So you want to be a writer, huh?

I’ll be honest with you – it isn’t easy. It took me years of work and learning the hard way from multiple mistakes before I hit some semblance of a stride. Split infinitives and post-colon capitalization lurk in my peripheral vision, and spellcheck saves me a minimum of a dozen times an hour, even a decade after I first got the notion to do this for a living. I’m a good writer – an imperfect one, perhaps, but halfway decent if a bucketful of happy clients is any indication. You can be too, if you’re willing to work at it a little and keep persistence as a constant goal.

I started The Freelance Writer Guide to…

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Using Google Alerts to Protect Your Written Work

Hello, intrepid fledgling (and fully grown) writers out there! It’s been a hot minute since I added content, so I figured I’d come back strong with one of my most valuable tips.

Now, I’m not going to tell a meandering story about how when I was a young girl growing up in the wilds of [state of residence], longing for [generic life goal], I….

Nope. This ain’t a recipe blog, so on to the good stuff!

First of all, for those that aren’t hip to this particular tip yet, you can search exact phrasing in a Google search. So, for example, if I were to search Freelance Writer Guide in Google, typed just like that….

Screenshot of a Google search engine results page showing the first three entries for a search on the words freelance, writer, and guide.

Hey…wait a minute…these aren’t me! Psh. Imposters!

…it returns all websites that have the words “Freelance” “Writer” and “Guide” in their content anywhere, not necessarily together in a row. That’s not super helpful when I’m looking for something specific, right?

If, alternately, I typed in “Freelance Writer Guide” – complete with those ” ” quotation marks around the words, watch what happens now….

Screenshot of a Google search engine results page showing the first two entries for a search on the words freelance, writer, and guide with a quotation mark at the beginning and end of the phrase.

A little humbling I’m not number one, but hey – I’ve been busy!

….it only returns results where those three words showed up together. This little trick is going to come in handy in a minute.

Your Work is Yours Until You Are Compensated For It (Or Give it Away)

This isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it’s one a lot of creatives struggle with because we habitually devalue ourselves and our work. Now, let me be transparent about this – just because the presumptive legal rights may be in your corner doesn’t mean it’s easy to “win” against someone that’s stolen your work. Most freelancers are dealing with a one-off theft – e.g. “I wrote an article for X client, X client didn’t pay me, but published the article on their site anyway” as opposed to an ongoing issue with multiple projects. (There are definitely examples of ongoing clients stiffing writers or dragging their feet about paying invoices, though, don’t misunderstand me!)

Here’s the deal: When you create an original piece of writing work in anticipation of an agreed-upon payment from the client, and the client has made it clear that they no longer plan to pay after receiving it for review, that work remains yours and yours alone. If they then use that work by posting on their site, blog, etc. after making it clear they will not be paying, that amounts to theft. It’s just like ordering a meal at a restaurant, eating it, and then leaving without paying: they. are. stealing.

How Do I Know When My Writing Work is Being Stolen?

The first step to holding content thieves accountable is catching them red-handed in the act. Before moving on to the steps below, take a moment to search a sentence of your article in ” ” marks, as we discussed previously, to make sure it’s not currently in use. If it isn’t, continue on.

Google has a exceptionally handy feature, called Alerts, which we’ll use to turn on the proverbial security cameras. While most people use alerts to let them know when a new news story pops up about a subject of interest, we’re going to use it to potentially track your content in the wild.

  • Step 1: Go to Google Alerts. (Make sure you’re signed into your Google/Gmail account first – if you don’t have one, close down your Netscape browser, hop out of 1992, walk on over and join the rest of us, eh?)
  • Step 2: Pick a single sentence from the middle of any piece you worry might be stolen – scammers and spinners will sometimes try to (poorly) rewrite the beginning or end of a piece, but will usually leave the middle as-is.
  • Step 3: Set up a Google Alert for that sentence, and….this is important…enclose it in ” ” marks as you save the alert. Remember earlier, when we discussed using quotation marks to return exact searches only? This is where we put that trick to use.
  • Step 4: If any piece of content shows up on the Google-indexed web that uses your exact sentence, Google Alerts will send an automatic email to your Gmail account.

