The Dark Truths: 5 Ways Freelance Writers Get Screwed Over

The Dark Truths: 5 Ways Freelance Writers Get Screwed Over

No job is perfect. Being a freelance writer has perks, but there are several challenges we face each day. Today I’m taking off the rose-colored glasses and getting real. If you own a small writing business or are a business-of-one, be aware of these downfalls (that can sometimes be avoided!)

1. People will steal your pitches and ideas.

Whether you’re discussing the perfect article idea with a colleague or you formally pitched a publisher, at some point in your writing career, expect your ideas to be snatched out from underneath you. More than once, I’ve lamented about an idea I’ve had brewing, then saw a similar headline published in the next day or two. Hmmm, I wonder where they came up with that topic?

Guard your ideas closely and don’t give away too many details. If you’re pitching a publisher, be sure they tell you the process for pitching. Are you simply sharing ideas, or are they guaranteeing you will be the one to get to write from the pitch? There is a difference!

2. Sources will disappear mid-conversation.

I can’t count how many times I’ve reached out to experts to comment for an article, and they agree with enthusiasm. They love the free mention online! We chat for a bit via email, and all of a sudden they stop replying. Some come back later with legitimate reasons for their online absence, while others are just gone. This makes it tough to finish a piece or hit your deadline.

Always have backup sources ready to go. I like to use HARO and Source Bottle to locate subject experts on short notice. Or, I call on local resources, such as my dietician, veterinarian or doctor for a quick quote. They’re usually more than happy to help out.

3. Payments will go missing.

Getting paid as a freelancer can be tough. Most publishers and marketing agencies have a system in place to pay their contractors. But, if you’re working with an individual who promises to cut you a check, you have to go with your gut and hope they stick to their contract with you. If something seems off, step away.

I’ve had well-respected publishers buy articles, publish them, then submit a PayPal refund request. What? It’s already been published! There’s not much you can do unless you have the money and time to pursue legal action. And most of the time, it’s not worth spending the money and time to get a payment of a few hundred dollars.

4. Clients will disappear overnight.

In the early days of my freelance writing career, I would write articles on spec, and hope to sell them to clients who would bid on them. It was a way to get my name out there and earn some side cash. One website went offline overnight. I had built up an account of several hundred dollars that never did get paid. Despite tracking down the website owners elsewhere online, my requests always fell on deaf ears.

The moral here? Now I only work with established, reputable companies that would lose a lot of credibility (and sales!) if they were here one day and gone the next. Pick your clients carefully.

5. Guidelines will change after you sign a contract.

Nothing is set in stone, so to say. After you sign a contract for work, be ready for the client to throw you curve balls. The deadline gets shortened. They want more sources. They need an additional sidebar of information for no extra pay. Oh, and now they want you to take original, high-quality photos to accompany the article.

If a publisher asks for so many changes, ask for a revised contract. Or, work out each new detail as you go. I’ve successfully asked for an increase in pay after itemizing the additional work requested, and approximate time it would take me to complete it. I don’t work for free, and neither should you.

What challenges have you faced as a freelancer? Chat about it in the comments below using Facebook or the comment form!

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