Freelancing pitfalls: The perils of writing for Niche websites

Abandonment: “Even with a great long-term writer/publisher relationship, the best assignment can come to a surprising end.”

Girl with freckles and sad eyesAs writers, we are always proud to write our best for the best.  How many times have you wished for those plum assignments, or received requests for high-end quality content?

Let’s suppose you have received them, written well, and been paid handsomely.

Let’s go all the way — the dream assignments, a series,  repeat requests for titles and articles. Dozens. You have the topics nailed down, style-perfect. You’re batting a thousand. The niche is yours.

“This is almost as good as having your own web site.”

Let’s dream on further. It gets even better with  the ultimate freelancer prize: the steering wheel itself;  you now have the freedom to design your own content within the niche site, freedom of direction, choice of  style, graphics, photo content and deadlines. This is almost as good as having your own web site. The world is your oyster — and the site, open for all to enjoy,  is ‘looking great!’

Then doomsday arrives. You seem to be abandoned.

First, let’s take a look at why the ride has been so attractive, and coincidentally, why you did not expect it to end.

  • Money: While many ‘crowd-source’ publishing sites pay only residual pennies and minimal up-front payments, you have become used to better-than-average writing income.
  • Ego boost: The publisher raved about your articles, without fail. He or she offered great feedback.  You responded with pride and enthusiasm.
  • Referrals: The publisher seemed to happily recommend your services and skill set  to other publishers. That’s a great vote of confidence in my book.
  • Quick fixes: Problematic issues were always quickly and easily resolved with timely and excellent communication.
  • Low stress: There are fewer headaches when dealing with the same publisher — rapport was established; and ongoing deadline flexibility was offered. Perhaps you were even a few weeks ahead. Everybody was happy.

Then comes the pitfall: Abandonment.

Even with a great long-term writer/publisher relationship, the best assignment can come to a surprising end.    Silence. You attempt to contact the publisher, without success. Nothing happens, and the plum job fades into the past. Moving on eventually becomes the only choice.

Was it sudden, or did the arrangement  and communication just slowly and painfully come to a grinding halt?  What happened? In retrospect, were there warning signs your sweet deal was about to end?

  • Unwarranted criticism started appearing out of the blue. Your once-prized content was questioned, style criticized and unexpected requests for change began to arrive.
  •  An element of general discontent began to surface with negative comments.
  •  Payments, even for approved articles, were delayed or ‘forgotten’ — requiring reminders.
  • The website became neglected and new articles submitted remain un-posted. No further postings, comments, or modifications were being made on the site you have been creating content for.
  • Communication  dropped off gradually to the point of silence.  No response was received from direct inquiries.

You waited, and waited — perhaps for months — and finally gave up.

So, what happened? 

There are several possibilities which include:

  • A change of management. You are no longer the favored writer of the manager in charge. The new manager may have arbitrarily changed  to his own favorite supplier and neglected to inform you.
  • A change of focus occurred. Your content is no longer relevant or needed.  Yes, they should have contacted you, gave you fair warning,  and terminated your services in a civilized fashion–but not surprisingly, failure to practice civilized business protocol happens increasingly.
  • A new company policy was made.  No favorite writers allowed.
  •  Your  potential revenue-sharing agreement or other arrangements may have been quashed, re-thought, or abandoned because of legal issues.
  • The primary mover has been deceased and the web site is left an orphan.  This is the saddest possibility, and something beyond your ability to control or remedy.

What can you do if your pet project is abandoned?

If the web site owner is deceased, or the company is no longer in business, what else can you do but move on?

If the company is still functioning but under new management, put your best foot forward with a query and offer samples of your writing.  Perhaps the old plum will surface again under new management.

Let your quality content speak for itself.  Meantime, start accepting other assignments, begin blogging, and keep those creative juices flowing. Try writing fiction. Try different genres, explore the development of your own web site using your extensive base of knowledge. Keep growing.

The best  response in the book as a direct answer for abandonment?

Be versatile, get back to it, and never quit.

»photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

RA KukkeeRaymond Alexander Kukkee writes short stories, children’s literature and poetry, but his favorite genre is fiction. His eclectic blog Incoming Bytes encourages readers to think for themselves. He will soon release his new YA novel, Fires of Waterland.

questionWhat’s the best Freelance gig you ever had? Is it still going strong? If not, did it end well?


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  1. Moving on is hard to do, though, isn’t it, Raymond?
    Thanks for daring to talk about this tough time. I hope this hasn’t happened to too many of our friends and readers!

    • Jim, I think the sudden halt of projects is a lot more common than we are aware of –other than being hopeful, writers simply don’t have time to dwell on evaporated opportunity. Regardless of the cause of a ‘closing’ of a project, at times it is indeed naturally difficult to drop higher expectations and move on. The eternally optimistic point of view must be that at some point, a project could be revived, but meantime, the next one will be even more interesting and lucrative! We become better writers with challenge.

      • The toughest part for me, after getting to know and love our publisher, is that lingering thought: “I wonder if he died??” It’s just a little spooky.

