The Shittiest Sales Letter in the World (And Why Selling Really Isn't So Complicated)
The writing business can be so confusing.
When I sold my first article in 1996, and landed my first copywriting client in 1997, there was basically one way to do it: You wrote an amazing pitch letter and snail-mailed it to prospects—prospects you found by reading through a print directory. (This worked amazingly well, believe it or not!)
Now there are so many options, writers are stumped. When I was a writing coach, I was inundated with writers asking:
Whether they should Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram to attract clients. Or maybe TikTok? Or what about this other brand-new must-use social platform?
Which job boards they have to use.
Which content mills they should start with to get clips.
Where on earth they can find prospects to pitch.
How to do inbound marketing.
When is the exact best time to send a query letter or sales email
What should they blog about to attract clients, because someone told them they absolutely have to have a blog.
And this is before they started looking to the marketing "gurus," who are always telling you that you're falling behind if you don't know how to use your friends' Facebook admin account so your ads reach more members, or how to "ethically manipulate Amazon keywords" to sell more books
Freelancing is a cutthroat career, they say, so you need to do what you can to stay ahead. And you need to do it before everyone else catches on and starts to use the same tactics—otherwise you'll need to turn to those gurus again for the next big thing. (Extra long sales pages! Super short sales pages! Medium-sized sales pages!)
All of this confusion can not only cause freelance writers’ minds to become clouded, but can also knock their sense of ethics off track.
Here's the World's Shittiest Freelance Writing Sales Email
I experienced a perfect example of this some time before I retired. I've outlined the series of emails below and added my comments. At the end of this post, I cut through the crap to tell you the real, actual way to land writing gigs...without confusion and with your sense of ethics intact.
If you're ever tempted to try something like the email I'll be dissecting below, remember that if you're caught out—which you will be—you'll lose more than a gig. You'll lose the trust and reputation you need to build a successful freelance writing career.
Here's the first email:
Congratulations! You are a major contributor to my overflowing inbox.
To ensure that I respond to all important messages in a timely manner, I’ve initiated a plan to have a zero balance in my inbox by the end of each day.
To make this happen, I’ve had to make some tough decisions, one of which is the volume and nature of emails received. People who send me a high volume of email, the majority of which is designed to sell me something are treated as bulk mail and deleted, unread.
Sadly, you fall into this category. But I realized something today. You’re offering me an opportunity to form a relationship, and I’ve been thwarting your efforts.
To this point, I saw that relationship as one-sided; I send you money and you provide a service or product.
Today I had an epiphany! I can help your business grow and thrive in other ways as well!
Running a business means dealing with the thousand and one time-sucking administrative tasks. Would you benefit from the services of a Virtual Business Consultant to whom you could offload tasks like inbox maintenance, scheduling, or accounting?
Or perhaps you need this Freelance Writer’s help composing emails or researching and writing articles to keep your website fresh and interesting.
Are you ready to simplify your life by offloading the parts of your business you just don’t love? Click one of the links above or respond to this email for a free consultation. You have nothing to lose and the gift of time to gain.
I look forward to talking to you!
Writer, Editor, Virtual Business Consultant, Accountant
I’d heard about writers who would point out typos and other problems in a prospect’s marketing materials, and then offer their services as a solution. (Which I think is a crappy idea. "Hey, that content you spent all that time and money on sucks! Pay me and I'll help it not suck.")
So maybe this was a more extreme example of that misguided idea: "Hey, you send too many emails! But buy from me and I'll keep reading them."
But whatever the case, I was pissed. You don't sign up for someone's email list and then shoot over a snippy note when they actually send you an email—and you certainly don't imply that they owe you anything beyond the emails you signed up for.
To relieve the overwhelming pressure on your inbox, I unsubscribed you from the mailing list, which you signed up for under your Gmail address sometime in the past.
I quickly received this reply:
Thank you, Linda. Clearly our association was not mutually beneficial. Best of luck with all your endeavors.
Hear that? That's the sound of my snort of amusement and derision echoing from North Carolina out to the farthest reaches of the planet. I must have missed the memo that I'm obligated to hire everyone who subscribes to my mailing list, in exchange for them reading the emails they signed up for.
Yes, well, I'm not sure you have such a smart sales tactic there—to sign up for someone's mailing list and tell them you won't open their emails unless they buy something from you. Good luck with that.
