Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dear Publisher: This is Why I Rejected Your Job.

I do a lot of my work through sites designed to hook up freelancers with people who need stuff written. Some of them only let you accept one job at a time, but allow you the freedom to work with different clients every day instead of getting locked into a contract. Others offer you the security of a contract, but may leave you stuck negotiating with someone you don't want to work with rather than being one-and-done.

Sometimes, I click on a job, read over the instructions, and click away faster than you can say, "Oh hell no." There are a number of reasons why this happens:

  • The instructions are hyper-specific. Everyone wants a project where they get paid to write freely about the topic presented to them, but that doesn't come along often. People generally want content that adheres to specific rules -- length, formatting, reading level, keyword density, and the like. There's nothing wrong with this, and it's even sometimes a fun challenge.
    That said, if the instructions are longer than the article you're asking me to write will be, I'm not going to accept. The amount of adjusting and double-checking I'll have to do to make sure I'm meeting all of the criteria (while still producing natural-sounding writing) will take extra time, and, since I'm not paid hourly, that directly cuts into what I'm earning.

  • The instructions don't make sense. Relatively few content publishers put up a single article at a time. Usually they need a whole mess of 'em, all unique, and that means putting up a new set of instructions for Every. Single. One. It is understandably tedious and confusing.
    Unfortunately, that means that a lot of instructions are copy-pasted disasters that reference things that aren't relevant to the project. The subject might be inconsistent with the required keywords, or the word count requested in the body of the instructions may not match the required word count entered into the job form. While these inconsistencies are usually minor and can be corrected with a quick email to the publisher, every hour I spend waiting for a reply is an hour nobody's making any money.

  • The instructions are condescending. There's no standard for becoming a freelance writer. Many of us aren't necessarily fluent in English, may not have stellar grammar, and may not have received an education beyond high school. Literally anyone can sign up to write things, and the market filters out the writers who don't deliver. That can take a little while to do, so some publishers may find themselves occasionally dealing with a less-than-amazing writer. I completely understand that this is frustrating. Really, I get it.
    Frustration is still no reason to include insulting language in a job's instructions. Rudeness is doubly unnecessary because the fact that there are instructions in the first place implies that the writer will be expected to fix their work until it's compliant with them. You don't get to rely on other people to provide labor, talk down to them, and expect them to want to work for you.

  • The math doesn't check out. "Keyword density" refers to the percentage of an article that's taken up by keywords, and it's a pretty big deal for a lot of jobs. Some people don't care about density, just so long as their keywords make it into the article. Others want a keyword used exactly once so they can attach a link to it. Still others want you to strike a balance between including plenty of  keywords and not sounding like an android trying to ask Google's search algorithm to prom. I gotta be honest, though... Sometimes the last part doesn't quite compute.
    I have had situations where I have been asked to write a 450 word article, handed a list of twelve keywords, and told to use them 2-3 times each while maintaining a keyword density of 2-3%.

  • The corrections are vague. I've had situations where I've submitted my writing, received some corrections, then canceled a job. I have no issue at all with rewording something, adjusting a keyword, or correcting grammar, but these have to be outlined in plain language.
    "I don't like how this sounds" is not actionable. If I receive vague style corrections, there's really not much I can do with them -- if someone doesn't like my writing style, we're probably both better served by them working with someone else. I'll cancel the job, it'll go back to the author's pool, and hopefully will be picked up by someone whose voice is a better fit for the project. It's nothing personal, but every minute I spend re-working an article based on guesswork and hoping for the best is a minute I'm losing money by not writing a new article.

  • It doesn't pay enough. Writers gotta eat. Sometimes, it just isn't cost-effective to take a job -- even if it seems easy.


So, there's a peek into the ever-exciting world of freelance content creation. As much as I might have griped about it here, I really do love it. It'll never make me rich, but it's one of the few things my disability allows me to do to stay alive and I really dig the opportunity to challenge myself and learn new things by researching and writing about topics I'm not familiar with. (Do you want to know how to properly winterize an attic? I can tell you. And I don't even have an attic.) Of course, like anything else, it has its warts.

Do you do any freelance writing? What frustrations have you encountered?


  1. Kill him and progress through the convienant opening.

  2. I guess that would be more merciful in Till's mind.

  3. I mean... I don't think being a freelancer is the same as being The Highlander, but that's cool. You do you.