If someone has stolen your work and is attempting to use it, file a DMCA notice on your stolen content through Google to get the thief in hot water with the only search engine that really matters. Other options include contacting the hosting company supporting the website using your content, and, if your original contact with the client came through a freelance mill or for-hire site, notifying the appropriate help desk teams that the client has stolen content.

Note: Google Alerts can also be used to set up a search feature for legitimately-purchased content, if you’re ever curious about where your ghostwritten work ends up.

So there you have it! The (relatively) quick and dirty rundown on using Google Alerts to track your work, whether it’s potentially stolen or purchased outright.





Well That’s a New One: The Facebook Social Media Manager Scam

Those that follow my blog here know that I’m pretty passionate about steering fledgling freelancers away from the veritable *ocean* of job scams out there.

Yesterday, I stumbled across another job scam that was even more insidious – a Facebook jobs advertisement for a Social Media Manager, sent to me by a trustworthy and well-meaning friend. It was local-ish, paid a little bit more than I’m currently making, and offered a telecommuting option – I was definitely interested.

The Tasty, Tasty Bait

Facebook jobs makes it pretty easy to automatically upload things like your name, work history, education, and so on, because it pulls from your profile. I finished it up, sent it off, “liked” the business as requested, and immediately got a Facebook message request from the business in question. “Congrats!” it automatically enthused, going on to say that the “serious” candidates that followed directions (e.g. liking the page) could now progress to the second part of the interview. That second part involved following the business on Instagram, liking all of their posts, and leaving a unique comment on each one, then messaging the company again, this time on Instagram.

Not much of an Instagrammer, it still made sense to me to trudge through this particular gauntlet, it being social media and all. Once at the company IG page, I noticed something peculiar – thousands of comments on mundane, self-aggrandizing posts, replete with low-rez, blurred images and screenshots attached. In each one, the 23-year-old “CEO” crowed about his accomplishments, wealth, and material goods, crude language sprinkled liberally throughout. Now, I’m no prude, but that’s a massive, unnecessary risk for a public-facing marketing company to take. Particularly when they’re asking large companies to hand them the keys to their image. Every post was a vague celebration of reasons why he was smart and rich and “edgy” – the emphasis was entirely on him, not what he was doing for his clients. Something wasn’t adding up, here.

Special Like Everyone Else

While I was puzzling over what this meant, my messenger chimed again. The same message greeted me when I opened the screen up, sent again, approximately 10 minutes after the first one. With more than two dozen posts in the Instagram account, this wasn’t a small task – let alone one that could be finished with any quality in 10 minutes. Mildly annoyed, I combed through the comments and realized that this huge volume, thousands strong, stretched as far back as a year ago. More disturbingly, each one seemed to be seeking the same job position I was. The messenger chimed again, delivering the same note, ostensibly addressed to the “real” job seekers – like me, the unwritten emphasis continued. The same job posting that was freshly-posted that same day had apparently been kicking around for an entire year with no hires. Hmm.

Thanks But No Thanks

I did a little more digging and hit several dead ends. Suddenly, it all made sense. This “CEO” of a marketing company that I’d never heard of, one that had virtually no real presence to speak of despite being local to me, had created and perpetuated a fake position to continually farm likes and comments for his Instagram account. I was disgusted. I backtracked, deleted my comments, and unliked the account on both platforms. I replied politely to the messaging bot on the company page in the off chance human eyes would see it, indicating I was no longer interested and to discard my application.

A new, automated message appeared, bubbly and optimistic, telling me to go ahead and DM on Instagram for the next step just as soon as I had left all those comments.

