By September 6, 2014 5 Comments Read More →

Rules for the Freelance Writing Life: Always Check the Employer

Writer rejecion“Maybe a visit to New York should include a sightseeing trip around the Grand Canyon at Times Square or skiing those immense snow-covered mountains of the Upper East Side.”

I’ve been a freelancer for seven years now – actually it might be more than that but who’s counting? One of the major tasks of being a freelance writer is finding new writing jobs. To do this you’ll either be lucky enough to get referrals and be contacted by employers or you’ll need to trawl through the internet looking for jobs.

Scouring the net for potential job sources isn’t much fun because it’s very easy to become downhearted when you see the rates of pay being offered by a huge number of, well let’s call them ‘employers’ shall we. I use the word employer very loosely because to be an employer you actually have to pay your employees some cash.

Over the course of my seven or eight years I’ve seen job adverts that are little more than ‘write for us and you might be able to afford a can of Coke from the rates we pay but hey, everyone loves Coke right?’. And of course there are the immediately dismissible adverts stating, ‘we can’t afford to pay at this time but you know, maybe in the future. Just work for nothing for now. You know you want that byline’. No actually, here’s a novel concept- rather than have that elusive Ark of the Covenant byline, why don’t you offer to pay that folding stuff that makes it a lot easier to get through each day. You know what I’m talking about right? Those little pieces of paper that employers use every day but think that writers don’t need at all because writers live on dreams and pixie dust.

This brings me to my latest rejection by a writing company. Now, as a freelancer you should be used to rejection, its part of the process and you can be rejected for a number of different reasons including that the competition for well-paying writing jobs is immense. Writers shouldn’t take rejection personally whether it’s for a freelance copy-writing job or that your latest short story has been rejected by an online literary magazine. Rejection is part of being a writer and it’s part of life, deal with it.

I applied to a company this week that seemed legit because their website looked legit. Because the company’s website looked legit I ignored one of the golden rules of freelance writing – always check the internet for reviews on employers by other writers. Check a lot of reviews. Check as many as you can because this will save you the time and effort of filling out the application process and the time spent writing their requested samples. The ‘non-paying samples’ should be a warning bell because if you have experience in the freelance writing world you’ll no doubt already have published articles with your byline. These previously published articles should be enough for an employer to gauge your writing skills.

But I was lazy and I forgot to check up on the company, so I sat down and wrote a 200 word sample with the provided topic along the lines of ‘things of interest for a tourist in New York’. As a travel writer I have written numerous guides and articles on city destinations around the world so this didn’t really present me with too much of a challenge. I wrote and sent. A few days later I received this reply:

“We’re sorry, but your Industry application in Lifestyle/Travel was not approved by the community review board. Here is their collective feedback:

Regarding the consistency of your voice: I know what voice this piece needed, but the writer didn’t execute it perfectly.

Regarding the clarity of your writing: I see what the writer was trying to express, but I’m still a little confused.
Regarding the flow of your prose: The thoughts linked together, with one or two notable exceptions.

Regarding the extent to which you kept the reader engaged: The subject was interesting and informative, but my focus still wandered.”

I read this reply and was ready to simply hit the ‘delete email’ button but then I read it again. This reply was my feedback from an alleged ‘team’ of ‘readers’ and I began to think that maybe it wasn’t all it seemed.

LibertyWhat exactly was so ‘confusing’ to this review board about a 200 word article on tourist activities in New York?

To paraphrase Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers – what exactly did they expect a tourist to see and do in New York – watch the sun setting over those majestic pyramids in the East Village perhaps or enjoy a stroll around those fabled Hanging Gardens of Brooklyn.

Maybe a visit to New York should include a sightseeing trip around the Grand Canyon at Times Square or skiing those immense snow-covered mountains of the Upper East Side. I actually did forget to write about scuba diving in the crystal clear, tropical waters of the Hudson River. Sorry, that well-known New York activity slipped my mind.

With all this confusion going on about New York (and I’m pissed off that I’d missed so many exciting activities on my last visit) I decided to do a quick check on the company and surprise, surprise, there were plenty of writers out there who had plenty to say about this content mill and not much of it was complimentary. The above ‘feedback’ was a stock reply sent out to many writers and I’m not just talking about new writers, I’m talking about professionals who had decided to give this company a shot. It seems that many of the readers at this company are ‘a little confused’ a lot of the time, judging by the standard rejections received by many writers.

I could have saved myself time and effort simply by reading the numerous writer reviews on this company including:

“I actually laughed out loud when I was turned down after applying to a specialty. I’m a professional technology writer with 25+ published books in my field as well as over a decade of paid writing work with the specialty I selected.”

Or

“This is one of the most frustrating sites I have dealt with as a freelance writer. I was accepted by Scripted and approved for their legal category in February of this year. I have an associate degree in paralegal studies, have worked as a paralegal for a few years and as a FT contracted legal content writer from spring 2010 to Jan 2013. Unfortunately, Scripted rarely ever has available work in the legal category. And when they do, I’m so far down the totem pole that the jobs are taken before I am allowed to accept them.”

The company did say that I could apply again on a different subject such as finance or business but I really don’t want to add to their confusion so I think I’ll pass on that offer.

Freelance writers, the internet is your friend when it comes to checking up on companies offering work. It’s a golden rule. Ah sweet rejection, I expect we’ll meet again soon but just don’t try to fob me off with personal feedback that is anything but.

And a note to this company in particular. You might be happily sending out your pretend feedback and think nothing more of it but consider those new writers out there trying to make their way in this field. This stock feedback will do nothing but discourage them and probably chip away at their confidence that they’re just not good enough. Good going guys, well done to you. As long as you’re saving yourself some time right?

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Rules for the Freelance Writing Life: Always Check the Employer, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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About the Author:

Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal, Roadside Fiction and Orato. His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. View My Profile

  • Can you imagine how disheartening what these bogus companies are doing to writers out there who are trying to make a living and who have no idea they’ve been deceived? Self-doubt can be crippling and it is sad how they carelessly treat people’s emotions with their desire to gain profit. More people should read this. Great post!

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    • Thanks Baxter. I’ve been ripped off a couple of times when I first started writing and it’s completely disheartening and a waste of time (although it does make you more wary). I’m not saying that this company is a scam but I wish I had read all of the message boards out there before applying, which is something I usually do. I only need to see three of four negatives on a company before I’ll decide that it’s not worth the effort. I’d rather have no reply email at all rather than that stock feedback reply because it’s set up to look legitimate, as if people are sitting around reading your application, and its now obvious that they’re not. Ah well, live and learn.

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  • Excellent, Garry. As usual, a very informative read, especially for those who are considering getting into freelancing. It’s a shame that there are so many people out there willing to take advantage of writers who are serious and hungry for work. Perhaps next time you’re in New York, I’ll take you to all the pristine waterfalls and also go canoeing down 5th Avenue. 🙂

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  • Canoeing down 5th Avenue, brilliant -- it’s a whole undiscovered side of New York that the locals are keeping quiet about. Need to try that out on the next visit.

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  • Garry, this sounds like a good short story to write about hahaha! Just saying 😉

    I agree with Julian. It doesn’t just apply to writers though. This is also happening to musicians-all those involved with creative endeavor. I enjoyed the new York pics with Garry. Hopefull next time, more selfies. Just kidding!

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