The Best Writing Job I Ever Turned Down

Carol Tice

Saying no is okThis is the story of the greatest freelance writing gig I ever turned down. It happened just last week.

About a year ago, I met an editor at a MediaBistro networking event who develops online content for a very large software company. Based here in Seattle. Yeah, that one.

In shmoozing him up, I discovered that he was best friends from childhood with one of my past editors…an editor who’d loved my stuff. He also knew another beloved editor of mine as well. To sum up, he was my dream prospect!

He didn’t have anything immediately, so for once I did a really good job staying in touch and following up.

And last week, he finally called me with an assignment. He needed someone to write a half-dozen articles, one a month, over the next six months.

The catch: It was on a brand-new version of one of their software programs. Hmmm…I’m not much of an early adopter, so I wasn’t using this new program yet. Small, dim alarm bells began to chime in the back of my head. But I was so psyched to work with this client!

We investigated a little more, and discovered the program doesn’t run on Macs, which is what I use. I’d have to buy a computer to do the gig!

My husband was in favor of buying the new computer and taking the gig. But he’s always in favor of buying new toys.

At this point, the alarm bells were louder. In reality, the assignment would be for me to buy and break in a whole new computer AND software, and quickly become an expert in using it so I could write about it. I don’t ordinarily write a whole lot about tech.

I was starting to get the ugly, real picture. I wasn’t actually a fit for this gig.

If I took it, I’d stand a decent chance of sucking at it. And that is the one thing I don’t ever want to see happen. The last thing I need is to disappoint a client at a major corporation.

So I passed.

My hope is another assignment may come along from this client that’s a better fit for my background, which is mostly writing about a range of other business topics. Maybe I’m nuts and should have bought the computer and given it a whirl. But my feeling was the huge ramp time that would be involved to essentially acquire a whole new expertise area probably would have meant I earned less net in the end, as I’d have less time for other clients.

I’d also run the risk of alienating an editor and never getting any future assignments from him.

The whole experience was a reminder to me that writers need to not jump at every offer that comes down the pike, no matter how great they may sound at first. Ask yourself, “Is this assignment really me?” I try to stay with assignments where I can answer that with an enthusiastic “yes.”

Ever turn down a major gig? If so, leave a comment and tell us about it.

Photo via Flickr user roland


  1. Laura Spencer

    Hey–I'll take the gig. I'm a technical writer anyway and I already work on a PC and not a Mac. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Have I ever turned down a gig? Yes…actually, I turn down many more gigs than I accept–usually over pay issues, but sometimes over fit (as you did).

    Gosh, I don't even know where to begin listing the ones I turned down.

    Should I mention the gig that would have had me writing about my dream topic (something I'm passionate about), but would have required me to sign a very restrictive non-compete agreement? Or, what about the developer who wanted me to write documentation for his software in exchange for a free copy of said software. (Hello–getting a copy of the software is not compensation for a technical writer. Going through the software is how we do our job not how we are paid.) Then, there was the would-be client with a huge volume of work who thought I should be available at the drop of a hat (I still wonder if I should have taken that and arranged to outsource it.)

    It's good to be picky about which assignments you choose. It shows you're thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Michelle Rafter

    Good for you for following your gut. Better to have said no and lost that assignment than to have turned in something less than stellar as your first go 'round with this editor and have him cross you off his contributor list forever. Your idea to wait for something that's a better fit is a good one. Meanwhile, if you know of a fellow writer who'd knock this one out of the park*, why not pass their name onto this editor – you never know what could happen. If something clicked, you'd be a hero.


    *Not me, I don't do that kind of writing anymore either.

    • Carol Tice

      I didn't really feel like I knew the right person for this gig, but I can and do refer people when I'm able.

  3. Lee Lefton

    My wife, who was an art director before retiring, was offered a job updating a big client's intranet site on a monthly basis. She was told by the international marketing director, who was a friend, that she could charge her normal $75 per hour fee. The work had to be done on a PC and she was a Mac user. So with the giant carrot dangling in front of us, we bought the PC. It took her quite a few hours to get up to speed on the job but only charged a fraction of that time since she felt that the client would have balked at paying for her learning curve. When she sent in the first bill, the client contact (who wasn't our marketing director friend), kicked it back saying, "We only pay $15 an hour for this kind of work." So the following day, we sold the PC for 1/2 price to a friend. I'm not sure what the lesson in that was. I guess it's to find out who really controls the purse strings when taking a job. International marketing directors clearly don't.

  4. Carol Tice

    Lee —

    Well, that’s a cautionary tale, isn’t it? In this case I didn’t have any concerns about the pay getting changed. But you raise a great point — it’s one thing to do a little writing on existing equipment, without traveling on your own dime, or otherwise incurring big costs for a project. But if it requires substantial out-of-pocket, you want to make sure you have all the facts well nailed down before you proceed.

  5. Dan Smith

    I remember when I first started writing I didn't turn down any gig. If I applied for it and got offered it or someone thought I was good enough for their job and contacted me, I snapped their hand off and didn't think anything about it.

    Now, though, I'm a lot more "picky" about the gigs I take on, generally depending on whether I can first accommodate the work in my current schedule and then on the per word / hour rate.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately?!) I've never had to turn down a major gig, but thinking about it now and my work schedule at the moment, it would have to be particularly interesting – and worthwhile – for me to take it on.

  6. Jean Gogolin

    The biggest gig I ever turned down was for a major tobacco company, simply on the grounds that I object to about everything they do. (My guess is that a lot of other people also turned them down.) I did take a job with a major defense contractor, ignoring the gut feeling that I shouldn’t do it, and the gut was right. I hated it. The lesson is the obvious one: trust both your moral convictions and your gut.


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