Dear ...., thank you for relaying the correspondence from your legal team in which I am categorized as a "freelance contributor," and am asked to waive my moral rights as an author so that [name of publisher witheld for the time being] can, among other things, edit my contribution (with an example of going from 10K to 7500 words), without my consent.
The proposed contract and explanation represents a fundamental shift in the accepted relations between academic authors and publishers of scholarly work, proposing a new status for us, that of "freelance contributors." Consequently, I will have to propose an amendment to the contract before I sign.
First, let me make explicit what I think has been the normal set up here. My training, which prepared my career and allows me the ability to write pieces of sufficient quality to be placed in scholarly venues, took place in a mix of public and private institutions; it was thus supported by a mix of fees I paid (which were defrayed by salary from my labor and by funds from loans), and from a web of public support, ranging from direct input to schools from tax funds to a series of subsidies. Now, as a professor, my salary comes from a similarly complex set of revenue inputs to my university in the form of fees and tax monies; my labor for that salary takes the form of teaching, research, and service tasks.
As the direct compensation for humanities publishing is so small, universities generally do not care what contracts we sign and allow us to keep the royalties and honoraria. The main economic incentive for scholarly publishing comes not from direct compensation from publishers, but from career advancement due to the accumulated prestige of publication and conference presentation (as well as from teaching and service, though in research-oriented schools these are of secondary importance). Thus most of the economic process supporting scholarly publishing takes place outside that of commercial presses like [name of publisher witheld for the time being], which, as a result of academics not seeking fair market value for our work -- since we have never acted as "freelance contributors" -- in effect benefit from a subsidy based on fees and taxes from students and taxpayers.
In other words, contracts like you propose are extremely short-sighted and a way of killing the golden goose of cheap academic labor -- both in the low royalties and honoraria we have up until now demanded and in the ease of low negotiated contracts we have been, until now, in the habit of signing without much thought to the matter.
Well then, if I am to be a freelance contributor, in exchange for the waiver of my moral rights as this contract proposes, I am asking for an upfront payment of $1000 USD by wire to my bank account, details of which I will provide later by fax. As my most marketable attribute is my reputation, I can't take the risk of having my contribution mutilated as your legal team interprets the contract as making possible without some sort of return on incurring that risk. In other words, as the waiver of moral rights grants considerable flexibility to [name of publisher witheld for the time being], that flexibility carries big risks to me as someone whose reputation, gained from 20 years of publications, is my major asset.
Now I suspect I'm selling myself short by asking this price, as I'd estimate 50 hours went into this paper, which comes out to a rate of $20 per hour. Or per word, 8000 words would be a little more than $0.12 per word. But as this is the beginning of my career as a "freelance contributor," I suppose you could say that your company should benefit from my inexperience as a negotiator now while you can.
[UPDATE: feel free to use this as a template for your own letters if you wish. We freelance contributors of the academic world can work together!]