Kill Fees: When and How Medical Writers Use Them

    Kill-Fees-When-and-How-Medical-WritersYour time as a medical writer is worth money. 

    However, clients can change their minds, project leads can move on, and some projects are discontinued, due to circumstances we don’t control. 

    One way that medical communicators guarantee they will be compensated for work completed—or time set aside—is to charge a kill fee.

    How do kill fees work? When is it appropriate to charge a kill fee? Not all experienced medical writers are in favor of including a kill fee in a freelance contract, believing it has a negative effect on the relationship with the client. 

    Kills Fees Explained

    Magazine and newspaper publishing contracts often include a clause 

    providing for a “kill fee.” These publications will often offer a freelance writer a percentage (25% or 50%) of the amount contracted if they decide not to publish the piece. Sometimes the writing doesn’t meet the publication’s needs, or the focus has changed. It is not necessarily the writer’s fault. But if it happens to you, it helps to learn all you can about the editor’s reason for killing the piece.  

    Kill fees—or early termination penalties—are also included in some freelance medical writing contracts. Writers use kill fee clauses to ensure that they are paid for time spent on a project, even if the client discontinues it.

    Advice for Negotiating with Clients

    The best relationships between freelancers and clients are rooted in trust and communication. 

    Medical writers need a professional contract that includes a guarantee of compensation even when a client doesn’t end up using the work. Kill fees are one way to do that.

    When the negotiations are transparent and clear, most negotiations and projects go well. However, some freelance business owners share horror stories about not getting paid, or having to continually hound clients to fulfill their obligations. 

    In this edition of the AMWA Journal’s Freelance Forum, several experts share their advice for establishing relationships with clients. They recommend bringing up money in the first meeting, to let the client know you are a serious professional. They also advise freelancers to include payment terms on all invoices. If an invoice states that payment is due within 30 days and the writer hasn’t been paid, a friendly reminder might be in order.

    Why are some experienced medical writers against including kill fees in contracts?

    Not the Only Route

    In the Dollars & Sense column in Pencil Points, authors Brian Bass, MWC, and Cyndy Kryder, MS, MWC, explain why they don’t include kill fees in their contracts. “If your goal is to develop solid relationships with your clients, where they see you (and treat you) like a partner instead of a vendor, kill fees are a great way to slay your chances,” they write.

    They believe that kill fees get in the way of building good relationships with clients.

    They speak from experience. For example, they reported working on a project that included a first draft and up to two rounds of revisions. When the client went silent after the first draft, it took some time to learn that the project had been discontinued. They had completed only the first draft, and the client expected to pay them one‑third of the estimated cost of the project. However, the writers had completed 75% of the work. 

    After that negative experience, these experienced freelancers began including an invoice schedule in their estimates, clearly stating the line items (or delivery benchmarks) that would be invoiced and when.

    Instead of a kill fee, they are negotiating to be paid for their effort along the way.

    Be Clear and Confident

    Whether you decide to include a kill fee in your contract or not, you’ll avoid much hassle by submitting a detailed estimate before agreeing to work with a client or signing a contract.

    At a minimum, a freelance medical writing estimate should include the scope of your work, a timeline for completion and for invoicing, and the estimated cost of your work (hourly vs. project).

    There are resources available to help you connect with peers and learn more about the business of freelance medical writing, including AMWA’s Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Medical Writer and Expert Tips for Freelance Medical Writing

    And by the way, nothing was “killed” in the process of creating this blog.


    May 2, 2022 at 9:58 AM

    American Medical Writers Association

    AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.