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                                           Freelance Forum
                                                     Cathryn D. Evans

DEAR CATHRYN: I was the senior             I believe they have pharmaceutical           Many clients will seek writers who
editor of a small medical                  and CDC sponsorship.                         know the specific therapeutic areas of
communications agency on the West                                                       their business in order to keep the
Coast for 2 years, writing and editing                    NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST      learning time down; others are
journal articles, poster presentations,                                                 seeking the best writer, knowing that
                                           DEAR X: In general, $40 to $50 per
reference materials, and marketing                                                      most of us are quite capable of
                                           hour is an appropriate rate for
publications in two therapeutic                                                         learning a new therapeutic area and
                                           editing, unless the “editing” is so
categories. Earlier this year, I decided                                                writing about it (after all, research and
                                           substantive that new material must be
to work on a freelance basis and have                                                   learning are part of what we do as
                                           added, the structure of the paper
continued to work on projects for my                                                    medical writers).
                                           must be changed radically, and
former employer as well as a few local     serious rewriting is needed; in that
clients. I have had a difficult time                                                    Regarding the proposal for a book
                                           case the “editing” job is really a           chapter for the nonprofit
settling upon an hourly rate in light of   writing job so the hourly rate is
the following factors: First, I am                                                      organization: charge the same rates
                                           higher. For a New York agency you            you would charge the agency. Why
based in the Pacific Northwest and         should probably charge about $65 to
am not sure how this affects my                                                         should you reduce the fee? If the
                                           $85 per hour when you take                   specific project is so desirable that you
market value. Second, my degrees are       responsibility for creative planning,
in liberal arts rather than medical or                                                  are willing to work for less money, or
                                           researching, and writing. If you were        if they give you a long-term contract
scientific areas. Third, I have become     working directly for their
an “expert” only in the two                                                             for a guaranteed amount of work on a
                                           pharmaceutical clients, you could            regular basis, or if you will learn some
therapeutic categories I specialized in    charge more. When working for an
while working for my former                                                             very important skills on this project, it
                                           agency, however, one usually allows          may be worthwhile to lower your fee.
employer. I have been charging $40 to      some leeway for their mark-up or
$50 per hour for both writing and                                                       You may want to negotiate a lower
                                           profit. Expenses for mailing and             price if their staff will perform some
editing assignments. My first question     long-distance calls, etc., should be
is whether this rate is too low for this                                                of the tasks involved, thus minimizing
                                           charged separately. A smaller agency,        the time you spend and saving the
medical communications agency,             not in New York, may not be willing
which recently moved to the East                                                        client money on outside services. As
                                           to pay you $85 per hour, but this            far as the appropriate charge for a
Coast, and I imagine that my East          depends on the agency and its client.
Coast counterparts charge higher                                                        specific book chapter is concerned, it
                                           Whether your degree is in English or         would be imprudent for me to
rates than I can here. My second set of    science is irrelevant, as long as you
questions concerns a proposal I am                                                      suggest an amount without knowing
                                           know the necessary science or medical        much more about the project: what
working on for a nonprofit                 background for the project. The degree
organization (also on the East Coast)                                                   they expect you to do, how many
                                           category doesn’t matter unless you are       iterations would be involved, what
in my therapeutic field. They would        a by-lined author and scientific
like me to write several chapters for                                                   they require as a “deliverable,” etc.
                                           credentials are required. When you           You need to review all the material
an upcoming reference book. Do you         undertake projects on subjects outside
have any recommendations regarding                                                      carefully, including the outline, the
                                           your “therapeutic expertise,” so to          background, and other related
appropriate hourly fees, estimated         speak, obviously your learning curve
project costs, or both? How much                                                        materials, and then try to estimate
                                           is higher and the first project in a new     how long you think it will take you to
should a writer charge a nonprofit         category is likely to take more time.
group for a 4000-word book chapter?                                                     produce the project in the form they

