Is Confronting Low-Ball Ad Posters Truly Heinous? — Yesterday, I listed seven heinous freelance writing practices. Most of them have been well-received, but there were a couple of objections that surprised me. Here’s a recap of the list:

  1. Publicly badmouthing companies/editors/etc. when you’re not hired or when you’re fired.
  2. Visiting other writers’ blogs for the sole purpose of harassing them and/or making trouble.
  3. Visiting others’ blogs for the sole purpose of promoting your products and/or services.
  4. E-mailing the poster of every Craigslist/ ad that you think is offering compensation that’s too low.
  5. Flagging or otherwise deleting a job ad, or badmouthing it, after you’re responded to deter the competition.
  6. Bugging your writing pals for work when things are slow and never (a) saying thank you or (b) reciprocating.
  7. When someone does give you a referral, do a bad job or otherwise embarrass them and make them regret helping you.

Both in the comments and in private e-mail conversations, folks have shared with me that they feel strongly about the need to set people straight when they’re offering a pittance in exchange for writing work. As I said yesterday, I can understand the temptation. But there are several reasons I think writers should resist the urge to “teach those fools a lesson”:

  • Every time you send a complaint/diatribe/etc. to a low-baller, you are wasting time you could be spending on finding or performing appropriately paying work. You are also dedicating both time and energy to negativity. What is the long-term impact of that choice? Will it build up your writing career? Make you feel good? Really, consider it.
  • People who don’t value good writing certainly aren’t going to have their minds changed about the benefits of hiring a professional writer when a so-called professional busts on them for being the scum of the earth. Think of it this way: If someone accuses you of being a hot-head and then you lose your temper in response, have you proven them wrong? These people think writers aren’t worth much, and by being petty you’re simply reinforcing their already misguided ideas. If you must respond to an ad you’re not interested in, send a genuine application and state your rates. They can choose to hire you or not, but at least you’ll be demonstrating how a true professional writer behaves. And who knows — maybe that will change their minds.
  • When someone feels attacked, he is more likely to cling to his existing belief out of a knee-jerk response to the threat than to concede that you may have a point. See the bullet above.
  • The more attention these posters get, the more they’re encouraged to continue in the same theme. But what would happen if they didn’t get so much as a single response to their awful offers? When people stop acknowledging the posts at all, maybe the idiots offering $10 for 500 articles will get a clue already. And if they don’t, as I said in one of my comments on the original post, 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.
  • Rather than complaining to the posters, who obviously don’t have any vested interest in the writing community, the more effective course may be to educate the writers who respond to the ads. Kindly. Without degrading them. By building them up so they feel like they can pursue higher paying jobs and that it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
  • You have the right to charge what you like for your services, and your potential clients can choose to hire you and pay your rates or to go with someone else. Whereas it’s smart for you to get the most you can in exchange for your expertise, it’s smart for the person hiring you to get as much product as possible for as little money as possible. Misguided though they may be, these low-ballers are making a financial choice that’s not in and of itself a bad one: shopping for a bargain. That’s why educating the writers is critical — because people will always try to get as much as possible for as little as possible, but when “as little as possible” is a fair rate because writers stop allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by accepting less than their work is worth, the problem will be solved.

I’m not so naive as to think that this is an easy fix, but I think the potential is there to handle this, as a class of professionals, much better than we have handled it in the past. So, is confronting low-ball ad posters truly heinous? I think it depends on your approach.

A vent can be good sometimes. A vendetta never is. When it comes down to it, you need to determine what you want to invest in: arguing with idiots who aren’t paying your bills, or building up your own business and your fellow writers? I vote for the latter.

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7 comments… add one
  • Deb Ng Mar 11, 2008

    I have another problem with this. Two people who posted jobs at FWJ have told me they won’t do so anymore because of the person who emails them to berate them for what she feels are low rates. Sometimes the rates are terribly terrible. Low for us maybe, but not beginners.

    Do we really want to scare away well-intentioned people who are looking for writers and send them to E-Lance or the Digital Point Forums where those writers will bid even lower?

    It may not mean anything to the person or people who write to these employers asking them if they’re missing a decimal or a zero key, but when an ad is posted at my blog and the employer is attacked by someone from my community, it’s my reputation. When I asked people to please consider not scaring away those who come to m blog with jobs, I was told , “too bad. Let them go away so only the high payers will come here.” Who are they to make that decision regarding MY blog.? I wouldn’t go to someone else’s house and be rude to their guests, why they would do it at mine is beyond me. FWJ might have more individuals emailing me to post their jobs, except for one or two people giving it a bad reputation.

    Not cool at all.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

    – Deb

  • Deb Ng Mar 11, 2008

    I meant that to say “sometimes the rates AREN’T terribly terrible”.


  • Amy Derby Mar 11, 2008

    Excellent points you make here, as well as in the other post (which I’m just now catching up on). This feeling of wanting to lash out and be a jerk — with myself I call it taming my inner jack@ss — is something I’ve become irritated with lately among fellow freelancers. It’s just that I’m SO sick of seeing the gripes. If you don’t like a gig, move on. What’s so friggen hard about that?

    What I REALLY don’t get is that these are the people complaining about rates. Well, here’s a thought: you just lost several hours worth of billable time griping. I’ve told a few of them that, and they get all riled up. Honestly, some of these people I have to wonder about. Are they not taking their meds?

    The whole rate debate (or the debate about people who post low paying gigs) seems so pointless. By complaining on writing blogs/forums, do they expect to change the situation? Yesterday was sunny, and today is cloudy. I could blast everyone who says they don’t mind the cloudy weather, or I could go outside and scream at the clouds, but that’s not going to make it sunny again. Sure, people got paid more twenty years ago, and cheap writers have driven the rates down. Is being a jerk to people like Deb who post job ads for lower paying gigs going to suddenly make people pay $5 a word again? Not unless I’m missing something.

    *stops ranting now*

  • Lori Mar 13, 2008

    Yea, I have to agree. Once upon a time, I let a few people know about it (usually the “labor of love” no-pay jobs), but I realized it’s just not smart. You waste valuable time you could be spending looking for more lucrative work, and you run the risk of ruining your good name. Like you said, Kristen, most of these people don’t care what you’re worth. They’re paying what they’re paying. Let lack of responses guide them.

  • kristen fischer Mar 20, 2008

    The way I see it, I have so many more valuable things to do with my time than tell someone else what to charge for their project. If it’s not good for me, let someone else have it!

    good post, K:)

  • Devon Ellington Mar 23, 2008

    If the stated rate is too low, I move on. My time is better used finding the jobs that pay my rate, not berating people for their rates.

    You get what you pay for.

    I would rather work for professionals who value my craft than try to “educate” someone who wants to pay $1/article for 40 articles a week.

    Unfortunately, the writers who write for crap pay hurt all of us, but we just have to look elsewhere for the good jobs and stop frequenting the boards that post jobs we don’t want.

    We can create our own niches with the time otherwise spent “educating” people who don’t want to pay us what we’re worth. I’d rather chase my dream than try to change someone else’.

    Devon Ellington’s last blog post..Sunday, March 23, 2008

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