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Be Careful Out There
by Dawn Copeman

Return to Business & Technical Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

I know I'm showing my age here, but I always used to enjoy the part at the beginning of Hill Street Blues when the sergeant used to give the cops their patrols and then say "Be careful out there."

I'm not sure experienced cops needing reminding of how dangerous their job is, but I do think that as writers, we need to make sure we are aware of the many dangers lurking out there.

In the old days, before the internet, it took longer to get jobs. You had to write and post your queries, then wait for a reply, then post your article, wait and eventually you would receive a check in the post.

This took ages, but most of us always got paid. True, there were editors and magazines that wouldn't pay, but they were, gladly, few and far between.

Now we have the internet and getting writing work has never been easier, or more risky.

As a copywriter I have seen demand for copy grow enormously over the past few years as everyone suddenly needs a website or a blog, or articles to fill their site. Whilst a large majority of these jobs are legitimate, paying jobs, there are, sadly far too many scams out there lying in wait for the unwary writer.

Almost every week I hear of writers who have written articles, copy or blog posts and then not been paid. There are lots of unscrupulous types out there who are out for all they can get and who will, gladly, take advantage of unwary writers.

Once you know the signs, however, you can protect yourself from these people and only apply for and do paid for writing work.

These then, are my top tips for avoiding writing scams and ensuring you actually earn money from your writing.

Never apply for a job that says: "This would be easy for someone who knows what they're doing." This means the 'employer' doesn't actually think much of writers and is not going to pay a going rate for the work. They generally want lots of work for not a lot of cash, if any cash at all. Steer clear of these postings.

Likewise, avoid any job that says payment will be royalties or pay per click, or that won't pay a fee until the site has earned money. The site will never earn money; you will end up writing for free. These sites will often also say that they will provide you with valuable clips. Really? How valuable to an editor do you think a clip on that particular site will be? Unless it is a well-known magazine or site, the clip is practically worthless.

Even as a beginner, I never wrote for free. I don't believe it is necessary.

Avoid all jobs that are packed full of spelling errors - these jobs don't tend to pay.

Avoid all jobs seeking "lots of writers" - again these jobs hardly ever pay and if they do, they pay peanuts.

Never, ever provide unique specific writing samples to apply for a job. The 'employer' will simply take your samples and use them. You won't hear from them again and you won't get paid.

If you bear these tips in mind when looking at 'writers wanted' ads, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and trouble.

You can make a living as a writer on the internet; you just need to be careful out there.

Copyright © 2012 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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