How much do you want to bet the next “stage” of the “interview” involved liking, commenting and sharing on another social media platform, and another? It’s incredible to me that someone would go through that much trouble. While some might disagree with me, I consider this kind of nonsense flat-out theft: for job-seekers with looming bills the time it takes to inflate a 23 year old’s ego ever-higher is time that would be better spent on legitimate applications. That’s theft of time, effort, and hope, and it’s despicable.

This falls under my don’t work for free clause, fledgling freelancers. If a company asks to you put your reputation and your accounts on the line while working for free by using both, something stinks.

My advice? Take that garbage company off of your to-do list before it starts to smell even worse.



The Latest on Zerys…Again.

Having come this far in chronicling the site’s slow, wince-worthy slide into functional obscurity, I feel a bit duty-bound to share what I hear around the web from various writer friends of mine. They’ve reportedly been hitting their 1st/15th payday date targets with less and less accuracy, culminating in the email below being sent out to what seems like a wide swath of, if not all of, their writers:


I wanted to let you know that you are one of a group of writers being affected by what we believe to be a Paypal transfer delay that is being caused by the 4th of July holiday.

As you may know, we typically transfer earnings to you within 3 business days from the end of the pay period (1st and 15th of the month). In this case, that would mean you would be paid by this Thursday, the 6th. However, due to the holiday and the above mentioned PayPal transfer issue, we are expecting some payments to go through later this time around. As a reminder, our payment policy suggest that you allow for up to an additional 14 days after the end of the pay period for the funds to clear your account, to account for rare circumstances beyond our control. For more information on our payment policy you can refer to our writer forum post here.”

We can’t tell you exactly when your specific payment will be transferred to you. It may be tomorrow, or it may be next week, but rest assured, we are doing everything possible to transfer the funds to you as soon as possible.”

While other sites have certainly had payment hiccups of their own, this is just the latest in a troubling trend for Zerys. To wave one’s hands about and indicate that payment “could be today, or it could be next week” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in writers that often live paycheck to paycheck. When a site is already infamous for a glut of sub-penny-a-word projects and expecting free work as SOP, issues like this are definitely not doing them any favors.

As I’ve said before, freelance fledglings, steer clear of Zerys.

Quickstart Freelancing Guide

I’ve gotten a few requests for an abbreviated version of the Freelance Writer Guide, so here you go! Feel free to share, if you’re so inclined. 🙂



Decide on an Identity

Will you use your full
legal name as an ID?

If not, will you
replace your first or
last name? Both?

Is your ID easy to
remember and spell?

Does your ID look and
sound professional?

Check ID Availability

Is anyone else using
your writing ID?*

Is a Gmail available
for your ID?*

Is a .com available
for your ID?*

* = If no, go back a step

Set Up Your Presence

Set up your social
media presence using
your new ID:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • WordPress

Note: You don’t need to actually do anything on these sites yet, just mark your territory!

Get Down to Business!

Sign up for Paypal.

Read the Freelance
Writer Guide.

Time yourself for
each of the following:

Pick 2 simple products
off and
write a 150-word
description for each.

Pick a random NON
subject and write a
300 word article.

Figure out how long it
takes you to write
100 words by using
the timing data from
the two tasks above.
Keep this number
handy for pricing.

Start Applying

Start applying to
freelance sites with
your ID/Gmail:

  • Textbroker
  • OneSpace
  • MTurk
  • WriterAccess
  • Zerys
  • Constant Content
  • Upwork


If you don’t get a

response or get

rejected, don’t sweat

it! Keep going!

Practice Makes Perfect

Use your product
descriptions and
article as a makeshift
portfolio. Build on it
as time goes by, but
don’t use ghostwritten
projects without

Don’t take less than
.01/word or $1 per
100 words. Ever.

Don’t take less than
you normally would
because an unproven
client claims they will
make it up by sending
you more jobs.
Either they respect
your work with pay,
or they don’t and you
go elsewhere.

Stay tuned to the!


