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Basics on Hiring a Freelance Writer

What to look for and expect

5:07 am on Oct 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I'm interested in learning about hiring freelance writers to create articles for my website.

I am new to this idea, so I only have a very basic understanding of the process.

Is it like school where a teacher assigns a topic and the individual researches and writes about the given topic themselves? Or, might it be more like a writing tutor/ghost writer, who takes my notes on the subject and turns it into copy?

My guess is it would depend on the individual, and budget. But what is the industry standard?

It seems weird because I'm looking on sites like elance and guru, and seeing people with set prices per page (about 300 words) ranging from $X to $XX+. And too, I'm sure you get what you pay for, but what is a healthy price to expect to pay?

It just seems silly for a one page paper on some very technical topic to be the same price for a paper the same length on a common topic.

Also, how would the writers know what to write? Are these people research experts, so if I needed a paper on [topic A], and another one on different [topic B], would I be able to go to the same person?

Thanks for your feedback.

5:17 am on Oct 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Typically, if you pay someone to write an article, you also pay for the research that goes into it (whether they know the topic or not, there's always research involved). I don't think it seems unreasonable to pay $XX+ for a page, depending on topic.

I would try to research the writer. Look at some sample articles. Although knowledge on any given topic may be useful, the ability to put thoughts into writing is more important. Do they seem to reflect knowledge in their writing? Do they seem believable? Do they write in a way that is easy to follow and understand? Does their writing pull you in, or do you feel the urge to skim?

The style of writing may also be important if you are concerned with consistency across pages. It is also good for the writer to be given freedom. It's always best if you can say: "Write an X+ article on topic Y. I want it to emphasize this and that, and be written with the ABC audience in mind." Then give the writer freedom from that point.

Negotiate an initial article at a lower cost. If it works well, it should have the promise of future (preferably regular/steady) work at an increased compensation.

Does he/she know/use any editorial style? What's the quality like? Grammar? Vocabulary?

The writing should be colorful and engaging. And so should the personality fit as well.

I'd find an article online that you like, then attempt to contact the writer ... instead of first trying to find a writer, and then find some article by him/her that you like.

Make sure that you have a well written agreement, especially if time is an issue. Are there deliverables? Does the writer have other obligations? Are there possibly other contracts he/she already has in place which may cause future conflict with certain topics of interest to you?

Again -- personality fit. Proximity is usually something to consider. Always good to chat with the writer in person. Go out to lunch together, etc.

Work ethics. Reputation. Ask for references.

Be prepared to find three or more writers, depending on volume. Try to find writers who have at least some prior knowledge of the topics in question. If not, try to limit the number of "new" topics for any given writer to as few as possible, as to not overwhelm.

Be up-front and set realistic expectations. Talk about what you expect, and listen to what he/she expects. Talk about the research involved. Make sure you're both on the same page.

[edited by: DrDoc at 5:20 am (utc) on Oct. 2, 2006]

7:02 am on Oct 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

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so if I needed a paper on [topic A], and another one on different [topic B], would I be able to go to the same person?

The first copywriting jobs I posted on a freelancer site were huge projects covering many topics. I was looking for one person to be my copywriter for every subject. This approach met with dismal failure.

I then started breaking up the jobs into smaller amounts of articles on very specific topics.
What I found was that the specific topics would attract not necessarily a professional copywriter but someone who was an expert in that feild and was interested in writing about a specific subject.
This approach worked out much better for me.

Another thing I've noticed is that a large percentage of the copywriters I choose for these projects end up disappearing and never even start the job after initial contact.
I hire a lot of coders as well and they almost never do this but it seems to be the norm with people bidding on copywriting projects.

Or, might it be more like a writing tutor/ghost writer, who takes my notes on the subject and turns it into copy?

I do both. If it is a subject I know nothing about I let the copywriter run with it.
If it is a subject I know something about I do the research and provide lots of notes, keyword lists, reference URLs, etc.

3:29 am on Oct 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Thank you both for the very strong replies.

They both help me understand the process better, and how best to approach to hiring a freelance writer. I especially like the idea of breaking up the project into different jobs to get more apt bidders for each project.


8:57 pm on Oct 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

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It is important that YOU yourself know what you want the writer to write about, it is no good saying "write 20 articles about widgets" because you'll get back 20 articles that all pretty much read the same, so you have to be specific and that means you have to know a little about the subject yourself in order to convey exactly what you want from your writer/s. You also need to set up some guidelines, a lot of writers by habit, throw in their own personalised take on things or bias. For example one writer working for me would always use "he" or "him" or "his" when writing about a topic that would be read by both sexes. Some would keep referring to the UK in articles designed for a global audience. Just small things like that.

Also expect what you pay for, in otherwords if you pay pennies your article's quality will reflect that. Pay good money or competitive rates and you'll get good quality for your money, but only if you shop around and do your research which is really what this is all about, whether hiring or writing. Research, research, research.

Good luck.

[edited by: Grassroots at 8:58 pm (utc) on Oct. 4, 2006]

4:52 pm on Oct 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I am a professional copywriter and I can tell you this much. Get your brief done correctly in the first place.

Creative writers can go off on tangents when you least expect them to. This applies for any briefing of any nature.

Set your expectations as well and make sure that you agree to what's going to be delivered.

Another thing to consider and I say this, because I do it. I always set a low initial price for a new client, because they need some proof as to whether or not I'm the right person for them and vice versa. I don't want to work for a client who changes the brief and won't pay for time spent because they were confused. A client also does not want to book someone for a series of jobs and then think; "Holy crap, I don't like the style of this writer and now I am stuck with him/her!"

Ideally, when I think about it, if time permits I might write an article or two on writing briefs, judging creative work and dealing with creative people. Let me know if you think this is a good idea.

8:42 pm on Oct 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Let me know if you think this is a good idea.

Yes! Please do this if you have the time.

You are so right about doing an up front brief before the work begins.
The copywriter I am currently working with sent me a first article in a series of 6. The article was good (I did provide lots of notes, ideas and references) but not exactly what I wanted. I went through and did some major editing and sent it back to him. After he went through my edits he "got it" and understood what I was after. The articles that he is now delivering are perfect, exactly what I was after.

9:59 pm on Oct 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

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That's great to hear, axgrindr.

I think anyone who has worked with creative people, will realise that sometimes they go off the rails. I guess they need to at times, however at the end of the day they want to deliver what's best.

Any creative that pretends to understand your content better than you, is either telling the truth, or more than likely not. Creatives are idea factories. They take input from clients and seek to churn something out that does the trick for which it was intended. There needs to be some sort of order in the chaos, and this is where clients play an important part.

As a general tip, I would say that making sure a few basics are covered will help you out to no end. The first is going to be attitude. Questions about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it with the ideas that words create or rather, can create. You should be asked a few key questions that make you feel confident that this person is interested. Get a sample paragraph before you kick off. At worst it's an hour of work, which can land many others. The next thing, is not to assume that the project is delivered when the first draft is sent. There should be review rounds set. What these really are, are deadlines, whittling away from draft to completed work. It also steers the development of the work. Keep it down to a bare minimum of 2 or 3. Good copywriters should be able to work this way. Sometimes there are 5 review rounds, however there should be less and less changes with each review. If there are more and more changes, it might be a good time to check where things are going.

Yes, these are mainly commonsense things to keep in mind. It's usually the simple stuff people trip up on. I speak for myself here as well. :)