Then I had a light-bulb moment, and looked this writer up in our mailing system again.
I Was Giving This Writer Too Much Credit
What I discovered was disheartening, and dashed any thoughts I had that this was a poor, misguided freelance writer trying to make an honest sale:
The writer had subscribed to our email list just five days earlier! She had received two emails, one of which was the "welcome to the list" email, and had opened exactly zero of them.
This wasn't a misguided subscriber who thought she had hit upon a unique way to line up prospects...her M.O. was clearly to sign up for random email lists and then hit the owners with her "sales" letter.
That's when I realized this writer, perhaps overwhelmed with how truly difficult freelance writing is, had beaten her sense of ethics into submission in order to score a sale. Because I'm pretty sure that she, like most of us, has that little angel on her shoulder telling her this tactic is unethical and all-around not nice.
Side note: After this post went live, I discovered that the writer had learned the dubious sales letter tactic from a freelance writing "coach." She also let me know that people were now saying mean things about me in the coach's group chat, which I guess was supposed to be scary.
This is why it's so important to vet, vet, vet anyone you're thinking about paying as a coach, mentor, or teacher! Have they been successfully writing for more than a few months (or even a few years)? Have they freelanced through an economic downturn? Can you find their work in the markets they claim to have written for? I've gone so far as to schedule phone calls with a coach's previous clients before shelling out a dime.
What You Can Ignore
Are you overwhelmed with everything it takes to make a sale...and make a good living as a freelance writer? Are you feeling like you might need to loosen your ethics a bit to make a sale in this ultra-competitive environment?
I remember hearing from a coaching client who had earned a journalism degree and started writing 25 years ago, stopped to raise her kids, and then gotten back in the game. She lamented that so much had changed in the last 25 years, she didn’t know where to (re)start.
But here's the thing: It really hasn't changed all that much.
Yes, there's now a swirling, chaotic cloud of information (and misinformation) new writers have to wade through to figure out the facts of freelancing. But I freelanced full-time for 25 years, through recessions and through the Internet boom and bust, and I can tell you this:
You can safely ignore everything that's happened in the last 25 years.
You can ignore content mills, blogs, marketing gurus, social media, inbound marketing, SEO, writing for exposure, and crafting scary/mysterious/urgent email and blog post headlines.
All you need is the same stuff you needed a quarter of a century ago:
Amazing writing skills.
A simple website.
One good way of marketing that you like enough to keep at it. That might be writing query letters, sending snail-mailed sales letters, or even cold calling. (And these old-school tactics still work, as I outlined in my popular post on Copyblogger.)
The willingness to work hard. (And I mean hard. If someone tells you it's easy to make money "following your passion" and "work from anywhere with your portable career," know that they're full of shit.)
That's because writing clients are confused, too! They're inundated with:
Sales pitches on Twitter
Offers to check out the latest and greatest job board to find freelance writers
Pitches from agencies that promise to help them find the best talent
Emails from writers who have a kinda-sorta good idea but no idea how to properly pitch it
Notes from non-English-speakers who want to "pay you to place a guest post about zero-interest loans on your blog"
Skeezy sales letters like the one I wrote about above
What they're looking for is someone who can complete projects well and on time. Someone who will help them save time, save money, and boost profits. Someone who will do this with a minimum of whining and hand-holding. Someone who is reliable and honest.
And believe it or not, that writer is amazingly hard to find. The editor of a well-known newsstand women's magazine once told me that only 10% of the writers she'd hired turned in good work, on time. And that was 25 years ago!
If you have the goods, you don't need to use dubious sales methods to sell yourself to a prospect.
You also don't need to worry about your "sales funnel"—about attracting clients to your social media, in order to get them onto your website, in order to get them to sign up for your incentive, in order to get them to open your emails, so that, in some crazy, roundabout way, they might hire you just because they've seen your name so much.
The marketing "gurus" make it all sound so complicated because then you'll hire them to help you through the mess.
But it's really not complicated. All you need to do is go out there, find the clients you want to work with, and approach them with whatever method you like best and that works best for you. You can learn these time-tested methods by reading inexpensive books, hiring a business coach for a single session, or reading blogs from established writers.
