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Help for New Writers

Community Leader
David D Member Since: Jun 8, 2016
1 of 24

Hello, freelance writers. Welcome to Upwork. In my time here I have had a great deal of success and I'd like to offer a few ideas/tips for you. Hopefully it can help you avoid some common pitfalls that new writers have.. I encourage all new freelancers ( not just the writers ) to make use of this forum. There are some wonderfully helpful freelancers on here who are more than happy to help you out.


1. Learn to understand the language of shady jobs


"Writer wanted for ebook/cookbook/short novel."

Translation: I have an idea for an e-book, cookbook, or novel and I want someone else to completely write it for me so I can try and sell it on Amazon (or similar site). Generally, a LOT of the jobs posted in the creative writing section fall into this category. It doesn't make them "bad" exactly, just be aware you're likely ghostwriting somethign that someone else is trying to sell and pass off as their own. 


"Need help developing..."

Translation: Again, I have an idea but want you to do all of the work.


"You'll be expected to contribute your ideas as well." 

Translation: I have an idea for a few topics but I'll run out of them quickly and expect you to come up with the ideas on your own - At first glance this sounds awesome, right? Freedom! Be careful. This leads to miscommunication, misconceptions, and requests for revisions and rewrites that would have been avoided had the client provided clear instructions from the beginning.


"$10/thousand words"

Translation: This is a bad rate. It doesn't matter if "1,000 words" is easy for you to write, this works out to a penny a word which is an insultingly low rate for even a casual professional. You are free to charge what you'd like and set your own rates but above all else: know your worth and value yourself appropriately. In my humble opinion if you are charging anything less than $0.05/word you're charging too little. And many on here will tell me that even that is too low (and I agree), but at least it's not insultingly awful. 


"We have very high editorial standards."

Translation: I'm supposed to be doing this myself but I'm trying to pass it off on to someone else. Is this always the case? No, but if someone claims to have "very high editorial standards" then they had better be offering a quality rate of pay! Nothing more suspicious and/or insulting than a client who lays out a list of terms and then offers $7 for a project. Be wary of this.


This might be a pet peeve of mine, but when I see a client claim "we have very high editorial standards, we will be checking your work, etc" it just sounds to me like I'm sitting through a sales meeting and the person pitching me feels the need to tell me "this is not a scam." Why feel the need to say it?


"This should only take X number of hours"

Translation: Usually this is "only a couple of hours," or "an hour or so," etc. The translation here is "I'm not looking to spend a lot." Look at it this way: I don't walk into a restaurant kitchen and tell the chef how long it should take them to prepare my order, don't tell me how long it should take me to write. 


Yes, clients have expectations. Yes, they should be managed. No, you should never "run up the clock," and yes it's okay to give them an estimation of your hours. But this goes back to managing expectations, asking questions, and having clear direction on a project. 


2. Know Your Worth


We covered this briefly, let me revisit it. You can charge whatever you think is a fair rate for your time and your work. It's not my job to tell you what to charge. However, please know your value and your worth. Yes, there are clients who come on here looking for "cheap work." You don't have to be the one to provide it. If you have a skill to offer, people are willing to pay for it. It doesn't matter where you live, professional work commands professional rates.


3. Set Clear Guidelines


What is the due date? What length are they expecting? What are YOU expected to deliver? What is your policy on rewrites or revisions? Don't assume any of this doesn't need to be said. Believe me, it often needs to be said. This is why it is important the clients provide clear details on length, format, topic, etc. Your ideas may not jive with theirs. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument over the deliverables. So get things as clear as possible. 


One thing I always ask is what is the "tone" of the article/blog/email, what's the voice, and who is the target audience? These things can drastically alter the way I approach a project so they re vital for me to know. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you need help or clarification.


4. Consider format carefully.


Fixed price or hourly? It really is up to you. Personally, I size up a job, talk to the client, and make a judgment call from there. If it's a topic I know will require a lot of research I may go hourly or alter my bid for a fixed price job to reflect the additional research. 


In general, I prefer fixed rates per project or per word. But that's me. I also find it manages expectations better. 


5. Be Wary of Jobs looking to hire multiple writers


This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should raise your eyebrow. Usually, this means that a larger job is being broken up into smaller pieces, or there's a lot of competition for the "regular, ongoing work" they promise. Just be wary. 



6. Be wary of "SEO" jobs.

Yes, they're all over Upwork. Yes, I've taken on several of them. They're not all bad. In fact, most aren't. But nest case scenario, your client knows what effective SEO is, how it works, and understands that you simply using the word "cookie" 10 times in a 500-word article isn't going to do anything for them. Worst case scenario, they think that's all it takes to get their mail-order cookie service to the front page of Google. 


SEO is a great thing but clients on here very, very, very, very, very often do NOT understand how it works. Be careful, their expectations are all over the place when it comes to SEO. 


I hope some of this helps! Just a few things I've picked up along the way! Questions? Feel free to ask away! And for my fellow freelancers, have I missed anything important? 

