Writerly Tip: Know the Signs

Welcome to the first weekly celebration of Writers Worth Day! As promised, this will be a week of tips and advice to help you frame your career in a more positive light. I ask all of you to join in. In fact, this year’s contest requires your interaction.

All week I’ll be asking for your tips on how to improve the career, expect more, and work toward your earnings goals. Your ideas are needed, too. For every tip you put here in the comments section or send to me at lwbean AT gmail DOT com is an entry in the contest to win, on me, one of Peter Bowerman’s Well-fed Writer books. How you win is simple – send me the tip that I publish on Friday, Writers Worth Day. I’ll post the best that appears, and you get to choose from Amazon or Peter Bowerman’s site the book you’d like. That includes e-books if we can work out how I’ll pay for it and you get to download it. Prize limited to one book.

So send your tip as soon as you can. Deadline for entries is Thursday at 5 pm EDT.

Today’s tip: know the signs. If you’re new to answering blind ads on the Internet or offers that come into your email, knowing what to expect can save you untold amounts of wheel-spinning and aggravation. Here’s how to decipher the offers and find those red flags that tell you it’s not worthy of your talent:

Addressed to Writer. If they don’t know your name, they don’t know you and are sending to the entire planet of writers. That means they’re not discerning enough to look carefully. That means also that they’re not paying what professional writers require.

Bulk hiring. If they’re looking for “writers” with a plural, again, they’re not picky enough to demand quality writing for adequate pay. And yes, these thoughts are connected. Rarely does a client hire three or more writers simultaneously and pay a fighting wage – unless the fighting is amongst the writers trying to grab the measly amount allotted for the entire pack.

An easy job for the right person. They should just type “We expect this to be done perfectly in one pass and if there’s one comma out of place you’re not getting that $1 we promised!” Too many variables here. They can, and will, contend you’re not the right person if you expect fair wages. The job is never easy. The pay is always abysmal.

Exclamation points. When was the last time you saw Wall Street execs place a job posting and include any exclamation point? Consider them red flags waving wildly. They’re trying to make crap sound exciting. Thankfully most of these people haven’t taken marketing courses.

We have a limited budget, therefore, bid accordingly. Two things wrong with this sentence. First, their budget limits are not your problem. Second, their budget limits do NOT influence your bid, nor should they be expecting it to. What about your budget? Do they care what you need to make in order to run a business? No? Then don’t waste time with people who try this sideways attempt to lower your rate and get something for nothing.

Great job for students and stay-at-home moms. Grrrr…. how can you insult three segments of the population in one sentence? Post that under “writing gigs.” It’s akin to saying “Students, moms, and writers are all worth less than minimum wage and none take writing work seriously enough to expect a real job.”

If you pass our editing/writing/proofing test… No. Even if you’re a new writer, you should never agree to doing any work for free. In fact, answer these ads with “Here is my rate for the test.” Fifty bucks gets them a sample of a few paragraphs, too, NOT a few chapters.

Since our new venture is a labor of love…. This sentence is always used as rationale for not paying you much, if anything. Let them love it all they want. Let them have the labor, too. Their lack of budget or paying for help is not your problem to solve. It’s theirs.

Writers, what signs bug you most?

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  • Devon Ellington May 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    The ads with paragraph after paragraph of instructions about what to send and how to send it.

    State your need in a succinct paragraph (without typos), give me another paragraph telling me what samples to include and in what format, and give me the address. And make sure you add the rate, because that helps me decide whether or not to bother answering the ad.

  • Lori May 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Typos – oh, you hit on a big one there! Succinct and error-free (or close to it) – nothing makes me run faster than a pile of typos. How can they know how to hire quality if they can't spell the ad correctly?

  • sandy May 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I'm clueless; but thought I'd say good luck to all who do write for a living.

    I agree with the typo, the last book I read had more then a handful and it was published that way which I found annoying.


  • Lori May 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Sandy, thanks for posting. I bet you're not clueless at all. You can spot typos in a book – you already have more talent than most job posters! πŸ™‚

    Stick around, hon. You're among friends.