  2. Well said. Great information, keep up the great work!

  3. People in general are funny that way. They change their minds and move in different directions with the wind. It’s tough when a client (disappears or evaporates). It’s a little easier (but not much), when obvious signals determine the course. Writing is communication, so it’s natural for writers to be unnerved when abandoned to the silence. It’s also natural for us to get our tail feathers ruffled when our talents are minimized or censored, btw. We’re not a proud bunch, generally speaking. But we are a valuable one, which is why this article is such a wonderful addition to this site. Very nicely stated, Raymond. Very nicely, indeed! M. J.

    • Great observations, M.J., clients do change their minds for whatever reason. The fact they may not be brave enough to communicate that fact really is not the shortcoming of the writer. We just make the best of any situation like that and carry on. If there are mistakes to be learned from, we should certainly be astute enough to recognize them. Thanks, M.J. ~R

  4. Sound advice here! One never knows what they are getting into with a gig.
    It is mandatory to cross all the ‘T’s’ and dot all the ‘I’s’ when it comes to writing but always remember that especially as a freelancer, nothing is permanent.

    “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others. ” William Faulkner (1897-1962)

    • Jim Bessey says

      We are indeed the ultimate “contract” workers, aren’t we, Veronica? One snap of the publisher’s fingers and we’re History. Poof!
      Love your quote — I’d never heard that before.

  5. Tim O'Dell says

    Great post! It can be disappointing when we get let down by a publisher, but Veronica’s right, we shouldn’t really expect a gig to last forever. As freelance writers we need to be stoic about it and move on!

    • Jim Bessey says

      Tim, it’s so good to see you! Are you still doing any regular-gig writing?
      You are absolutely right, and I absolutely suck at “stoic.” grrr. Great to hear from you, Tim!

  6. As someone who’s been on the other side… I didn’t realize that’s what my behavior may have looked like. I shall strive to be kinder next-time.

  7. Wow — this post opened up the whole new world of publishing to me. But as an painter/artist I can relate because to one collector, gallery, etc your work is the cat’s meow… and then you’re not. The business of creativity is so subjective from one publisher/gallerist/curator to another. Disappointment and rejection are a constant part of creativity. But the ups always outweigh the downs.

    • Jim Bessey says

      I hadn’t thought so much about subjectivity, Jane — great point.
      “The business of creativity” caught my eye. I forget sometimes that we are getting paid to be creative, even for factual SEO articles. Anyone can relay the facts in a simple Do This 1-2-3 fashion. So, yes, it’s the Creative aspect that adds value. AND, as you pointed out, that same aspect can lead to disagreement in the long run or when things change. (Ooh, have I been there! -grin-)
      It certainly helps when the ups outweigh the downs, Jane! Thanks very much for your thoughts.

    • Jane, that is a valid point, subjectivity can play a part in rejection upon occasion, for example if a new editor takes over, or a new manager wants different content. Actually being told why our articles and projects are rejected may be uncomfortable and difficult, but not nearly as difficult as a great project suddenly ‘terminating without explanation’. When one receives a rejection slip, it is a definite sign that the content was not suitable, is not wanted, was poorly written, or not needed. That type of rejection can be remedied by writing different content, or improving the writing, When a project ends without any explanation or contact, however, one is left to wonder. I think the concept of closure comes to mind–just not knowing.
      Keeping that in mind, it’s always best to have new projects and diverse ideas on tap. Thanks for reminding us of the concept of subjectivity–we as writers can certainly overlook that angle at times.

      • Hello There. I found your blog the use of msn. This is an extremely well wirettn article. I will make sure to bookmark it and return to learn extra of your helpful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  8. This is so well written I shared it. I am one of those who sees the signs, yet I always hang on to the end! I now understand that everything is transient and that having multiple opportunities are the best way to deal with change.

    • Thanks, Xenonlit ! I think where there are signs that can be observed, writers as eternal optimists do tend to hang on to the end. That may not always be the right thing to do, either, if our knowledge base is inadequate or we simply cannot create specific content required, we can research and become informed. It really is quite simple; if signs of pending failure or doom are noted specifically because of poor quality writing, an opportunity is presented to us; we should clearly strive to improve our style and write ever higher quality material.
      Those situations can and should be remedied in a timely manner, and if they cannot be remedied for some reason, perhaps we should politely move on without being told to do so.
      The ultimate difficulty, however, is experienced where there has absolute satisfaction, but suddenly there is no communication at all. Silence.
      Even with that situation, and regardless of circumstance, the bottom line must remain a given and absolutely correct- multiple opportunities and diversification are the way to deal with change. Thank you again for commenting! ~R

      • Jim Bessey says

        I believe this is our very own Ludmillia Jones, Raymond.
        VERY interesting site name, too — I like the “Jimdo” part! -grin- I have your query here on my virtual desk, Ludmilla, and will be in touch shortly.
        Thanks again, Raymond, for a thought-provoking article about something which it seems too many of us have experienced.

  9. I enjoy reading a post that will make men and women think.
    Also, many thanks for permitting me to comment!


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