                                            AMWA Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 1999
require. Then double that time and calculate the cost on the         My response to contracts of this sort from a drug company
basis of your hourly rate; consider adding another 10% to            is to point out that, in fact, I cannot be held liable for the
20% for profit—and make sure that out-of-pocket                      content of their material since they provide the background,
expenses are reimbursed separately.                                  suggest specific references, or both; they review and request
                                                                     changes to most written material; I am not the by-lined
                                                                     author or the scientific expert but rather am a ghost-writer;
                                                                     they would not accept my point of view or interpretation of
DEAR CATHRYN: I am a medical writer who has recently
                                                                     the scientific data if it happened to conflict with the “take-
left a full-time job to work freelance. Do you know                  home message” they desired in the first place, unless I
anything about the professional liability insurance that I am        happened to be a physician or scientist in the field involved
seeing in contracts I’ve been asked to sign? I called my             and could therefore argue my view on the basis of medical
local insurance agent about it, but he said his company              expertise; and they do not allow me to retain copyrights and
doesn’t provide this kind of coverage. Following is a                all rights to the material (in fact, most companies require
sample of the wording that was included in a contract I              stringent confidentiality agreements in which they specify
received from a major pharmaceutical company:                        that they own any thoughts and ideas you come up with in
“CONSULTANT shall carry and maintain at its expense                  relation to a project). Keep in mind that often a company will
during the term of this Agreement appropriate insurance              send a standard contract to all their vendors; they use a
coverage of the kind and with liability limits acceptable to         template that is intended to cover themselves in all areas,
COMPANY to protect itself and COMPANY from and                       which is understandable. But it is neither appropriate nor
against any and all claims or liabilities which may arise            acceptable to the medical writer who is doing “work for hire.”
directly or indirectly as a result of its performance under          In such cases, the company should indemnify the writer from
this Agreement, including but not limited to Professional            liability, and I have published wording to this effect in a
Liability (errors and omissions coverage) in the amount of           previous column (AMWA Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1996).
$1,000,000 per occurrence. A certificate evidencing
adequate insurance coverage shall be provided upon                   Regarding the CRO contract, such wording in a contract for
request of COMPANY.”                                                 a freelance writer borders on the absurd! Possibly the CRO
                                                                     had to sign a similar contract with the drug company for
Another contract from a major Contract Research                      whom they perform their work. Writers working for CROs
Organization (CRO) also contains an insurance                        usually write clinical study reports or other FDA summaries
requirement: “Contractor will obtain for itself and its              and, sometimes, papers targeted for publication in medical
personnel before providing services, at its own expense,             journals. In all cases, it is the sponsoring company or the
comprehensive General Liability (GL) insurance coverage              CRO who must retain liability for the content of the
for projects covered by this Agreement, for limits of liability      material. In the end, drug companies are liable for the
not less than $500,000, and (if available under state law)           contents of their submissions to the FDA and must take
workers compensation coverage with limits of not less than           responsibility for verifying data and reports before
$100,000. Contractor shall also obtain under the same                submitting them. A company that does not ensure the
terms and conditions, Comprehensive Automobile Liability             accuracy of its own submissions is taking a big risk and
insurance in a minimum amount of $500,000 bodily injury              cannot afford to trust a CRO entirely, regardless of their
and property damage combined single limit, and Errors                contract with them—even a CRO’s liability coverage would
and Omissions insurance in a minimum amount of                       not begin to cover the losses the drug company would suffer
$500,000. Insurance maintained by Contractor shall be                if inaccurate data caused a delay of approval or a rejection
written by insurance companies licensed to do business in            of a new drug application. So liability for FDA submissions
the state(s) in which the Services under this Agreement are          is mainly in the hands of the company—possibly, to a lesser
performed. Such insurance shall be, in form and substance,           extent, the CRO if liability was accepted in their contract,
satisfactory to Company. Contractor will name Company                but certainly not the freelance medical writer. As far as
as an Additional Insured on each of the above policies, and          workers compensation and automobile liability insurance
provide a copy of the binder, the policy or a certificate of         are concerned, this seems irrelevant and I would argue to
insurance to Company upon request. Such insurance shall              delete these clauses as well. As with all issues of liability, by-
not be subject to cancellation or change.”                           lined authorship and stated expertise change the picture.

                                               MICHAEL WARNER
                                                  PORTAGE, MO.       Cathryn D. Evans has been a freelance writer and
                                                                     communications consultant in California since 1980. She is a
                                                                     past president of AMWA and a recipient of the Golden Apple
DEAR MICHAEL: Will other readers please write or e-mail              Award. She has given 17 workshops on freelancing and many
me with their experience of contracts like this, particularly        others on various aspects of medical communications.
in terms of Errors and Omissions insurance? How many of
you carry this insurance and what are you paying for it?

                                              AMWA Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 1999

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