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Common—but bad—advice to freelance writers

For many years I have seen the same wretchedly terrible advice given to freelance writers (and other freelancers as well):

If you don’t want to take an assignment, quote a price that is so high that the prospect will surely reject the offer. And if by surprise he accepts it, you’ll earn a remarkable sum.

On the surface, it may seem to make sense because you seem to win either way. Either they say “no” so you don’t have to do work you don’t want to do or they say “yes” and you make big dough.

In reality, you take the risk that you will have to do work you dread. You may think that large amounts of money make the work un-dreadful, but this is not the case. You may think you won’t mind doing it but you will.

If you don’t want to do the work, simply say “no” right from the start and don’t change your mind.

If you want the money and you don’t dislike the work all that much, quote a substantial but reasonable fee and take the assignment.

Sometimes the only reason to turn down work is that the project doesn’t pay enough. If this is the case, quote your usual (higher) price and take it on if you get your price.

I have never quoted too high a price in the hope that a prospect will reject my offer. However, years ago I accepted massive assignments I would have preferred to reject.

I paid a high price psychologically for the decision. I battled within myself against exceptional levels of procrastination and frustration. I sat at my desk for hours trying to get myself to focus. I experimented with affirmations and mental exercises and false deadlines and other self-imposed pressures to get the work done.

It was as if my brain was at war with itself since I demonstrated to it that I could not trust myself to honor my own feelings. “Just this once,” I told myself, more than once.

A nice fee, guaranteed receivable at prescribed intervals, meant that I could slack off on marketing, which made life easier in one respect but at the high personal cost of having to keep plugging away at work that didn’t fit me.

It taught me a lesson that I have vowed not to repeat.


Originally posted 2-5-13

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