I don’t know how “typical” my freelance writing experience has been. When I discuss the downsides of agreeing to write for people who for whatever reason cannot write their own content, I am basing 90 percent of what I say off of my own experiences.
Not all of my experiences are horror stories. But there are plenty of those, too.
My favorite is the one where a client blamed me for their content’s lack of success.
Before you roll your eyes, let me explain, in as little detail as I can (because I’m a nice, respectable person, and I don’t like tearing people down).
Here’s what often happens when you start to negotiate terms with a client. At least for my niche, more often than not, they have a website. They need content for their website. They use vague terms like “well-researched articles” to describe the kind of work they want. If you can come to a reasonable rate agreement and they deem your writing samples worthy, dingdingding! You get to write for them.
Sometimes the work is published under your name. Sometimes it’s not.
In the vast majority of cases, there is one primary reason you are being asked to write for a client: they own a business, they need money, and your articles will, theoretically, bring them all the ad revenue they haven’t been able to get up to this point.
At first — because I’ve kind of been doing this a long time, and I have a few degrees, and I have a pretty good idea how to stand out to the kind of people posting the jobs I want — clients usually trust that I know what I’m doing, and are overall pleased with how well I can follow instructions and create decent content.
Except this one client.
First, there was the over-explaining thing. Everything had to be explained three times. Once over a voice message, and twice through instant messages and/or emails.
At first I thought that’s just how this person communicated, and I really didn’t mind all that much. Until I started to wonder if they didn’t trust me … as in, they didn’t think I actually knew how to do the job they’d hired me to do.
That wasn’t the major issue — at least, that’s what I tell myself to avoid getting angrier than I ever have at another person before. No. The issue was that their content wasn’t getting as many page views as they wanted … and it was apparently all my fault.
They were too “nice” to say that, though. So they just kept sending me more and more “explanations” of how things needed to be done “right.” Not better. RIGHT.
This is when I stopped feeling like a person who writes, and started feeling like a presence that existed only to make words appear on a screen for profit.
Which is never how you should feel, creating content for someone. Ever.
It started to feel like this person was trying to program commands into my brain. It was as if, once they typed the exact instructions for how they wanted things done, they were confident I could produce not just the content they dreamed of, but the explosive results they thought they deserved.
I can interpret commands and I can do what I’m told and I can do a pretty good job, too. I’ve been writing for a long time. I actually do know what I’m doing, thank you very much.
But there is not an exact formula for something going “viral.” And if I write something, and it doesn’t go viral, that is 100 percent not my fault. There are a handful of factors that go into whether or not the article I wrote for you that went up on your website was popular, and I can guarantee, the quality of my writing is not the problem.
How do I know? Because I write for a living. I know what I’m doing.
You see, if this person had been posting all my articles on their social media channels — actually putting in the effort to promote them to their audience — maybe things would have been different.
The articles weren’t bad, it turned out. They just weren’t being seen.
AND SOMEHOW, THAT WAS MY FAULT.
I do not write to make money. At least, not beyond what I need to survive. I do not write to make lots and lots of money, because I know I wouldn’t be able to even if I tried. And why is that? BECAUSE I AM NOT A WORD PROCESSING MACHINE.
I am a person who has dedicated her life to creating quality content on the internet for the benefit of real people who are searching for information. Not everything I write is going to go “viral.” Not everything is going to have the best keywords and adhere to a strict SEO formula. I try so hard to care about that stuff, but I just don’t. I care about people, not about numbers. Maybe that’s wrong. I don’t know. But I refuse to let people assume I don’t know what I’m doing because I can’t do it the way THEY would have.
I understand why some people need help producing content. I do. But if you’re going to ask someone to write for you, DO NOT blame them for all your business problems. Isn’t not FAIR. Writers have ENOUGH garbage to deal with on a daily basis without you IMPLYING they’re only useful until something better comes along. WE ARE NOT ROBOTS. We work SO HARD and the frequency at which we are undervalued is RIDICULOUS.
Thankfully, I don’t have to depend on low-paying freelance jobs anymore, where these things happen much too often. But I know there are many of you out there who do. And I’m so sorry. Not that you’re making a living doing what you want to do — but that stuff like this happens.
I will never understand why people don’t treat writers with more respect. Probably because I am one. But maybe one day this will all change. Instead of being in demand and thrown around like we don’t have souls, our hard work will be appreciated.
And if all this just sounds selfish and whiney to you, well, I’m happy you’ve obviously never had to deal with anything like this as a writer. Good for you. Sorry I didn’t have any relatable content for you today. This is how writing goes. Sometimes, instead of yelling at people, you have to write to calm down the angry monster stomping around inside your chest. It’s sleeping now.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.