7 Heinous Freelance Writing Practices You Should Stop Immediately

www.inkthinkerblog.com — Freelance writers seem to come in two varieties: generous folk who operate under the abundance theory of business and who want to help other writers, and cutthroat morons who give the rest of us a bad name. Here are seven examples of the evil side of freelancing.

  1. Publicly badmouthing companies/editors/etc. when you’re not hired or when you’re fired. Warning other writers about a bad situation like a scam or nonpayment is a nice thing to do (though it could have legal ramifications that you will need to discuss with your lawyer). The only thing you accomplish when you publicly rant about how stupid your client/editor/whoever is and how you’re so SMART and they’re LOSERS who don’t know what they’re TALKING ABOUT is making yourself look like an unprofessional, petulant brat. Throw in a comment about how they’re “not getting enough” when they let you go or decline to hire you, and you could even be as memorable as this guy. Talk about how to make sure you never get another job for them or anyone associated with them! And if you post your rant in a blog, forum, MySpace bulletin, Twitter update, or other publicly available media, way to let the world know you’re a sore loser. Righteous indignation is one thing, and it’s possible to be indignant without being obnoxious. But being a baby is completely another. Heinous.
  2. Visiting other writers’ blogs for the sole purpose of harassing them and/or making trouble. Respectfully disagreeing with a blog post or sharing a differing point of view is what the blogosphere is all about! But heckling other bloggers is rude and it definitely doesn’t make you any friends in the freelance writing world. Again, you just look like a moron, and you create a public record of your stupidity for all the world to see. This also applies to e-mailing people angrily when they do or say things on your blog or elsewhere related to their freelance writing business that you just don’t like. Heinous.
  3. Visiting others’ blogs for the sole purpose of promoting your products and/or services. Being a spammy commenter is possibly more obnoxious than being a mean commenter. MY blog does not exist to promote YOUR product for free, and you can safely assume that other bloggers share the same opinion of their respective blogs. That’s why so many people sell advertising. So how do you comment appropriately? Michael Martine of Remarkablogger has a good explanation. And he’s also fed up with comment spam, and even updated his comment policy because of it. Twice. Spam = heinous.
  4. E-mailing the poster of every Craigslist/Guru.com/Elance.com ad that you think is offering compensation that’s too low. It’s one thing to say something polite like, “You might have better luck with this ad if you try [area that’s know for lower rates],” but even that is pushing it. A genuine question, like, “Did you mean for the decimal point to be in a different place?” is okay if you really mean it and aren’t just baiting the poster. But under no circumstances should you send a diatribe to some random stranger on Craigslist because you can’t keep your snotty comments to yourself. If you’ve done it in the past, stop now. It’s tempting — good Lord, it’s tempting — but grow up. Go apply for an ad you’re interested in instead of making freelance writers as a class look bad. You’re only hurting yourself. And if you really, really can’t take it, go over to Craigslist Curmudgeon and get your fill of snarkitude there instead of creating more yourself. Heinous.
  5. Flagging or otherwise deleting a job ad, or badmouthing it, after you’re responded to deter the competition. This is a new concept for me, but the comment trail on one of Deb Ng’s recent job listings at FWJ clued me in to this particularly heinous practice. The commenters were disappointed that a particularly appealing Craigslist ad had been flagged and was no longer available for viewing. Said commenter Errika, “Some moron jack-a$$ flagged it. This flagging system by CL has got to go. What complete moron came up with this program that allows self-appointed do-gooders to take it upon themselves and decide an ad is illegit? Or maybe that person flagged it to knock out the competition.” BooBoo responded, “I’d definitely say it was flagged to knock out the competition. I try to visit this site early and copy ads into Word specifically for that reason.” Huh. Who knew? Heinous.
  6. Bugging your writing pals for work when things are slow and never (a) saying thank you or (b) reciprocating. I suppose if I gave you a multi-thousand-dollar job and you reciprocated by sending one back my way, I wouldn’t be too bothered if you forgot to say thank you. But if you neither thanked me nor reciprocated in any way, or if you got mad at me when I asked you for lead, I would never want to help you again. Do it often enough, and you’ll burn all of your freelance writing bridges. Go, Team Henious!
  7. When someone does give you a referral, do a bad job or otherwise embarrass them and make them regret helping you. This is kind of a corollary of #6, but it deserves a mention all its own. Imagine recommending a colleague to one of your favorite clients, giving the colleague your seal of approval, and then getting an angry phone some indeterminate time later with your angry client on the other end of the phone because the person you recommended and you vouched for blew the gig. No, it’s not technically your fault, but that doesn’t mean your relationship with your client can’t still be irreparably damaged. Don’t accept a referral if you don’t intend to follow through and do a good job. Yes, we all screw up (and when you do, apologize genuinely to mitigate some of the heinousness, and feel bad enough about it not to do it again). But when other people’s reputations are on the line, it’s a whole lot worse than when it’s just you. Heinous.

