Over at one of my favorite writing websites, The Freelance Writing Jobs Network, there’s a discussion going on about whether writers should respond to job ads that require them to produce a bunch of new (and free) writing samples to be considered for the gigs. Here’s where the discussion got started: One Job Listing You Should Not Apply For. Jennifer Mattern makes some excellent comments on this topic on her blog All Freelance Writing today too: How Not to Hire Freelance Writers and Bloggers.
About seven or eight months ago, I saw an advertisement for an online health care writing job that seemed perfect for me. The ad asked for a sample article that would focus on one of four or five topics so they could get a sense of how prospective writers would handle the assignments. I should have stopped right there. I’ve been writing about health care for the majority of my professional writing career; I got my start right out of college writing health care articles with the Memphis Business Journal back in 1996 and have written about health care for at least three major organizations since then. Do I really need to prove anything to anyone by writing a sample article? Are not my dozen years’ of clips worth something?
But I was just thinking about how great the job would be. So I wrote a short (maybe 350 words) article on the pros and cons of giving cold medicines to young children. (Side note: it’s bad. Don’t give your young children these medicines, if you still have any. Cold meds, I mean. Not children.) Since it was just a sample, I didn’t go out of my way to call new people to interview them. Instead, I relied on information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD and oh yes, my husband the pediatrician. And I turned out a nice little parent-friendly article, too, if I do say so myself. I submitted it and heard….nothing. Not even a “thanks but no thanks.”
Later, I stumbled upon discussions on several other writers’ websites in which people told stories about how they’d submitted a bunch of sample articles to prospective employers, never heard back and then ran across their own work months later–no byline, no credit, no payment! I hurriedly googled my article to see if it got published without my knowledge or permission. Luckily, I never did find any evidence of that. But it made me realize that I really don’t want to produce any more free sample articles for job applications. I’ve got a solid body of work to stand behind, and that should be good enough for most (if not all) editors. Also, why should I provide free content to an editor who might be unscrupulous enough to use it for his own purposes without giving me credit or payment? That doesn’t do me any good. It’s insulting.
Now, if an editor tells me that she’s willing to pay me for a sample article OR at the very least return it to me so I can submit it elsewhere and get credit and/or money for it, that might be a different story. In the meantime, if an editor wants to see what I can do, I am happy to email her a series of links or send a big old envelope full of clips to her. Or both. I’m even willing to submit specific stories or examples of stories I’ve written. I’m not unreasonable. I just want to make sure that I don’t get taken advantage of.