I’m a freelance writer who hates and fears cold-calling with the fiery passion of a thousand suns (who isn’t)? I do it, but I also spend a great deal of time answering ads for freelance writers on Craigslist and similar sites.
It’s easy to fire off my resume in an email, and I’ve landed some choice gigs this way. I’ve also run across some major duds.
So, if you’re in the market for a freelance writer, here are some tips for writing an effective freelance writer ad – one that will pull in the sort of competent help you’re (presumably) looking for.
1. Tell us what you want – specifically.
The more vague a freelance-writer ad is, the less likely any professional freelance writer is to answer it. Without a clear overview of the work you want done, we writers can’t figure out whether we’re equipped to do it, making us less likely to go through the fuss and bother of answering your ad.
A good ad for a freelance writer should explain, at a minimum, the topic area, the specific project or projects, and what the project or projects will be used for. For instance, here is a terrible ad:
I need a writer for my website. Email me.
I wouldn’t answer this ad. Most writers won’t. This ad offers zero information on what the website’s focus is, what kind of web writing the author wants done, or what the writing needs to do (sell things? provide directions? outline the site owner’s detailed turtle-based conspiracy theories?). There’s also no direction on what this person wants to see when hiring a writer.
Here’s the previous ad, improved:
I run a website that details my turtle-based conspiracy theories in a series of Elizabethan sonnets. I need a writer to produce five more sonnets explaining my new theory that tortoises are incapable of plotting total world domination. Please send your resume and one writing sample that is an Elizabethan sonnet (does not have to cover turtle-based conspiracy theories).
Now your potential star freelancer knows what you need, how long you’re likely to need freelance help, and what the writing is supposed to do – as well as what information you want to see.
2. Check your spelling and grammar.
I cannot tell you how many ads I’ve seen that read like this:
i nede ppr on eLizzabetan sonetes plz email
(Translation: “I need paper on Elizabethan sonnets. Please email.”)
Counterintuitively, most freelance writers won’t answer this ad. Why not? Because, while it’s obvious this person needs a writer – and badly – the amount of work we’re going to have to do just to understand what this person wants is astronomical. It’s not worth it, especially when there are hundreds of other potential clients out there who can communicate what it is they need.
Before you click “post” on your ad for a freelance writer, run spell check. Have someone read it over and correct obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. Writers won’t generally hold the finer points against you – if you were a writer, you probably wouldn’t need to hire one, after all – but we need you to communicate clearly what it is you need a writer to do.
And, if that’s not enough, consider this: an ad that hasn’t even been spell-checked screams “easy to exploit.” Even if you’ve never hired a freelancer before, don’t advertise that fact – there’s always somebody who will gladly charge you two or three times the going rate because you don’t know better, and you don’t need to be ripped off.
3. Research pay rates.
Despite my previous advice on not being taken for a ride, remember this: the pay rate for professional writers is probably higher than you think.
Remember my LOL Your Freelance Writing Ad post? I took the writer of that ad to task for this very thing – failing to check the going rate for a writer with “a proven track record as a well-written blogger or published author, who loves the process of investigative journalism and research,” and instead offered a laughable $0.03 per word. Then the ad suggested that $0.10 per word was a “premium” rate!
A few writers starting out in the business may take $0.10 per word, particularly in exchange for some much-needed experience. But no professional writer with a “proven track record” will write for $0.10 per word, much less $0.03 per word. Offering them will just cause laughter.
Not sure what amount of money would be a fair trade for the kind and quality of writing you’re looking for? Ask writers to send you their rates. They’ll typically run from $0.10 per word for beginners up to $1.50 per word for top-notch professionals (National Geographic is famous for paying $1.50 per word). Decide where the quality of the writing you need should reasonably fall, and prepare to pay accordingly. And remember – you get what you pay for.
Even when an ad explains what the client wants in plain language, it may get passed up by experienced freelancers because its writer comes across as controlling – or worse, defensive.
LOL Your Freelance Writer Ad guy provides a stellar example:
CURRENT PAY IS $30 per article, so we are obviously not a cheap content-farm paying $10-$15 but if you’re looking for a premium $100 an article gig, please DO NOT write to me to insult me.
Aside from the utter failure of math here (600-1000 words for $30 *is* “cheap content farm” rates, and $100 for 1000 words is “entry-level writer” rates, not “premium” rates), the author of this ad clearly has a chip on his or her shoulder. Even if I was willing to write for the rates offered, would I want to do it with someone so defensive about the job they’re offering that it oozes into the ad itself? Of course not.
You may not be able to pay well. You may never have hired a professional writer before. You may be the reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway, who is only looking for an outside writer because your partner threatened to pull his venture capital from your turtle-conspiracy-theory-distribution startup if you didn’t. That’s fine; it happens. But don’t let it show up in your ad.
The best way to write an ad that works is to explain clearly what you need, ask for a resume or writing sample, and leave it at that. Save the concerns for when you’re negotiating with actual individual writers.