Ask Me Anything: When Clients Delay Projects

An anonymous freelance writer asks,

I’ve been writing for a website for over a year (technically). At the end of last year the site was being overhauled and apparently there was a huge hiccup that still hasn’t been resolved. I typically sent my articles in batches, and the site hasn’t been updated in several months. With this in mind, I have quite a few articles sitting somewhere doing nothing when I could be re-tooling them to try to sell elsewhere. Is it appropriate to ask about the status of the site and if I could possibly re-pitch those articles to other markets, or is that material (although unpublished) now their property and there’s not much I can do about it?

It’s certainly appropriate to ask about the timeline that the client has in mind for relaunching the site, especially if you’re supposed to be paid on publication. If you have a contract in place, you will have to ask for your client to release you from the contract. If the client has already paid for the articles, either as a work for hire or for first rights to publication, it’s still reasonable to ask about the timeline, but you have less room to take those articles elsewhere. Unless you’ve signed an agreement that the articles in question are work for hire, however, they are never the property of the client — instead, you’ve licensed that content to them.

If the website doesn’t look to be fixed and active any time soon, I would use the following approach: I’d tell the client that while I’m happy to write more articles for him just as soon as the website’s status is resolved, I’d like to go ahead and get these particular articles out there. If these articles may become stale soon, due to the information they contain, I’d point that out as well. Not every client will be happy about your request, but if you’re willing to write new content as soon as they’re ready to move forward, it can be an easier fix.

Got a question about the business side of freelance writing? Share it in the comments and I’ll answer it in next week’s ‘Ask Me Anything.’

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