My Online Writing Job-Search Rules…and When to Break Them

Carol Tice

Carol is on vacation. This week, she’s reprinting a couple of posts from the early days of her blog, back when it was on her writer site. Enjoy!

Searching for Freelance Writing JobsBack when I first started out as a freelance writer, it was tough to find writing jobs. I’d either have to look in the Writers Market, or get in my car and go down to the library and get out the Gale’s guide to research possible article markets. Next, I carved my articles on a rock…OK, I’m not that old, but there was a lot more legwork involved!

Nowadays, you can see lots of writing jobs online without moving from your living room. Personally, I like to look at Freelance Writing Jobs or About Freelance Writing. Between the two of them, they seem to digest all the major job sites around, so you don’t have to look at a lot of individual sites.

The catch is, most of the job ads you see online are a big waste of time for anyone who’s serious about making a good living from writing. They’re no substitute for in-person networking, asking current clients for referrals, cold-calling copywriting prospects, or any of the other tried-and-true methods of finding good clietns.

The key is to save time and not waste hours online looking at job postings. Over the past year, I’ve developed some rules for cutting through the junk and only responding to what seem to be viable, good-paying clients. I try to send out several resumes each week…but I’m pretty selective about who I take the time to develop a submission letter for. I try not to spend more than a half-hour a day online job-hunting.

My rules:

1. Skip the scams. Avoid anything that contains phrases such as “you’ll get good exposure” or “we pay on revenue share” or “pay for page views.” None of these pay anything that will even buy you a gallon of milk.

2. Skip all Craigslist ads. Especially the sketchy, two-line ones. The vast majority of Craigslist posters are either scam artists outright, nightmare clients with only a vague sense of what it is they actually want, or $10-an-article types.

3. Skip all “lots of topics,” “we need lots of writers” or “pick your own topics” assignments. Any ad that says they need lots of writers to write about lots of topics is unlikely to pay much. These are generally content portals where they make a fortune putting ads against your content, while they pay you nothing. If you can write about your dog, well, anyone can do that. So it’s not going to pay much.

4. Skip ads that ask for a sample article. These are all scams — they just take the sample articles, rip them off, post them, and don’t hire anyone. Or even if they do hire someone, odds are low it’ll be you. If you already have two clips, you don’t need to enter any of these article ‘contests.’

5. Skip anyone who says they pay by PayPal. Some may disagree with this one, but I consider this the hallmark of low payers and bogus companies, particularly U.S.-based ones. Any real company can write you a check, or use auto-deposit and toss that payment straight into your account. The reason they use PayPal is they’re planning to pay you $1.95 and want to save a stamp, as it would substantially increase their total expenditure! If they’re going to pay a substantial amount and it’s an ongoing account, you stand to lose hundreds of dollars of income in fees over the course of a year getting paid on PayPal, as they charge fees up to 3 percent.

6. Skip any ad that doesn’t tell you the company name or Web site Blind ads are a hallmark of scammers. Sane, functional companies tell you where to find them online so you can research them and send them an appropriate query with relevant clips. Those are the ones I want to work for.

7. Skip any ad you see frequently. If this ad agency, Web site or whatever is constantly advertising, there’s a reason. They are probably a nightmare to work for, or pay nothing. I’m looking for people who are a pleasure to work for, and pay well.

8. Target ads that ask for your specific expertise. For me, when an ad says applicants must have extensive experience in business reporting, financial, real estate, legal, tax, accounting, insurance or public-company coverage…they have my full attention. Niche expertise pays better. I’m probably going to send these folks a query.

9. Know when to break the rules. Sometimes, an ad will catch your eye even though by all the rules above it should be skipped. This happened to me a couple of times with Craigslist ads. Ordinarily I would automatically skip…but before I could hit the “back” button, I started to read the ad, and it asked for deep small-business newspaper or magazine experience. Which I have. The company listed their site so I could research what they needed.

I sent one a query and landed a two-month project worth several thousand dollars, which may lead to ongoing work…my first ever good-paying job off a Craigslist ad. I’ve since landed a couple of other very solid clients through Craigslist.

So rules are good most of the time, but remember to keep your mind open a crack for interesting exceptions to the rules.

Next time: how to use the job ads creatively to find more job opportunities.

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Photo via Flickr user dbdbrobot


  1. Dan Smith

    Some great points there, Carol. I generally stick to the same method, but I do have two differences.

