill fee is up to you.  I can't tell you a magic figure, but I can tell you that mine is 50% of the project total.  I feel that's fair all around; yours may be different.

This is your business - run it however you see fit.

When Not to Charge a Deposit for a Kill Fee

It's entirely your decision when not to charge a deposit to be used as a kill fee.  I have some clients I've had forever who never have to pay a deposit - but that's because they've never changed the scope of our projects, never cancelled anything on me and are generally easy to work with. 

If you've reached a high level of trust (or you know you'd forgive the client if anything came up and they did have to cancel a project) and don't feel you need to make them pay a deposit for your services, then don't - but remember, you're doing so at your own risk.

Do you have any tips on kill fees for new writers?  How do you broach the subject of kill fees with your potential clients?


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2010. Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

Image courtesy of paav-o at stock.xchng.