A: There aren’t any set rules for spotting scams, but there are some red flags you can watch for. A company that says it’s looking for, say, 100 mini-articles on skiing and then tells you to send a 200-word sample on skiing so the editor can “see your writing style” is probably gathering free material. A legit company would just ask for writing samples on any topic.
Another one to watch for is the company that says “payment to be discussed” just so it can get its listing into a major job site for writers. The catch is that when you contact the company, it actually “pays” in one of these ways: by the click (perhaps $.02 every time someone clicks on your story), with a link to your Web site, with exposure, or with a whopping $.005/word. (Yes, that’s HALF A CENT per word!)
Here’s one I received recently by e-mail: “We found your resume online and think you’d be great for a marketing position we have open…” This might catch the eye of a freelancer who writes a marketing column or does copy writing, but it’s essentially nothing more than a sales, recruiting or telemarketing gig that EVERYONE qualifies for. Companies like this send mass e-mails to jobseekers who have posted their resumes on Web sites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com.
When in doubt, do a quick Google search for the company name, the e-mail address or the name of the person who sent you the e-mail. Oftentimes you’ll find others who have done the research–and spotted the scam–so you don’t have to. We writers need to stick together!
Q: I’m sending out query letters to magazines. I think I know what to include, but are there things I definitely should NOT include?
A: No doubt! Here are a few no-nos that I’ve seen:
1. Discussion of money. A query letter for an article, essay or story should not include any mention of fees. (If you were pitching a column and had a set amount to offer for reprint rights that might be different.)
2. Photos. Indicate if relevant photos are available upon request, but don’t include them in your envelope (or as an attachment if you’re e-mailing your query). And no matter how cute your mother thinks you are, don’t include a photo of yourself. If they want one, they’ll ask for it.
3. A request for a meeting. Editors rarely have time to meet with freelance writers. If they want to meet you, they’ll let you know.
4. A request for advice. Don’t ask them to provide extensive feedback on your article idea and DEFINITELY don’t ask them if they know another magazine where you could submit the query. If an editor thinks your story idea is good, but not quite what they want, they may still ask you to write it just with a slightly different approach.
Articles, books, greeting cards, oh my! Wendy Burt is a successful full-time freelance writer and editor who has more than doubled her income since leaving her job as a newspaper editor just three years ago. With two women’s humor books for McGraw-Hill and more than 1,000 published pieces, Wendy’s typical day might including writing ad copy, greeting cards, health articles, personal profiles or her marketing column for Her Business magazine. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as Family Circle, The Writer, MSNBC.com, NewYorkTimes.com, Home Cooking Magazine and American Fitness. Wendy teaches “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” and still finds ample time to spend with her beautiful baby, Gracie. Visit www.BurtCreations.com to see books by Wendy and her award-winning dad. More info at www.WendyBurt-Thomas.com.