Being a freelance writer has its ups and downs. It is lovely to be able to set your own hours and have complete control over whether or not you want to take a particular writing job. The difficult part comes when you run out of writing work (or simply don’t have enough of it) and must find more.
As such, I’ve gotten into the habit of searching through Craigslist for writing gigs. Each individual Craigslist will have a section under “Jobs” called “Writing/Editing”. That’s a good place to start. I have managed to find some really great gigs through Craigslist ads. It helps if you know how to discern a good gig from a bad one. Here are some tips that will help you avoid the spam, the crap, and the questionable.
1. Don’t work for free.
My motto is “No pay? No way!” There is no good reason to spend your time and effort writing something for some stranger who posted a “gig” on Craigslist if that person has no intention of paying for the work you do. How will you pay your bills – with wishes and dreams? If you find any of the following phrases in a Craigslist ad for writers it means you should stop reading it and move on to the next one:
* Great exposure
* Build your resume
* No pay (yes, some are that blatant)
* Pays in royalties
* Pays a percentage (of whatever amount of money the ads on the website bring in)
* TBD – To be determined. Translation: we may or may not bother to pay you
* Can’t pay writers now but will, someday, if the website starts making money
* Internship / intern (more on this in a bit)
* Compensation to be discussed
* No pay – but your name will be posted on your work!
You can “build a portfolio” all by yourself. Make your own blog. Start posting your writing work on it. When you find a good “gig”, you can use your work as samples. Send the person who posted the ad a link or two to some of your best work. In the meantime, you keep all the rights to what you wrote and posted on your own blog. You also have complete control over how long it stays online.
The ads that say “great exposure” are lying to you. There is no guarantee that the blog on their start-up website is going to get any more page views than your own blog will. Ads that say they will pay in royalties, or with a percentage of ad revenue, are a gamble. You have no way to know, for certain, how much they made in ads or how many copies they sold. There is no way to know that you are being fairly compensated under those circumstances.
2. Watch out for fake “internships”.
There are plenty of people who post ads for writers on Craigslist and note that the gig is an “internship”. Most of the time, the ad writer is using that word to indicate that he or she is not going to pay you for your work. He or she is seeking free labor and trying to make it look appropriate by using fancy words: “intern” “internship”.
In reality, there are legal expectations that must be met in order for a for-profit business to “hire” an intern. By the way, for-profit means that the company is expecting to make a profit. It doesn’t matter if that company has actually made any money yet – only that it is intending to.
Non-profit organizations have different rules regarding internships. Non-profit means that the company is not intending to make money. It might be a charity. If the ad says non-profit, I would advise that you ask if the company has 501(c)(3), or 501(c)(4) status with the Internal Revenue Service. (If it lacks proof of that status – there is a great possibility that the ad writer is lying, is a for-profit company – and is trying to be sneaky about why he or she is not paying writers).
So, what are the rules for unpaid internships at for-profit companies? According to the United States Department of Labor:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
California has more rules regarding unpaid internships at for-profit companies:
7. Any internship should be part of an “educational curriculum”
8. The interns should not receive “employee benefits”
9. The training received by interns should be general “so as to qualify the [interns] for work in similar business, rather than designed specifically for a job with the employer offering the program.”
10. The screening process for interns should not be the same as for regular employment, but rather must be based on “criteria relevant for admission into an independent educational program”; and
11. Advertisements or postings for internships should clearly describe the positions as educational or training-based rather than as employment.
If you see an ad for writers on Craigslist that says it is seeking “interns” or that it is offering an “internship” check what the ad says against the legal criteria for internships. Are the tasks that they want an intern to do something that could reasonably be considered as “educational curriculum”? Will you be working under close supervision of existing staff? If the “internship” wants you to work from home, with your own computer, without ever meeting or speaking with any existing staff – it is not an internship!
Be wary of ads that say they will give you college credit for your work – they may be lying about that. Find out exactly which college their internship is connected with before you write anything for them. Do you attend that college? If not, you have to ask yourself if the internship is really worth it.
3. Avoid the spam.
I have become an expert at recognizing the ads for writers that are nothing more than spam. Here is a quick list of what to avoid:
* The Craigslist ad includes a link that takes you to a completely different website. (That website has a huge photo of money, or a young person who is using a laptop. Or, it has a video that is supposed to explain how amazing the job is).
* The ad says writers will have to pass a test, or complete a training, before they can make money.
* The ad gives no information about the job, and yet, wants you to send them a resume.
* The ad says writers will earn thousands of dollars a week.
* The ad notes that you will have to work for a while before you see any pay.
* The ad says it will only pay for articles/blogs that have been “approved”.
* The ad will only pay writers who bring a certain number of followers to the ad writer’s Facebook page (or other social media website).
* The ad wants you to spend money in order to get started with the job.
* The ad title says “writer” but the ad description is clearly sales and/or marketing.
* “This is not spam!” Oh yes, it is! It has been marked as spam by tons of people already (and yet, the ad writer keeps on posting more of the same spammy ads).
Here’s an example that will make things even more clear. Right now, one of the ads that is spamming up Craigslist is for a company that says it will pay you to listen to music and write a review. The ad has been revised many times, but it typically says that it will pay $10.00. This suggests that you will receive $10.00 for one review.
