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Writers- When to ditch a client

Updated on January 12, 2013

It was an interesting line from a new editor- “This is fluff”. The “fluff” was a preamble to an article to a study of alcoholism in the UK, which is a major social issue. The editor asked if it was a social issue. This is what happens when editors don’t read world news for 20 years.

I’d already been warned by the word “fluff”. It’s an offensive term, used mainly by business geeks when they don’t understand the message, which this editor (a woman with absolutely no writing credentials, who later left the organization) proceeded to prove in some detail with further comments. Ten minutes later, that was an ex-client after several years and hundreds of articles and blogs.

The fact is that when a business relationship breaks down, you can’t fix it with euphemisms after a certain point. For writers, the process of ditching a client is never easy. The instinct to retain a source of income is just too deeply instinctive. The problem is that at a certain point the amount of sheer aggravation and stress becomes a negative return.

The other fact is that there are always better gigs than working with micromanagers. These hopelessly illiterate, under-experienced people aren’t writers. They demand product, don’t tell you what the product is supposed to be, then create more wastes of time undoing the damage. They then tell their bosses what a great job they’re doing and what idiots these writers are.

I’m not anti-editor. I’ve had and have some very good, proactive editors. I’ve even suggested that editors are people in my book, Freelance Writing, Core Insights and Skills.

That said, the hyperactive micromanagers are generally not writers themselves. They have qualifications but almost no experience or experience of the circa 1970 variety, which seems to be the Lotus Land of writing culture for non-writers. The demand is for a product they don’t understand. That can get on your nerves, and it definitely gets on mine.

I have/have had about 9-10,000 articles and blogs online in total right now. I get hundreds/thousands of hits a day across that spectrum. I’ve written on subjects covering the entire alphabet. I’ve had a large amount of reader feedback, too. I can reasonably claim to be up to speed with my natural market.

So I’m supposed to take crap from someone who thinks you can write successful articles on a cookie cutter basis? You can’t. Readers see something they’ve read before, however differently phrased, and won’t read it at all, particularly online. I’m supposed to write product on the basis of some neophyte’s vague idea of what that product is supposed to look like, however ignorantly expressed?

Not going to happen. That client was ditched as much on the proof of incompetence as the irritation at that editor’s style.

When garbage has to be seen as garbage

For writers, there’s a different set of priorities. Writing crap is not a good career move unless you actually want to be a crap writer.

I was reading something last night which had me in stitches of laughter. It was a solemnly presented series of slideshow texts including the following useful injunctions to the awed readers:

Gain strategic insights

Be informed

Stop waste

The subject was IT! Can you believe that these non-statements from the mid-90s were actually paid for? Imagine using IT to “be informed”. You’d never hear the end of it, would you?

That’s the quality these clown outtakes expect, and it’s also the quality I refuse to write. No reader, unless actually trying to literally bore themselves to death, will read that sort of rubbish. No worthwhile reader will, either, in a commercial sense. Imagine telling Bill Gates or Warren Buffett “Be informed”!

If you’re being asked to write crap, you’re being asked to commit career suicide on a regular basis. That’s when you have to ditch a client, in the name of survival.

…And perhaps in the name of self respect?


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