Horrific Experiences Freelance Writers Can Expect to Encounter

In the spirit of the Halloween season, talking about some of the horrific experiences of freelance writers – in other words, our horror stories. Difficult clients, scope creeps, non-paying clients, scammers, and technical issues are just some of them.

horrific experiences freelance writer


Scope creeps

Jodee recently wrote about scope creeps and how to deal with them. She explains that when you “start working on a project that you think is going to encompass one set of parameters and then what is expected of you starts growing beyond your original understanding”, you’re probably working with a scope creep.

We actually got feedback from one of you, which is a rather horrific experience. Deborah Boerema shares her horror story:

…a gig for China Education Publishing House Group Limited (CEPHG) that involved rewriting some classic children’s fairy tales and developing practice exercises to go with them. The finished project was intended to help Chinese children prepare for the Cambridge English Young Learners exam.

After writing and revising several rounds of samples for CEPHG, I was offered a contract in mid-February. The payment of $700 per fairy tale sounded better than many other freelance gigs. My contract was for three fairy tales, so I was pleased that I would be earning over $2000.

Like many writing projects, this turned into a lot more work and required much more time than originally expected. Each fairy tale had to be expanded into nine chapters, and each chapter had to have six accompanying practice exercises. Specific vocabulary had to be included in the stories, and specific grammar skills had to be covered in the exercises. The language barrier made it challenging to always understand what CEPHG wanted. However, I finally completed and submitted all the stories and exercises to them. I estimate I ended up earning under $3 per hour by the time I was finished.

I received payment for 70% of the amount due to me in mid-July. I have been told I will not receive the remaining 30% of the amount due to me until after their illustrators complete their work. Apparently, I will be asked to proofread the books after they are illustrated. I found out this morning that other projects have postponed the illustrations until the end of this month.

She ends with some advice for other freelance writers:

I thought some of the other freelance writers who use your site might benefit from my experience when considering whether to work with a foreign contractor. You might also want to consider my experience before accepting gig posts from foreign contractors.

Difficult clients

What’s a difficult client, exactly?

The description probably varies, but in my opinion, a difficult client can be a scope creep (although not in the degree that Deborah experienced). This client will keep on asking for revisions, many of them unnecessary.

A difficult client can also be one who gives specific feedback, even specific sentences/paragraphs, to use in the article. However, when you send the revised version, the client complains and wants changes – even those he himself provided! This is not only frustrating, but can turn out to be a huge loss due to the time you spend revising.

Yes. Been there. Done that. Definitely one of the horrific experiences a freelance writer will encounter at some point.

A client can also be difficult if he keeps bugging you via email or chat, even at odd hours, expecting immediate replies. Here are a few of things you can do to avoid this:

  • Set expectations from the get go. Inform your client about your work hours, what time/s you can be on chat, and your email response time.
  • Avoid giving your phone number. Imagine receiving an “urgent” call from a client during dinner!
  • Use a different email/chat account for clients. This way, you can implement the first suggestion more easily.

Also read: How to Deal with Difficult Freelance Writing Clients

Non-paying clients

horrific experiences freelance writers


Long ago, when I first started freelance writing, I had this one client who sent work in batches. The arrangement was she would pay at the end of every month when I sent the invoice. No problem, right? This is what the arrangements are in most cases anyway.

The problem is that after a couple of months of paying on time, she started paying late. At first, I was okay with it, thinking that perhaps she was waiting for money to come in as well. The next month, however, she just disappeared off the face of the planet. I sent follow up emails and hit her up on chat (I could see she was online) several times, to no avail. At the end of the day, I didn’t get paid.

So what could I have done? Here are some resources to help you:

Which of these horrific experiences have you encountered? What other experiences do you have that you can share with the community so we can all learn from them? Feel free to share your story in the comments!


3 responses
  1. Bobbi Avatar

    Great post!

    I’ve encountered both types of horrors — with foreign clients, I insist upon payment on a weekly basis in order to prevent scope creep and non-payment situations from arising.

    Only once have I encountered a deadbeat U.S. client. I filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) in the state the the company was in; the DOL launched an investigation and the company cut a check el pronto.

    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      Thanks, Bobbi. I’m glad you sorted those things out. I’m sure your experiences can help our other readers when dealing with clients.

  2. Marjorie Avatar

    I once had a client who refused to pay for words less than three letters long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.