Is That “Intern” Position Really Seeking a PROFESSIONAL Writer? – Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you’ve looked at online ads for writing jobs or gigs lately, you’ve likely read headlines such as “Writing freelancer/intern…” The body of the ad stresses how much skill, talent and experience they seek, even “rock star” quality (which makes me muse why they want someone who dresses bizarrely and plays electric guitar).

But back to the headline. Do they mean freelancers are equivalent to interns, people who have little to no experience, working for free while they complete their education? Yet the ads usually demand top-quality, experienced writers.

Interning at an established periodical is legitimate; however, these ads have nothing to do with mentoring and educating inexperienced writers and everything to do with generating a cheap (or free) labor force.

I am not willing to give away my work to a starving artist on a collaboration/memoir, start-up company, fledgling e-zine, the Next Big Thing website, or sob story charity of dubious legitimacy. I have a bachelor’s degree, six years’ experience in the workforce as a non-writer, plus 12 years’ experience as a full-time, paid freelance writer. And, I have bills to pay.

The ads often try to lure writers with “exposure” and “experience” in lieu of money. I am sure the people who place these ads do not tell their plumber, doctor or trash collection company, “Sorry. We don’t pay. But we’ll give you exposure and experience.”

The plumber, doctor, trash collector and I already get paid for what we do. We don’t need exposure or experience via piddling little entities that will never grow large enough to matter. In fact, even if those who place the ads become the next Microsoft, would anyone ever know I wrote their first press release? Do you have any idea who wrote the first press release for any prominent company?

Some even offer stock options, shares of royalties or other pie in the sky means of payment. If they have no money now, the fact is they will likely never have money.

Others try to plea with you to write true art benefiting humanity. This is why I don’t like calling what I do “art” because it evokes the notion of a “starving artist” and that, since I enjoy what I do, I must suffer financially. “Art” implies I must write because the muse compels me and wanting decent money for it cheapens and soils the artistic process. Does that mean if my kids’ pediatrician enjoys children they should get a free check-up? Or that if the tree surgeon likes being outdoors, I should get a free tree limb removal?

Writers need to build a portfolio and gain experience; however, you can accomplish both of these by writing for legitimate, paying companies. Here are a few examples of ways to do this.

Ask your daily newspaper if they need someone to cover school sports, town board meetings or other events. These are huge time vacuums for staffers who are paid by the hour. Freelancers can snap up these beats easily, especially if their children play school sports or if they’re interested in local politics and business.

Research other local and regional periodicals and see what matches your background and expertise. Don’t forget about trade periodicals and special interest consumer publications. There is a magazine for everything under the sun.

Pitch yourself as ghost blogger for a company that does what you did/do in your non-writing life. Sell yourself on what you know, not your not-so-extensive writing experience. As you gain bylines, query to better paying markets and assignments.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes web copy, marketing materials and articles for magazines and newspapers. Visit her online at