Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: Find the Right Writer, Don’t Drive That Writer Away! (Part One)


While this post is aimed primarily at businesses who want to hire a writer, I’m sure many of my fellow writers will relate to the material.

Notice that I didn’t title this post “Finding the BEST Writer.” Because “best” has permutations.

A technically brilliant writer can be the less-than-best choice if said writer can’t empathize and then communicate a proprietor’s passion for his/her business, or if the writer doesn’t understand (or isn’t interested) in the business and how to communicate it to the audience. The technique might be there, but if the copy is bloodless, it won’t engage and enlarge the audience.

A passionate writer who is delighted by the business can be the less-than-best-choice if said writer doesn’t have the technical capacity and the craft to sculpt the words into creative, engaging copy.

The “best” writer for any particular project has craft skills, understanding of the business, understanding of the target audience, and knows how to merge those different facets into something unique and wonderful that enchants an audience.

How is this mysterious creature, as elusive as a Unicorn, discovered and enticed? Is there a business/writer matchmaking service?

There are plenty of services who will claim to do just that — weed out the chaff, find you the best writer wheat. Regard their claims with a grain of salt. Don’t just ask for a client list and read those clients” websites. Ask the service which materials their personnel created for those clients, confirm with the client, and ask for samples.

I’ve been on both sides of working with agencies. When I started in theatre, I worked for temp agencies all over the country in various administrative capacities, and I learned how to write copy for a variety of different fields. I’ve also signed with so-called “creative” agencies who claim to pair marketing/business writers with clients. Nine times out of ten, the agency paid no attention to my strengths, my knowledge base, my skills. I was sent to a client because there was an open slot, not because I was the best person on their roster for the slot. I work with words, not numbers. I am not a bookkeeper. I am a writer. When I worked in major cities, I was at least sent out for writing, editing, development, or administrative work. Outside of major cities — far too often, I was told I was being sent to an accounting department. When I reminded the hiring manager that’s not what I do, the answer was “Oh, I’m sure you’ll pick it up.” That is not fair to me or to the client. Match the person to the job.

On the other side of the equation, I’ve been hired by companies after they’ve wound up with a mess because an agency sent in someone who was unqualified for the job. A writer may have shown up, but it wasn’t the right writer for the job. Or the person sent wasn’t a writer, but an administrator or a file clerk or a receptionist or a bookkeeper. Don’t send a writer to do a bookkeeper’s job and don’t send a bookkeeper to a job for press releases and thank you letters written for donations. Pretty basic, but far too many agencies ignore this.

A staffing agency that sends in a writer to work with a company is different than hiring a marketing firm to handle your advertising, marketing, and promotional needs. Those firms usually have (or hire in on contract) a team for each part of the marketing operation. I’ll discuss marketing firms in a future post.

Granted, I am atypical of many marketing and business writers in that I translate audience engagement techniques I use in fiction and scriptwriting to communicate a business’s message and grow their audience. Even though I am a multi-genre, Renaissance writer instead of a niche writer, I’m still a writer. Words are my medium. My approach is not a standard, corporate box style. I approach each client as though they are exciting and fascinating, and I craft marketing campaigns unique to each of them. The plans may share elements, but content and approach is individual.

I read quite a few ads, to have an idea of what’s out there, although I don’t respond to that many any more (details on that in an upcoming post).

How To Turn Off Skilled, Qualified Candidates
What makes me skip over an ad? Besides content-mill scale of work and pay?

“Must be able to multi-task in a fast-paced environment. Job duties include answering the phone, scheduling clients, correspondence, filing, Quickbooks, Photoshop, updating website, blog, social media, Instagram, and writing press releases and marketing materials.”

Of course, the above job pays minimum wage with no benefits. So, I’m supposed to be a photography whiz, a tech whiz, a bookkeeper (see above), a file clerk, general admin, a receptionist, AND carry the marketing and social media load? For minimum wage?

Uh, no.

You want well-written material that actually grows your business? Your writer can’t be interrupted by phone calls every thirty seconds How many blog posts a week do you expect? Is your new hire researching and writing them, ghost-writing them, or fine-tuning ones written by others? Good writing needs uninterrupted work time. Also, you’re not going to get said well-written materials for minimum wage.


“Must be flexible, energetic, able to move between a variety of marketing tasks. Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite. Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public services.”

This job is a couple of bucks an hour above minimum wage, again, with no benefits. The “flexible” translates to “hours outside of normal business hours.” For someone at the beginning of the career, interested in the company, maybe.

“Moving between variety of tasks” — no problem. Can make things more interesting, although the subtext is that there’s grunt work involved. Hauling boxes, setting up chairs for events, etc.

“Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite.” Deal breaker #1. An employer does not tell me what equipment I need to own in order to be considered for the job. If special equipment is required for the job, the employer provides it. Period. I am not going to be tied to a type of phone or pay the monthly Adobe fee for the employer. Especially when those items end up costing more than I’d earn.

“Oh, but everyone has an iPhone.”

No. Everyone does not have an iPhone. And a personal phone is different than a business phone.

“Maybe they pay the monthly Adobe fee and you just have to use it on your laptop. They’ll give you the log-in.”