Freelance Superpowers: Scam Spotting

When you work with the same product day in and day out, noticing a fake is second nature. Sell designer purses? When the shade of a bag or the look of the hardware is “off,” you notice it immediately. Sell video games? You likely unconsciously know the weight and balance of a game console box without even opening it. It’s a familiarity with the materials we need to do our jobs, and when something doesn’t add up, it’s very likely not going to pass us unnoticed.

Writers have a superpower too, believe it or not. We can spot a written scam a mile away.

I recently received a request to interview for a position on Upwork. Have a look:


Three red flags immediately went up:

  • Nothing in my work history indicates that I’m looking to be an assistant. My profile is created to reflect my skills – namely, that I’m a writer.
  • “Loyal” is a strange quality to be looking for. When a client puts “loyal” out there on the forefront, it indicates that a previous assistant was somehow “disloyal.”
  • Note to the right there that “Monir” is interviewing a lot of people, but this is his/her only posting ever on the site, they have no confirmed payment methods, and they have no money in escrow. Strike 3, you’re out.

But hell, this is an educational blog, so let’s take a fake bite of that bait, for curiosity’s sake. Here’s the response:

I have been a local and international relative successful entrepreneur and sometimes invest in the real estate market which makes me travel often within and outside the states working on various independent projects. This is why i need someone who can help keep me up to date with some my activities, especially while i am away and amidst my busy schedule. My previous personal assistant is currently unavailable due to health reasons and i am keen on finding an efficient, motivated, organized individual who can communicate well and is able to multi-task. This position is home-based and flexible. Working for me is a test of following instructions and as my personal assistant, your activities among others will includes:
. Writing articles and speech
. Receiving Donations from sponsors
· Receiving Phone Calls from my clients when am busy.
· Making Regular Drop offs at FedEx Stores for letters meant for my clients.
· Handling and monitoring some of my financial activities.
· Basic wage is $300 weekly.
. Working 5 hours Daily, and 3 Days weekly. ( you can choose your working days because it is flexible )
I am sure you should have understood how busy my schedule could be on a daily basis. Currently, I am in Canada meeting with partners. I will be back in two weeks
to arrange a formal interview with you. I think you are the right person for this position. Please note that this position is not office-based for now because of my frequent travels and tight schedules. It is a part-time job, and some weeks you will be busier than others, though pay stays constant.
NB: you have to be checking your email regularly, and also i want you to add me to your email contact list as soon as you receive this email.
Like i said, I think you are the right person for this job, and think we should get a head start next week. I have some little works piled up that i will need help catching up on immediately. I would like to use next week to test your efficiency and diligence, and to work your schedule around mine. I am hard of hearing and usually stay in touch through email and text messages, but if you would like me to call, I will be glad to do that at my earliest convenience, I am glad you responded to my ad in such a timely manner and look forward to working with you and promise to be a good boss.
If Interested in being my personal assistant, get back to me through email and we can move forward with the first task.
Warm Regards.
 Now, for my lovely freelance fledglings that are familiar with my “spot the scam words” game, you’ve probably already seen enough red flags pop up here to send a bull into a fit.
  • Keen
  • Works
  • Bad (unusual) Grammar in general (relative successful, will includes, should have understood / could be, have to be checking, etc.)
Additionally, for such a short message, “Monir” sure is putting in a lot of qualifiers for how unavailable they are. Hard of hearing, they’re in Canada, oh such a busy schedule…this is a scammer laying the groundwork for being out of touch, and thus unable to soothe genuine fears you’ll have when doing their scammy work.

Additionally, the overly formal speech is a side-effect of a careful translation. We have a lot of contractions and similar functions in our language, and it’s hard to mimic the casual tone without the translation sounding stiff or forced. Notice also that there isn’t a single contraction in this entire posting and response – what American do you know that doesn’t use any contractions at all?

