Freelancing involves a good deal of trust from both the client and the contractor. The client trusts that the freelancer has the necessary competence to complete the assigned task to his expectations and deliver it on time. The freelancer trusts that the client won’t make unreasonable demands, have unreasonable expectations, and will remit payment promptly and in full for the work performed.

Looking at buyer requests and project RFPs, it’s pretty obvious that there’s little trust on the client side of things. I frequently see project descriptions that:

  1. forbid plagiarism. That shouldn’t even need to be stated, but many RFPs state that the client will run content through Copyscape or other service to check for plagiarized material. 
  2. state low per-word payment. The client seems to believe that writing isn’t work and/or that it’s easy and doesn’t take much time or skill.
  3. forbid using the project in the contractor’s portfolio. These same clients also demand to see writing samples from the contractor’s portfolio. Can you say, “Irony?”
  4. demand expedited delivery of the project. These clients don’t really understand how long it takes to produce good content, especially if research is involved. Even prolific writers like Stephen King only produce about 2,000 words daily of good, usable content.
  5. require signing of nondisclosure forms. No freelance writer who values his or her reputation will blab every detail of the project. Clients who request such forms usually suffer from paranoia that the writer will steal his or her idea.

Now I’ll address these issues separately:

Plagiarism. It’s an ugly word for an insidious type of theft. Basically, copying a string of words and claiming them as one’s own is theft. The irony here is that many such clients will have a published copy of someone’s work and ask the writer to rewrite the content “in original language” so the client can claim ownership. To me, this smacks of hypocrisy.

Low compensation. I regularly come across RFPs that state maximum compensation rates of $1 per 100 words or $10 per 1,000 words. If a master craftsman like Stephen King only produces an average of 2,000 words in a day’s effort, that translates into a dismal and completely unreasonable hourly wage. Would you work for $20 per day? I won’t.

No portfolio allowance. This is typically specified by paranoid buyers who are afraid a writer will claim ownership of ghostwritten work. This is also the type of buyer who demands to see examples of other work performed by the contractor for other clients. Again, this smacks of hypocrisy. A buyer has no right to demand what he will not also allow.

Expedited delivery. Demands for rush delivery mean that the contractor has to shove other clients aside to focus on delivering a specific project. When it comes to shipping or pretty much any other service, demands for expedited delivery generally come with rush charges. Expecting a freelancer to ignore other projects in the hopper to complete yours without paying extra for it is simply unreasonable. This also signifies ignorance as to the production process. Writing takes time. If research is require, that takes time, too. I don’t know anyone who can produce a full-length, ready-for-publication novel in a week–or even two weeks. Let the freelancer gauge his own workload and productivity; he’ll know how much time a project should take.

Non-disclosure form. I understand that many companies handle sensitive material and have no wish to have their clientele or industry innovations stolen. Discretion is a professional attribute. Such companies generally have their own in-house writers; they don’t hire freelancers for such work. However, if the client is worried that the hired freelancer will steal his story premise, then he’s worried about the wrong thing. Writers, especially fiction writers, suffer no shortage of ideas. There’s seldom enough time or opportunity to develop the ideas they do have. They have no need to steal story concepts from their clients.

In vetting RFPs, it becomes a gamble to respond to prospective clients who expect world-class skill and service and put little value and many restrictions on it. Occasionally, I attempt to educate the buyer in my proposal. It seldom results in a gig; however, I take small comfort in knowing that I’ve presented myself honestly and haven’t misled the buyer by pandering to ignorance or unreasonable expectations.