    2. Skip all Craigslist ads – I've got skimming through Craigslist down to a fine art, but I don't often skip the ads all together.

    Instead, if the ad looks interesting but like a lot of Craigslist ads doesn't seem like it's going to pan out in a gig, I'll send a general query letter I have, only changing a few words to tailor it. Sometimes it pays off and they ask for more information, which is when a personal, detailed reply is sent and sometimes it doesn't, but it only took me a minute or two to send.

    5. Skip anyone who says they pay by PayPal – I am a little wary about those who only pay by PayPal, but one of my clients who is a particularly large national company only pays this way. I'm sure if I pressed the matter I could get paid by cheque, but that's the reason why I don't totally disregard an ad just because they only pay by PayPal.

    Although I do stick to these 2 points, looking at them again I guess they're both points I've become accustomed to through experience. I can pick out the majority of the poor Craigslist ads just be reading the title or the first line of the ad and PayPal is just something I use a lot because of the convenience factor. I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone and especially for new writers it might be worthwhile setting up their own method – or better still, using your points rigidly until they can carve out their own way.

  2. Leah Shepherd

    Great tips, Carol! One thing I'd like to add– if you've got a client that wants to pay by PayPal but otherwise looks good and legit, then ask them if they will pay the PayPal charges with each invoice. I did this with one of my clients, and they did not hesitate to pay the PayPal charge. I didn't feel that I should be stuck with that charge every month. I just add it into my invoice each time.

    Also, Carol, would you consider doing a post about when to charge extra for revising a story? I have one client who's asking me to do a lot of major revisions (they've come back to me several times asking for changes that require talking to more sources, reorganizing the story, etc.) I'm hesitant to charge them for these extra hours that I'm spending because they are a good client. But I realize that, in most cases, I should get paid for extensive revisions. I'd like to hear from other freelancers about how they handle the decision of when to charge for revisions.

  3. Anna Bass

    This is an interesting topic. I'm always looking for valuable resources to share with clients and my colleagues, and your piece is definitely worth sharing!

  4. Kim Hillman

    I've done it all online and I've found that unless you can build up a solid clientele and keep them coming back, it's a tough haul making a living by writing online. You can make some movie money, grocery money, and even pay a few bills, but it's really hard to cover everything just by writing a few articles or doing a gig here and there for an employer.

    I finally wised up and realized that if I could write an article, it would be worth ALOT more if I put that article between two covers and turned it into a booklet. And that's exactly what I did. Now I'm the author of six booklet titles and those little two and three dollar writing jobs are a thing of the past.

    It's a funny thing. You can write a single article and get paid one time, and then you have to go and write another one to get paid again. Or, you can take that same article, turn it into a booklet, and get paid on it over and over again without ever having to write another word. Now that's what I call breaking the rules!

  5. Carol Tice

    I tried that with one client, Leah, and never heard from the client again…but think they weren't that awesome of a prospect to begin with!

    I'd like to apologize to anyone whose comments are waiting..I've ended up with very limited internet access on my vacation…trying to get to them as soon as I can — I'm back Friday.

  6. Devon Ellington

    Great points.

    I actually found a couple of good Craigsiist gigs (yeah, I was shocked, too) including a producer that licensed three plays within a year and I earned hefty royalties. i realize that's the exception, not the rule, and we went back and forth with quite a bit of contract negotiations, but we did find each other via Craigslist. But yeah, reading the ads is an art form.

    PayPal — I've got about half the clients who pay via PayPal – especially deposits on big projects. Most of them, especially the really good companies, add the PayPal fee to the payment, so I wind up not losing any money. I'm thinking of adding that as a contract clause.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Devon —

      I asked one client to do it and they wouldn't, but I think if they want the convenience of not having to hire a bookkeeper to sit and cut checks, they should pay it.

  7. Yon Loggens

    I enjoyed reading this blog post! Keep up the great work.

  8. Daniel Winrich

    I’ve recently started out a weblog, the details you supply on this internet site has aided me tremendously. Thank you for all of the time & work.

  9. Alicia N.

    I have just started my quest as a new online writer and was looking for ways to make this a full time gig for me. I know it will be hard work, however, I enjoy the art of writing and want to persue it wholeheartedly. I think the advice you gave was great! I look foward to reading more….


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