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6 Writing Jobs I Won’t Take, No Matter What!

Once I took my writing seriously and set out to build a freelance writing business, it took me several years to figure out what sort of writing jobs I could and should take. I spun my wheels a lot; I learned a lot too.

Since it’s possible you can learn form my mistakes, here are six writing jobs I won’t take again, no matter what:

  1. Write a book for a client on a promise of cash rather than cash up front. Yes, I did this, but only once. (blush)
  2. Write magazine articles for pennies or for exposure – okay, we often have to do this  in the beginning. I’d suggest no more than two, and today I’d probably put them on a site where I might earn some money. Not much exposure, but a credit for sure.
  3. Design web sites – when the web got started I knew a bit about coding and graphics. I still know a bit about both. What I didn’t understand is that it’s impossible for me to please a client about design. I even hesitate to write content for anyone but me.
  4. Write SEO articles. Yes, I’ve done my share of those, although I don’t think I’ve ever gone below $10 for each one and often got $20 or $25. It’s one of those things I know how to do but find so boring I’d rather work on my own stuff or find clients for other writing
  5. Write newsletters for non-profits for free, except, of course, the one I’m doing right now. 😉 This is one of those things I say I won’t do again and yet I still volunteer to do them every now and again.
  6. Work on spec. I require at least some payment up front – usually enough so if I don’t get the balance I don’t feel totally ripped off.

    Yeah, I’ve done it all. Life is, after all, a learning experience, or should be. But as someone said, I don’t remember who, fifty percent of success in life is knowing when to say ‘no.’

    What writing work do you turn down?


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    { 31 comments… add one }
    • Thanks for this, Anne, and thanks to the commenters for adding to it. It’s hard to know what is good and bad work when you’re trying to start. It’s also tempting to take crap just to get credits, but I don’t want a whole lot of that in my resume.

      I DO have a newsletter I did gratis for my skating club and I use it as a credit; it shows I have experience putting a publication together. Fortunately it’s still online and I can include a link to it.
      Elizabeth West recently posted..Why Read ItMy Profile

    • I hate to do rewrites, won’t do them. For one thing they don’t pay and for another they bore me to tears. My very first writing job was a large rewrite project. Never saw a dime. I do write SEO articles because I enjoy researching subjects, but I have a limit that I normally don’t go below for pay. I have one client who pays me very well to write content for new sites. I wish I could get more like her, that would be awesome, but I love to write and do it from home so I take that into consideration, too.
      Kathryn Pless recently posted..Clive Cussler Surprised Me!My Profile

      • oh, you mean those ads that ask for rewriting seo articles? I wouldn’t do those either. Setting your own boundaries re pay, etc. is half the battle.

    • Hey Leo, hope things are going better for you!

      (read your earlier comments and played an entire concerto with you in mind :D)

      I started at the lowest end of the “pay” scale too, but am doing loads better now. I have no magic formula, just persistence.

      And, I would never write “on spec”. Getting burnt once was enough!
      Angela recently posted..On taboo topics in writingMy Profile

      • On spec for respected magazines can work… the rest doesn’t.

    • Suzanne

      I’ve only been freelancing a short while, but so far I have learned two that I won’t take again:
      1. Small jobs for which the time to do the paperwork and negotiate exceeds half my estimated billable hours.
      2. Large jobs that are paid on a per project basis, that require me to finish the job to the client’s satisfication before I see a single cent of pay.

    • Leo

      Just to add to the “know when to say no” sentiment… getting to write the stuff you want and those pieces that will help you grow as a writer really makes it enjoyable. But, you also need to know when to bite the bullet and just do what it takes.

      Writing is perhaps one art form where the refinement thereof is also a reward 🙂

    • Megan

      I write SEO to pay the bills too. I’d far rather do that than flip burgers. I learn a lot about new topics this way too, and learn to work to a schedule, fit in a word count, etc. I think it’s valuable.

      But the other ones? You wouldn’t have caught me doing them when I was 12..

    • I agree with Anne’s sentiments about learning when to say “no”, especially when the seductress ‘exposure’ is offered by the prospective client. I learned the hard way that such promises are meaningless…and the client is using your craft for their profit. Acquiring a mercenary mentality is not a bad thing for the scribe. And….I found that my own blog, for no commercial purpose other than a means to showcase my own abilities with the written word has been a better business generator than any other means, period. It provides a pure creative outlet, too…a reminder of why I wanted to write in the first place!

      • A mercenary attitude backed up by a desire and willingness to be of service… that’s my “secret.”

    • Diana

      Great stuff. I’m about halfway between Leo and Julie… still writing SEO ’cause it pays the bills, but working HARD at saying no when I need to and branching into really fun, creative, get my blood pumping stuff. My biggie is the overcommitment – I haven’t done 50 articles in one week yet (only PT writing after all), but some weeks it sure feels like it. LOVE your quote about50% of success in life is knowing when to say ‘no.’ New. Mantra. For. Me.

    • Shannon

      I read many of the comments and they are helpful because I’m new at this. At this point I often feel like I am spinning my wheels. Right now I’m writing on a PPC basis for an online site. I see it as a way to get exposure and have articles that show my writing. Anita’s comment about changing someone else’s work for their own made me wonder. I mainly write articles about the Internet, social networking sites etc.. Alot of what I end up doing is almost rewriting other people’s articles. I’m not trying to steal anyone’s work or take credit for other’s work because I wouldn’t want it done for me. I’m not sure what is the best way to find topics to create original articles of my own. It seems everything is taken so its hard to be original. Articles I won’t do is anything that requires a lot of articles for only $10.

    • Leo

      Admin: thanks for the reply on my comment. I get what you’re saying, however with regards to that there are a few problems. The first one being that I’ve been writing for the same price for about a year now, and the second that just about everything I’ve written have copyrights that apply which means I can’t use it.