The Good News for Freelance Writers
All this points to one fact that should make you feel 100% better about this whole freelance writing thing:
Freelance writing clients —the good ones, anyway, the ones who will pay what you deserve—don't have the time or energy to wade through the muck that is the Internet looking for good writers.
They have jobs to do, and they need writers who make their lives and jobs easier, not harder.
They don't have the time or energy to wade through your blog, or search for the gold in an overstuffed freelance writer directory, or check out your Instagram profile, or sign up for your mailing list to get helpful reports on content marketing.
(Or, ahem, to deal with crackpots who think a someone owes them work because they deign to open their emails.)
Can you imagine the editor of a top website or magazine posting an ad on Craigslist? Or the Chief Marketing Officer of a Fortune 500 company searching Twitter for the writer with the wittiest tweets?
Don't let anyone tell you landing freelance writing jobs is complicated. Don't fall into the trap the writer above landed in, thinking the only way to stand out in a competitive environment is to trick or lie to writing clients.
If you come to these people with stellar skills and a solid sense of professionalism, they'll thank you. You are a pro writer. You've got the goods.
So instead of trying to weave an intricate web to attract clients, just step up and show them what you can do.
Thank you for letting Linda know about the Alliance … I will pass this resource on to her. Someone must have posted Linda’s story on kboards because we’re getting a ton of traffic from there, as well as Reddit.
You’re welcome. I’m glad to see her update that the Alliance for Independent Authors linked to this post. She’s wise to keep everything in writing.
I found out about this via a link posted on Reddit: Self-Publishing and I saw it posted on Kboards, too.
[www] ripoffreport.com is another resource. I check there for scam reports and other complaints about businesses I’m researching. The Better Business Bureau is a valuable ally.
I hope there’s a fast and fair resolution, and that the book soars!
Thank you, I hope the book continues to do well, too. AIA is doing a watchdog report on this company; I think it’ll go live sometime this week.
Thanks so much for sharing this Linda. Scams and rip-offs are rife in the self-publishing industry. It’s a minefield for authors. This is so helpful for any of us looking to use outside agencies to help launch our books. We need to know the red flags from the moment we start researching companies.
I’ll never forget how kind you were to me many years ago, when you didn’t even know me perosnally but recommended me to author an Idiot Guide. That’s why it pains me to read what you have had to go through.
For all your readers, I would like to add one thing to your list of lessons:
It’s not a good idea to pay a lump sum up front to an outfit that is supposed to follow dated milestones. After an agreed upon deposit, split the payments up so that the money is tied to tasks completed.
Linda–so sorry this happened to you! I had a so-called academic publisher who tried to scam me, but I was lucky to have a lawyer look at the contract and warn me not to sign it. (Of course, I had to tell everyone I had opened my mouth to that I wasn’t going to be published after all. Embarrassing)! Later I learned that the guy I was dealing with had scammed other authors. I self-published the book to the tune of about $2,000, which I can’t say I made on sales. Thanks for sharing. Most authors who have a disappointment of some kind think that they’re alone.
Linda, I am SO sorry to hear this, and thank you for sharing your costly experience in such detail. You may have saved many others from the frustration of similar decisions.
I hope you’ll get some level of reimbursement (and no more grief) from IP.
Hug from a long-ago Way Norther!
Thank you for your openness about this situation. I’m sorry to hear this happened, but am glad you’re sharing to help others who are entering the self-publishing world and don’t know best practices for working with PR and launch agencies.
What a horror. I have been struggling with putting my own books out because I don’t have the money to hire anyone. Maybe that is a blessing.
Dot La Motta
So sorry for your terrible experience, but thank you so much for your
very detailed notes in sharing what is a valuable lesson for all of us who
desire to self-publish. We are all much smarter because of you and
know how to identify potential problems sooner rather than later.
Looks like good times are ahead for you. God Bless.
I am so sorry this happened to you. Have you thought about filing a lawsuit? Unfortunately the self publishing industry has few regulations (from what I understand) and it makes it easy for predators to prey on writers. I think you were generous saying that Tom didn’t intend to take advantage of you, but he had multiple opportunities to redeem himself along the way and didn’t do it. Writers should avoid him and his company like the plague.
