Dealing With Freelance Talent

50 Tips for Locating and Working With Freelance Writers

When To Consider Using Freelance Talent
Where To Find Freelancers
What You Need To Know What To Look For
What the Freelance Writer Needs To Know
How Much (& When) To Pay a Freelancer
Managing Freelancers

When To Consider Using Freelance Talent

1. When you want a diversity of writing styles that will keep your publication, your website, your agency, your business communications from going stale. Freelancers will give you a wider range of story, public relations or advertising ideas from which to draw.

2. When you want to save money. One editor likened the use of freelancers to buying a time-share vacation plan: "You pay for only the time you use." In one year his publication's payments to freelancers was almost $31,500. If they had chosen instead to hire the two additional staff writers it would have taken to turn out the same quality and quantity of work, he says their costs would have been about $46,600 including salary and benefits. With freelancers you don't have to pay for non-productive "working" hours, vacation days, holidays, unemployment insurance, social security, sick leave or other fringe benefits.

3. When you want to cut travel costs where research needs to be done in another city or state. Airline, car rental, meal and hotel expenses can be much less - if not eliminated altogether - by hiring a freelance writer who lives in that area.

4. When work has piled up, you're short on staff writers, or you've taken on a job that requires special expertise.


Where To Find Freelancers

5. First, determine which you want manuscripts and ideas, or names of writers for definite assignments, or both.  If you publish a print publication or website and want ideas and manuscripts throughout the year, request a free listing in Writer's Market ( This annual directory of periodicals and book publishers is published in late August or early September; deadline for inclusion is usually early in the year.

6. Search out and become listed in local publishing directories covering periodicals in your city, state or region. For example, we publish the Directory of Florida Markets for Writers (CNW Publishing, PO Box A, North Stratford NH 03590). Over the years I've seen similar directories for New England, Ohio, and the Northwest.

7. For more immediate response, list your needs in writers' magazines and newsletters: Writer's  Digest (, The Writer (Madavor Media LLC, 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404, Braintree MA 02184;, Freelance Writer's Report (Box A, North Stratford NH 03590.)

8. A very few full-time freelance writers have business telephones and Yellow Page listings under "Writers." You will find out-of-town phone books in the reference room of your library; or search on the Web.

9. More writers are likely to have their own websites or to be listed on the Internet with groups such as ours. If you can't locate the writers you need through, any search engine will take you to other writers' groups if you ask for "writers" or "freelance writers."

10. Contact local writers' groups if you need local freelancers for  assignments. Most will be listed in Chamber of Commerce "clubs and organizations" directories.

11. National writers' organizations are listed in Literary Market Place, available in the reference room of your local library. If the association doesn't publish a member directory, call the person in charge and ask whom he or she would recommend for the assignment you have in mind.

12. Reference librarians often know the names and phone numbers of a few local writers.

13. The Guide to WEN/FFWA Writers lists 100+ writers by city, county and areas of expertise.

14. If you come across a writer whose work you admire, contact him or her through the magazine or website or book publisher.

15. Contact the International Writer Data Bank. Writers can be looked up according to geographic location, level of experience, subject expertise, and media experience. There is no referral fee.


What You Need To Know What To Look For

16. Ask for a list of the writer's published credits: both article titles and publications/websites, to give you an overview of his or her interests, specialties and capabilities.

17. Look for publications or clients similar to yours, for subjects similar to what you need written, and for experience producing the same type of material.

18. If you want an established professional, look for steady sales over a period of years.

19. Ask to see tearsheets of a half dozen or so recently published articles or URLs of articles currently on the Internet. These may only tell you the writer had a good editor; but they will at least give you an idea of the writer's style.

20. Contact a few editors the writer has freelanced for to see if he or she has met deadlines.

21. Ask the writer how long he or she expects to take to complete your project. (Do consider that a professional writer will be working on numerous other projects at the same time as yours.)


What the Freelance Writer Needs To Know

22. Give the writer as much background information as a staff writer would know: about the publication, website, business or product; about the slant you have in mind, about the style you prefer, about the subject or potential sources.

23. Be clear about the length of material you prefer: number of words or number of pages (note whether you're talking double-spaced or single-spaced).

24. Tell the writer whether this project is being done on speculation (you don't pay unless the material is actually published), or on assignment (you pay whether you end up using the material or not.) Remember, an established professional will probably not work on speculation.

