Red Flag Phrases To Avoid In Freelance Help Wanted Ads By Angela Hoy

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Last week, I received two letters from readers complimenting us on only running quality job ads. While I do occasionally screw up and get “had” by a bad one, I try very hard each week to avoid the questionable/seedy ads, and only run ads that are for real companies that pay writers real money.

I admit I get pretty upset when I see my writing website colleagues running ads that are obviously questionable or unethical, if not downright scams (pay per click, term paper mills, etc.) and, unfortunately, when I write to them to complain, they usually ignore my emails. One exception is FundsforWriters. Hope Clark will immediately remove any questionable ads to protect her readers. It’s too bad that many freelance writing sites care more about how much content they put on their sites than they do about protecting their readers from the sharks in our industry.

I thought it would be a good idea this week to share a list of “red flag” words and phrases that I look for when scouring the job boards. These might help you avoid being scammed when doing your next online job search.


Start-up – This often means little (or no) pay and, if the new company doesn’t succeed, you’ll probably never get your last paycheck.

“Employment Ad” which leads to no job ad at all – Watch out for those ads that simply lead you to a for-cost service for writers, such as a subscription-based service that requires writers to pay for actual job listings. These listings are often simply links to job ads already appearing freely online. Running deceptive “employment ads” like this is unethical and writers should avoid companies that play that game.

“On Site Freelance” – On site usually means “employee”, not freelance. Companies that require freelancers to work on site may simply be ignorant, or may be trying to avoid paying employment taxes, overtime, and insurance costs for those workers. If you must work at their location, on their schedule, using their tools, you are probably an employee (even if you’re only working part-time) and likely entitled to all the benefits of employment, including overtime pay (if you work overtime hours), the employer’s portion of FICA and Medicare contributions, as well as medical insurance and other benefits given to their employees. If you believe your “employer” is taking advantage of you in this way, please contact the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor. You are probably entitled to back-pay and benefits. There’s a great list of items detailing this subject HERE.

Project must be completed “ASAP!” – Many writers do work in a hurry for companies that demand immediate turn-around, often for promises of big pay on completion. However, the company never seems to have time to send a contract to the writer. This is a common scam and many of these writers, after pushing everything else aside for this “lucrative project”, never get paid at all and never hear from the company again. Don’t write without a contract! And, if a company needs immediate turn-around, request a down-payment for your trouble and for your own security.

“Editing/Writing Test Required” – Legitimate writing or editing tests mean taking the exact same test that all the other writers/editors take. Some companies ask writers/editors to rewrite/edit “sample chapters” from books or other items. However, they ask different writers to rewrite/edit different chapters and, before you know it, all those writers applying for the phony job have completed the entire project for the scammer.

“Revenue Sharing” – This is an old one, just like the old pay-per-click scenario. All writers either get a percentage (a minuscule percentage!) of the advertising revenue or they get paid a few pennies or less per click. You can read writers’ experiences with these types of firms in my article HERE.

“Freelance Blogger” – First, let me say there are some real blogger jobs out there and there are more each week. According to Richard Hoy (yeah, my hubby), who sets up the blogs for BookLockerauthors, a blog is a running commentary on a subject, presented in “diary” format, made possible through special software that makes publishing the commentary on the Internet easy and quick. Unfortunately, many blogger ads currently appearing online are offering revenue sharing and pay-per-click payments only. This is really no different from the “revenue sharing” scheme mentioned above. If you don’t have control of marketing for a company, why should your pay depend on their marketing expertise (or lack thereof)? There are also many blog “employment ads” online now offering no pay, just “exposure.” Please don’t fall for that one, either.

“Payment in stock / stock options” – Come on now! If a company can’t afford to pay you even a few dollars for your work, do you really think this company is going anywhere? I’ve been in this business since 1997 and I’ve never met a writer who wrote for stock that ended up being worth anything at all.

US$1.50-US$3.00 per 1000 page views – This is a pay-per-click deal. is currently (and heavily) soliciting writers (we have refused to run their ads for years because of all the complaints we’ve received about them). We heard they recently fired a bunch of their editors. They require new editors to write weekly articles and blog posts. And, be sure to read the fine print to see who owns all rights to the work after you post it there! You can read more complaints about this firm HERE and HERE.

“$1.50 per article” or some other ridiculously low amount – This one is really self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many writers actually fall for this one, thinking they can write as many articles as they want and get rich off this scheme. It never happens and these cheapskate firms usually go out of business and leave many writers unpaid. Or, they then start charging writers to write for them. If the company looks like a cheapskate, they usually are! Don’t expect them to suddenly get generous overnight. Their fists just get tighter and tighter when they realize their scheme isn’t working as they’d hoped.

“Trial period” – These companies are promising payment later, after you prove yourself. Does your doctor have to work for free, in exchange for possible payment on future illnesses? Does your lawn guy forego pay today, only to be paid at the end of the season if your grass is greener? Of course not. You shouldn’t either! If your resume and clips or writing samples aren’t enough, the company is taking advantage of you. And, chances are, they’ll never pay any writers anything. They’ll simply keep “hiring” gullible newbies to provide them with free content.

“Unpaid at outset” – Need we say more? If a company can’t afford to pay writers and has no funding, why are they even in business? Don’t waste your time fueling someone else’s pipe dream or hobby. These so-called publishers either get tired of spending their own money on their little project, or simply get bored with their hobby and move on to another one. It’s a good idea to search your favorite search engine for a business owner’s / editor’s name as well as the company name to see what they’ve been up to in the past.

