I had just finished graduate school and needed a job. The problem with getting a Master’s in English with emphasis in Creative Writing is that there is no career development course in the curriculum. There may not be one in any other major either, but with this particular course of study, it seems to be completely necessary.  If you’re really interested in being a teacher, you’ve got it made. Otherwise, you’re SOL.

But, I had to do what I know how to do best, so I set out to write. First, I started by writing and pitching to magazines, journals, and the like, but to no avail. Apparently, you need an “agent” and have many, many articles or stories “published already”. But you typically need to be published to get an agent in the literary world. It’s a terrible standard to have to live up to.

Turns out, even if you do get through and published by, let’s say, the New Yorker, it’s not lucrative until you’re a successful writer, anyway. But, if I’m going to be honest, my real talent isn’t in storytelling, and I realized that quickly.

So I was still in the same bind as before. How do I make money by doing what I know how to do? Naturally, I said, I’ll just be a freelance writer!

What an adventure it’s been.

The adventure began (and nearly ended) on Elance.com. Here is my story.

Client A – The first of the last

With how Elance is set up, it took me a few pitches to get my bids accepted. I couldn’t just throw any monetary number out there and hope it stuck. I’ve got mouths to feed, after all. I had to be competitive without knowing what other people were bidding, had to rely on my expertise as a writer, and had to make sure I made it clear that I was the best candidate for them. Unfortunately, the world we live in is run by money, and there are people out there that will work for a lot less than you will. Imagine that!

No matter – I was really excited to have a gig. My boyfriend (now husband) and I celebrated with two bottles of wine.

I’m glad we did because it was the only good thing about the project.

My pitch was accepted so I started a dialogue with the client. They said they wanted a brochure set up with a few trimmings. I figured, Doesn’t seem so hard…

I researched the topic, found some really interesting royalty-free photos that I could use for them, formatted it to fit their needs, and saved enough space to give additional information on the topic, outside the original standards.

I submitted the project about two weeks after my bid was accepted, which was about two weeks before the due date. What can I say? I wasn’t busy with other things. I waited a week to hear back from the client. I sent them a message. I waited another week. I sent them another message. Finally, two weeks after I sent in the project, they got back to me. Here’s a little snippet from the message I got:


We’ve reviewed your work and decided that it is not up to our standards. We’ve done our own research on the topic and put together our own brochure, so we will not be using your work.”

If my work had actually been unsatisfactory, that would have been perfectly fine. I get rejected all the time when I submit stories and poems to journals. I’m down with failure. But, it chapped my backside that they actually did use my brochure, but did not pay me for the work I had completed for them. All they did was change the titles of the sub-sections. Everything else was word-for-word.

I went through Elance’s policies and found that they did have a section that talked about what to do in this situation. So I went through the proper channels, but because the client had become unresponsive, they could not do anything about it. Their account was no longer valid, so the money couldn’t be withdrawn automatically. There was nothing left to do.

Luckily, they didn’t leave a review (a false one, at that) on my page.

Clients: 1, Genevieve: 0

Client B – The second of the last

I had another bid accepted. This client wanted a blog edited and spruced up for SEO purposes. They sent me the blog posts in Word documents.

I began editing right away and actually found the blog really interesting, so I enjoyed working on it. It was littered with grammatical errors, misspellings, and other common mistakes for someone who works quickly, so I fixed them, added a few keywords (though, it really didn’t need much work in this sense), and then shipped each blog entry back to the client.

On the fifth day or so, I received a message from Elance telling me that the project had been cancelled. I was a little upset, but I figured there must have been a good reason. So, naturally, I checked my account and saw this (the examples in the parentheses are examples of the correct way to do things, as noted by the client):

“As a community college English major, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the English language. But, Genevieve sent me the work riddled with more errors than I sent it out with. She used commas where she shouldn’t (its red, white and blue Genevieve!). She did not know the difference between your and you’re (I said, “Your a fool!”). She consistently put [sic] after the quotes in the entry. Why is it sick, Genevieve? …”

The note went on and on about how incompetent I was and how little I knew about the English language and that I should be kicked off the site for misrepresenting what I could do. I’ll give her the first example she gave. Most of the time, this rule (the comma is called the Oxford comma and is commonly omitted in newspapers to save space) is considered wrong… but not by anyone reputable. The rest, though? Well, I think you can see.

She then left a very unsavory review of my work on my homepage for the Elance world to see. Of course, I didn’t get paid either.

Clients: 1 ½, Genevieve: 0

Client C – The last straw

I met many good people on Elance, too. In fact, there are people whom I still work for to this day. Unfortunately, that was all ruined with the bad apples.

Literally, in this case.

This particular client wanted me to write an e-book on apple trees. I won’t go into specifics, because, well, who really cares about apple trees until they give you apples for pie, but I’ll tell you that it was a little daunting at first.

I had a month to produce the project, so I worked tirelessly doing research, double checking facts, and making sure I got pictures. After I had a draft put together, I sent the project to a professor I had in graduate school that doubled as a horticulturist on his farm in upstate New York. I wanted no excuses on this project. The client wasn’t going to be able to turn it down.

He sent the project back a few days later, calling the work “immaculate,” “flawless,” and “ready for publish in trade journals across the world.” Maybe he didn’t call it publish ready for trade journals, but immaculate and flawless were definitely in there.

With his expertise backing me, I felt confident that I could send it in without any hiccups.

After they received it, I got this message:

“Genevieve, we wanted an e-book.”

Confused, I double checked my notes on what exactly an e-book was, how to create one, and all the trimmings that typically went into an e-book. I sent this message back to them:

“That’s what I gave you. Is there something wrong with it?”

They sent this message back:

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

We then sent a few more messages back and forth and I told them that I had produced exactly what they wanted, to which they replied in the negative. They weren’t going to pay me, so I went to Elance to get their support and to get my money. They were little help as they fought through whatever bureaucratic red tape held them back. Finally, I got them to agree to pay me at least a quarter of the original bid. They then left a bad review on my page.

I told my boyfriend what had happened. He was incensed. He knew how much work I had put into that project and what the final payout was going to be (which we needed to make rent that month). Angrier than I had ever seen him, he picked up my ultrabook (link provided to show just exactly how much I was going to have to shell out to get a new one – a pretty penny for us poor folk) and threw it against the wall.

We then spent the rest of the night trying to put it back together, to no avail. We sat in silence with two bottles of wine.

Clients: 2 ½, Genevieve: 0

All in all, we all have to work with clients that are fickle or don’t want to pay. But at the end of the day, we still need to make money and the more you can put up with, the more you will succeed. After my experience on Elance with these particular clients, I closed my account in hopes of putting an end to the sullying of my young freelance career. But that didn’t mean that I had to stop being a freelancer. There are so many great sites out there (as I’ve become more familiar with AllFreelanceWriting.com, the more I am impressed with their honesty and ability to parse out the good and the bad, which is something that is lacking in many job fields today).

So don’t be discouraged. Just keep at it and you’ll do well… one day.