No Rejection Slips: Sub-contract Article Assignments By L. L. Star

Would you like to get an abundance of article assignments without writing a single query letter? By getting sub-contact work from public relations agencies, I wrote over 100 newsletter articles, a professional column in a monthly trade publication, and a chapter in a travel guidebook. Sub-contract work gave me the opportunity to write for large, prestigious companies such as Bell & Howell, Grant Thornton, LaSalle National Bank and many others.

Opportunities Abound

Public relations agencies, creative graphic design shops and even other busy writers are all eager to hire freelance writers on a sub-contract basis. The “contractor” gets a large contract from a corporate client to produce marketing materials and then sub-contracts the writing, graphic design and illustration etc. to others.

Opportunities for sub-contract freelance articles include marketing and in-house newsletters, plus company profiles, satisfied customer testimonials and ghost-writing executive columns, just to name a few. The contractor will charge the client 25-35% more than what he or she pays sub-contractors. But because sub-contact writing is business communications, it generally pays better than the consumer magazine market even with the mark-up.

The contractor typically has many clients and may provide you with work over several months or years. That means you’ll spend time doing what you love the most — writing — instead of marketing.

You’ll also gain invaluable experience which will allow you to obtain direct contracts on your own and charge $50-$100 per hour. I was able to land a local bank as a new client based on my portfolio of banking marketing newsletters.

The Downside

It’s unlikely that you’ll get a byline, but you can include your published clips in your portfolio. Sub-contract work is almost always work-for-hire, which means that you won’t own the copyright to your work and you can’t resell it later. However, some newsletter articles may lend themselves to reworking and reslanting as new articles for consumer publications.

The All-Important Contract

Here’s what to watch out for when negotiating a good sub-contract agreement:

  • Payment should be made on acceptance, not on client approval. You should submit an invoice when the contractor accepts your work, not when the client approves or pays the contractor’s invoice.
  • Establish a fair rate. One contractor wanted to pay me less for writing a marketing newsletter because the client was ordering fewer printed copies. Because the amount of work was the same, I negotiated a fixed word rate.
  • Get published samples of your work. Be sure to get copies of the final product for your portfolio and find out if your work receives awards or special client praise.
  • Establish clear lines of communication. It’s very helpful to speak directly with all parties involved. For example, I wrote a trade publication column on a sub-contract basis for the client’s vice president of sales. He requested a puff piece, but the editor wanted up-to-date marketing tips. After talking directly to the editor, I wrote an well-received column that pleased both the editor and vice president.
  • Watch out for non-compete agreements. The contractor may ask you to sign a non-compete agreement prohibiting you from accepting work directly from the client for six months after you complete your assignment. Don’t sign non-compete agreements if you’ve previously worked for the client or have pursued them prior to accepting the sub-contract job.
  • Make sure the client allows sub-contracting. Don’t agree to pretend that you’re an employee.
  • Be clear about taxes. If the IRS considers you to be a part-time or temporary employee, you could lose your own business deductions and the contractor could face stiff penalties. Consult your professional tax advisor and the IRS for details.

Even if you are successfully selling articles to consumer and trade publications, sub-contract work can be a good way to keep your writing — and income — constantly flowing.

L. L. Star has worked as a full-time professional freelance writer, editor and newsletter designer for over 20 years. She has written at least 1,007 published articles, and specializes in writing about travel, history, Americana, business, personal finance, children and families. She can be reached at: LStarwriter (at)