Community Guru
Kat C Member Since: Jul 11, 2016
2 of 24

CHOOSE a niche, especially if you're just getting started in the writing category.


That will help the other aspects nicely articulated by the OP. 


Moreover, creative writing is a very gray area. What I think is great creative writing might not fly with another client. As the OP mentioned about ghostwriting for Fiction Ebooks, you may be better off writing those novels yourself and then publishing them on Kindle (emphasis is "may be" because there are other considerations after you finish the novel).


If you're an academic writer, you'll eventually be hit with a client who will try to snag you into being a term paper mill. 


These are merely suggestions and not hard and fast rules as everybody approaches their creativity and business in individual ways.


I've noticed that the writers who perform the best on Upwork have a specific dominant area. Web content. Blog content. Legal articles. Software/Dev technical writing. Health and fitness genre. 


That's what I mean by targeting a market. 


If you just want to write, you'll find a myriad of "WRITE MY ROMANCE BOOK PERFECTLY FOR LESS THAN PENNIES PER WORD."


And there you have my .05 per word (I upped my phantom forum response rate LOL).

Community Leader
David D Member Since: Jun 8, 2016
3 of 24

Great thoughts!  I should have mentioned the targeting! 


In the general freelance forum, we ALWAYS tell people "choose a speciality" and it should be no different here. 


You can always expand outward once you've established yourself. 

Community Guru
Douglas Michael M Member Since: May 22, 2015
4 of 24

I'll repeat David's advice on asking about the target audience, and add that I do so as early as the initial proposal or interview response. (If the prospective client has already included a clear indication of audience, consider yourself lucky—unless, of course, they want you to write something for their instructor or thesis advisor.)

Many good clients may not include this information. All good clients should be able to provide a clear answer—ranging from a specific publisher to an audience and format appropriate to the work—and should be able to provide it at the very outset of your conversation. Prospects who are vague, who just want to "get it out there," or whose expectations about readership are wildly at odds with their proposed content, will at best be vague and unrealistic throughout any working relationship, and will at worst be wankers and/or wannabes: not worth your time.

Community Leader
David D Member Since: Jun 8, 2016
5 of 24

Great thoughts. Thanks for contributing. Allow me to add a little to your addition!


When clients have less than clear directions, the "just get it out there" types, I'm always very wary of the long-term potential of the relationship. 


There are a LOT of good, decent clients on here that are not super technologically inclined, need a little hand-holding, or direction. Sometimes they need us to help nudge them in the right direction. 


So I would say that sometimes a little patience is needed to help the process. 

Community Guru
Kat C Member Since: Jul 11, 2016
6 of 24
Thank you.

The clarity issue quickly spirals into a nightmare and for me the "not worth the time" has proven 100% true for ALL types of writing that I do.
Community Guru
Tiffany S Member Since: Jan 15, 2016
7 of 24

Understand that clients may not know exactly what they're looking for. While this sometimes puts them into the "not worth the time" category, sometimes it simply means that you as the professional in your genre have to be prepared to take the lead. They're hiring you to be the expert in your field, not to complete a checklist of tasks they set forth. If it were that simple, they'd have done it themselves or in-house.


This can lead to a downward spiral of everyone sitting around waiting for the other person to take the lead and becoming increasingly frustrated. Make it a part of your interview/early discussions to learn how much leadership the client is looking for from you versus the degree to which they'll provide specific instructions, and don't take the job if you aren't comfortable with the answer.

Community Leader
David D Member Since: Jun 8, 2016
8 of 24

Very good points. I like a certain amount of autonomy and freedom to "do what I do." I'm sure we all have a little of that in us.


For me, the lack of clarity, focus, or direction is more of a pain when it comes to technical aspects of the project. If they'd like it formatted in a specific way, for example. Or if they wanted links embedded in the article when they never specified this.


All clients are different. Left to my own devices, I KNOW I can put together a well-formatted blog/article that will deliver, it's just a question of if that's what the client wants. 


There are times when a client asks me to do things that I blatantly know are not the right thing to do. It can be a balancing act between keeping the client happy and doing what you know will be more beneficial to them in the process. I find this happens most often on the SEO jobs. 


I make polite suggestions, try to nudge them in one way or another. At the end of the day, I'll stuff the word "cookie" into your article 20 times if you'd like to pay me to do it, but I prefer not to work that way. 


Clients, like all people, come in all shapes and sizes. 

Ace Contributor
Tousif A Member Since: Nov 17, 2016
9 of 24

Thanks David for your informative post. 

Community Guru
Kat C Member Since: Jul 11, 2016
10 of 24
Personally I ask questions from start to finish and there have been clients who are still not clear. I'm experiencing this now with a test writing client. He's the middle man. I've asked for clarification several times in several different ways. Also their content has many errors and so there is a domino effect going on. It's venturing into the not worth the time category. So yes it's a very real phenomenon even if you take the lead.