Then state it in the ad.

The exception to the above is if there’s a payment that in theatre and film we used to call a “kit fee.” If we brought in our own kits, our own equipment, we were paid a daily rate on top of our regular pay. Somehow, I don’t think the above employer has ever heard of a kit fee or would pay it.

“Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public.” Deal breaker #2. First of all, the subtext is that I have to show up for work in a blizzard or a hurricane. Second, unless you provide me with a company car for “reliable transportation,” you don’t tell me how to get to work, or tell me I can’t use public transportation.


“Please write a sample piece of 800 words including these topics (lists topics) so we can make sure you understand our business.”

One of the oldest scams in the book, along with the three-card Monte. This is a way a “business” rakes in articles provided as “samples,” tells the candidates the business went in a different direction, and then has months’ worth of content without paying for it.


“Our client is looking for . . .”

Means there’s a middleman doing the screening and hiring. The client is overpaying, and I’ll be underpaid.

Next. Some writers are okay with this; I’d rather not.

“Fast-paced, flexible environment, dealing with a large variety of personalities.”

Translation: An office full of neurotic, nasty assholes.


“But if it’s the right writer, it wouldn’t matter anyway. The ‘right’ writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered.”

No. The desperate writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered. The fresh, new writer trying to build a portfolio may put up with anything that’s offered for a short period of time. Sometimes, everyone will luck out and it’s the best fit. But the truly talented writers will stay away from the above.

So what should an ad include?

That’s our topic next Wednesday! Stay tuned.

Hello and WTH?

Another Freelance Writing Blog? You’ve GOT to be Kidding Me!

Is there a need for yet another blog full of freelance writing advice? When there are blogs like Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page, Jenn Mattern’s Kiss My Biz, and Tara Lynne Groth’s Write Naked!, Angela Hoy’s Writers Weekly, Cathy Miller’s Simply Stated Business, Sharon Hurley Hall, and Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Writer? I could easily list another dozen terrific sites.

So, the short answer is “Hell, no!”

But I’m doing it anyway.

Hey, look, if you enjoy watching the way the creative sausages are made, hop on over to my five-days-a-week blog, Ink in My Coffee. You can follow my fiction, plays, radio work, screenplays, etc. from concept through publication or production. You can follow the way the writing affects my life, and the life affects my writing and how I try (and sometimes fail) to keep them in balance. You can follow the way I don’t believe any of us can be apolitical at this juncture in our history.

So what the heck is going on here?

Something a little different.

Ink-Dipped Advice is geared to both clients who want to hire a writer (even if the client decides not to hire me) and to writers who want to find clients, but don’t want to get trapped in many of the freelance prisons we build for ourselves.

Why am I doing this?

Because, as much as I adore the above-listed bloggers, respect what they’ve achieved, go to them for advice – I do things differently.

My background is not traditional business – I spent the bulk of my life in theatre. That has strengthened my marketing writing and opened out my abilities in a huge way. I have an international, ever-growing client base, and can and do a wide range writing on an even wider range of topics. Browse the rest of the website and you’ll see.

When you seek out writing advice, you will hear that you HAVE to have a niche. That you won’t earn any money, or worse, only have the option to be a content mill writer if you don’t niche.

For me, that is complete and utter B.S.

Hey, if there’s a single topic you love and want to focus on, if you WANT to niche – go for it. Write your passions. Your writing will be better for it, provided you put in the work to develop your craft.

But I am the Anti-Niche, or, as I prefer to call it a Renaissance Writer. And it works for me.

I became a writer because I find the world an interesting, fascinating place. I don’t want to lead a single life. I want to lead many lives. Writing allows me to follow anything that interests me, learn about it, become it, and earn my living at it.

Saying “no” to poorly paid work was a hard lesson, but the best lesson I’ve ever learned. Do I negotiate? To a point. But I go into my meetings knowing my negotiation range. If it’s below my rate, I don’t do it. The potential client goes on to find someone who will work for that rate, and I find a client who pays me my rate. We’re both happy. We both find the matches that work best for us.

I take on clients whose passions, work, interests, and missions intrigue and engage me. Then, I expand on their message, I help them refine it, expand it, and communicate it in a way that engages and enlarges their audience. Which allows them to make more money.

This isn’t THE WAY to do things. It’s ONE way. The way that works for me.

Here, I will share what I’ve tried, and how it’s worked, or not worked. I’m not telling tales out of school on my clients. A great deal of my work, especially the ghostwritten work, is confidential. I have no intention of breaking my word to my clients.

But it might be interesting, for individuals on both sides of the table, to see different ways of working. To see the creative process. Some clients don’t care about the writer’s creative process. Some writers don’t care what the clients are going through unless it affects their piece directly. But maybe if each side of the table understood the other a bit more closely, it would be easier to find the right match, and to work with good people whose process is very different.

Something just might work for you.

Or it might reinforce what doesn’t work for you, and remind you that you’re happier in the choices you’ve made.

But they’re YOUR choices, and that matters.

For the moment, Wednesday is my designated day for this blog. Join me on the adventure!