Freelance Writing Week II: How to Tell Whether Freelance Writing Job Offers Are Legitimate

Welcome to the final day of Freelance Writing Week II!

So far we’ve covered:

Now finally to one of the most important freelance writing topics out there:

How can you tell whether freelance writing job offers are legitimate?

One of the hardest parts about being freelance writer searching for work on the Internet is deciphering when a job offer is legitimate and when someone just wants to get something for free–or worse.

Here are some tips from separating the wheat from the chaff, as Willym said:

  • Don’t answer blind advertisements.

I rarely, if ever, answer blind advertisements, i.e., those that don’t offer the name of the client seeking writers; I can’t imagine many situations in which a potential client should have to be a secret. If you had a solid name and reputation, wouldn’t you want to put it out there so potential writers knew they could trust you?

But if you think you’ve found the perfect job and simply must respond to a blind ad, pay special attention to their return email address, so you can….

  • Google!

Check out any websites or names attached to the job offer. Most legitimate freelance writing job offers will come from people who already have *some* sort of online presence, so if nothing at all turns up, I’d probably start to be suspicious.

With so much social media out there these days, it’s highly unlikely that reputable clients have no online presence whatsoever.

  • Ask writer friends.

One of the best ways to find out whether something is too good to be true is to ask around and see if others know anything about the client. If you don’t have writer friends you feel comfortable asking, scour writer message boards and forums.

Included here is my recommendation to keep up with “Whispers and Warnings” in Angela Hoy’s Writers Weekly newsletter, which names clients who haven’t paid writers or are otherwise being difficult regarding payment.

  • Trust your instincts.

If something sounds fishy, and you just have a feeling you’re never going to get paid, don’t think twice about turning down the job offer.

Now believe me, I *know* how hard it is to turn down job offers particularly when you’re first starting out, but if something feels off to you, it probably is—and you’ll be saving yourself a lot of hassle by avoiding the situation entirely.

And this concludes Freelance Writing Week II. Thanks so much for reading, and as always if you have more questions you’d like me to address, leave them in the comments!

Do you have more advice on how to spot legitimate freelance writing jobs?

For those of you in Italy, Happy Liberation Day for tomorrow!

Buon weekend a tutti!

8 Beans of Wisdom to “Freelance Writing Week II: How to Tell Whether Freelance Writing Job Offers Are Legitimate”
  1. 04.24.2009

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this series. Now I have enough courage to take the plunge. Fingers crossed!
    Buona festa to you too!

    milanese masala’s last blog post..“Your country is a joke.”

    Best of luck and enjoy the weekend 🙂

  2. Great series and Buona Festa anche te!

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Flashback Friday – The Way We Were -Trailer

    Enjoy your weekend! Wish *I* was coming to Rome!

  3. 04.24.2009

    Michelle-I would like to thank you for taking the time to fill the rest of us in how freelance writing works-great info and I really appreciate it!

    So glad you enjoyed the series, Janie! Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. 04.25.2009

    Hello there Michelle! I’ve been so busy this week I haven’t had a chance to follow this, but what a great idea! Good on you!

    You may have mentioned and elsewhere, but aspiring writers should also check the discussion boards at those sites too, because writers will post on publications not paying there as well.

    The unfortunate thing about the economy at the moment is that so many publications are folding, that even publications that were once very prompt about paying are now having cash-flow problems.

    If they’re not closing down, they’re cutting sections and cutting their freelance budgets, so editors are now having to do the work of freelancers. As a result, editors are over-worked now more than ever. New writers need to have a bit of sympathy and keep that in mind when pitching stories. The competition is even tougher as well with so many out-of-work journalists starting to freelance, so it’s crucial to work even harder on writing very creative pitches.

    LaraDunston’s last blog post..Travel by postcards: A Little Beijing

    Thanks so much for your input, Lara; you’re definitely the travel-writing expert but a lot of what you’ve written here (unfortunately) holds true across the industry right now 🙁

  5. helena

    As a writer, journalist and editor of too many years, here’s my two beans’ worth:

    Lara is dead right. Freelance budgets everywhere are tightening up or being axed altogether. In the organisation I work for, the freelance travel writers’ budget no longer exists. Freelance contributions were axed first, and the travel editor is under pressure to fill the gaps. There are some writers who submit their travel stories for free and will continue to do so, a move which further undercuts the freelancer.

    Sure, you can submit a couple of stories for free just to get some exposure, but don’t let it become a habit. Value what you write.

    Lifestyle sections – often containing travel, food, wine, culture etc – are reliant on advertisers pitching products to readers with disposable incomes. Fewer people have disposable income as the credit crunch bites. And companies such as airlines – big advertisers – are feeling the crunch really badly. They’re cutting routes, selling planes, axing staff and undercutting each other’s fares in a bid to stay profitable.

    They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The market is increasingly competitive, and not only do you have to hustle harder, you need to network network network because in the writing business, like so many others, it’s not only what you know, it’s who you know. And with today’s uncertainty, that contact you had yesterday might not have a job tomorrow!

    Writing for the Internet is growing, regardless, I think, as the medium grows and the print medium decreases in popularity and through economic downturn.

    Blind advertisements are a crock. Avoid them like the plague. Always research the outlet you’re pitching to, to avoid getting burned (ie not paid), even if they’re relatively well known.

    Make direct contact – speak to an editor on the phone in the first instance. It’s too easy to ignore emails from aspiring writers. An actual conversation is always best. They’ll remember how your voice sounds and be able to pick up what kind of person you are. Editors are busy. Be persistent. And when you do get through, keep it short and to the point. Your pitch, like a movie pitch, should be 25 words or less. Like I said, editors are busy. Ask for a word count – how long the story should be.

    Then go away and write your story and email it asap. Stick to the word count you’ve been given. Over-writing doesn’t make you look keen, it makes you look like an amateur. Nothing makes an editor more irritable than having to cut 2000 words of adjective-laden waffle into 1000 of reasonable copy. If you can submit good photographs, that will help get your story accepted. Don’t call to find out when the story will be published, posted or filed. Invariably there will be changes to the dates and as I said, the editor’s busy!

    PS: Always trust your instinct. If something feels wrong, then it probably is.

    (Copyright Helena T. 2009)

    Thank you *so* much for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences, Helena! Such great advice here 🙂

  6. 05.06.2009

    Enjoyed reading this post, thanks for sharing.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Ragnar!

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Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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