“Writer/Ghost Writer Needed to Write My Story/Biography – Will Be Best Seller!” – Many (narcissistic?) individuals really believe their life story will make a best selling book. But, they claim they can’t write it. So, they want to “hire” a real writer to do all the work for only a vague promise of future royalties and that “big movie deal.” If someone wants you to work for only empty promises of future riches, run the other way. Real ghost writers charge hefty fees or receive generous advances for these projects. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm…about themselves.

“Term Papers / Research Papers” – These jobs are sometimes masked under the heading “academic writers.” Companies that are in the business of helping children and young adults cheat are truly the scum of our entire industry. If you don’t want your children (or your children’s future doctor!) buying their schoolwork off the Internet someday, don’t write for these horrible companies! As I stated above, many of my colleagues are running ads for these outfits. When you see these ads, please, PLEASE complain to the website owner that ran the ad!

“Anthology” – The vast majority of anthologies require all potential contributors to do all the work up front (they don’t accept queries – only complete manuscripts), with no guarantee of publication and subsequent payment. In fact, many anthologies don’t pay writers at all, take all publication rights, and won’t even send you a free copy of the book (you have to buy a copy). Unless an anthology accepts queries and then offers a contract and payment, without requiring hundreds or thousands of writers to write on spec, and unless they offer you a free copy of the print book your work appears in, avoid it. Anthologies are published for profit. Do not write for anthologies for free or believe their empty promises of “getting noticed by having your story published in our book!” Nobody shops for writers in anthologies. In fact, most editors and publishers are far too busy wading through their slush piles to shop for writers at all, so you should never believe those “get noticed!” or “gain exposure!” or “get seen by agents!” ads.

Illiterate Ads – Ads that are full of misspelled words and grammatical errors don’t mean this person really needs a writer. It means this person is uneducated or doesn’t care about their reputation and has no business running a business. Some of the worst scammers we’ve investigated had some of the worst English skills we’ve seen.

Identical ads that appear on several websites – Most companies are inundated after running one or two ads online. If a company runs dozens, something is fishy and you should proceed with great caution. These ads are often trying to sell something instead of trying to hire somebody. Or, they may be collecting numerous stories they have no intention of paying for.

Job ads that feature a URL that doesn’t work (with a free email address, such as hotmail) – If you can’t find this person online, other than through a free email address, this should raise some huge red flags for you.

“Perfect job for students and housewives” or “no experience required” – This strongly implies rock-bottom pay…if any pay at all.

“Intern needed” – For those of you who don’t know, intern usually means no pay…but not always. Tread through job ads these with great caution.

I suggest you also avoid companies that have changed their name (look for complaints under their old name) and ones that claim they’re “under new management.” Both of these imply they’ve had problems in the past. Don’t gamble your time and money on a company that has gone to these extremes to try to change the public’s perception of their business. If they’ve gone under once, owing money to others, chances are it’s going to happen again, and again. The Internet is full of entrepreneurs who have failed at one website after another, only to launch under a new name a couple of weeks later, thus starting the cycle all over again.

Here are some examples of really bad “employment ads” I found online just this week:

Promising (but not really) exposure…for 430 pages of work?! Ack!

“English to Spanish Translator wanted for a non-fiction book consisting of 430 pages. If selected, your photo and particulars will be considered for mention in the book. which can result in more jobs for you through the sale of each book. It will be considered but is not being promised in this posting.”

$100K?! Yeah…right!

“Female writer to write romance poetry book consisting of poems and short stories. I will handle marketing, promotions, etc… Compensation: Potentially $100K.”

You want me to write for you…not even knowing how much you *might” pay me?

“We are currently accepting articles on spec. Payments will be made upon publishing. Compensation: To Be Determined.”

One of those anthologies…

“Mom stories. Send your 500-word story with photos of you. If we publish your story, we’ll pay you $50.”

Fancy term for “no pay…and probably never will be”

“Alas, there is no payment to begin with but if everything goes to plan compensation will be retrospective.”

Fancy term for a pay-per-click blog…and do I really need to go into detail about how ridiculous this ad is?

“Post your material to a weblog and earn cash from your hobby/profession! Write about what you know. Write about Who you know. Just Write daily! This is not MLM, there is no product to sell. Content read by untold amounts of individuals. Good Luck and Write, Write, Write, Write, Write, Write, Write!!!!”

Real publications do NOT run ads for writers that say:

“EARN $$$!!!!!”

At least they’re honest – but these types of ads scream “LOW PAY!!!”

“…you won’t get rich on it.”

What this actually says is, “Can you please help me cheat?”

“I need an experienced writer for my masters thesis…”

What this really means is they get content for their website and you get nothing.

“We give novice writers a platform to showcase their work!”

Remember to always, ALWAYS look for complaints about a company online before wasting your time applying for a job there. When I’m researching companies, I usually just google the company’s name along with the word “complaint” or the term “owes me money”. This has worked very well in the past. Remember, if there’s one complaint about a company, it might just be a fluke. If there’s more than one, I suggest you seek work elsewhere.

If any of you find some really bad employment ads online, I’d love to hear from you! Send the link to:

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of and BookLocker. is the free marketing emag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers in the industry.

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