In this case, this scammer is setting up a popular check-cashing scam: he or she will send you money orders or checks that look genuine, but are actually very high-resolution forgeries or copies. The idea is that you’d deposit that faux check in your personal bank account, the bank would front the money because you’re likely a good customer with a halfway decent track record, and your “boss” would instruct you to wire/Western Union them the just-deposited money, after you take out your “cut,” of course. Later, your bank would discover the fraud, and your account would go negative to recoup the losses…which you’ve just sent on a one-way trip overseas. How do I know this?

As I’ve mentioned in my Debunking a Craigslist Scam post, the easiest way is simply to cut and paste a line of the questionable text and Google it in quotation marks. In this case, I found nearly the entirety of this message on Scamwarners, word for word, with a wholly different name attached – apparently “Monir Lisir” is also “Chris Crosby”. Ding ding ding – we have a scam!

So voila – now you know: you have a secret scam-spotting superpower as writers, so be on the lookout to protect friends and family!

Using “Yes, and” to Drum Up Freelance Writing Gigs

While I’m fairly terrible at improvisational comedy (shoutout to the Improv Jam troupe in Red Bank NJ, who know firsthand), there’s a rule of thumb that has done me immeasurable good throughout my professional life – the “Yes, and…” concept.

Essentially, when you are improvising, you want to initially agree to what the other party / parties in your scene state as fact in order to establish the scene. For example:


WITHOUT “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!
Person B: What are you talking about? I’m not Grandma, I’m your coworker and we’re at the office!

(The scene gets confusing and awkward as the parties try to recover and agree.)

WITH “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!

Person B: You’re darn tootin’ little bobby! Now hand me my glowstick knitting needles and let’s get krunked!

(The scene progresses organically.)

In the second scenario, the “Grandma” agreed that they were, in fact, grandma and that the setting was a rave party. The “and” came as Person B assigned Person A a logical identity (“little bobby”) and made supporting references both to the rave and “Grandmas” age with a knitting needle joke and slang. This was the “and” part of “Yes, and…” – Person B helped the scene move forward and empowered their scene partner with information.

Okay, But What About Freelancing?

Your client(s) hire you to do a specific job the majority of the time – and, as any freelancer can tell you, a great deal of mill site gigs are one-offs. We accept, we write, we submit, get paid and then we never see that client again. It doesn’t have to be that way. The “Yes, and…” concept encourages freelancers to suggest additional topics, discuss future potential needs that align with their writing capabilities, and in general to treat the client as an open conversation, rather than a “delivered letter.”

Are there Drawbacks to “Yes, and…” ?

Freelancing itself is a gamble, and yes, you will run the risk that they’ll take your ideas and make off with them. However, a few ideas off the top of your head shouldn’t be half a novel, nor take more than a handful of minutes to conceptualize and present. If you get one job out of 4, it’s still one more job than you had before! And unlike certain *ahem* writing sites that demand you work for free, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to pursue “Yes, and…” with a given client. Listen to your gut, here. If a client seems pushy or unrealistic and doesn’t pay well, or if they try to lowball you on a bid, that’s not a professional relationship, they’re just waiting for the right moment to take advantage of you. Good clients – the ones worth pursuing and building on – pay you a fair wage and have realistic expectations for project facets like turnaround time and work volume. Save your “Yes, and…” effort for them.

One of my best “Yes, and…” nudges turned into a client I’ve been working with steadily for two years. She pays what amounts to half of my rent each month, and it all happened because I made a few suggestions and offered to deliver content on a regular basis. Remember, there is value in a cohesive tone for a corporate blog or regular social media posts – use that as a bargaining chip when making your “Yes, and…” proposition. They might be able to get similar work elsewhere, and maybe even cheaper, but if you’ve honed your writing correctly, no new writer can ever match your tone exactly.

