Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Freelance: When To Let a Client Go!

In addition to my fabulous day job as a theatre teacher, I take on freelance writing assignments. These jobs add a little extra income to my writing account and help me develop my skills in new directions. I've been doing this for a year and can look back and say that I've learned a lot. I've discovered the art of the blog, the craziness of writing articles on subjects I knew nothing about, the nuance of the short "short" story, and how to deal with crazy clients.

It's that last thing I really want to touch on today. I'd like to offer some free advice for those of you putting a toe into the water of freelance writing: be choosy about who you work for. When I began my freelance work, I was intimidated by my clients. I didn't charge as much as I could have and didn't complain about some of the editing changes I was asked to make even though I disagreed with many of them.

I just did what I was told!

Like anything though, the more experience you gain, the more you start to learn the ropes. In the last few months, I've really begun to speak up if I think a client is off base, too demanding, or down right mean. Oh yes, there are mean clients out there who think it's okay to be overly critical because they are paying you. Don't get me wrong. If I'm getting paid well, I'm apt to be more careful in my responses, more willing to rewrite a story, edit an article, or if the client is right, make major changes. But when you are only getting paid $20 for a 1600 word assignment, I tend to be a little more forthcoming about my feelings when a client berates me.

Recently, I'd been working on a series of short stories that felt like a dream job when I first got hired. I liked the idea of the character I was hired to write about, as well as, the situations he would be in. I supported the client's big dreams of what these stories could mean for his website and how they might influence readers. Then I started writing the stories and that's where the trouble began. See, the client (we'll call him...Monkey Man) wanted to give me every detail of the story to the point of where I wondered why he didn't just write the damn thing himself. If I tried to give the character any type of personality, Monkey Man would tell me I was being too negative or --get this-- too imaginative. The character I was writing about was, according to him, supposed to be creative--not imaginative.

Gee. I always thought the two were linked.

The problem was that I'd really started to see a vision of this character and what his full potential could be. He could have been engaging, three dimensional, the kind of character people relate to. It just wasn't what Monkey Man wanted. Damn, my imagination! (shakes fist)

Now, if this had been my first freelance job, I would have sucked it up and just done as I was told. Much of my freelance work is done as a ghostwriter anyway. I do the writing and the client takes it and calls it their own. This time was very different though. My name was on the work. People would forever associate this set of stories with Mary Ann Loesch. That bugged me because I really hated what I was writing. I had originally thought that I could infuse my own style into the work, making it better, but it felt that every time I attempted to do so, the client shut me down. The other problem was that because he was paying me, I was obligated to write how he wanted.

After a crazy email argument where it became obvious that I would lose the moral battle over the latest story, I knew I had to make a decision. I politely told Monkey Man that we'd come to a parting of the ways. Our visions just clashed too much. He seemed genuinely surprised at this.

I understand the meaning of the phrase "artistic differences" now.

This doesn't mean that I'm always right when it comes to writing, but I've learned that I'm not always wrong either. The best advice I can offer for those dealing with a tough editor or freelance client is do not be a door mat. On the otherhand, don't be a jerk either! Consider the possibilities (even the ones where you might be wrong and the client could be right) and go with your gut.

Also, stay away from clients who tell you not to use your imagination for creative writing.


  1. A hard lesson, but a good one, eh? There's a lot to be said for experience! I'm glad you're free of Monkey Man. On to...Cat Woman?

  2. I think you did the right thing. Like you, I can't help wondering why Monkey Man didn't just write it himself if he was so convinced that all of his ideas were the right ones. It sounds like he wanted to feel like he was in complete control, which isn't fair to you.

  3. Not having Monkey Man on my workload has been wonderful! It's freed up a lot of stress in my writing life and allowed me to move on to other projects!

  4. Funny how a client who purposely hired a creative writer would get so bent out of shape when the writer began to write creatively! Clients can be so strange, sometimes. You wonder what's really compelling them.

  5. I know! I just have to be careful about the jobs I take.