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4 habits of highly unprofessional freelance writers

Over the past six months, I’ve commissioned and subcontracted writers for various projects. Some of those projects were my own (in which cases I set the rates and would like to think they were fair) and some were for other editors or publishers (in which cases I had no control over the rates nor of the project specs).

The majority of these projects turned out well. In a couple cases, I was so impressed with the final product of writers I’d subcontracted that I made the decision to turn over some of my personal clients to these writers,* a huge deal for me because my entire life I’ve been of the mind that if I wanted something done right, I’d have to do it myself.

Despite the fact that the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, there were some freelance writers who really annoyed or disappointed me. Here are four lessons to be learned from them:

1. Don’t send more or less than an editor asks for.

One project was a translation and the editor sought a native speaker. That’s all she asked for; she didn’t request credentials or prior publication experience. While mentioning such information might be useful in many cases, one writer sent me half a dozen emails with attachments to substantiate his qualifications: letters of recommendation, PDFs of his degree, samples of his work, and other documents that, quite frankly, I didn’t read because I didn’t have the time. This information wasn’t asked for and it wasn’t needed to make a determination about who was the best fit for the project.

2. Don’t take on a project knowing the rate and then complain about compensation… especially to the person who’s not responsible for the fee.

One project was low-paying; I knew it and writers knew it. Some people who’d responded to the call for writers decided not to take on the project because the pay wasn’t worth their time, a decision I respected. But a handful of writers took on the project and then complained to me after the fact about the compensation, which they knew up-front. I didn’t set the fees for the project, so their complaints couldn’t be addressed. I’ll keep them in mind when future projects come up, though; I don’t really want to work with complainers.

3. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver.

Several people took on projects and then decided, a week or longer after the assignment was made, that they didn’t have time to complete it. That meant I had to start all over again and attempt to find someone who was a good fit for the project… and as the intermediary, I wasn’t getting paid for my work; I was just a connector. I’ll definitely keep these people in mind, too, and will be unlikely to pass along assignments to them in the future.

4. Don’t get righteous if the situation doesn’t warrant righteousness. 

One writer (who was also guilty of #2 and #3) decided to write an indignant email to the contractor of a project. There had been a misunderstanding about her assignment that could have been cleared up through a polite email, inquiring about what happened. Instead, she sent out a salvo that was totally inappropriate because the situation didn’t warrant her self-righteousness. The lesson for me? I’m going to be much more careful about connecting writers to editors and publishers, and will likely only do so when I know the writer and his/her work personally.

*These are clients I’ve worked with for several years, not in the context of travel writing.


5 responses »

  1. Great post – heed this wise advice writers! (I’ll be sure to, too!)

  2. Oh, Conner, you’re a total pro.

  3. Yikes, I’ll make a note of this!

  4. Excellent observations. Definitely want to avoid being someone’s example of what not to do. Professionalism first.

  5. Wow, #1 is hard to believe. So many files! I’d have been so overwhelmed I probably wouldn’t have responded for weeks.


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