Good luck out there, fellow writers! Improvise your way to greatness and a bank account that eats your bills, rather than the other way around. 😉



The Ethics of Freelancing

Part of the reason I love freelancing so much is that I never know what the day’s work is going to bring to my desk. Constantly researching topics, looking for new angles, and pitching ideas keeps my mind active and curious, and makes interesting party conversation infinitely easier. There are some writing topics that I’m just not interested in, but there are also writing topics that I think freelance writers should be honor-bound not to touch.

I won’t be a hypocrite here – there has been a time or two in my career that I’ve written a Shakespeare essay or a similar piece of literary analysis that I was pretty darn sure was destined to carry a lazy or overworked student’s name. I made a rule for myself early on, however – never touch the life-or-death stuff. I won’t write false reviews or unsubstantiated claims about medications or supplements, and I won’t give medical or legal advice in my writing that isn’t fairly common knowledge, and vetted.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the work isn’t out there. Take a peek below at a job I recently spotted on a board.


This looks to be a pretty basic walkthrough for a nurse-in-training, and it’s part of an established curriculum, if this Chegg “homework help” page is any indication. This is not the kind of education that someone responsible for medical care should be shrugging off.

While it’s up to each individual freelancer to make judgment calls on what he or she will work on, this is the kind of “opportunity” I condemn and caution against with the strongest terms possible. Keep an eye out, and always consider the deeper ramifications of your actions – our words have the power to inspire, create, sell and comfort, and, as the web-slinger himself once put it…


The Latest (Bad) News on Zerys

I know that some of my readers may wonder why I’m devoting so many blog posts to a site that banned and blocked me for my opinion. I would point to my unusually high number of new blog followers, comments and likes on my Zerys posts as proof that there’s clearly a large audience that wants to talk about their frustrations there, but can’t due to forum censorship.

As I mentioned on a previous blog post about Zerys practices, I have an ex that I’m still friendly with that keeps me updated on some of the craziness going on over there. He was researching approval times recently and came across this admin forum post from last month:


“We understand the desire to know where you stand with every job off the New Clients Job Board. Writers have a right to know one way or the other whether a buyer will add him/her to their writing team, and also whether they have chosen to purchase the initial piece or not.

For all other regular assignments to Favorite Writers, if the client doesn’t review the piece in time, we can auto-approve the piece because the client has already added that writer to their team, and there is some likelihood that the client would approve the content anyways since its from one of their favorite writers.

For initial New Client jobs, however, there is a unique challenge when it comes to auto-approval. We cannot force the client to like a writer, and we cannot force them to purchase a piece that was primarily designed to review a writer’s ability. The reason clients don’t have a review deadline on New Client Jobs is because these are not final, publishable pieces of content, but rather, these are jobs designed to help them identify writers they like, and want to add to their team.

All this being said, the great majority of New Client Jobs are reviewed within the 7-day window, so we are not finding this to be a major issue at thie point. We will, however, continue to watch it closely.”

There are several problems here – notably that “great majority” isn’t qualified – and even then, numbers don’t always work favorably in Zerys’ PR history, as we learned after the announcement that 60% of Zerys clients are not paying for their “samples.” Secondly, and admittedly this is anecdotal, but several writers I know have admitted that their samples sit for weeks, with some still languishing in queue from back during the initial shift to writing for free – excuse me, providing “custom” writing samples –  on the platform, months ago.

So, to recap, in order to get jobs from any new client on Zerys, you’ll need to:

1.) Write a 250 word article for free, knowing that 60% of these samples, by Zerys own admission, will never earn a penny.

2.) Wait for an indeterminate period of time, which is entirely up to the client, in the hopes that you’re one of the “lucky” 40% that actually gets paid for your work.

3.) Keep your work in limbo indefinitely, unable to repackage or sell it, because you’ve essentially created Schrodinger’s Article, which the client can buy at any point in time and lock down a copyright for.

This is what #FreelanceIsntFree is pushing for, my writing readers. These expectations and edicts are a slippery slope that devalues our hard-earned craft and makes new writers feel as if they’re not legitimate until they work for free.

You are worth more than that. Never forget that your work is worth paying for!