I’ve been searching for freelance writing jobs for the past few months, and I’ve come across a fair number of job postings that made me think twice about the job. But there have also been times where I was emailing the job poster before I realized that they had skimped on details in the ad. Sometimes the red flags are in the email communications themselves.
Here are five red flags that I watch out for when I’m looking for freelance opportunities.
- No Pay/Experience Building/Start-up: A substantial number of advertisements look for writers who are willing to write for free. The poster will say something along the lines of “this is a great opportunity to build your portfolio” or “we can’t pay right now but plan on it when we’re making profits in a few months.” Be careful if you decide to respond to these ads. Start ups may fail, and my articles may disappear along with the website. If I decide to write for free, I thoroughly investigate the poster and website. I look for a reputable organization connected to the website along with a solid track record. Those sites are much more likely to be around for a while.
- Book Reviews for Self-Published Books: Authors tend to promote their books on social media, through contests, and on websites specially designed to distribute advanced reader copies (ARCs). A book for review on Craigslist might be a great book, but I research it before Isend an email to the poster/writer. If they post a picture of the book jacket, I read the summary on the back. If there’s not picture, I check to see if it’s on Amazon or another online retail site. I read the first couple pages if they’re available. Obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes are red flags. While I don’t shy away from giving critical reviews, I’m cautious with books that are marketed so informally.
- Unreasonable Requests: Along the lines of the last one, I always read through posts looking for manuscript editors or proofreaders a few times before I make a decision. I’ve noticed that these writers seem to not have critique groups or anyone else to provide feedback on their work. They also look for a large amount of work to be done in either a short period of time and/or for not enough money to cover the work. This also happens with publishers looking for a writer to create a substantial piece of work, over 20 pages, for less than $100. I tend to avoid these like the plague because the payment won’t be worth the headache.
- Misrepresentation: This doesn’t often appear in the ad itself, but misrepresentation becomes pretty apparent when I start emailing the poster. I recently emailed a woman about her post looking for writers of teen fiction, and I clicked on the link in her signature that took me into her website. A bit of investigation showed me that the app fell into the new adult/erotica genre rather than teen/YA that I’d been led to believe from the posting. The poster may be not be familiar with the terms typically used in the publishing world. That’s a bit of a problem for me because it shows their lack of research. I’d rather not be involved with someone who doesn’t understand the genre.
- Not Answering Questions: If I’m interested in the post and looking for clarification before I say yes to the job, I have no problem asking questions. It’s easier to ask questions up front than to be blindsided by those peculiarities once I’m committed. A poster should be more than willing to answer questions. It shows them that I’m interested in the job. But when a poster completely ignores my questions, I become pretty concerned. If they’re not willing to answer questions now, I’m not sure that they’ll be willing to answer questions that pop up down the road. That can be a major problem. I’d rather withdraw then instead of getting myself into that kind of circumstance.
Even if there are no red flags in the post or in the emails, the job may still not work out. I know that I’ve done everything I could at that point to make sure it seemed okay. And I’ll probably notice new red flags to watch for next time. The experience isn’t a complete waste so long as I learn from my mistakes.
Are there any red flags that you watch out for?