Copy and Paste “Freelance Writing”

To kick off the new year, I wanted to address an important issue regarding copying and pasting information from the internet and turning it in as “freelance writing work.” I am absolutely appalled by the fact that this is even a matter that is necessary to mention, but alas, there are some so called “writers” who believe that it is perfectly fine to copy and paste and get paid for it.

Freelance writing consists of research AND writing. This means that when you find the information you are looking for, you write about it. You don’t just steal what someone else wrote and try to write a few of your own words around it. You need to write it all by yourself. This is simply the ethical thing to do, and it would be even better if writers cited their references more often. In school, we all learn that plagiarism is wrong, but I guess that message just doesn’t seem to stick with some people.

The least freelance writers should do is use some talent and creativity and put their own phrasing to the information that they find. Add your own angle or twist…use a thesaurus for crying out loud! If you like they way someone else stated something, put it in quotes and cite the source. It’s that simple.

Copying and pasting is not freelance writing, and I consider it a supreme insult to the honest, hard-working freelance writers who make an effort to write original work and adhere to the copyright laws of the United States (you know who you are and I applaud you).

I hire help from time to time, and I will fire anyone who sends me something that they found over the internet rather than writing it themselves. I greatly appreciate websites like DupeCop.com and CopyScape.com because they make it easy to spot copying. Clients often use these services to check the writing work done for hire, and they should. You always risk losing a client and gaining a poor reputation when presenting someone else’s work as your own.

If you truly want to be a freelance writer, do the writing. End of story.

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Better Writing: Avoiding Passive Voice

It is a good idea for freelance writers to avoid passive voice. Writers should not think that using passive voice is a grammatical error, but using active voice makes for better writing most of the time.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice is the phrase used to describe sentences in which the subject receives the action of the verb rather than the subject performing the action. For example:

The man was slapped by the woman.

That same sentence written in active voice would read:

The woman slapped the man.

Another example of passive voice is in a sentence where there is no specific subject performing the action.

eg. Research was conducted.

What is wrong with writing in passive voice?

Writing in passive voice is considered a stylistic “don’t.” While it is not necessarily a grammatical error, passive voice can sound awkward, leave out important details, and reduce the authority of a sentence.

Consider the following.

How can I avoid writing in passive voice?

No call, no show freelance writing

I have been shocked and amazed at the lack of professionalism displayed in the freelance writing world. On more than one occasion there have been freelance writers who have accepted a project, confirmed that they understand everything and agreed to the deadline, yet they don’t deliver. Not only do they not deliver, but they disappear completely. Recently, I hired a writer to help out with 10 short articles (less than 400 words). The writer seemed like they were in it for the money alone (which perhaps should have been a red flag for me) yet they seemed to be interested in doing the work. They asked several questions to make sure that they understood the instructions (about 4 emails back and forth), so I assumed that they were serious about completing the job.

Nope, they disappeared. Not a single email after that day. No response to my email asking about the status of the work. No call, no show. It set back my project, and I lost money. Time and money. I was furious. One of my good writer friends had a similar situation happen to them. Why do these people think that this is perfectly fine to do to someone?

If you are new to freelance writing, or even if you have been in this business for a while, please don’t do that. It reeks of unprofessionalism, gives good freelance writers a bad rap, and it is down right inconsiderate. If you can’t do the work, don’t accept the project. If you take a project and find that you don’t think the work is worth it, or if you are in over your head, own up to it and do the responsible thing and notify the buyer immediately. Walk away if you want to, but don’t put someone in a position where the deadline is reached and they have no one to replace you.

Personally, I question the integrity of anyone who would act interested in doing work, and then quit without providing any notification at all. That is no way to run a business, and sooner or later, that kind of behavior will come back to haunt you. If you want to be truly successful as a freelance writer, the honest way, take your work seriously. Clearly, if you can communicate about getting paid and taking a job, you can communicate and end a job, too. It takes a true professional to admit when they can’t or would rather not do something, and it is simply courteous to let your client know it’s over.

