If you’re a freelance writer, you probably have some war wounds. If you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you probably qualify for disability. At this point the non-writer replies, “Wait a minute. It’s writing, not coal mining. You sit in a chair and phrase things for a living. How get you possibly get hurt doing that?”
Well, putting aside mundane physical issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome or eyestrain for the moment, the average freelancer faces all kinds of emotional and financial bumps and bruises in the call of duty. Freelancers who focus on pitching stories or submitting fiction manuscripts have built up many layers of calluses from rejection after rejection — it’s part of the job description, regardless of writing quality. In the marketing world, copywriters seeking new clients may find themselves negotiating hidden booby-traps. Over the years I’ve gotten to the point where I can see some of these potential dangers lurking on the horizon from pretty far away, though once in a while I still get tripped up.
Anyway, here are a few red flags I’ve learned to identify. Hopefully they will help writers steer clear of bad situations while also helping well-intentioned business owners avoid throwing up one of these flags inadvertently.
“We just thought we’d pick your brain on the subject.” This usually means you’re being asked to contribute your expertise for free. You’ll have to decide, on a case-by-case basis, how much information you’re comfortable offering up on a writing project without the meter running. True, the client or prospect can’t use that information as well as a professional writer could, so if they’re smart they’ll hire you to do the actual heavy lifting anyway. But look out for the client who throws out this comment and then hangs on your every word, notepad in hand, and pumps you for an increasing level of detail about exactly what you would do — or you may not end up doing it.
“If this works out for everybody, we have tons of future work for you.” Expect a request for a severely discounted rate or perhaps even a deferred payment, with the “tons of future work” hanging in the air like some great mythical creature that’s certain to appear if you just make the proper sacrifice to it — that sacrifice being an acceptable pay rate. Stick to your guns. If the client truly does have a serious need for your future services, he will understand their value and pay accordingly.
“Write this sample story to show us how you’d write the assignments we’d be sending you.” While some of these requests are no doubt legit, it would be easy for a fly-by-night company to suck in a bunch of free “samples” like a literary Hoover — without actually hiring any of the submitting writers or paying for the articles. Your best bet is with the company that asks for a couple hundred words about your family dog, favorite tree, or some other topic that obviously doesn’t benefit them except as a sample of your style.
Don’t get me wrong, the outstanding majority of my writing experiences have been good ones. But recognizing a few of those red flags when they do pop up sure helps. You don’t have to be paranoid — just keep your eyes open.
Visit my website at www.reynoldswriting.com.