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When Freelance Writing Clients Go Into Witness Protection

writing clientsHave you ever had a client just disappear? You’re rocking along getting assignments, fulfilling them, getting paid.

Then maybe they miss a scheduled call or you realize you haven’t heard from them in way too long.

You call and/or email and text and get back… nothing! The phone is still connected, but only takes messages. There’s no response to email or texting. It’s as if they fell off the face of the planet or maybe moved into some sort of witness protection program.

I’m not talking about the client who goes silent because they’ve decided not to pay you. That’s a different problem altogether. I’m talking about the client in good standing, who pays your invoices promptly, and then goes missing.

Once in a while a writing client comes back

I was reminded of this when I picked up the phone the other day. I didn’t recognize the number – remember when all calls came in with no information other than the ring?. It turned out to be the delightful assistant who almost a decade ago found me to ghostwrite a book for her principal.


Over a period of months I gotten most of the book written. I’d been paid on time, exactly as the contract specified. They even flew me to their location, put me up in a sweet boutique hotel overnight, all for a face-to-face, and when the principal came west we met close to my home.

Writing client disappears

The book was within a month of being finished as I recall. We’d been dealing with the final edits and I was talking with them about finding the right copy editor.

Then it happened, or rather it stopped happening. The principal missed a phone appointment, didn’t return my call, etc. etc. etc. Messages were taken, but calls were not returned, then the business phone was disconnected. Email wasn’t answered, but it wasn’t bounced either.

I finally, after a couple of months of feeling like the writing client had been swallowed by a black hole, I sent an email saying something like: I have no idea what’s happened but if I can ever be of service… and let the whole thing go.

As frustrating as it was to be sitting around with an almost finished manuscript that wasn’t mine, I was careful not to let my frustration show in my communication attempts.

In truth I wasn’t angry – and I knew they had multiple copies of the manuscript. After all, it isn’t my book. I’d gotten paid along the way. I moved on as I assumed the client did.

Writing client reappears

Here we are, literally years later, and the assistant calls. She apologizes profusely. Her explanation makes some sort of sense to me. They loved working with me she insists and want to again. I agree and the way is again open for a working relationship with a familiar writing client.

Will work actually come in? Who knows! I rather suspect it will, but that’s not the point really.

Burn no bridges

When this client was finally ready to hire a writer again they probably contacted me because not only had I done a good job, I work hard not to burn bridges. In addition to getting the project they need completed, I also work to leave them in better shape about writing then when they came to me. Along the way they learn something about writing and marketing writing – it seems inevitable.

I’ve also learned to let go. Each one of us has our own life drama happening. When a client disappears, I’m concerned, but I’ve learned not to take it personally. I figure something happened in their life to change course. I don’t panic if a writing client quits responding. I realize I don’t have any idea what’s happening at their end, and unless and until they respond there’s simply nothing I can do about that. Apparently it happens to all of us if we stay in the business.

What’s your approach when a writing client disappears? 

Write well and often,

annesig.




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