Help! How Do I Create Writing Samples?

Although most freelance writing sites will have either a proprietary piece submission requirement, writing samples are important to have waiting in the wings. Stepping into the freelance writing gig with your arsenal already loaded means that you’ll be able to be more nimble and jump on job opportunities – getting paid with writing is about 1/3 timing, 1/3 prep and 1/3 solid writing, when you get right down to it.

Write Like You’re Getting Paid

Avoid the temptation to recycle that Brit Lit paper from sophomore year and crack some knuckles; you should really be writing your samples from scratch. The more you write, the better you’ll get, which is why example pieces, barring rare cases of high-profile clients or publications attached to them, should be as fresh as possible. As you write them, try and convince your brain they’re for a job – they’ll end up with a more professional edge and go further towards convincing the client to pick you up. These aren’t fun pieces or fluff, this is your interview on paper so be sure to treat it that way.

But What Do I Write??

Okay, here’s the thing. Hit up a site like Odesk.com (which you should really be signed up for anyway) and scan through the jobs available after searching a keyword that matches your preferred writing style or skill. Love writing press releases? Pop “PR” in there. Prefer to cover the news? Type up “News Articles” and see what you get. As you scan the jobs, you’ll probably see some trends and common themes, and that’s what you’re aiming for. Pick a concept or field and go forth into the great wide Google to get your source and ideas ready and just…write. For myself, I prefer product descriptions, so I headed over to my favorite online store, grabbed 2 or 3 products that I could see myself buying, and rewrote their descriptions entirely. This allowed my enthusiasm and passion for those products to shine through and give my writing a natural boost. Plus, linking the high-profile site to demonstrate the original description didn’t hurt my cred with the client – they don’t necessarily have to know that you weren’t hired to do that piece for that company, but do be truthful if they ask directly.

Your pieces should not be the new War and Peace. Keep it short but simple, folding in a 300 to 400 word piece along with a few 200-ish ones so you have a body of easily-digestible work for the client to leaf through. If you need a refresher on how to write an article, click here. Essentially, for web writing, you want to have a short opener and closer, cap paragraphs at 100-ish words, and use subheaders for each paragraph.

Some Final Tips:

  • After you’ve written one or two pieces, don’t be shy about hitting up friends and family and asking their opinion – it’s sort of like a phone-a-friend lifeline for an interview, and it’s a rare shot at assistance you should make use of. Pay the most attention to what they think of the overall flow and tone, because those are the important bits.
  • Save these pieces in a “normal” – e.g. compatible-with-Microsoft-word format, using size 12 Times New Roman font, which is pretty much industry standard. Save it to your account at drive.google.com (and if you don’t have a writing gmail address yet, you get a smack with a rolled up newspaper. Go do it.) so that you can access it wherever you need to, whenever you need to.
  • Take exclamation points out. This is an article, not a used car sales lot ad. Unless it is, in which case leave em in.
  • Look through your piece with a careful eye and see if you’ve repeated any concepts or thoughts. If so, get back in there and rewrite them into different ideas. If you’re relying on repeating your own work to fill a short self-selected piece that you have free reign on, you can bet the client is going to notice.
  • As Mark Twain once said, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Take this to heart and also swap out the word “great” for another adjective after you’ve used it once in a piece. Trust me, it’s a pain in the ass but man will it help your writing.

CloudCrowd and Write.com / Crowdsource Merge

UPDATE. 6/9/14: Applications and work for BOTH the former Cloudcrowd site and Write.com now go through Crowdsource.com, which in turn will kick you to Mturk (if you have Amazon payments as your preferred payment method) to work on tasks after achieving qualifications or keep you working on the site itself (if you have Paypal payments selected).

Last week, I received the following email in my inbox:

Hi Delany,

We have an exciting update that will have a positive impact on your work experience at CloudCrowd.

Servio, the company that operates CloudCrowd, has recently entered a definitive agreement to be acquired by CrowdSource, a leader in enterprise crowdsourcing. Similar to Servio, CrowdSource specializes in providing content solutions for enterprise clients, including Fortune 500 retailers and online publishers.

One of the reasons CrowdSource is acquiring Servio is because of our loyal and talented workforce. This acquisition will bring you access to work with an extended client portfolio, giving you opportunities to work on a larger, more diverse set of projects. In addition, CrowdSource will dedicate more resources to improving your work experience.

A few things, however, will not change. You will still find work through CloudCrowd and will not need to create any new accounts. You will still get paid in the same way.

We want to thank you for your continued hard work and dedication. Everyone at Servio is excited about working with the team at CrowdSource to create the most robust crowdsourcing solution in the world while providing a world class experience for workers.

If you have any questions about what this acquisition means for you, visit our FAQ page. As always, feel free to join us in the forums; we’d like to hear from you!

Best,

The Servio/CloudCrowd Team

This is not necessarily a cause for celebration. If you’re scratching your head, wondering where you’ve heard the name “Crowdsource” before, it’s the pseudonym used by Write.com on the Mturk platform to solicit workers for their projects – most of which, in my experience, have not been writing. Here at the Freelance Writer Guide, I’ve heard from a few writers that have had a very different, e.g. positive, experience with Write.com, unlike my own, and you can read their comments to that effect on my Write.com review page. As of this moment, however, neither Write.com nor Cloudcrowd look to be accepting new applicants, so it may be a moot point. I doubt they’ve reached capacity though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a full-scale fire-and-restock/retest overhaul or a new writer drive once the merger is completed.

Why does the merger concern me? Several reasons, not the least of which is that Write.com / Crowdsource left a bad taste in my mouth when I gave it a run. I felt like the system was unnecessarily clunky and offered virtually no reward for jumping through a lot of hoops. The official representatives of the company gave me a completely different set of expectations and rules (in writing!) than my fellow writers have reported dealing with, and they work/worked through Mturk, which is nearly filled to capacity with scam jobs, laughable foreign rates and a staggering amount of foreign competition.

Write.com is buying Crowdsource, not vice-versa, so it would stand to reason that they buyer’s setup would take precedence if there were two on the table. That means that the Facebook login, daily Paypal payment setup of Cloudcrowd is in jeopardy, if not now then at some point in the near future. If they shift Cloudcrowd over to the Mturk/Amazon Payments model, many of the tried-and-true writers that have spent years with Cloudcrowd may walk – many in the business depend on the pay frequency and flexibility of the Paypal payment system, and Amazon payments very noticeably lacks a debit card withdrawal system like Paypal’s, leaving payees stuck with a week-or-more long wait for their money to transfer into a bank account. Add this hangtime – a benefit for the paying company and Amazon but not for writers – to the idea that Amazon Payment’s fees are likely considerably lower on the business end than Paypal’s, and you have a decidedly writer-unfriendly scenario brewing.

I only dabble in Cloudcrowd work these days, getting the majority of my assignments from WriterAccess without much need to stray, so this isn’t world-ending to yours truly. I still harbor a considerable amount of worry for new freelance writers, though, because the big fish chomping the little fish means one less independent source for work. I will keep the Freelance Writer Guide updated as I hear and see more about this development.