Most freelance writers, including myself, include a round of revisions in their fee. In other words, we expect clients will want changes to our work. So how do you know if your revisions are reasonable and, if they are, how do you go about asking for them?
What Are Unreasonable Revisions?
Revisions are unreasonable if they involve a change in direction or incorporating large chunks of information that weren’t in the original brief.
Revisions are also unreasonable if they are primarily stylistic. Any professional writer will tolerate a word change or two. But massive stylistic changes indicate either the writer is grossly incompetent (unlikely) or you secretly believe you can do it better yourself. In this case, don’t hire a writer; hire an editor.
How To Ask For Unreasonable Revisions
If you are uncomfortable asking for a set of changes, it is probably because you know in the back of your mind that you are being unfair to the writer. Maybe you didn’t think the project through before assigning it. Maybe you told the writer to take the wrong approach.
Be candid with a writer if you have given him bad information. He knows it anyway, so man up and take responsibility. Be fair and offer to pay for work already done before starting over. If the project involves a large fee (over $1500) and the writer has spent less than a day on it, most likely the writer will not charge you for a false start.
Humility on your part goes a long way toward getting free help. Remember that five or six hours of research and writing time are only the tip of the iceberg. Those five or six hours may represent more 10 hours when you factor in preparing the initial estimate on a complex job or talking at length to you about your brand and marketing.
What Are Reasonable Revisions?
Small bits of factual information may need correcting. A sales promise may need to be tamped down a bit, but not eviscerated. You may think a subhead is too aggressive or not aggressive enough. In other words, you want some rewriting, but not wholesale demolition.
Reasonable revisions are minor adjustments. They are clarifications and refinements. They can be classified as tweaks not changes.
How To Ask For Reasonable Revisions
Reasonable revisions are easy to ask for because they are, well, reasonable. Even so, asking for revisions in the right way makes the process easier for both you and the writer.
Compliment the work (if you are sincere) when you ask for revisions. Writers are artists at heart. Appreciation is like milk and honey to them. So words of praise make criticism a lot easier to swallow.
Speak directly to the writer about the revisions you want. Be straightforward and specific. Fact changes like years in operation are easy fixes. Revisions to style and substance are more difficult.
Style changes should only relate to things beyond the realm of preference. For example, your legal department may prohibit the use of certain language. Industry standards may dictate the use of specific terms.
Directives like “I want something stronger here” are meaningless unless you provide a fact to back up a stronger claim. Writers will, out of frustration, produce a hokey sentence just to satisfy you. This does no good whatsoever and your customers will see through the puffery.
When you ask for revisions, include why you want them. You may discover the writer has very good reasons for having written something in a certain way. There is a sales logic to good copywriting that is not immediately apparent. Don’t get in the way of that.
Follow up with an email listing the revisions you want. You don’t need to be detailed. Just reference each revision in a general way, i.e. “no broker license, we use partners.” Include the deadline if you have agreed upon one. Creating a to-do list protects both parties, although in some ways it does more to protect the writer than it does to protect you.
If you want revisions beyond the scope of the original estimate, ask for a new estimate to complete the project. If a writer thinks you are an impossible client, you will see it in an outrageously high fee. If a writer believes the project is not far off from perfect, the fee will be relatively low.
Before you react with outrage at an outrageously high new estimate, consider whether you are in fact impossible or the project circumstances are impossible. The two boil down to the same thing, even if it is not your fault directly that your project and project parameters keep changing.
A writer’s worst nightmare is the client who says, “I’ll know what I want when I see it.” If a writer bills you up the Yazoo for revisions under these circumstances, you deserve it.