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Writing job scams

Updated on September 26, 2013

Writing jobs come in various forms. The good, the bad and the stunningly insulting are the usual mix. The trick for writers is to recognize the signs of dangerous jobs.

Scam jobs

  • “Research” jobs: These jobs can be “academic writing”, assignment writing or variations on those themes. These jobs are sometimes legitimate, but only if related to bona fide organizations. The rest (about 90%) are ripoffs, and sometimes major ripoffs. The theory is that you do the work, submit it, they reject it, then they recycle it, without paying you. You can do a lot of hard, boring work for literally nothing. If you complain, the sites disappear.
  • Peer group review writing: This is a new one. Your work is “approved” by other writers. There’s no guarantee of anything, in this environment. The process is slow, and some writers dislike the uncertainty as much as the unfamiliar method. The scam is that like the others you can do a lot of work simply to get annoyed by a much less than transparent process.
  • “Access writing”: You get to write for these people if you know where to get your articles published. Note that in this case you’re doing their work for them. You could (and should) do that for yourself. Generally speaking these “offers” have specific places for publication in mind, like news sites, magazines, etc. So you’re doing the work, getting them exposure, for what is usually pretty lousy money.
  • Bidding jobs: These are quite normal, until you see the ridiculous amounts being offered, particularly by some overseas clients. $4 an hour? That’s big money in the Third World, particularly with currency considerations, but it’s still $4. I saw one gig “$30,000 for 500 articles”. Turned out to be Filipino dollars, worth about $700.
  • Freelance ripoffs: Check out the second tier freelance sites for writers. Elance and oDesk, they’re not. The usual signs are El Cheapo ads and lowest possible rates placed by people who don’t even bother to check their own copy. Avoid, unless you’re looking for startup materials for a portfolio. Don’t hang around to find out how many ways there are to get ripped off, though.
  • Contract jobs: These can be very good, and very frustrating jobs. The general rule is that you set an accepted rate, get paid on time, etc. A lot of contracts don’t do that. You can be left hanging, and/or treated like part of the furniture. It’s not a nice environment and does nothing for your motivation. (Yes, you do need to be motivated to write 5000 words a day, guys, try it out for yourselves if you think it’s that easy.)

The theory of ripping off writers

Like other providers, the idea is that someone with an advertising budget of $50,000 spends about $200 on site copy or other written materials. They spend as little as possible on actual product and apparently pocket the rest themselves or win Brownie points for saving money by producing crap.

Providing you’re making decent money yourself, that’s their problem. If you’re not making decent money, however, it’s not exactly a great career move to stick around getting ripped off.

The solutions

Bear in mind that some magazines pay over $1 per word, and that they do count as great portfolio material.

My solution has been fairly simple. I charge $100 an hour specifically as a deterrent. Only genuine people will pay that sort of money. The ripoff merchants definitely won’t.

Higher rates can cost you some jobs, but you can negotiate a budget-based deal, too. Of that $50,000, for example, the usual commercial rate could be say $10,000. You charge $8000 and you get at least respectable money for your work, and stay competitive.

Don’t be inflexible about your pay. Be realistic, and put a decent value on your time and hard work. Negotiate, don’t capitulate. The rest is pretty straightforward.

Professional writers please note: It is actually useful to other writers, particularly new writers, to do the poll below, providing them with an indication of the depth of the issues in terms of real life experience.

Have you ever been ripped off as a writer?

See results


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