RED FLAGS in Freelance Job Ads! – Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Although I have obtained long-term and well-paying writing gigs through online ads, I’ve also read many ads that raised red flags. Here are a few signs you should not respond.

  1. “No pay.” Accepting non-paying gigs sends the message that it’s okay to not pay writers. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
  2. “Make thousands every week! Easy work!” Grandiose claims indicate some kind of a scam. Making thousands every week doing anything takes a lot of work.
  3. “Intern wanted.” Any ads with extremely detailed, high requirements where they seek an intern are usually scams by people who want cheap but skilled writers.
  4. “Pay TBD.” Their budget is so iffy they can’t even decide how much to pay you? Or, are they trying to conceal their skimpy fees?
  5. “Pay depending upon experience.” Sometimes this is legitimate. Other times, it’s a smokescreen for “We are tight-fisted jerks.”
  6. “Students/housewives wanted.” While some ads use these terms to describe opportunities for people with irregular schedules, they usually mean “our pay stinks.”
  7. “Pay per click/impression.” Many of these companies get content free, and then tell unpaid writers, “No one likes what you wrote and that’s why you earned no money.” Pay-per-click gigs should always be avoided.
  8. “Pays share of future royalties.” Like the last one, you’ll likely receive no money. Lots of people want help on a book or screenplay, thinking that once they “make it big,” they’ll pay you. If you truly believe in their project’s merit, at least build into the contract that you’ll receive a reasonable fee while you’re working on it, plus a percentage of royalties.
  9. “Pay per accepted article.” The key word here is “accepted.” These ads usually commission scads of articles per writer and either pay dismally or reject most of the articles. Who knows if they’ll steal what you sent, or steal your ideas and re-write what you sent?
  10. “Free issues.” Can you pay your phone bill with a free magazine? Any solvent periodical should be able to give you a free copy in addition to your pay, not instead of it.
  11. “Free exposure.” Editors are inundated with queries, and don’t plow through obscure periodicals to find new writers. Also, corporate projects may build your portfolio, but why can’t they pay you something, just as they pay their electrician? If you really have zero experience, try at least to write a freebie for a non-profit organization you care about, not an unknown company that will profit off your work. The only way “free exposure” will benefit you is if that market aligns with the target market of your book or a service you offer and you’re permitted to promote your product or service in the content you submit.
  12. “No writing experience needed.” These ads indicate a company that is trying to pay low fees by claiming they are hiring only inexperienced writers…when their actual goal is to hire skilled writers who are desperate for work and accept their ridiculously low rates. Niche magazines represent an exception to this rule because some editors are willing to brush up a piece written by an expert in the very specialized subject matter who’s new to writing. (This is a good way to break into writing.)
  13. “Need writer.” Extremely vague, short ads are always suspicious to me. Why can’t the person take five minutes and at least tell what the project or periodical is about? Many vague ads want lots of personal information, or have you sign up for their organization before they tell you anything.
  14. “Write term papers.” Writing term papers for students is unethical, period. Don’t Do It!!!
  15. “Send a sample article on this topic.” I’ve responded to ads like this with paid, published articles on the same topic, but the hiring agents insisted only a new article would do. This leads me to think that they want free content. How would you ever know if they use your article in the future? You wouldn’t.
  16. “Only if you are serious about making lots of money.” Or “Drama queens need not apply.” These ads try to incite responses through taunting. A legitimate company will not insult potential applicants and a sensible employer will not place an ad that sounds so bitter.

You can find real writing jobs through online ads. However, do your homework first. Get the entity’s real address. Search online for their company name with the word “scam”. Work only on contract. Ask for half the payment up front and only begin when that payment clears. Ask for the remaining half upon completion.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant has been writing full time since 2000, completing articles, web copy projects, and advertising and marketing materials. Visit her online at