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3 Tip-Offs That Your Dream Writing Job Will Really be a Nightmare


businessman with question maskRecently, I had an interview for what seemed like a dream writing job.

It was in a field I love. The work was right up my alley. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was in a slow period of assignments and getting concerned about cash flow.

After a successful meeting with a mid-level manager, I met with the head of the company.

It was ghastly.

Not only did she slash the hourly rate previously quoted to me, but she was rude. She also made several disparaging comments about my former profession. (I’m a licensed attorney.)

After I weighed the pros and cons of taking the gig, I decided it was a ‘no.’ It was scary to walk away from additional income, but my instincts told me it just wouldn’t be worth it.

Turns out, I made the right decision. A couple of weeks later, I landed a job through idealist.org with a legal nonprofit that needed a writer to blog, produce web content, and write grant proposals. After meeting with their very friendly director, I accepted a long-term, $3,000-a-month gig.

How can you tell if a writing job is a good fit, or has all the makings of a hair-pulling nightmare? Here are the three questions I ask:

1. Will the client be difficult?

If you see endless rounds of edits and client emails at 3 a.m. in your future, the time spent on the project will be longer, the work more draining, and the hourly rate lower.

Does the client have a reputation for taking forever to pay invoices? Make sure the rate you’re paid justifies the hassle, and that you’ll be paid promptly.

When I sat with that company head to discuss what I thought would be my dream job, she actually told me that I’d be incapable of editing her articles. After I heard that, her voice faded away for a moment, while a scene played out in my head of me spending countless hours going back and forth with her over a 500-word blog post.

Even if she’d offered me a really high pay rate, I’m not sure I would have taken the position.

2. Are you releasing the rights to your work?

If you sign away all your rights, you forfeit potential extra income from reprints or repurposing your work.

Read agreements carefully and know what rights you retain to your work.

If a company won’t budge on rights, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate of pay. Or you can walk away and look for a more writer-friendly gig.

3. Will the work enhance your portfolio?

My dream client wanted me to remain a secret, which would have prevented me from showcasing the work I did for her to attract future clients.

If a client requires you to sign a confidentiality agreement and won’t let you use the work you produce as part of your portfolio, you earn money but don’t get bragging rights or writing samples.

I considered these factors, which made it easy to walk away from the ‘dream’ project. Soon, another much better writing opportunity come along – which I wouldn’t have been able to take if I’d accepted the first project.

It can be tempting to take whatever paid work you are offered. But if it’s not a good fit, it’s probably not worth it.

What tips you off a prospect is a loser? Give us your tips in the comments.

Kristin Gallagher is a writer and attorney who lives in New York City.