Writing ‘On Spec’ Vs. ‘On Assignment’: What’s the Difference?

The other day, I casually mentioned I rarely write ‘on spec’ and was thrilled when my project was accepted.

“What does writing on spec mean?” I was asked.

A little bell went off in my head and knew this would be a good topic to mention here, especially with all the recent posts related to article pitching.

When replying to a pitch request, or call for submission, you might be asked to submit a summary of what you plan to write about, or even a polished first draft.

Writing ‘On Spec’

The latter, submitting a draft, is essentially writing on spec, or on speculation. You’re submitting a fully fleshed-out idea, for consideration.

Then you wait to learn if your proposal to the publisher will be accepted or rejected.

Many times writers working on spec have a specific story they want to explore with a publication and audience in mind, and present the piece to the publisher, hoping they’ll like it and publish it.

Writing on spec is a common approach for book authors, essay-writers and poets.

Writing ‘On Assignment’

On the other side of the pitching game, you’ll find assignments.

Writing on assignment means the publisher has assigned a topic and angle for you to write about. Or, it means they’d like you to pitch an idea and they will then accept or deny it before you start composing the piece.

In the content marketing world, I generally work on assignment both via pitching and on projects assigned to me by my clients.

My friends who seek magazine bylines often work on spec, writing about topics and ideas they love, then shopping around to find the articles and essays homes in the pages of the publications they admire.

Do you prefer to write on spec or on assignment? Let’s chat in the comments below!

Want more writing and marketing tips? Join me on Facebook at Web Writing Advice and Angela Tague (Journalist / Writer)!

Note: This post was last updated on May 12, 2021.

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