Craigslist classifieds, despite its reputation of shady characters posting flawed advertisements, used to be one of the best online resources for finding and landing writing jobs. Reliable gigs that kept the rent paid and looked good on resumes.
Not any more. A writer is actually likely to get their writing samples stolen, while innocently thinking they’re applying for work.
After reading my last post (in which Amy gets jumpy over filched writing samples), you’d think that I’d unquestionably accept the news. Instead, I dug in my heels and went into denial. It has a lot to do with nostalgia from the 90s: the Internet, so new and full of potential, with its dot-com ventures. Monster.com, bringing the ability to search for work while at work. Whispered conversations over who was and was not downloading illegal music from Napster.com. Buying groceries online from the now-defunct Webvan.com (with cuuuuttteeee delivery men who put paper booties over their shoes before hauling my grocery bin to the kitchen). The novelty of the also-now-defunct-Kosmo.com delivering anything (also with cuuuuttteeee delivery men). And Netscape.com. Could we please have a moment of silence for Netscape?
Accepting that Craigslist now completely sucked meant the demise of another beloved dot-com. Frankly, I wasn’t ready for another heartbreak. (In the list of categorizations that include stalwart conservative, bleeding-heart liberal, and happy-naked-dancing-pagan, I’m solidly in the tenderhearted technophile zone.)
Sure, I listened to the details of the writing job scams on Craigslist, but resented every single moment. The details are as follows: a job advert asks for your writing samples upfront, when you submit your resume. Sometimes, they ask for a fresh sample, on a topic they select. The request isn’t outrageous. In fact, it’s expected in my profession.
After submission, the job poster tells the writer the writing sample didn’t pass muster. Then, without telling or paying the writer, sells or posts the submitted work sample. Taking the money or credit that’s rightfully the writer’s.
Partly out of curiously, and partly out of wanting to defend Craig, I wanted to see what happened if I responded to those writing adverts. My denial pulled out my girl detective hat and plopped it on my head.
Denial and I went to the writing section of Craigslist and snooped around. It's horrible. Roughly 90 percent of the ads made me uneasy, which again, only occasionally happened back in the dot-com days. I applied to ads that made me especially queasy. Like this one:
What set off the warning bells? Overall bad writing. In fact, check out all the typos. Missed punctuation. Missed indefinite articles. Random capitalization. These errors demonstrating that the employer has no knowledge of writing basics. Even the job poster was legit, if we did decide to work together, I could count on having notable problems working with them.
The next step was testing whether my gut reactions were accurate. I wrote them an email, responding to the ad.
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am interested in writing for your publication. To make sure my content is a good match for your needs, could you email me your website and writers' guidelines?
Thank you for your help. I look forward to hearing from you.
What I targeted are two more blatant problems with the advert. The first problem was their request for writing samples, without specifying the type they needed. This leads to the second problem: the ad didn't give a website address. In the publication realm, writers are smacked down for not researching a publisher and its needs. If a writer submits a fantastic true crime short story to a cookbook site, the piece not only gets solidly rejected, but the writer builds a bad name and pisses off an otherwise reasonable person on the other end of the email exchange. At the best, if the job posters were legit, their ad set up a writer for failure.
Granted, this Craigslist ad provided categories (sports, science, health, and so forth) but they’re way too broad. If this was a single mothers’ website, the sports section might focus on how to attend a child’s ballgame with the child's father or how to negotiate flex time with an employer for the sake of attending a child’s ballgame. If the site was for college sports, or basketball only, or for Monday morning quarterbacks, completely different articles need to be written. Any legitimate publication provides this information immediately, upon request or through their website.
But here’s the response:
what's your rate for 300 words? (news rewrites)
Four new things bugged me about that email.
- The typos and bad writing again.
- No answers to my original questions. Also, they responded from their Craigslist account, not their professional account. Still don't know who I'm working with nor do I know the kind of writing that they want.
- Asking for a rate without providing details about the content. It's like asking a cabbie for a ride, without giving an address. "News rewrites" is vague. What kind of news was I supposed to re-write? If it was click-bait, it would likely only need a quick edit for coherence. If it was an in-depth article for the Associated Press, the edit would require more work. I still needed more information before delivering a quote.
- The original ad talked about writing original content. The email talked about rewriting content. Did the job description change? Or am I rewriting published news articles for shady reuse?
At this point, I was 99 percent sure the publisher is a fraud. But I still wanted to see how far I could push my questions before they stopped communication. So, I sent another email:
Before we discuss rates, I'd like to see your website. That way, I can see if we're a good fit. Could you send me your website?
PS: could I also have your name?
Crickets chirped in the peaceful nightfall. Never heard from them again. Although I never validated whether my work samples were in jeopardy of illegal reuse, I did discover the job poster's priorities: not quality of work, but how much money they'd have to spend to get the work. Not someone I'd want to work with.
So, I went back to Craigslist and made another attempt. That time, the response was even more alarming.
To be continued …