Thanks for such a detailed post – this was useful for a few reasons: I’m trying to help promote my books and some friend’s books to help them reach people who would benefit from them, and not sure how to do that. Also I’ve been scammed before and want to know how to prevent that from happening. Have to agree with the other person – the way he was behaving doesn’t sound like an innocent mistake, sounds like more malicious behavior on the other party’s part. No clue if it would be possible to legally get some of that back – sounds like you would have a case depending on contract particulars.
I groaned aloud while reading your post. This doesn’t only happen with self-published authors though – I had a situation where a traditional publisher I worked with hired a publicist for a book launch with a similar goal to yours – get some PR outside of my regular stomping grounds where I was already well connected and could guarantee coverage. Not only did that highly paid publicist not generate any new outlets, I found out later that when preparing their client report they took credit for all of the reviews/mentions I had organized on my own! At least it wasn’t my money they wasted, but that money could have been more wisely spent elsewhere.
I have come to the conclusion that by and large, I am responsible for my own PR. For good or ill, at least I know the basics are covered!
As someone that’s followed some of Insurgent’s stuff, I can’t say I’m overly surprised. At this point I’d follow up with some research on small-claims court and begin the process of getting more of your money back. Threatening to blow this up publicity for him wide open might be a good inducement (say what you will about Huffington Post et al, but they *do* get a lot of eyeballs).
P.S. Good on you for getting someone that gets your book!
Didn’t you apply to Insurgent Publishing for a job just a couple months ago?
You’re really going to equate someone trying to find a job with the unethical crap you’ve pulled here? That is weak sauce.
I was looking for a job, too. Hell, I might even have applied to your company if I’d have seen an ad. I’m a qualified PR pro and a former journalist. But seeing your behavior here tells me that I couldn’t have stood working for you for long.
That read like a horror story. I was actually getting anxious as it continued!
There are so many sharks out there, whether their aims are to intentionally rip self-published authors off or just mishandle affairs for them. I err on the side of caution and try to research as much as I can, but when everyone promises results and waves expertise under your nose it’s hard not to go along with it. They actively seek out new authors too, playing on their desire to succeed.
Even low-budget options need to be taken with care. I fell for one of those people promising book blasts to Facebook groups that might have actually ended up damaging my/the book’s reputation, which is another risk when this stuff happens.
Thanks for the in-depth look, and I’ll check out the CCC. Looks like they know what they’re doing! Best of luck in the future
We don’t seek out new authors. In fact, we always push them elsewhere (either to free training courses or books to help them grow their platform before they invest in a big launch).
We only work with established authors who are either traditionally published, or have solid platforms that we can actually amplify. You can see our track record on our website.
Based on our free consulting call, and the questions Linda answered that allow us to vet the right clients, Linda looked like a great fit and was satisfied with our work up through launch day, as can be seen in our records of email and basecamp correspondence, literally up to the second day after launch (the day she cancelled our contract).
In regards to these types of companies reaching out to new authors, I was speaking in generalities and my own experience with PR and marketing companies, not about Insurgent in particular.
However, according to Linda herself, she was in fact quite dissatisfied with the work that you and/or your team did (or didn’t do), because of either the lack of communication, the unprofessional demeanor or the slightly shady practices (e.g. the Basecamp tasks).
Your apology and offer to speak about a refund count in your favor, if they are indeed honest, but it seems there’s still some distance to go.
Thanks, Neil! FYI, the offer to talk about a refund was over a week ago and I haven’t heard back since.
Oh no! What a terrible situation! Really shocking how unscrupulous and greedy people can be. I’m feeling quite indignant for you! But
thanks for sharing this unfortunate experience with your readers, Linda. Serves as a warning for the the rest of us, esp people like me who tend to take people at face value more often than not. I sincerely hope you are able to get your money back.
Oh no, what a saga! I hope this doesn’t overshadow your book (which sounds great by the way).
I think people like this take advantage of the fact that so many authors don’t want to do their own marketing and PR and would rather just concentrate on the writing. But the truth is that spreading the word and connecting with your audience (which is what marketing is at the end of the day) is part of the job of the professional writer just as much as the writing. All jobs have parts to them we may not like so much, and this is ours. So the challenge then is to find the form of marketing that you can put up with enough to want to keep doing it without feeling like you’ve punched yourself in the face every time. And what that is will be different for everybody – some people like social media, others prefer giving talks. It’s not so much what you do as how regularly you do it that matters.
