When to Turn Down Freelance Writing Jobs

If you're the type of freelance writer that accepts every writing job that you're offered, you're very likely dooming your writing career. The best writers are always choosy in who they work with. They set standards such as:

  1. The types of clients (or industry / niche of clients) that they'll work with. This allows them to develop a reputation as an expert writer in a certain area, and therefore makes their work more valuable to clients in those specialties.
  2. The minimum rates they'll accept for their work. They might make exceptions once in a while, but for the most part, you won't see a $.50 / word writer settle for a $.02 / word project at any point. Taking gigs below their minimum would be wasting a valuable resource: their time. Instead, that time would be worth more put into marketing efforts to land their next client at the higher rate. Working for too little also decreases your value for future clients (if they find out so and so got your work at $.02 / word, they won't be willing to pay $.50 / word anymore). It can also hurt your reputation within your specialty, because you're essentially telling potential clients that even you don't consider your work worth enough to be firm on your rates, and that you'll simply take anything that comes along for a quick buck.
  3. The ethical standards that they're willing to work within. Far too often, you'll find freelance writers taking gigs they're not comfortable with on a moral basis. It might mean writing adult stories, writing for an industry or political camp they can't support, etc. Professional writers can turn down work if they know they can't be fair and impartial to the client (which you really can't be if you have strong moral objections to them). Taking on work like this can also damage the writer's reputation. You have to remember... what you do now will be with you forever, and someone can always drudge it up. If you plan to be a writer on conservative politics later, it's probably foolish to write about liberal issues, adult stories, etc. now just for the money.

It can be hard to turn down freelance writing jobs, especially if you really need the money. But that's life in freelance writing. Chances are that you're going to struggle early on. It's how to choose to get past that phase that will determine your success or failure as a professional writer. Always keep your eyes set on your long-term goals, and do what you have to do to get there. Taking every gig that comes along, and not being able to say no, usually does nothing more but keep a writer trapped in a series of one low-quality gig after another, because they'll be so busy taking these low-rate freelance writing jobs to earn what they need to get by, that they won't have the time to improve their craft or market their work to other potential clients.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you're offered a freelance writing job, to help you determine whether you should take the gig, or say "no thanks."

  1. Does this gig pay enough to justify the time it's going to take away from other clients, my own writing, my marketing, etc.?
  2. Will this gig do anything to help me build my reputation (is it a very well known client that might lead to future work, is it a small unknown startup without any influence, etc.)?
  3. Am I comfortable with the subject matter of the project, or the business that the client is in? Would this gig potentially damage my reputation with future clients?
  4. Do I really have time for this gig, or would I be overloading myself?
Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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2 thoughts on “When to Turn Down Freelance Writing Jobs”

  1. Yes! It’s scary, but there are definitely times to turn down writing jobs. Good post.

    Anne Wayman

  2. Dear Jennifer,

    Great article. I especially like the first tip — to build a reputation within a certain niche. One of the ways in which a writer can develop a reputation is through a marketplace site like oDesk . After each project, the client rates the freelancer, so freelancers have a way to build a reputation within a network. At oDesk, you set your own rates, so you determine how much you should get paid.

    ~Michelle, oDesk


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