How to Avoid Bad Writing Sites

For freelancers that are just starting out, stepping back and getting an idea of just how -many- freelance writing sites are out there may feel a little like being in Time Square for the first time. There are more than a handful competing for your attention, and if you’re using gmail – and you should be – you’re likely being bombarded with them in the side ads that google automatically places based on your email and search text. How is a newbie to navigate this wealth of choices and avoid getting burned?

Though I’m loathe to cast a wide net, foreign sites are usually bad news. These sites are used to paying local writers at wages so low that a US-based freelancer couldn’t buy a sandwich on a typical day’s pay. Much like door-to-door sales and pyramid schemes, they will boast loudly about the “potential to make” and “rates as high as” – but pay attention to that language, which is usually little more than a carrot on a stick. Other red flags include:

*Strange pluralization, specifically “texts” and “works”. These are an earmark of overly formal / badly translated text, a sure sign you’re dealing with a foreign site.

*Payment terms that offer options like moneybookers or wire transfer, or give writer prices in foreign currency.

*Lack of a contact phone number, or a contact address under a free email account system, such as hotmail or yahoo. Individual clients with these issues are fine, but if a freelance writing site is presenting itself as a business and doesn’t take the time to set up legitimate contact methods, it could mean trouble.

*Extensive “tests” to prove your worth. No site should ask for more than one piece of writing to vet your skills, and there should be a disclaimer that they won’t use that piece of writing without pay, whether they take you on or not. If you read the guide and are taking my advice on emailing yourself every piece of work you finish before submitting it, you’ll have this “intro” piece to research later. If someone is using it without paying you, send the site a DMCA notice through Google.
Speaking of Google, there are few precautions as tried-and-true as simply searching the name or .com address of a site – try Google-searching “(site name here).com scam”, quotation marks intact, for more specific search results. If the majority of results are complaints or paid-for testimonials, steer clear. These methods aren’t foolproof, but they will help you filter out the worst trouble as you search for freelance writing sites.



Several Eggs, Several Baskets

Once you find the “right” site and settle into writing online for money, it can be very tempting to remain where you are and hammer away at it. While at first glance this may seem like a sound idea, the truth is that in this position  you’re only one downgrading or site outage away from completely losing your new-found livelihood. Spreading your efforts across several sites and clients is an important technique for staying afloat, a skill that successful freelancers use every day they work.

Here are the types of sites that need to be in your arsenal (I recommend making a folder of bookmarks in your browser for easy access)

1.) A list site. These sites have lists of jobs to be picked up and completed, making them the most popular go-to choice for general freelancing. These sites include CloudCrowd, Textbroker and MediaPiston.

2.) A bid site. These sites require writers to place bids on various projects in the hopes of being chosen. These sites include Freelancer and Odesk.

3.) A sales site. These sites allow writers to put pre-written articles up for browsing and (hopefully) sale to prospective clients. These sites include ConstantContent and GhostBloggers.
When you spread out your efforts, you’ll never have to worry that a slow flow of work or a quality rating issue will keep you from earning money. This is a true and current cautionary tale, with several writer colleagues wrestling this week with a complete lack of work over at MediaPiston. Work will ebb and flow, but sitting on your hands while you wait on the next upswing won’t do your career a bit of good. Sign up for the sites of your choice and at least get the ball rolling – you’ll be grateful you did the next time your “home” site becomes difficult to work with.

The Client Is Always Right (Even if They Aren’t)

Clients are the lifeblood of freelancing – without them, writers would be doodling in margins and hacking away at that never-quite-finished project. They are, in effect, as important as customers to a retail store and should be treated that way. The downside of certain third-party sites like CloudCrowd, Textbroker and Mediapiston is that they give the false impression of anonymity to new writers, de-emphasizing the importance of professionalism and politeness  in client interactions due to the sheer volume of working clients on a given site.