I wish you every success with this book and hope that it now finds its way to the people who can benefit from it most.
Joanne, your thoughts here are spot-on. Thank you!
I’m so sorry you got taken in. The first red flag should have been the $10k price tag. I find too many new authors have unrealistic expectations. You would have to sell an awful lot of books just to break even.
You should check out absolutewrite.com forums. There is a board called Bewares, recomondations & background checks. It’s been my first stop for over 10 years. Always check out these places first. AW has a thread on every publisher, agent, vanity press you can think of. If there isn’t a thread on a particular company you can start a new thread and ask. Another one is Preditors & Editors. There are a lot of companies out there wise only goal is to take money from unspecting authors.
First, her price tag wasn’t $10k, it was $7.5k. And we spent 5 months consulting on this project, from the book cover, title, design, and concept, and would have been marketing and promoting over the next 12 months as per our contract. There’s nothing extraordinary about these price points for what the client is getting. In fact, many companies that do a quarter of what we do charge 3 to 5x more. I don’t do that because I strive to create 10x the value that we personally capture, and a year of long tail marketing on a book can generally hit that goal….which we’ll never know on this one because the contract was cancelled on day two after the book went live, cancelling all subsequent promotion and marketing on our end (that was produced and ready to go live on our end) that would have ideally led to 10,000 book sales or more in the first year.
Tom is correct. Linda’s contract with him was for $7,500. The $10K Linda mentions is the total amount she spent on her book, of which $6,500 was spent with Insurgent Publishing. Tom/Insurgent billed her $1,100 after the contract was cancelled, which Linda did not pay. I hope that clears the confusion.
I am just really stunned and mortified. I am so very sorry this happened. You are an amazing and talented writer and I wish you much success as you move forward. I hope there is a way for you to get your money back from this scam artist.
I’m terribly sorry that anyone had to go through with this. As a vet and a West Point grad it infuriates me that this Tom character would use his past associations to circumvent the natural trust-building that is required in any business venture. I wish you all the best in the future.
What a terrible experience! I am so sorry this happened to you. I am sure you’ve learned a lot in the process, and I have shared this with my clients. (I am a publicist, but not for non-fiction.) Finally though: very pleased for you that your new agency is doing what it is supposed to do for you. Best of luck!
My advice: hire a lawyer to get your money back. Good luck with your new launch company!
Linda, I’d just like to say I’m sorry you had a bad experience with your launch and that you felt our company didn’t live up to our promises. Out of the dozens of launches we’ve done, many in the 5 and 6 figure level, we’ve never had an unsatisfied client. It hurts me to read this for a lot of reasons, not least of which is knowing that had we the 30 to 90 days post launch to drive publicity, awareness, and traffic to your book, sales would have increased substantially over time as they statistically do for all our launches, and I have no doubt we could have done over 10,000 sales with this book – but we’ll never know for sure at this point.
That said, I’d like to set the record straight on a few points, if you would be kind enough to allow this comment to go live, so people can see things from our side. I appreciate you being kind and transparent in doing so: thank you.
For one, I’m sorry you felt communication was lacking. It seems like this is the one thing that led to all the other grievances, if I could pick a root cause. I am sorry for that – it’s my failure as CEO. At the time, we were a fast growing company, and I put a new project manager on your project. I thought this would increase and improve communication, not decrease and hurt it. The latter is the unfortunate truth. When she quit abruptly, it left a lot of tasks and timeline management items to be updated and checked off as completed. I did my best to go in directly to deal with that, but you’re right – many of the tasks, while completed, were only checked off by me after the fact (when I realized they were overdue but complete). This was poor communication on our part, and I take 100% of the responsibility on that. I am sorry it left you with a negative impression of our company.
As far as the job we did, as outlined in our contract and conversations, we are in the business of amplifying book and digital product launches by getting press through niche publications, podcasts, blogs, mainstream media, etc. This is long tail marketing, promotion, and sales at its core. We do the kind of work that builds and compounds over time, where each backlink, each interview, each blog review, each email sent by an influencer sends more and more people to your book, leading to increasing awareness and interest in the book over time, which leads to compounding sales.
