10 Red Flags When Bidding on Writing Projects

If only all "signs" were this clear. Pro tip: Pants ARE totally optional when perusing writing gigs online. (Photo: Personal, taken in Northern California).
If only all “signs” were this clear. Pro tip: Pants ARE totally optional when perusing writing gigs online. (Photo: Personal, taken in Northern California).

I’ll admit it—up until a couple of years ago, I depended heavily on Craigslist for writing gigs. I dabbled in some other sites as well, but CL remained a staple in my writing bid diet. In fact, it’s where I found my very first freelance gig (which showed me you really can make a decent living as a writer!). However, the underbelly of CL is also well known, but don’t think it’s the only platform where you’ll get crazy clients, non-paying clients, and clients who think writers are automatically also graphic designers, website developers and basket weavers.

Luckily, I’m now at the point where I’m not accepting new clients (and the most recent ones all came from existing client referrals). However, I know that one day I’ll be back on CL bidding on projects and sending writing samples for new gigs and contracts. That’s the nature of writing for a living. I’ve learned a thing or two in my years of CL work and can spot a red flag like a pro now.

Here are some of the most common to watch out for as a writer looking for honest work:

  1. “You’ll be the first batch of writers to get paid when the website starts making money!”

If you’re a professional writer, that means you get paid for your work. Period. It’s not contingent on whether your client makes money, their website makes money, or what their financial situation is. This is like agreeing to ghost write a book and hoping it’ll sell, making the author millions. That’s not how it’s done.

  1. “No ridiculously high bids!”

Trust me, the definition of low, high, mediocre, fair, and any other word to describe your project rate is highly subjective. It depends on your experience, speed and going rate. If a poster already seems angry about potentially paying a “high price” for a writer, don’t even bother. They might as well say, “I’d prefer a volunteer writer, but will pay you half a penny per word if I really have to.”

  1. “Get in on the ground floor!”

No, thank you. See number one for this blazing red flag.

  1. “Send me a free writing sample and I might contact you.”

In some instances, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a sample. However, 99 percent of the time, this should be a paid sample (perhaps not at your going rate, but at least to prove the gig is legitimate). There have been times when I’ve drafted a quick sample for free, but it’s always an intro paragraph or other content that can’t really be used for anything besides a sample. Otherwise, you’re providing free labor.

  1. There’s a picture/logo

I’m sure there are exceptions, but every time there’s a photo/logo on a job ad, the pay has been subpar. I’ve often found these are either really young startups that don’t have the budget to pay professional rates or an enterprise that wants to pay hourly rates (always charge per word/project). In my experience, these posts are always a waste of time.

  1. “Mah grammers bad so i gotta hire a writer asap!!!!”

This isn’t what the ad usually says, of course, but if it’s not professionally written, don’t expect a professional experience. On a related note, if an exclamation is used in the job posting, get ready to deal with a rollercoaster of a client. The red flag should start waving even stronger if they offer a strangely high rate that just doesn’t mesh with the lack of professional presentation.

  1. “Go fill out this online application that’s 20 pages long.”

This can be one of two things: A “test” to see how serious you are or just a means of collecting applications for data usage, reporting, and the like. As a full-time writer, I don’t have the time to jump through those hoops. I’m sure sometimes this approach could work out, but you’d better be pretty certain you’ll get the gig (a perfectly alignment of their demand and your supply) and you should know for a fact that the pay is high before you waste your time.

  1. “Call Billy Bob at…”

You don’t want Billy Bob to have your number. Plus, if someone’s hiring a writer, don’t they want to see their writing chops first (like with an intro email)? I’m all for phone or video “meetings”, but not from the get-go.

  1. “Let me tell you about this horrible experience with another writer…”

You’re not a therapist. If someone’s been burned by another contractor or professional, they shouldn’t be airing their dirty laundry for all to see. This is the same as getting into a relationship with someone who just broke up with their cheating spouse last weekend. You’ll be the one dealing with the fallout.

  1. “I need a writer for something. I’m not really sure what. Let’s collaborate!”

Unless you’re also a consultant, steer clear of these. A client should know exactly what they want from a writer (ahem, it’s writing). Your time is worth money, not just you’re writing. Clients who want to talk, scheme, plan and dream don’t realize that every minute of yours they’re using is your money wasted. They don’t mean any harm, but they’re a leech you can’t afford.

These are just a few to avoid if you want to streamline your writing career and business. Most importantly, trust your gut. It’s always right.

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