Cheap Freelance Writing Needs to Stop

I just read a great post on Tumblemoose.com. It cited specific examples of the types of cheap projects that freelance writers have been willing to settle for, and notes that this is the reason why it is difficult to get paid well in this career (at least online). George writes:

As long as writers are willing to whore themselves out for less than one-half a penny a word,  things will never change. I know that there are folks bidding from other countries that are ok with that kind of wage, but in looking at the bidders, there are far fewer of those folks than one would think. I wish I could organize a freelance writer’s strike.  What do you think? Writers Opposed to Piss Poor Offered Rates (WOPPOR)  How about organizing Writer’s Tea Parties?  Maybe some folks could draft a Writer’s Declaration of Independence? – Alternatively, we could go to our windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!!!”

Freelance writers have definitely sold themselves short. We should not stand for less than minimum wage, and far too many writers respond to $1 per article offers, and practically slave over articles for a few dollars per day. I certainly wish there was a way to revolutionize freelance writing and put an end to the insulting pittance that writers are offered. The problem is that we all work for ourselves, and some writers will simply take whatever they think they can get.

The only thing I can do is encourage writers to stand up for themselves, and refuse to accept tiny payments for their valuable work. If you are reading this, and you are accepting work that doesn’t pay your bills, STOP IT! You have to set a standard for yourself and don’t compromise it. Your talents are needed, otherwise there would not be so many projects posted out there. Freelance writing seems like the only business that has a high demand, yet there is never inflation. Writers work hard and should be rewarded for it. Freelance writing should pay the bills, and we should never have to settle for less than the average office clerk makes.

Do your part and consider the writing community: demand to be paid what you are worth, or at least say no to projects that offer less than a cashier at McDonald’s earns.

As long as writers are willing to whore themselves out for less than one-half a penny a word,  things will never change.
I know that there are folks bidding from other countries that are ok with that kind of wage, but in looking at the bidders, there are far fewer of those folks than one would think.
I wish I could organize a freelance writer’s strike.  What do you think? Writers Opposed to Piss Poor Offered Rates (WOPPOR)  How about organizing Writer’s Tea Parties?  Maybe some folks could draft a Writer’s Declaration of Independence? – Alternatively, we could go to our windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!!!

Recovering From Mistakes

I just read a short post on Freelance Zone, and it was encouraging. It was about letting go of your past mistakes. Every writer makes mistakes here and there, and it is perfectly normal. No one is perfect, and you can’t expect yourself to be. Putting yourself down and reminding yourself of the mistake that you made will only wear you down and keep you from shining. Forgive yourself and let it go, as the post I read suggested. It was certainly liberating for me, as I make mistakes, too.

The sooner you learn from what went wrong and move on, the better. Take the lesson for what it is worth, and consider yourself more experienced for having made the mistake. You can’t change the past, but you can affect your future.

Publishing Complaints

As a freelance writer, you have to be careful about your online image and your client relationships. Everyone will come across a client during their career that they don’t get along with or just have a hard time pleasing. While it can relieve stress to rant about your client woes, it is not a good idea to publish them. What you post on a community board or on your blog could be seen by current or potential clients, and what you say could reflect poorly on you.

Make sure that you communicate directly with your client if you have specific issues with your work relationship.You might be able to resolve the problem.

If you must vent, type up your complaint in a file, and don’t save it. If you would like, you can print it out and tear it up, but don’t complain on your blog or in chat that is publicly visible.

You can get on the phone with another freelance writer or email another freelance writer who knows exactly what you are dealing with. Again, the point is to keep these issues private because public whining will only reflect poorly on you.

Don’t make that mistake.

Turning Down Freelance Work

There will come a time when you may consider turning down work. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Under certain circumstances, it might be a good idea. In other situations, rejecting work can be a big mistake.

It is a good idea to turn down and assignment if:

-the pay is too low (less than a penny per word/lower than minimum wage per hour)

-the client is new and you are overwhelmingly busy

-the expectations are unrealistic (example: I need 50 well researched pages of content in the next two hours.)

-you suspect that they won’t be able to pay you (“We are a start-up company, so we have a really tight budget.”)

-the requirements are out of your skill set

You may want to take the job if:

-you are busy, but this client buys your work occasionally or on a regular basis (Repeat business can sustain you in tough times, so make yourself available when faithful clients need you.)

-the work can be outsourced (the assignment is easy to understand and explain, as well as paid at a higher rate than someone else would charge)

-things are slow and the pay is lower than you usually charge (Don’t accept pittance, but be willing to work with the client’s budget.)

-you have limited experience with the main skill required, but you are confident in your ability to learn quickly

Ultimately, you don’t have to take every assignment that comes along. That is the freedom of working for yourself. I am rather particular about what freelance work I will take, but I don’t turn down opportunities that will benefit me in the long run.