That’s how we do big launches, when we define a “launch” as the 90 days preceding the “book available date” and 90 days post launch when we start to scale back the promotion and outreach a little at a time. This is the strategy we’ve used to hit USA Today bestseller, Wall Street Journal bestseller, Amazon best seller (in numerous categories), do close to $500,000 on Kickstarter and more.
There’s as much art as there is science to this, but no matter how good we are, there will be a lot of “no thank you” from outlets we approach about any said book or product.
For your launch, we had at least 7 people working on it in various capacities, and spent literally dozens of hours researching outlets, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and then taking that information to craft unique, individual messages for each outlet that seemed like a good fit. Not only that, but we crafted unique follow up sequences for each outlet and tracked our progress one outlet at a time. Overall, we averaged over 30% success rate (more below).
Out of the 491 outlets we researched and curated for your launch (from 30 to 90 days out, through 30 to 90 days past launch), we connected with 87 directly weeks before launch to set up blog reviews, podcast interviews, guest posts, and more. This was phase 1 of our outreach – to plant the seed of the book. We had another 113 in the chute for launch week (when we could leverage early success to media platforms that would need proof the book was a legitimate hit to proceed), and another 292 to engage with the following weeks (these are the more “mainstream” lists that need other platforms to write about a book or product before they mention them).
As with any type of promotion, not everyone will say “yes” to sharing something, but we averaged over 30% success rate for your launch, which is incredibly high if you’re familiar with industry standard outreach success rates.
As far as strategies like leveraging ProductHunt, reddit, etc. – I could go into a lot of detail here about why these platforms matter individually…for example, why ProductHunt, with a lower percentage of female users (as you pointed out), but a HUGE audience of OVERALL users that are specifically interested in books + technology is a GREAT fit for your book if leveraged the right way (because looking at the % of women on the platform is an irrelevant figure when you can reach tens of thousands of tech savvy women who ARE active on the platform); or why reddit would allow similar targeting to the best potential influencers for your book, etc….but I won’t go into it. I am sorry you don’t see the value in these platforms, but I encourage you to try them out in the near future to see how well your book performs on them.
Last thing I want to highlight is this comment in reference to you giving your book away for free right before launch, when we were intending to sell the digital edition at a “discount price” of $3.99 – to $5.99 to this same audience, before raising the price the following week:
“He also blamed the fact that I had sent an Advance Reading Copy to my list for the extremely slow sales (just over 30 sales on launch day)…”
What upsets me about this comment is that with our business model, we make a profit when a client’s book is a success and sells a LOT over the next 12 months. That’s why we do so much long tail marketing…it’s more effective in the long term and leads to consistent, healthy results.
However, when the major purpose of a launch is to generate revenue through book sales from day 1 (meaning, not a “free book launch” which is a technique we’ve used many times before to good effect), when you give the book away FREE to your MAIN audience, what is the incentive for them to pay for it?
You could say “well, my fans love me and that’s why” – which would be a fair point…except that the 30 sales on launch day clearly indicate that only .37% of your fans / audience (assuming 8000 email readers) felt strongly enough to put money down for something they had for free.
The reality is “free book launches” work when you give a book away free so you can (1) increase total reach with the book and increase word of mouth + (2) generate dozens of positive reviews in the first week.
By accidentally giving a book away free before it goes live, when you’ll be charging for it when you do hit publish, means you get the WORST of both worlds; you aren’t able to leverage the free reviews, word of mouth, and good will… and you aren’t able to generate serious revenue.
This incident was a HUGE fumble.
I knew this would affect sales and I let you know this. It wasn’t to blame you – it was just to let you know: “hey, we just gave our book to everyone for free, so be aware that we’ll try to recover from this, but sales might be slow.”
W did try to recover the fumble, and I believe we would have over time…but now we will never know.
I want to finish by saying I do appreciate your sincerity and the fact that you’ve brought these criticisms to life. I am always looking to improve at what I do, and make our company even better so our clients can have even more success. You brought to life some concerns that I plan to address immediately (communication standards w/ clients; clear standards and timelines for clients to abide by, etc.) that I hope will lead to greater success across the board for everyone, especially from our clients.
Again, I’m sorry this didn’t pan out the way you wanted it to. As I mentioned in our last email correspondence, I would have loved to have had at least another 30 to 90 days with the book to get it the traction I believe it deserves. Regardless, I wish you the best of luck with the book and your platform going forward.