Freelancers who (a) believe they are God’s gift the written word, (b) think other people exist solely to serve them, and (c) feel compelled to make things more difficult for others because they lack confidence in their ability to succeed without sabotaging the competition are the ones who make up the truly heinous group of freelancers who are the minority but seem to be the ones at the forefront when dealing with the public, especially online.

What heinous freelance writing practices drive you crazy? Leave a comment.

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28 comments… add one
  • Phil Britt Mar 10, 2008

    The ‘reciprocal refferals’ rarely pan out, typically they all go one way. I give out gift cards for dinner for referrals, with the amount reflective of the referral’s value (has to be a paying client, not a deadbeat). On the other side, when I get too busy, I hire subcontractors.

  • Deb Ng Mar 11, 2008

    Sing it, Sister! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Add to the list the writers who send you every single thing they write and ask you to give it a Digg or a Stumble, but never contact you to say hello or ask how you’re doing.

  • Lori Mar 11, 2008

    Amen, amen, AMEN. This is one of those rare gems in the blogosphere – a post that calls out bad behavior for what it is. Great job, girl!

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    @Lori – thanks for the link love! Everyone, Lori wrote a great follow-up post in response to my 7 Heinous Practices. Read it here: http://tinyurl.com/395qtf

    @Deb – YES. I hate that. I also hate when they never return the favor by Digging or Stumbling me. Dude, GIVE and take, not just take! :)

    @Phil – I’m less concerned with whether it pans out every time than with the effort and attitude involved, if that makes sense. I’ve received several nice thank-you notes and gift cards from referrals in the past and it really made my day. I think a gift is above and beyond, but a thank you is not optional. Contrary to popular belief. ;)

  • Jacqueline Mar 11, 2008

    This is a great post! And as a fellow freelance writer, it is nice to know there are some good ones out there – I didn’t know about the Craigslist flagging thing until I read about it on Deb’s blog either.

    Jacqueline’s last blog post..The Fifty Most Powerful Blogs, According to the Observer

  • Star Mar 11, 2008

    Why is it bad behavior to stand up for the rights of writers and have your say? I disagree with you and Mudgie on this. If some 2-center decides to pay a buck and remembers my name, I guess I am out of luck. But I am not worried. Is this a forbidden comment–I don’t even know.

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    @Star – LOL, this is decidedly NOT a forbidden comment. You’re disagreeing, not heckling. You are welcome to expand on this idea. Go for it. And I am dying to know who Mudgie is. Can you post a link for us? A TinyURL is preferable but not required.


  • Star Mar 11, 2008

    I call the Craigslist Curmudgeon Mudgie. My pet name. He or she is doing what I do–mocking unreasonable ads…only I put my name on it and go to the source directly. Just a difference in style.

  • Star Mar 11, 2008

    I agree with you on the flagging of ads to cut competition. We are trying to level the playing field, not destroy it. And why wouldn’t someone thank a person for a favor? I didn’t get that. Do they get a referred job and just give the old “no answer answer”?

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    @Star – Oh, duh. Thanks for not calling me an idiot. ;) I think there’s a difference between combatively approaching an individual and making a satirical commentary. I’m all for what CC does, but I don’t think it’s right (or smart) to e-mail every poster whose ad one doesn’t like to be a jerk to them. It’s just not nice. And it’s a waste of time, IMO.

