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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clients, Clowns, and Craigslist: Searching for Work Online

I’ve found work on

Shocked? I can understand why. Every few weeks, I take a spin around 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 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?