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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clients, Clowns, and Craigslist: Searching for Work Online

I’ve found work on craigslist.org.

Shocked? I can understand why. Every few weeks, I take a spin around craigslist.org posts looking for writers. The overwhelming majority of them are, quite frankly, ridiculous. I see rates like $.02/word, or $15 for a 500-word article—but with the promise of as much work as you can want.

Woo hoo! As much poorly-paid work as you want! Um…thanks, but no thanks.

But here’s the thing. I have gotten work from craigslist postings over the last four years. I’ve written for a local magazine and a custom publisher that posted looking for freelancers. And I’ve even found ghosting work from craigslist, including two book proposals. As a result, I’ve gotten good at deciphering craigslist.org ads.

Language like “perfect for new or inexperienced writers” or “students encouraged to apply” is craigslist-speak for “we don’t pay.” Avoid ads that promise “exposure” for your work (remember, people die from exposure!) or that say you’ll be paid from royalties. I also skip the ones that ramble on about the person’s personal experience with drugs/crime/sex/fill-in-the-blank story or talk about a “shocking cover-up” or “unbelievable-but-true” tale.

So, what should you look for? Your mileage may vary, but for me, a promising ad:

*Provides a description of the project. “Need a writer for my book; send a resume with your qualifications” doesn’t give me any idea if it’s worth my time.
*Asks for writers with experience. That tells me the poster values my abilities and wants a good writer instead of the cheapest he can get.
*Describes actual compensation (as opposed to “a share in the proceeds” or some other nebulous amount). Or, it may say “DOE,” or depending on experience.
*Sounds like a person with a brain wrote it. I like working with smart people, and if someone’s one-paragraph ad is riddled with mistakes or misspellings, I doubt that he has much promise as a client—at least as a client of mine. (Want to know more about how to separate potential clients from clowns? I've got a whole chapter in Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books on this very subject!)

What about you? Have you found work on craigslist? Are there any words or phrases you look for to weed out potential gigs?

5 comments:

  1. I haven't found any work on craigslist. But I have found many laughs. A favorite phrase of mine: "This won't take anytime at all." All of your examples are great ones.

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  2. I, too, browse periodically, but I have not found any work either. I am amazed as well at the amount of ads asking writers to work for a pittance, or for free. I can only assume that they too are working for free. However, I doubt they would agree to doing the same thing ;-)

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  3. Yes! Kelly, I did find work on Craigslist. A Regional Parenting Magazine posted for a freelance contributor and I got work from that. What tipped me that it was legit? The magazine actually divulged its identity in the ad. Thanks for a great post.

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  4. I've gotten a few gigs from CL over time and a few longer term jobs, but I think I must have the best CL luck ever b/c I've also gotten several roommates, several apartments, a cat, and two cars (one of which sucked, one of which is my dream car) on there. I've also used CL to find clients. Same rules apply: look out for legit email addresses, non-sketchy requests, and make people pay half up front via PayPal.

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  5. I look through once in a while, but the prospects are nowhere near as what they once were. I used to find several jobs through Craigslist ads, and while writing this comment, I realized that I haven't in over a year.

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