  • Wendy May 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Here's one of my most annoying:

    Embellishing the title of the position to make it sound fantastic, even though the position details sound more like a Freelance Writer.

    For Ex: Director of Content Materials

    I still say it's just a way to get your attention away from the actual rate they're providing. Yeah, it's only $5 an hour, BUT- you will be the Director. That makes it worth while!!

  • Paula May 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I love the ads that want one person to perform several jobs. I can understand Writer/Editor, or even a position that spans multiple editorial tasks, like Copy Editor/Proofreader.

    This morning I found one seeking an Online Copy Editor/Editorial Project Coordinator, another seeking Writer/Editor/Industry Analyst, and I think there was yet another seeking a Writer/Editor/Blogger. Sounds like the last one wants the services of an editor for the price of a blogger.

  • Walker May 10, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I'm relatively new to freelance writing and to Elance where I'm getting a few good jobs right now. My biggest pet peeve is the people who write, "lowest bid gets the job". I won't even bid for those, it's clear that quality is not the objective.

  • Cathy May 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    The ones that say "can meet (or must meet) tight deadlines." Translation – we pay crap for you to churn 'em out–or–

    The ones that say "Do not reply if you do not have extensive experience in insurance–legal writing-health care–whatever & follow that with "will pay $20 for a 2,000 word article if accepted." Gee, thanks.

  • Lauri May 11, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    The ones that are so general they barely include a description of the employer/company, let alone the project/product.

    Also, the ones that are of the "I'm looking for an editor for my novel" variety. I'm looking for repeat, continual bidness and unless you're Stephen King, I'm guessing you're not going to have more than one of these bad boys for me to work on.

  • Kimberly Ben May 12, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I love the new logo and will post it on my site sometime today.

    I'm very wary of ads that promise long term work if you're the right person. An I pretend those that offer to share residuals don't even exist.

  • Juliet Farmer May 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm


  • Lori May 12, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    LOL Perfect, Juliet!

    It's the words "the right person" that set me off too, Kim.

  • Roxanne Rhoads May 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    The signs I have learned to avoid are lisitings that mention- "start up", "seeking financing, we can't pay you right now but expect to offer compensation in the future", "in exchange for exposure will link to your website"

    I have been burned so I am learning to avoid such requests

  • miridunn May 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I am not new to writing, but new to trying to make some money with it; the new world in which I find myself is a disheartening. Paying $1 an article, taking lowest bids … I already made my worst mistake (I hope) which was to expect a payment through paypal- after the assignment was complete. Thankfully it was a small project and not a great loss- but a great lesson.

    Please tell me there is a maneuverable path up this mountain of insult and ignorance!

  • Lori May 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

    I'm averse to "startups" too, Roxanne. The exposure part is such crap – they have maybe less Internet penetration than the average blog. I remember one particularly odd offer – work for them for free and get college credit. That would be fine IF they were able to give it, which they're not.

    Miridunn, I don't see that you did anything wrong. Legitimate companies and clients will pay you after the fact. The only advice I have that can help you recover the money – always work with a contract. ALWAYS. Make sure payment terms are spelled out. Depending on the final project cost, you could ask for half the fee up front. I've done that for bigger or longer-length projects.

  • BrownEyed May 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    "Bulk work" or "100 plus articles per week" is like a red flag to me. It indicates a "content mill" sort of a gig where the pay almost always is meager in the name of "many assignments". Such clients have a tendency to make-believe that they do the writer a favour, because they are providing the writers many pieces to be written (even though at cheap pay per piece). I have seen ridiculous rates on the lines of %0.0075 per word! Just my 2 cents.

  • allena May 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    My least fave start up is the new magazine. Um, no. Chances are you won't get off the ground or move past your ezine. Come on, have you SEEN the publishing climate?

  • Clara June 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Send 2 400-500 word samples of your work…If they're appropriate to our needs,we'll send a response with further instructions, otherwise your work wasn't accepted…Something similar that gives off a red flag signal.