25. Give the writer a deadline. Even if the piece was suggested by the writer and is being done on speculation, set a delivery date.

26. Be very clear from the beginning about how much you are paying, when payment will be made, and what rights you wish to purchase.

27. If you are planning any major changes to the writer's material, or if you decide to combine it with other material, let the writer know full details. He or she may prefer to withdraw the material, or may go along with the changes; but maintain a good working relationship by at least providing options and explanations.

28. Always send the writer a copy of the published article, printed brochure, etc.; or email writers the URLs of their online material.


How Much (& When) To Pay A Freelancer

29. Determine what annual salary this writer might earn in a staff job with your company ($30,000 e.g.). Divide the annual salary by 2,000 to obtain a "net" hourly wage ($15) . Double the hourly wage to cover the writer's direct and overhead expenses ($30). This gives a "gross" hourly rate. Increase the gross rate by 25 percent to cover overhead time $37.50. This would be the writer's "billing" rate. Multiply the billing rate by anticipated production hours to arrive at fair payment for a freelance assignment.

30. When setting freelance fees, remember that you get what you pay for. Busy, good professional writers must earn enough money for their time to maintain a profitable business. If you offer less, you will have to settle for beginners or non-professionals, who will likely require more editing, rewriting, fact-checking and time on your part.

31. Professional writers will expect payment on acceptance of their work. For major projects, they may require one-third to one-half upon undertaking the job, with an additional payment midway through, and the balance upon completion.

32. Payment amounts, date of payment, and rights purchased can all be negotiated. If you "take" in one area, expect to "give" in another.

33. When negotiating payment, consider the value of the material to your publication, its value if it were to appear in a competing  publication, and the value to the author in appearing in your publication.

34. You can save freelance fees by purchasing second rights to articles that have appeared in publications or on websites outside your field, and for book excerpts.

35. A "generic" article prepared by a freelance writer for sale to whichever editor wants it should cost less than an article written especially for your publication. There is certainly room for negotiation.

36. If you have assigned a feature to a freelance writer, then decide after its completion that you won't be able to use it after all, you can usually avoid full payment by offering a "kill fee" of one-third to one half to the writer, with the writer retaining full ownership of the material.


Managing Freelancers

37. Prepare Writers Guidelines for your publication, outlining your needs, procedures and requirements. Offer these guidelines in market directory listings in return for a self-addressed stamped envelope; post them on your website.

38. If you cannot make a decision regarding a query letter or manuscript submission within three weeks, simply return it with a form note: "Sorry, but our workload at this time prevents us from giving this proper consideration. If it's still available, resubmit in _____ months."

39. If you don't have time to explain why an idea or manuscript was rejected, at least have a check-off form with usual causes listed to return in the writer's SASE, with the closest reason noted. Or have several typical email replies that you can copy-paste into your "no, thanks" email.

40. If you receive a query letter or manuscript for a topic already being considered by you, return it immediately along with the notation, "already assigned topic" or "in the works in-house."

41. If it takes longer than a month to make a decision regarding acceptance of a manuscript, send the writer monthly reports on its status, realizing that the writer may withdraw it from consideration at any time.

42. If you have any doubts about accuracy of facts in an article,  schedule in time for verification.

43. Ask for research material, especially maps, phone numbers and addresses to help verify spellings and proofread numbers to assure accuracy of information you publish.

44.  If unsolicited material would be acceptable after extensive rewriting, make it clear whether this revision would be done on a speculation or "if acceptable" basis or whether you're issuing a definite assignment with a commitment to purchase no matter what.

45. Eliminate "surprises" by asking for periodic status reports on a project.

46. Be available by phone and/or email to writers working on assignments for you; they sometimes run into difficulties and you may be able to save them time.

47. Be prepared to do more extensive editing on freelance than staff-written material unless the writer has written many projects for you and has learned your style and tone.

48. Before assigning a critical story to a freelance writer you know nothing about, try him or her on something that could be scrapped if it came in late or unusable.

49. Once you find a writer you like, become an important client by giving him or her regular assignments. It will pay off when you need help with unexpected tight deadlines.

50. If you've made major changes in a piece, send galleys to the writer before you go to press. This courtesy will not only earn you a great deal of respect (most editors don't bother), but may catch a serious editing error before it's too late.


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