      Now that being said, I must admit that I was a little emotional at that stage as it kinda sucks doing a great job but getting paid the same as someone who copies & pastes. In addition, I’ve not worked on a strategy for upping my game. But I need experience as just about the only thing I’ve done is write articles or web content. So having said that, what would be the best way to get my foot in the door with regard to different types of writing, such as press releases, and niche content such as medical writing, etc.? Where would you get someone to ‘grade’ the trial pieces before moving on to the playing field?

      Thanks Again


    • Here’s an example of an ad I’d never respond to:
      “Creative part-time writer needed by expanding publisher!!! “StickThis” is the #1 premeer bumper sticker marketer!! The right person can earn up to $500 a week as part of our team!!! To apply for this position, send us your resume and 5 sampel bumper sticker ideas!”

      jorgekafkazar’s last blog post..Between the Universe

    • admin

      Cyndy, just don’t feel like you’re alone… many of us had to learn the hard way. Hopefully others won’t have to do it that way. BTW, if you’re getting any royalties you’re ahead of most on these situations

    • Oh, your comment about not working on spec really hits home! Years ago I was approached by a woman who had a fabulous idea for a product in the career-exploration field. She needed me to write content but convinced me to agree to a percentage of sales, a royalty, instead of a fee for the project. She had high hopes for the product. Too bad she didn’t have anybody out there selling it to her target audience. I spent 6 months of my life writing the content and had to turn down other jobs so that I could meet her deadlines. I’m embarrassed to say how little I’ve earned in royalty payments to date. But, as with everything, it was a learning experience! Thanks for writing about this.

    • admin

      Leo, if you can get a buck, then $4 an article, you’re headed in the right direction. I’d suggest you put together a web page with links to a selection of say no more than a dozen and it could be as few as three either by links or as individual pages or both, then start applying for the higher paid gigs. Keep us posted.

    • Leo

      I feel like crying reading all these replies… I’m the guy that has done 500 word articles (SEO related) for just over $1. I’m the man doing SEO blog commenting for $0.75. The list goes on and on – and I will admit that there were a few deadlines I couldn’t make and subsequently lost the job… not because of the bad money, just because the content was so frightfully boring. Though from that I learnt something about myself – variety makes my world go round.

      Stupid? Not entirely so. I attribute my current fate more to a number of other factors (yep, do get out your violins) that are as yet out of my control.

      But… as I’m typing this and the veggies are probably close to being nothing but mush, I don’t really feel so bad about being annoyed with having to write ten articles on auto insurance or PPO health insurance for $4 each or having issues by doing blog comments for someone who just want to get the job done, regardless of quality or the actual content (I take pride in what I do).

      So, thanks for this post! 🙂


    • admin

      If they’d pay more we’d make those seo articles at least palatable. sigh

    • Yeah. I agree. SEO articles are boring.

    • admin

      Anita, that whole rewrite business is hard to define… I know what you mean.

    • Here’s a pet peeve that causes me to skip many, many “Web Writer Wanted” ads: I will not do “writing” or “editing” that is really just taking someone else’s work without permission, then changing to wording just enough to prevent them from suing for plagiarism. Web sites do this all the time, but to me, it’s still plagiarism, and I’d be the one covering up the crime.

      Anita Harkess’s last blog post..New Year’s Resolutions Update: One Down, Seven to Go

    • admin

      Sherrie, that happens more than you might think. Magazines are real cash holes and many people start them with totally inadequate funding or any clue at all about costs.

      But, you can now market the article elsewhere, maybe.

      Nicole, the only academic writing I’ll do, and not often, is helping someone, like the German grad student working to get his Ph.d. in English… it was English he needed help in, not research, etc. I liked him, but academic writing is so boring and rigid.

    • Sherrie

      I will not write for a start-up magazine again. I just wrote an article for one last fall, and the article was supposed to appear in February, with payment mailed upon publication. Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the editor telling me that the publisher has decided to stop work on the magazine, with no explanation offered. The editor is now in court trying to get payment for herself and the writers. I found this job from a Craigslists ad on another job board.

    • I will not do academic writing, low pay writing, writing for free, or commission only work. Potential clients who contact me for these kinds of writing projects get turned away.

    • admin

      Julie, I like your list. All but the spelling… mine is so darn creative… 😉

      BJ, I’ll help a student, well, I have, but I won’t originate material… once helped a native German Phd student with his English writing, but he’d done the major work.

    • BJ Menter

      Academic writing! Sorry – but cheating is cheating! I’ve cheerfully helped students with the editing part (which I make them participate in), but when it comes to writing term papers, etc., that’s what their job!!

    • Julie Trevelyan

      -Anything that pays ridiculously low. I even fired off an email to one advertiser who wanted to pay $5 for a 400-word article and told him he was nuts. I was a bit annoyed that morning…
      -Anything so booooring I’d lose my mind doing it, no matter how well paid.
      -Anything from clients who do not seem to be professional or on the up & up.
      -Anything for someone who doesn’t seem to know how to write or spell themselves. (I know that seems cruel–obviously they really need a writer!–but I’ve discovered that people who can’t even spell often don’t understand or appreciate–ahem, compensate–someone who *can* write.)
      -Requests for crazy amounts of work (50 articles a week? Really?) that seem doable only by that extremely dubious practice of cutting & pasting someone else’s hard work…

      I’m picky about being well-paid…but I would indeed do a freebie for a nonprofit I believe in whole-heartedly, or an article for pennies *if* it was to help me get a leg up into a market I really want to crack, and if the source was very reputable.

      Julie Trevelyan’s last blog post..John Updike, in memorium

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