Nearly daily I see someone ranting about being taken advantage of. Today it was another writer griping about being expected to write for free. He had written a 650-word sample, then sent a bill, and the client was shocked that he expected to be paid for the sample.
This could have easily been prevented, by the writer either offering his clips as samples or stating a price up front for a fresh sample written to the potential client’s specs. Neither happened, and the result was both the writer and the potential client being pissed.
I recently received a message from a potential client asking about my editing rates. She didn’t mention how she found me, or what she writes, or anything more.
I replied and offered a free ten-page sample edit, as I always do. This way the writer can see what I do and determine if it meets their needs, and I can see if the writer just needs a little help or a lot (and thus set my price), or even more help than I can offer. After the sample edit, either of us can opt out, no hard feelings.
The next email said the ten pages just happened to be the first two chapters. That’s all. No further comment. The attachment was sixteen pages.
I marked it up, correcting errors and leaving comments about things I liked and others I questioned.
I returned the chapters with a pleasant note, and received a response saying that she was busy but would look at it when she had time.
Then the replies came. Not one email with commentary about all issues, but a separate email for each beef.
First I received a link to a product on Amazon, as proof that her spelling was correct. I ignored it. There was nothing I could say in response to using Amazon as a dictionary.
Next came a long explanation of powdered wigs and powder rooms. Then the difference in buggies and wagons. Oh, that.
They kept coming. I received an email saying that she introduced 21 characters in the first chapter because the book is part of a series (all published, by the way) and her fans like to know what the characters are up to; another saying her Word program is set to insert two spaces after punctuation, so something is wrong with mine/me.
By then, I was crying, but not because I felt I’d wasted my time or I’d been taken advantage of. Surely a writer friend was playing a joke on me, and it was brilliant.
I looked her up on Amazon. Indeed, she was real, and the book had already been published, along with many others.
One of her (few) reviews said that the grammar issues were so numerous that the book was difficult to read. The author (and I use the term loosely) replied to that review, saying that there were no grammar mistakes in the book, and clearly there was something wrong with the reviewer. However, that book now had the words Newly Edited Edition next to the title.
This was just getting better and better.
The final email said that her corrections to my errors were completed, and she agreed with the rest of my suggestions, so thanks.
I could only respond, “You’re welcome.” I knew she had no intention of hiring me, and she never had.
Then she made nearly every change I suggested in those first 16 pages and uploaded the new version to Amazon. I enjoy imagining her trying to collect enough sample edits to never have to pay, although she denies actually needing an editor.
This experience was odd, outrageous even, but I’m not pissed. Because it was my own fault. I don’t like being pissed at myself.
Had I suggested speaking by phone prior to offering a sample, I would have learned that the book was already published. I could have determined why she really wanted me to look at it (if she was truthful). I probably would have learned that she was argumentative and had no sincere desire to improve her manuscript. I could have declined prior to spending my time on her project. I could have done many things prior to offering my time for free. I failed.
I’ll just call it a lesson. And blog material.
Years ago, a mentor said to me that he used to be proud to say he could work with anyone, but now he was proud to say he didn’t have to. Amen, brother.
So whether writing for free (or peanuts) or feeling used and abused in business or life, think about it.
It’s true that we teach others how to treat us.