As we briefly discussed in chapter 6 of The Freelance Writer Guide, forging a solid connection with your clients is a great way to ensure a steady work flow, especially for subjects you excel in. If you come off as rude or brusque to a new client, they may not get the correct impression of who you are or the skills you offer. That being said, certain clients are going to be an absolute bear to work with, and you’ll have to wade through everything from superior attitudes to oceans of typos in the shortest message. Always keep in mind that they hired you and paid you money because they have a goal that – for whatever reason – they’re not able to reach themselves. This means that their ideas may come across as unformed, strict where they have no right to be and in some cases just plain wrong. This doesn’t matter. It’s your job to get them from A (the idea) to B (the finished work), as efficiently and politely as possible. If you can’t, politely decline and move on – there’s no shame in it and sometimes it needs to be done for your own sanity.

If direction and “business mode” are things you struggle with, It’s also advisable not to take projects for something you’re opposed to. A thoroughly reluctant pro-choice writer isn’t likely to turn out a solid piece on pro-life, and vice versa. If you want to make a good profit off of freelancing, you’ll have to learn which subjects and word counts work best for you, as this magical combination will produce the most money with the least work. Spending time struggling with clients you butt heads with wastes your time and might garner you a bad reputation in the world of clients – one side comment about your lack of professionalism from one client to another could cost you short-term work and long-term reputation.

If you’re angry, take a walk, count to ten, do some deep breathing – but don’t take it out on the client. It’s a costly move that you’re bound to regret in the long run.

The Care and Keeping of Articles

Coffee 3 by Mylène Bressan

image © Mylène Bressan for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

Even for the best writers, a piece of work is an effort of some variety. Time and thought are put into even the most inane 300-worder, so sending it off into the nether without anything to remember it by seems like wasted effort. Turns of phrase, research and other article-specific work may come in handy for a future project that deals with the same subject – although a writer should obviously never “lift” his or her own work for a second project. In addition to being a great reference guide to other articles, keeping completed work around makes showing a client what you’re capable of super simple.

Those that have read the 2nd chapter of  The Freelance Writer Guide on this site already know my fangirl-like tendencies when it comes to Gmail. This free email service is internet-based, powered by Google and eminently searchable when it comes to finding an old email. I very strongly recommend that any new writer get their own Gmail account and start making judicious use of it. The best way to do this is before submitting any piece you’ve completed, send an email to yourself with the article’s subject and a certain unique code in the subject line – “Underwater Basketweaving / Portfolio Fodder”, ” Tragic Badger Karaoke / #Article”, “Platypus Rituals / Pastwork” – whatever works for you and is easy to remember. When tinkering with your portfolio or digging up a piece to show a potential client, all you have to do is search your Gmail inbox with your code word or phrase and you’ll have a chronological list of everything you’ve ever written.
A Picture of a Thousand Words

When using past work to audition for new clients, especially on “bid sites” like and, I also very strongly recommend that you send an image of your article in lieu of a format like MS Word. Unfortunately, these sites are rife with unscrupulous overseas competitors that not only don’t have the job opening they’re posting, but want to steal and re-use your work as well, even if it’s already been sold to a client.

To make this image:

  1. Open your Gmail email or an MS Word document of the article
  2. Hold the ctrl key down and hit the print screen key.
  3. Open up MS Paint
  4. Within MS Paint, hold the ctrl key down, then tap the v key. (This will paste a “snapshot” of your entire screen – including the article – in the Paint program.)
  5. From here, just crop it down to show only the article text and save the cropped image.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope these tips help you as a writer! Please feel free to add this blog to your reader via the RSS link above for more writer shortcuts and suggestions.

Memory Through Humor

An illustration of a blue aardvark in one panel with an arrow heading straight for his behind, stating that "the arrow affected the aardvark." The second panel features the aardvark jumping up in pain with stars coming from the rear stating below that the "effect was eye-popping"

With special thanks to Grammar Girl at 🙂

When I consider my skills, creativity has it all over grammar. I have a decent grasp of grammar thanks to a series of very talented grade school teachers, but the smallest things trip me up sometimes. Commas are my own particular brand of white whale, a combination of enjoying the way they look and a background in choir singing hammering into my head that “a comma on the page means a breath in the lungs.” I tend to be a visual learner, so when I reach out for guidance, cartoons are a huge help!

For today’s blog post, I thought I’d share a few that have been instrumental in getting my writing in shape. Please note that these use a bit of adult humor, so they aren’t for the sensitive!

The Oatmeal


Hyperbole and a Half