Gather round, wee children, and allow me to regale you with yet another cautionary tale of youthful idiocy. This post was originally written in 2014, and to date, this is still my absolute worst experience as a freelancer.
Knock wood, I guess.
I’ve been a freelance writer for about a year now. I don’t do it full-time, and I’m usually pretty selective about the projects I work on. For the most part, I tackle ghostwriting, beta reading, and the occasional proofreading gig here and there. I like freelancing. I like that it funds my self-pub bank account, and the projects have, for the most part, been a lot of fun. My clients have always been polite and prompt, and some have asked to work with me for multiple jobs.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
No, I’m here to talk about my most horrifying experience with freelancing… ever.
I mean, so far. I’d like to think it can’t get any worse than that, and I chalk a lot of the ridiculousness up to my own naivety with freelance work. This happened a few years ago, back when I was still an undergraduate and looking for ways to expand my writing portfolio—before I discovered we actually had a writing program at my university.
Right. So a few years back, naïve-me was perusing the local media and creative ads on kijiji. Anything and everything that had to do with writing was volunteer work (as a lot of gigs are these days), so imagine my shock and surprise when I found an ad that was calling for fictional ghostwriters—and offering to pay $30 per page.
Just let that sink in. I thought someone out there. Would pay. Me. $30. Per page. To write for them.
I was thrilled, obviously. I applied right away, forking over some of my smuttier fanfiction pieces, as this was a smut-related gig. Basically, the whole premise was that clients would email the owners of this… company (?) scenarios that they’d like to see, and the job would then be forwarded to a ghostwriter to write.
Seems… kind of legit?
I was put in contact with the owner of the site fairly fast, and he gave me a trial story to run with. I was blown away. If I could make $30 per page for a 15-page story, I could quit my day job. Write full-time. I’d be rolling in cash. Fuck university, amirite?
I churned out my first story in about a week, leaving my wrists in a world of hurt, but feeling rather accomplished. Feeling professional.
And he loved my piece. I’d needed to do a bunch of research to make it specific to the request, and he thought I did a great job. That day, he emailed over a contract, and I printed it out to sign.
Now, let me break down the terribleness of this contract. First of all, it was a single page, and the majority of said page was taken up by a picture of some books on a shelf. Below it were, if I recall, two sentences that said all work belonged to this company, and the writer would receive $30 compensation per page. Just like he promised.
It was real. It was happening. I signed it, photocopied it, and then sent it back. Within a week, I had my first real job, and within another week I was sending my story in. A few days passed, and the owner emailed me to let me know the client liked my story—but there could have been more sex. Whatever. Fine. I’m just a writer, not an editor. I’d do better on the next one.
It was time to fatten up my bank account, please.
I then received an email with a link to a chatroom, and the owner asked if I could meet up on there to talk with other people who worked for him later that day. I was… a little turned off by the idea, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I signed in with the username and password he gave me, and was immediately swarmed by random users wanting to strike up a conversation, none of whom had realistic names.
So I waited. If I remember correctly, the owner had given me a screen-name of one of his employees to chat with, and when he logged on, I started a chat with him.
It was then that I learned what I was supposed to be doing. On top of writing smutty stories for clients, I was now expected to roleplay sex scenes in an online chatroom, and all the users who had bombarded me were clients waiting to play.
The initial ad for the job had made no mention of this, and when I politely declined, saying I was only interested in writing the stories, the employee tried to get me to play out a scene anyway—just to see if I’d like it. No. No thanks. I said it over and over again. I said I didn’t have time to spend on this between school and work and my other writing (plus a meagre social life). I was polite initially. I grew firmer the more he fought me.
So he fired me on the spot and kicked me out of the chatroom. I was then contacted by the owner, who said the employee told him I’d been very disrespectful and rude, and was officially fired.
I sent an email back saying that that was incorrect, that I just wasn’t interested in roleplaying, and he sent me a succinct response.
“Contact me again and I’ll call the police.”
I don’t even know where to begin to say how incredibly awful this whole experience was for me. My wrists were in agony after pushing myself through the two stories, and all thoughts of being able to quit my part-time snooze-fest of a job went up in flames. I was devastated.
And obviously totally unaware of how freelancing worked. When I look back at it now, I have serious doubts that I’d see any money from all this, especially not $30 per page. Thankfully, I didn’t let the ordeal sour me to freelancing. When university came to an end, I found a legitimate site to work from, with rules and regulations and amazing staff in place to ensure freelancers don’t get screwed over.
Take this tale as a lesson, kiddos. Contracts should not be majority stock image and two sentences long. You should discuss payment up front, and usually find a way to either get half before the job is started, or at least work with a site that handles escrow (which involves the client putting your payment in a secure holding area so that you know you’ll be paid). No work should be given without your pay in sight. It’s fine that a client wants to look over a rough draft or send a final copy back for edits, but you should always be paid for your time and effort.
Oh, and don’t let unprofessional douchebags push you around. Ever.