    Re: your latest comment, I love this: “We are trying to level the playing field, not destroy it.” Yes, yes, YES! That you for saying that so eloquently. As to why people don’t say thank you (or acknowledge the favor), I chalk it up to bad manners and self-centeredness. Like you said, why WOULDN’T someone say thank you? Well, that’s why. :)

  • Star Mar 11, 2008

    I guess I am a jerk, then. I say, “Sorry to see your zero key is broken.” I don’t really get into psychoanalysis on why their neglectful mother made them into an exploitive twit or anything that deep.

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    @Star – Well, I’ve definitely seen less kind remarks, but yeah, I still think that’s jerky. All that does, IMO, is make them defensive and more likely to cling to their stupidity, and it makes freelance writers look like self-righteous busybodies and bullies. I don’t agree with it, but you have the right to conduct yourself however you see fit. The bottom line for me is this: They’re paying crap money, so they’re going to get crap writing. They’ll learn or they won’t, but they suffer either way.

    That being said, maybe I should encourage writers to spend time replying to crap jobs so I won’t need to flag down the appealing work since they’ll be too busy to apply for the same jobs I want anyway. ;)

  • Star Mar 11, 2008

    I don’t think these people will cling to their stupidity–I think that, with no discernible business plan, they will fold. But they also will be replaced. It’s a “good enough” world now. These recycled things will always be with us, I guess. We will have to agree to disagree on this one. If I give anyone pause, it’s in the cause of all of us. I don’t expect to find high-paying jobs on Craigs myself. I am just browsing–and occasionally commenting. No thanks necessary, though. LOL.

  • Laura Spencer Mar 11, 2008


    Some of this stuff is new to me – especially #5. I never would have thought that someone would behave in that fashion to “hold” a job for themselves.

    I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, though. In college another student “stole” a reference book that we all needed for a paper from the library. She was the only one able to turn the assignment in on time and the book miraculously “appeared” the day after she turned her paper in. You would have thought that she would have gotten in trouble, but no, she got an “A.” The rest of us had to get lower grades for turning in late work.

    I guess there’s no end to rude, unprofessional behavior.

    Laura Spencer’s last blog post..What Do You Do With Your Time Off?

  • Valencia Mar 11, 2008

    Great post!
    I have to admit, I’ve been tempted by #4

    Valencia’s last blog post..Types of Clients You’ll Likely Encounter as a Freelancer

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    @Star – Right. Each time one folds two more take his place. It’s like cutting the heads off of a hydra. :) But if the writers take a stand by refusing to even acknowledge these so-called opportunities, either the people will start writing their own content, or they’ll start paying more. Those are the only two options. Which course of action brings the greater return on investment: confronting individual advertisers, or educating writers?

    @Laura – I went to school with people like that and it made me LIVID. I still get angry when I think about similar experiences. What blows my mind about that specific account is how the professor handled it.

  • michelle goodman Mar 11, 2008

    hear hear, KK. rock on!

    michelle goodman’s last blog post..Happy international women’s day

  • Kristen King Mar 11, 2008

    Thanks, Michelle. :)

  • Deb Ng Mar 11, 2008

    @Star – I posted more in detail a few posts up about whether or not lower payers should be confronted.

    The problem I have with this is that some employers won’t seek me out to place jobs on FWJ anymore because of someone or someones writing them about their rates – they didn’t come to me to be attacked or confronted. It’s my reputation taking a hit, not yours as the angry emailer.

  • Traci Feit Love May 31, 2009

    Wow – I had no idea people were doing some of this stuff. As a freelancer, your reputation is your most important asset – and that includes the reputation you have amongst your fellow freelancers, who could be a good source of referrals. I can only guess that the individuals committing these “freelancing crimes” are too immature to act professionally.

    Traci Feit Love´s last blog post..The Freelancer-Client Relationship

  • Travis Aug 8, 2009

    #3 is extremely annoying… nothing worse than getting a comment like “great post!” “thanks for the tips!” “wonderful article!”

    It’s like seriously… why not at least be honest about it? I’d at least rather they put “I’M TRYING TO BUILD LINKS TO MY SITE, SO I FOUND YOUR BLOG AND DECIDED TO SPAM IT. HAVE A NICE DAY :) ” Am I the only one that seems to notice this?!
    .-= Travis´s last blog ..Stop Whining =-.

  • I’ve had writers contact me with complaints about my job descriptions, pay and all kinds of things. Not sure what they’re trying to accomplish with that.

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