I am glad you came to offer your thoughts. Still — even after reading your side of things — think the best customer service move on your part would have been to offer a partial refund. It would have prevented a lot of ill will, and it would have been in the best interest of your professional reputation and your relationship with this author. That’s still my main sticking point in following this.
I don’t even know what to think of this because the internet is full of people who get their emotions riled up without fact-checking.
Could you please include the screen-shots you speak of in the comments or blog posts?
Including screen-shots of your emails to and from Tom?
And Tom said he placed a comment on this blog post. Has that been approved yet?
Will this comment be approved?
It’s hard for me to believe you if you don’t approve of his or my comment because at this point it’s just a case of he-said, she-said.
She really doesn’t have to do that. She doesn’t owe you anything. She’s written a personal blog post–not a legal brief. You don’t get to tell her what to do. When she’s writing a legal document, then she can worry about all that other stuff. Hey… maybe Tom is a great guy who just got overwhelmed. Who knows? But if that is the case he handled this 100% wrong.
Thanks for the comment Beverly. It’s also possible you don’t have the full story.
I consulted with linda since december – that’s 5 months to help her craft the messaging around the book, from cover and title / subtitle, to how we want that to improve her personal brand and beyond. We used this messaging for outreach (see comment above)…
5 months is a long time to live with a project and i take each one personally. i hate failure of myself or my work, and i work my butt off to make sure everything we do is flawless.
i recognize linda is upset by the results, but the work we do is amplification. sometimes it works great, sometimes it’s a smash success (the book we launched two weeks ago hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list; earlier this year we did $450k on Kickstarter), and sometimes they don’t pan out how we want.
the crucial point here is that the only thing that could have actually DETRACTED from sales in the first week is giving the book away free. This isn’t some sort of blame game; it’s a reality check (see my comment above). We did everything in our power to fix that and kick some life into the book going into launch week. However, Linda cancelled the contract the morning of day two as we were prepping reddit, producthunt, social media pushes through our channels, email through my email list (10,000 readers), and another 100+ blog and podcaster outreach.
I can show you my strategies for how we do these launches – the first day is always the soft launch to early adopters, the second day to your main audience…the rest of the week pushing podcasters and bloggers to share.
The reason for a “soft launch” is for reviews. there’s a reason not much went live from us on day one – it wasn’t supposed to go live day one, but to go live launch week. i outline my process on my blog and teach a course on this process, which i won’t link to because it seems sporting.
If you saw the 5 months of marketing work that went into this book and its launch, just to have our legs cut out from under us on day two of the book being live (after trying to recover from a massive fumble by giving the book away for free on accident), you might think we handled this situation as best as anyone possibly could.
Sure! I would be glad to see your strategies if you want to share them.
And I read your full comment above, and I really do hear what you are saying. It’s incredibly difficult for me when a client is unhappy even after I have done lots of work. I sympathize completely. That said, if any part of that is my fault (and you acknowledge that there were problems on your end) then I do what I can to make sure they are happy–or at least can agree to support the conclusion. Often this is a partial refund, though usually we can come to other means of satisfaction. All I am saying is that despite all that, despite reading what you’ve said (at length) I think that even if you are given full benefit of the doubt, that you could have handled things better from a customer experience perspective. It is my opinion. You are completely free to disagree with it, but please do know that what i am saying today is after reading your words and hearing your story.
Thanks for the kind words Beverly.
You can read all my strategies here: [Ed: deleted the link; search “Tom Morkes” and “publishing course” if you’re interested]
Of course she doesn’t have to do that. She doesn’t owe me anything.
And I in turn don’t owe her any faith in her just because she posted a blog post.
She is free to do what she wants to do. And I am free to believe her or NOT. Fair and square, right?
Thanks so much for writing this post! I know it must be very painful to think about this event and all the blood sweat and tears it cost you (not to mention money!). I have been tempted in the past to hire publicists or book launch businesses, but have always stopped short because I am, by nature, a very paranoid person and hold onto my money like it’s my first born child. I did a kickstarter to fund my debut books and was very close to paying multiple hundreds of dollars to companies promising to promote my product to various outlets and get me thousands of dollars in backers. I spent time sending emails back and forth. But something always just felt wrong, and when I looked up reviews on the companies I either found zip, or very negative reviews. Anytime someone avoids answering questions, gives general non-answers, or is delayed in responding to an email asking for assurances, that should make one hesitate. In any case, thanks for this post, and I’d be interested to hear how your book does down the road. You know what they say, failure is the path to success! Keep on keeping on.
