Getting Through a Slump in Your Freelance Writing

Dear Readers,

I wanted to share a comment with you that was posted here the other day:

I have been in a bit of a dry patch since Christmas! I worry more about how I’m going to get the payment off my client than how I’m going to get the job. There are so many people out there that are ignorant, cheap and lousy. They don’t pay enough, they want the best possible work for $5 and then when it comes to payment they sneak off.

I fully appreciate being concerned about whether or when payment is going to be made, and yes, there certainly are people around who are not very polite. The problem with this mindset is that you go into discussions with a prospective client with a chip on your shoulder.

Not everyone who wants to hire a writer is “ignorant, cheap and lousy,” and looking to take someone’s work and run off without paying. If you get into the mindset that working with someone is going to be like that, you are going to run into problems. You will project that attitude to others, and it will make it much more difficult for you to get hired by the type of client you really want to work with.

If you aren’t getting the rates you want, you may need to change your marketing strategy so that you are targeting a different niche. The slump you are in will not last forever, and going through a down cycle can force you to think about what it is that you really want from your writing career. This is an opportunity to think about who you really want to work with and what rates you are prepared to accept.

How do you deal with a slump in your writing career? Do you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, or do you just count the days until things start to pick up again?


11 responses
  1. James Tennant Avatar

    I think you have taken my quote out of context Jodee.
    Not appreciated at all.
    Nor are your comments regarding what my mindset may or may not be.

  2. Jodee Avatar

    Your comment was quoted in its entirety. I’m sorry if you felt that I was making a personal attack, since that was not my intention.

  3. Damaria Senne Avatar

    Another way to look at the problem is to consider what kind of clients you want to work for. Research the companies you want to write for (maybe they sell a product you like /believe in, maybe you like their attitude or maybe they were voted among the top 100 companies to work for in your area.) Here are some of things I’ve done when going through a slump:

    1. Phoned most of my writer/editor friends to tell them that I need work and asked them to send me their overflow/recommend me if gigs cropped up that I would be appropriate for
    2. Monitored adverts at media related publications ( and published my profile at some of them). Respond to gig ads and send several letters of introduction to some selected PR and communications companies.
    3. Responded to some ads from online job boards. ( Don’t get trapped into low-paying gigs. Learn to differentiate slave labour gigs from rough diamonds. )
    4. Began work on own projects. This included finishing a children’s story, sending out several book-length proposals to potential publishers.
    5. Sent article proposals to publications I wanted to write for.

    The result? Complete silence from some pubs and companies. I’ll probably never hear from them. There was a time lag between when potential clients approved working with me ( in principle) to getting the assignment and signing the contract. But the work has started coming in. And during the slow period I felt better knowing I was actually doing something constructive. Good excuse to get out of bed in the morning and to ignore the fulltime job ads 🙂
    Phew! I didn’t realise I wanted to say THAT much! Sorry Jodee..

  4. James Tennant Avatar

    Yes but it was directly related to another article that discussed a different topic to this. I think you have mis-read its meaning. I am saying that the problem for me does not lie in getting the job, more so getting the payment.

    This means that I do not go into every job with that mindset, I only have that mindset after a job has been done and there are payment issues.

    ‘Not everyone who wants to hire a writer is “ignorant, cheap and lousy,”’ – Obviously…I never said they were.

    1. Skippy Avatar

      I’m also dealing with problems getting paid. One company turned out to have a history of not paying freelancers (usually I check companies out more before working for them, but they caught me at a moment when I really needed work…). I’m now one of a still growing group of people trying to pursue a complaint against this company (see the complaints here:

      Another company I’ve worked for since December, that I know is a reputable company (well, at least i worked for them in the past and got paid…) has slowed its payment process to a crawl. They normally pay 30-45 days after “submission and approval of invoice,” but it took three weeks for my first invoice to be approved. So for an invoice I submitted in mid-December, I am just hoping payment will arrive next week. Meanwhile, my credit card has been cancelled due to non-payment, I have other payments I haven’t made,I borrowed money from friends and relatives in January (and don’t feel I can ask any more), and I have 59 cents to my name. I’m just trying to make the food I have left last until the middle of next week when one of my regularl clients usually pays. So how’s that–I’ve earned close to $10,000 in the last 3 months yet I am, to be quite blunt, destitute (and my credit rating has gone from stellar to the utter depths, I might add).

      Sorry about the rant. It’s just so hard to make people understand the problems that come when you have done work but payment is either incredibly slow, or the evil people have decided not to fulfill their end of the contract. .

  5. Killer Avatar

    I think that regardless of the way the quote was originally intended, the topic is timely. February seems to always be the doldrums for me. Until the whether warms, it’s a struggle to stay motivated.

  6. Sam Kessler Avatar
    Sam Kessler

    Does anybody require an initial deposit or retainer as part of their policy? What’s wrong with a percentage upfront and the rest at the end of the project?

  7. Damaria Senne Avatar

    @Sam Kessler: I generally ask for 50% of the project fee upon signing of the contract. That works mostly for business and NPO clients, who even seem to expect those terms.

    Most publications I’ve worked with set their own terms and they either pay or acceptance or on publication. I’ve been stung a couple of times by pubs that have impressive credentials but are quietly going through financial problems, so I tend to be cautious there.

    @James Tennant – do you usually have a signed client contract which outlines the scope of the job, payment terms before you begin the assignment?

  8. James Tennant Avatar

    Sam, my experiences have taught me to ask for a percentage of the fee up front. This motivates the writer to get going and protects us as well.

    It is always a good idea to do this but dont ask for any more than 50%. Simply approach your client with the idea and explain that it is simply part of the process.

    I would be suspicious of any client who wasn’t willing to agree to that before the work started.

  9. Sam Kessler Avatar
    Sam Kessler

    For people who have business clients, how do you go about getting them? What are people’s advertising methods? I’m currently advertising on Craigslist and find it’s not as effective as I’d like it to be. Are there other ways of advertising online that are more effective? Thanks in advance.

    1. Derek Thompson Avatar

      I think Craigslist is a bit of a lucky dip. You can find excellent clients there, but also a profusion of people who think that allowing you to work free to ‘raise your profile and support their start-up’ is the height of generosity. It’s worth searching for other sites as well.

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