I have hired freelancers for ongoing work before and some of them have made the mistake of telling me at some point that they are too busy, but they hope to work with me in the future. To me, that shows in both a positive and a negative light. On the one hand, they must be a quality provider if so many other people are buying their work. On the other hand, I think it is poor business management and poor time management if a freelancer can’t handle one extra assignment from a faithful client.

Don’t get me wrong, I am understanding if things come up or if the freelancer can’t make a tight deadline. If they aren’t confident that they can do a good job with a certain subject or type of work, it is probably wise not to take the assignment. It is just a turn off when it seems that they simply don’t know what to do when things get busy.

What do you think about turning down freelance work?

Freelance Writers Should Pay Attention to Detail

One common mistake that I have come across with other freelance writers is the failure to pay attention to details. I have seen this on open bids to projects, and in outsourced work that has been turned in to me. Following instructions exactly as they are given should be a priority. A countless number of times, details are overlooked, and it can cause clients frustration.

I have seen responses to ads that have clear requirements, specific questions, and obvious preferences, yet they are ignored partially or all together. For example, if I put up an ad that says, “Brand New Freelance Writers Only” why would someone with years of experience apply? Or, if the ad asks for the following: years of writing experience, rate per word, 2 samples, why do some people just throw up a generic response, attach 5 samples, and expect to get hired? Here are some tips on impressing editors and buyers with your attention to instructions and detail:

-Read the ad/submission guidelines, application instructions, and assignment details carefully. Reading these things more than once is a good idea, and you should check to make sure that you followed the instructions before turning in anything.

-When applying, use the method that they prefer (email, phone call, hard copy mailing). Customize the experience you share and highlight qualities that give you an edge on the specific project you are applying for. Use similar words and phrases found in the ad in your response. If the client specifically notes what they don’t want or what they do want, answer it. For example, if an ad says, “All content must be original and will be checked by copyscape.” Your response should be similar to: “My content is always original.” “I always adhere to copyright law.” or “I guarantee that my writing is 100% original.” (Of course, you should only respond that way if it is true.)

-When working on an assignment: Use the file format, font, and style the client/editor wants. Turn in the work in the way they request (via email attachment, in the body of an email, mail hard copy, zip file, etc.) Read the assignment details over and over for do’s and don’ts. Ask preference questions about any aspect of the project that may make a difference, such as tone, audience, style, and length. When in doubt, ask the client, and make sure that your question is not already answered in the initial assignment details.

My message to freelance writers today is PAY ATTENTION.

Value Your Writing, and Your Time

Many freelance writers undercharge for their work. It is probably the most common mistake new freelance writers make.

Pricing is a complicated issue. Every freelance writer has different needs and a different level of experience. My first writing job was to write 500 words articles, that required some light internet research, and the pay was only $1 per article. I found that the pay was too low once I realize how long it took me to complete each article. It was the equivalent of $2 per hour and that is just ridiculous.

I would say that as a general rule of thumb, don’t settle for less than a penny per word. Think about the time it will take you to research and write, and what your income goals are. It is okay to start a little lower at the beginning, but as you gain experience, you should be gaining more income as well. The temptation when starting out is to settle for any pay to gain experience. Set a minimum standard and don’t compromise it. People need content, and you will find someone who is willing to pay what you require.

Thinking in terms of “per hour” as opposed to “per article” can help. If you are offered an assignment, think about these things:

-Does it require research?

-Do you know the subject well, or not very much at all?

-Does the client expect you to revise?

-Is the deadline reasonable?

Obviously, research and revisions will take up your time. A per article price might seem great at first, but it takes you night and day to complete, it is probably not worth it. A freelance writer should make above $15-$20 per hour. That is on the lower end of the business. If you are just beginning, and you have no portfolio and no experience, you might start as low as $10 per hour, but I wouldn’t accept jobs that come out to much lower than that to start (not after the experience I told you about). It may take time to accurately access how long a certain project will take you, because you never really know your speed until you have been doing it for a while.

Don’t fall for the “bulk rate” offers that some buyers might suggest. Don’t lower your price dramatically for the promise of “a lot of work.” It would only take your time away from better per hour rate opportunities out there. Value your writing, and your time. Don’t charge outrageously if you don’t have the quality or experience, but don’t work for pennies, either.

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