I have been very fortunate in that I have not been taken for a ride yet however it is not for a lack of effort on the part of the unscrupulous. Writing scams abound and sooner or later you are going to encounter one.
Bidding for work on eLance and GetAFreelancer is a great source of profitable work and as you would expect, I’m frequently asked to provide samples of my work. That’s nothing unusual and I’m happy to do so, however when a project provider asks for 500 words on a topic they specify as a sample, I shy away. The reasoning is simple, if 10 people bid, that is 10 articles produced and it has cost the project provider precisely – £0! If you’re asked to provide a sample on a specific topic, by all means do so but keep it below 200 words unless they are going to pay you.
A friend of mine, Dawn, writes poems as a way of getting through her daily drudge working as an administrator in a retirement home. Over time she has accumulated quite a collection of very funny poems and I am in the process of editing and arranging them into some sort of order suitable for publishing. Dawn has already encountered the “vanity” publisher who for a fee will publish her work and promises worldwide exposure. Vanity publishers have their place if you wish to publish your writing for use as a commercial offering to promote your company or simply as an off-the-wall Christmas present to friends and family. In the real world, vanity publishers have very little to offer a writer in terms of editing, presentation and most of all, marketing your work. Stay away from any agent or publisher who asks for money upfront!
If you have a new client asking you to do some work, it pays to check them out beforehand. You can do this simply by using Google and at the very least you are looking for some sort of presence such as a legitimate website or a listing in the Yellow Pages. Be wary of new clients asking you to produce large amounts of work – new clients rarely do this in real life, preferring a test project being completed before giving you larger projects. You may get caught up in the excitement of winning a decent sized writing commission only to be disappointed when the work is delivered but payment does not materialise. If the client happens to be in another country, just what are you going to do?
Following on from this, even if you have an existing relationship with a client, do not be afraid to ask for some money upfront or in stage payments as you deliver a large project. If a client baulks at doing this, then you should be wary of taking the project on. I’ve only been left unpaid once, and fortunately for a small project, but the bitter after taste is still with me so take notice and don’t let this happen to you.
You can also help yourself by not broadcasting your inexperience as a writer. Many budding writers still have their day job to handle, or are otherwise engaged in the child rearing and domestic industries and are writing to put some extra money into the budget. While there is nothing wrong being a stay-at-home mum (I’m after all a stay-at-home dad) you don’t need to tell a potential client. I’m not saying this is a guaranteed way to attract a scam artist, but some people will definitely take advantage if you let them.
One golden rule is always, and I mean absolutely always, get the payment terms sorted out before you start any work. Establishing what you are going to be delivering is also crucial. What you are looking to do here is to specify exactly what you have to produce and when and how you will be paid. Bear in mind that a project provider may also be new to using a writer so adopting a straightforward professional approach will demonstrate a business attitude that can only reflect well upon yourself. The real benefit however, is to make sure everyone knows what their obligations are and when to deliver on their promises.