Some magazines or periodicals have the author sign a separate contract for each article they agree to buy. Other publications never use a contract, and simply lay out the terms in a letter. The contracts are usually simple—about a page in length—and basically indicate what you will be paid, when (on acceptance or publication, etc.), and what rights they are buying. Nevertheless, it is important that you read the contract carefully before signing and be sure that what the contract says adheres with the terms you agreed to verbally or the terms you expected. If it does not agree with your expectations, or you have questions, be sure to ask for clarification or answers. Do not sign the contract as long as any of your questions/concerns remain unanswered or the answers unsatisfactory.
Since publishers have been known to revise their terms without pointing it out to their authors, don’t assume that because you have signed a contract with this publication in the past that the terms of this one will be the same.
Once you have become a regular contributor to a publication, it is not out of line to ask for payment on acceptance (if they have been paying you on publication). If they have to do little or no editing on your work, you can also begin to expect (or ask for) a higher rate of payment.
The one area that may cause the greatest concern is the rights they are buying. Avoid selling all rights or doing work for hire unless the prestige and the payment justify it. Even publications that indicate that they buy all rights are often willing to negotiate. Unless you are writing curriculum, or the like, you should not be expected to do your freelance work as work for hire. (See section on Work for Hire.) Be especially careful of giving permission for publishing your material online. That should be carefully spelled out in the contract, and granting electronic rights should also indicate a higher payment. If in doubt—ask.