WORKPLACE / JUN. 12, 2014
version 2, draft 2

How to Hire a Good Writer

If you’re looking for good writers, there are a few basic considerations that will make hiring a lot quicker, much easier, and far less frustrating. Most people, understandably, work on a dollar-based return when hiring. Some people hiring, in fact, work on nothing but dollars and the results of this approach are very mixed.

Many writers are extremely cynical about online hiring, particularly the notorious El Cheapo approach. This is outworker-scale pay, and it only gets the novices and the plagiarists. “What, this guy wants me to write 50,000 words for $5? Forget it.” is the usual response.

Another reason for cynicism is the Advertising Budget Rort. An agency has a budget of $10,000 for a job. A staff writer would cost about $2,000. So the agency hires a freelancer for $500. Makes sense, doesn’t it, but don’t think the writers don’t know what’s going on, and won’t ditch the job the minute something better comes along.

Online hiring basics

The best place to hire online is a place like Elance. This well-established company has rules, standard contracts, and experienced freelancers and clients who know how the system works. Generally, it’s quick, efficient, and highly responsive when you want writers in a hurry.

Craigslist is pretty good, although the jobs are a mix of anything and everything. On the whole, craigslist is a very good way of creating a broad client base, and you can work anywhere in the world. Work everywhere from China to the US using craigslist.

The many other freelance sites tend to be a very eclectic, sometimes irritating, mix of job ads of various kinds. One of the most amusing things to see on these sites is a large number of employers from India and other typical outsource countries, sourcing back to the US, UK and Australia, looking for “native English speakers”. Most of the jobs, however, pay the traditional, bottomlessly low Indian-scale wages. Professional Western writers routinely ignore these jobs.

Hiring writers

Best practice when hiring any writer is to do a test job first. All professional writers understand this process, and won’t be offended if you ask for a writing job upfront before committing to more work.

The other reason for doing this is to make sure that you and your writer can communicate. Writers are as good or as bad as anyone else in terms of communication skills. Some get it, some don’t. Some understand the business environment very well, some are surprisingly clueless. Good writers will contribute a lot of useful ideas to a job, others will simply churn out whatever they’re asked to churn out, and don’t really contribute anything else. A good working chemistry means a good deal for both parties.

The big advantage of hiring a good writer is that advertising copy, online content and other core business information will be done more smoothly, and done better than the El Cheapo approach could ever hope to achieve.

Risks when hiring writers

One message that most people hiring writers on the cheap never seem to get is that they can also hire major liabilities. I was doing some editing work for a company in Belgium and had to check out a new writer. This particular writer, apparently from some less focused part of Asia, decided to mix beautiful academic English with what could only be described as a grammatical raffle.

As dog’s breakfasts in text form go, this guy had no equal. It took me about two minutes to find out that he’d been lifting his text from Oxford Press. It obviously hadn’t occurred to him that going from non-existent syntax and a vocabulary full of malapropisms to Oxford-standard English might look a bit strange. I reported back to the site owner that the guy was trying to give us a lawsuit with every article.

Good professional writers don’t and won’t touch other people’s work. They don’t need to plagiarise, and self-respect prevents them from doing so. Many of them have been plagiarised themselves, simply because they are better writers.

This is also one of the best reasons for spending a few more dollars and making sure that you do hire good writers. Be as fussy as you like, pay the right money, and you will get the best writers. In fact, you may hire someone who can do any work you need done any time you want. It is worth it.

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