In order to learn more about the gig, you are expected to click on a link that is in the Craigslist ad. The link takes you out of Craigslist and onto a completely different website. It is easy to see where to sign up for this “gig”. You have to dig around to find concrete information about the job. Eventually, you discover that it really pays a few pennies per review, and that you cannot receive any money until after you put in enough work writing music reviews to earn $10.00. That, my friends, is spam!
4. Things you should NEVER do:
* Never send personal information to a stranger who wrote an ad for a writer’s gig on Craigslist.
There are people who have absolutely no intention of hiring anyone to write a damned thing. Instead, they are hoping you will send them enough information about yourself so that they can steal your identity. Send the ad writer a friendly “I saw your ad and would like to hear more about it” type of email. Think critically about the response you get before sending out a resume.
* Never send a completed script, manuscript, or novel to a stranger who wrote an ad.
Every so often, someone spams up Craigslist with a bunch of ads asking for people to send the ad writer completed work. The ad usually suggests that the ad writer has all kinds of wonderful connections that will get your work published. The ad may imply that the ad writer will show your script to important, famous, producers/directors/actors. Or, the ad may say it is from a publishing company that you never heard of (and cannot find any credible information about through Google). You send them your hard work. They abscond with it – stop responding to your email – publish it themselves (after removing your name from it) – and they keep all the profits.
* Never take a gig from “a nationally renowned company”.
These ads are trying to trick you into thinking that you were lucky enough to come across a Craigslist ad from an incredibly popular magazine or newspaper. They are lying! If the New York Times took out a Craigslist ad, it would clearly say that the New York Times (for example) was seeking writers. The ad would also include lots of very detailed and specific information about what the job qualifications were, the amount of pay, and how to get in touch with the New York Times.
Ads that say they are from “a nationally renowned company”, and neglect to say which one, are trying to scam you. Credible companies, that truly are “nationally renowned” are highly unlikely to use Craigslist at all. They would post a link to their job openings through their actual website. Also, it is imperative that you read carefully before responding to one of these scam ads. There is a huge difference between “the New York Times” and “The New Yorker Times”!
* Never apply for a gig from an insulting ad.
Does the way the ad was written make the ad poster sound like a big jerk? Don’t apply for that gig! You already know that this is a person who is difficult (or impossible) to please, highly critical, and hard to work with. Why put yourself through that hassle?
What’s an insulting ad? Here are a few examples that I have seen:
* “READ the entire ad before sending an email!” This usually appears in the first line in the ad. This ad writer already thinks you are lazy and unable to follow directions.
* “Don’t waste my time!” This person is incredibly impatient. He or she probably has difficulty articulating what, exactly, he or she wants you to write about. This person will get more impatient with every clarification you ask for.
* “Email without (fill in the blank) will be marked as spam!” This person lacks the interpersonal skills to be an effective employer (or project manager). He or she hasn’t a clue of what spam is. Hint: The ad is probably spam!
5. Things you should ALWAYS do:
* Take a screenshot of the Craigslist ad before you send out an email or apply to it. Those ads will disappear. If you have a screenshot, it makes it much easier to figure how to respond to a random email, from an unknown person, three months later that says “Great. Could you send me some samples?” (Yes, I have had this happen).
* Write the key information about the gig into your email to the ad writer. Need an example?
My name is (your name here). I saw your ad on Craigslist titled (put title of ad here).
The ad said you want a writer to write two blogs per week, of 400 words each, about knitting.
It also says you will pay $10.00 per blog post.
This sounds good to me!
I look forward to hearing more from you,
(Your name here)
The majority of the email I send to ads on Craigslist get completely ignored. Don’t worry if that happens to you. There are a lot of people who think they want to hire writers – who post an ad – and who later realize that they don’t have the money to pay their writers. These people don’t respond to the emails they get about their ad. Or, they already hired someone and neglected to remove the ad.
Sometimes, you will get a response. The ad writer will hit “reply” and send you an email. Your carefully constructed email will be attached. This makes it easy to figure out which gig this was for, what the pay was supposed to be, and if the ad writer is sticking to what the ad actually said.
* Be wary of ads that want you to call them.
In my experience, the majority of the gigs that want you to talk to them on the phone (or through Skype) don’t end up working out. Talking, instead of sending email back and forth, means you have to hastily write down what the ad writer wants you to do (as well as any details you two agree upon). This creates a huge potential for miscommunication. Email is great because everything is written out (and can be easily referred to).
Sometimes, it can be difficult to connect with a client who wants to communicate by phone. If you aren’t in the same time zone, you have to worry about calling too early or too late (or being called at an inconvenient time). This can be worked out if both you, and the client, are willing to set some ground rules.
I’ll share with you my worst experience with an ad writer who wanted to communicate by phone. I sent an email to an ad for a translation company (there are TONS of these types of ads in the Craigslist “writing/editing” section). I got an email back (not the same day) that asked me to call the ad writer.
The woman I spoke with didn’t want me to do translation. Instead, she explained that I would need to do some writing (in English). She had some questions that I would need to answer after reading a couple of pages of text. I asked a few questions to clarify things. The ad writer said she would send me an email with clarification (because the answers to my questions were not in front of her at the moment).
Long story short – I was being hired to do someone’s homework. I’ve no idea if the student was the woman I spoke with, or if the homework was for a college aged child in her family. In any case, I turned down the gig. I said I was a former teacher (which I am) and that I thought doing someone else’s homework for them was “unfair”. (This was the most polite way I could think of to describe “cheating”). That pretty much ended the gig. I was offered work as a translator (I speak Spanish), but somehow, that never materialized.