Monday, March 30, 2009

Freelance Writing Ethics: What Will or Won't You Write?

I still consider myself somewhat new to freelance writing (although I'm fast approaching two years full-time!) One thing I found out early on is that I would have to establish some ethics about what I would and would not write.

Believe me, if you're struggling to make ends meet, you might be tempted to lay your ethics to the side temporarily, but in my himble opinion it's not worth it – especially if you're trying to build a professional reputation. A few of the ethical dilemmas I've faced include:

1) Being asked to write "college research material"
2) Write articles about how well a questionable product performs
3) Write erotic material (although using a pen name might work)

I'm sure I've encountered more situations than this, but these are the ones I've been faced with more than once. These may be okay for some, but here's where I draw the line.

Term paper writing is NOT copywriting

I had a very interesting weekend that began with a 6:55am phone call from a client Saturday morning. I didn't find out who the call was from until later that morning after checking my email and finding that they had also bombarded me with emails about several new projects they had waiting. The emails were sent at 5:30am.

My second surprise came when I opened the emails one by one to learn that the client was now asking me to write college term papers, critiques, book reviews and other "copywriting projects." Um, that's NOT copywriting, and I've already been to college and struggled with writing my own papers after waiting until the last minute to get started, thank you very much.

I was genuinely surprised because this client had once been a steady resource of projects like web copy, whitepapers, press releases and so forth. They explained in the email that their decision to provide writers with college research projects was because they wanted to make sure there was plenty of work available for their freelnacers during this economically challenging time. Yeah, right – I'm so sure that you're looking out for my best interest (insert eye roll here). Need I mention that the turn around time on these projects is often ridiculous - 10 pages or more of in-depth research due within 24 hours?

Term paper writing mills are big business

I hear from Terreece Clarke over at Freelance Writing Jobs that these paper mills are a fast growing "freelance writing" industry. I don't doubt it since I've seen students boldly pop up on writer forums seeking rate quotes to write their papers.

The sad thing is new writers really do have the potential to make a lot of money writing for these sites; but at what price? Terreece makes a strong point explaining how this type of writing only hurts the poor kid paying for the service. They'll get a harsh wake up call the day they find out every situation in life can't be fixed by throwing money at it.


Devon Ellington said...

What's wrong with erotica? Or is it just something you don't want to write? Erotica/romantica/erotic romance fields are both fun arenas in which to write with huge readerships, and, frankly, most of the publishers treat their writers quite well -- the legitimate ones, anyway.

I don't write for term paper mills, either.

I don't write for content sites that pay pennies per dozens of words.

I turned down a six figure job a few years ago because the company wanted me to write copy to promote something I felt (and which was backed up by research) was detrimental to people's heath.

Kimberly Ben said...

Hi Devon,

I don't think there is anything wrong with erotica; I personally don't write it. I hesitated to put it on my "ethical" list because I certainly don't find it offensive as I do the other two examples. But it is a form of writing I made a decision not to pursue.

I know that erotica is a big money making industry and have a couple of writer friends who do well writing for clients who need well written copy.

I'm happy to know a writer with ethics like yours - a lot of people would have jumped at the chance to land a six figure job - regardless of what they ended up writing about.

Lori said...

Have you been reading my mind again? I was just about to post a thread on when to turn down work because you don't believe in the company/product/client.

I'm terrified for our industry. We're sinking into a low-paying market because some writers will work for places like those term paper mills. Shame on them, and shame on the kids who cheat to get by.

And if I were writing erotica, I'd have a pen name like Ginger Delilah. :))

Kimberly Ben said...

"Ginger Delilah" - I love it!:-)

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