Freelance Writers: Don't Lie

on August 17, 2009 in Freelance Writing Business
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facts

Don't lie when you're looking for freelance writing work, whether you're advertising your services or responding to the ad of a prospective client. It's common sense, right? Yet freelance writers lie all the time.

Now I'm not suggesting you lie, but I'd like to look at some of the more common types of lies I've seen from writers and why you should never consider it, no matter how bad things get.

Lie #1: Fibbing About Your Educational Background

One particular case comes to mind (won't name names) where a freelance writer lied about having a degree in a specialty area. In truth, they were only pursuing that degree. They were called out publicly by someone and responded by continuing to lie -- saying they never told potential clients they had the degree yet (while there was also public proof that they in fact had).

That wasn't the first time I came across this lie. When I was working in the nonprofit world, an employee was let go from the organization I worked for because they lied about the exact same thing (said they had a degree when they actually hadn't finished the coursework yet). Don't do it. You'll get caught. And when you do, that's a serious credibility killer.

Lie #2: Claiming to be a "Native English Speaker" When You're Clearly Not

Look, you may not like that some clients only want to work with native English speakers. You may not think it's fair, especially if you feel you're a better writer. But it's not always about writing ability. It's also about legal protection. A client knows they may be better protected legally if they hire a writer from the US, UK, Canada, or Australia. Better yet, they may be looking for a writer in their own specific country (the safest move, even if not necessary).


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Think of it this way. If copyright law is different in your country than in the US where the client is, you might legally be able to rip off someone else's article (although you'd still be an unethical shmuck). However, that client would still be breaking the law by publishing that article. If they stuck to hiring a writer from an area covered by the same or similar laws, they might have legal recourse against that writer if they're sued later. If they hire a writer who lied about being a native English speaker or about where they live, then they may be shit outta luck.

Even when it does revolve around language skills alone, it's a reasonable request. Even if you're a fantastic writer in the English language, you have to remember that most ESL folks are not. Why would any client who's targeting an English speaking audience want to wade through a murky swamp of applications and samples from ESL writers who frankly suck just because there might be a gem in there? It makes more sense business-wise for them to narrow the field up front. Yes, some native English speakers can't write. But the client wants to better their odds, and native English speakers are still a safer bet.

Lie #3: Sending False Samples

Okay. This kind of lie from writers royally pisses me off. They don't only lie to prospective clients, but they're blatant thieves as well. What they'll do is simply hijack someone else's writing (sometimes from a book or print magazine so the client won't find it via Copyscape and it will appear to be unique) and call it their own. It would be like me trying to sell a dilapidated crap shack by taking someone on a tour of your nice little McMansion.

The clients are usually completely duped, at least until they get to see the writer's real work. Then they're shocked by the differences and left with unusable garbage. Not a pretty picture (although it does make the rest of us look better).

Remember that everything you do online has the potential to be permanent. A lie now could cause irreparable damage to your career. Things may get tough sometimes, but there's a better solution. Put in some hard work. So even though I can't believe I had to say it in the first place, I'm going to say it again. Freelance writers: don't lie!

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.

6 Comments

  1. Veronica Shine August 17, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jennifer,

    Your sound advice is so true. I live part-time overseas and had a client request I send a copy of my passport to prove I was a native English speaker. I never got the connection but a passport does list where you were born. Now if he requested that we speak on the phone, I am sure he would recognize my New York accent!

    I love the new format. It looks great.

  2. Jennifer Mattern August 17, 2009 Reply

    Veronica – The passport request seems a bit overboard to me. Maybe it’s more common than I think, but I can’t imagine being willing to do that (and it sounds like talking to you would have definitely solved some of the client’s problems).

    Laura – I just can’t get over the fact that some people think that’s okay. The funniest part of it (if any of it is “funny”) is that in the time they spent finding and copying the sample, they probably could have whipped something up of their own. I guess it wouldn’t help if they can’t write though. Why don’t writers like that just partner up with a proofreader or something? Either that, or they should get out of the writing game altogether. Maybe I just expect too much of people. I don’t tolerate dishonesty in any area of my life, so this kind of behavior just disgusts me.

  3. Laura Cross August 17, 2009 Reply

    Jennifer: Thanks for the post. Fake samples are a HUGE problem. I used to find my work all over the Internet attributed to someone else! Aghhh! I no longer post portfolio samples on sites other than my own and I only provide locked PDF samples with my name and contact information embedded in each page of the document Thieves can still work around my ‘security’ precautions but it makes it a little tougher.

  4. Angela Booth August 17, 2009 Reply

    Great article, Jenn.

    Here’s Lie #4: claiming experience you don’t have.

    This is the Master Lie.

    Many writers do this all the time, and then they wonder why they don’t get hired… it’s because people KNOW.

    Unfortunately, this is a silly, silly lie, not only because you’ll get caught out, but also because you’re not making the most of what you are.

    Just admit you’re new, because admitting you’re a newbie is a good marketing tactic.

    In my copywriting courses (FWIW, copywriting is SALES writing, not content writing) I advise my students to admit they’re new.

    Why? Simple.

    Here are three reasons you should admit you’re a new writer:

    * Everyone knows you’re new anyway.

    If I read a writer’s email message, or a blog post, I can tell how many years that person’s been writing. You can’t hide it… Professionals write transparently. Newbies “write”. Buyers know that too, intuitively. They may not be able to articulate how they know, but they know.

    * Buyers know that when you’re new you’re hungrier and you’ll work harder.

    * You’re cheaper.

    Many editors and other buyers of writing prefer to work with new writers. So make the most of your newbie-ness. :-)

    Please, don’t lie to buyers, ever. It kills your self-respect. Be who you are — be proud of it. Take the immortal words of Popeye to heart: “I yam what I yam”.

  5. Kathleen August 18, 2009 Reply

    I guess I’m naive, but I never would have thought someone would lie like this. How can someone expect to build their business? Have can they expect to be treated as a valuable professional if they lie? That just blows my mind.

  6. Trina L. Grant August 18, 2009 Reply

    I once had a client hire me because I had been honest with him. I told him I wasn’t very experienced in a certain niche, but he hired me anyway. He said he appreciated my honesty and was willing to hedge his bets that honesty translated into a strong work ethic. He hired me to do a project and paid me for my research time. He is now a very valued client. We have been able to build a very strong, mutually-respective business relationship. That was one of the best moves I made early in my career.

    I had no intention of lying anyway because, as so many of the other commentators point out, the horror of being caught would be unthinkable. How about ruining your career before it gets started? Or, better yet, destroying a long, admirable career over some forgettable lie about having certain kinds of experience or education? My brain won’t even go there. I cannot imagine doing something stupid to ruin my name and career that I have worked so hard to build. I have found in my wide range of experience, police officers and employers just like it better if you tell the truth.

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