FAQ on white papers and related technical writing The Internet Press Guild [IPG] frequently fields questions on professional practices such as bidding, pricing, and so on. In the course of one of these conversations, IPG charman Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols responded:
While I haven't done a reviewer's guide, I have done white papers. The problem as a freelancer is you don't know just how much time a company's management will take on a project. Your contact often doesn't know either. With some companies, the contact acts as a real editor and stands between you and the layers of marketing staff and the executives above them. In some cases, I've received 'fix this' notes from up to half-a-dozen people all along the management chain.

To avoid this, I find it helpful to make it clear that 1) You'll only do corrections sent to you and vetted by the contact person. 2) Any work above and beyond a set amount of time and/or revisions will be paid for at an additional rate. If you don't include the latter, you may find yourself, as I once did, doing dozens of revisions on an assignment, which went from being extremely profitable for my time to one that was almost a waste of my time.

The problem spring from the managers' need to put their fingerprints on a project. And, that annoying belief by non-writers and editors that anyone can write and edit. So it is that their thoughts on how a piece should read is every bit as good as a writer who's been practicing his or her craft for a decade.

In short, the customer is always right in this kind of project. Unfortunately, in corporate writing you may be working for multiple customers and never know it until after you've turned in your first draft.

(reproduced with permission--well, it will be as soon as SJVN gives me it)

A short time later, Curt Franklin offered these wise details:

  1. I tend to price them the way I'd price a review of the product, plus a time factor for the interviews, product research, etc. Don't sell yourself too cheaply.
  2. I build the process into the proposal. I have the customer gather all comments on version 1 into a single comment document which then comes back to me. I do version 2, which should then be vetted for the smallest of changes, and that's it. I sell this as a process that is considerate of their staff time, and have had no one balk. I make it clear that a change process that differs from this has two consequences: (1) I'm no longer responsible for the deadline, and (2) I start charging my hourly rate. Again, I haven't had any trouble with customers on these.
  3. Make sure that you build the process for determining format, graphical style, etc. into the process. I make sure that we have a conference call with all marcomm stake-holders at the beginning of the project so I know format before I start writing. This will save an incredible amount of time later on.
  4. I get 50% of the fee with the signed letter of understanding or contract, with the remainder due on delivery of final product. Once again, I've had exactly zero companies balk at this. It does two good things; First, it helps my cash flow. Second, it gives them some "skin in the game" so they're more likely to see getting me the info I need on a timely basis.
Eventually, other pertinent material should make its way to this page. Feel free to mail me.
Cameron Laird's FAQ on white papers/claird@phaseit.net