I’m terrified–I was in process of researching them for my future launch and came across your article. I’m so sorry you went through this nightmare. It’s one of the pitfalls of being an Indie writer…its a discipline that requires so many skills that no one person has that expertise. That makes us ripe for abuses, unfortunately. Thank you for posting…
Adding my thanks for sharing this story to educate, and my sympathy for the financial loss. I can imagine the feeling in your stomach when you realized what was happening.
Grace and peace.
Another good resource is Writer Beware, originated by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Gives both advice and info on specific agents, publishers, etc. http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/
Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this. I narrowly avoided a scammer recently.
Thank you for sharing this! Thank you so much!
I’ve been looking for someone to market the book I’m about to launch, and Tom was recommended to me highly. He has a consulting website also where you can chat with him for something like 3 dollars a minute. I was considering whether or not to make the leap and do it, even though most of the marketing people I’ve met with until now did not charge for a first chat.
I am sorry you had to go through this, but I very much appreciate your sharing it. You’re saving plenty others the worry, time and money that you lost. I hope you gain it back tenfold.
Linda, terrific post. Thank you so much for outlining your experience with such detail.
As a professional freelance editor, I can suggest that self-publishing authors that need any work to be done on their books should only pay after the work has been done. I am paid only after I have submitted files that have been reviewed and approved. Of course, in my situation, sometimes it’s difficult getting paid on time (or sometimes at all). Continued success!
Insurgent Publishing is a real useless company by the sound of things. I’m thankful that I found this post, as I’d just looked over their website the other day.
Hopefully, they’re exposed as frauds.
That was a harrowing read. I’m horrified and saddened to learn you had to go through such an unproductive, frustrating, and expensive nightmare. You’re much calmer than I am: in your place, I’d have been talking to lawyers — one of whom surely would be the attorney general of whatever state the guy does business in. Matter of fact, since he’s doing business across state lines, I probably would have been in touch with the US Attorney General’s office.
Your saga makes me feel I got off light with my own fiasco. I hired a woman who came highly recommended (by her friend, it develops) as a “social media marketing consultant” to publicize and help sell a science fiction novel. I explained that a) I don’t enjoy spending time on social media, and that even if I loved it and could do it successfully, b) my hands are pretty full riding herd on several editors, a graphic designer, an ebook formatter, and five contract writers; editing and indexing clients’ copy; wrangling ISBNs; and publishing four e-bookoids a month. The deal was that she would create and run a Facebook Ads campaign, establishing a FB site for our trade-book publishing arm and operating it.
Fortunately, her charge was nothing like what Insurgent Publishing ripped off from you — only several hundred bucks. And counting. At the end of two months, the vaunted FB Ads campaign had sold exactly 0 books. She insisted that could not be true. I sent her all of the sales reports from Amazon. She could not believe it: she said they couldn’t possibly be right.
The few random readers who stumbled across the book — not during the campaign — gave the thing four- and five-star reviews. If it was that good, you’d think at least ONE Facebook reader would have been impressed enough to…well, you know: buy it?
Elsewhere, I ran my own ad campaign for the romantic erotica we produce under a different imprint. It didn’t make us rich, but we _did_ sell books. What that seems to suggest is that advertising _can_ sell books. But evidently Facebook Ads do not. At least, not when the campaign is run by this particular “expert.”
Good luck to you. I hope you find success in this endeavor.
This is a complete hit piece and you won’t even let my other comment go live.
You realize this is libel and defamation, right? I’ll be in touch soon.
Oh the irony, an Author publishing a book called How to do it all Paying a company to do work she could quite easily have done by herself.
I am sorry to hear about your experience, but this post seems a bit one sided.
I found this article in a forum where your post was being discussed and that forum seemed to have much more back and forth with many people who commented that their comments to your post weren’t accepted by you. (Makes me wonder if this post is a waste of my time. I guess I will soon know.)
Second, you have a choice when you sign a contract. The commenters who supported Tom in the forum I found were happy customers all who seem to go back to the point that you GAVE YOUR BOOK AWAY FOR FREE. I am not sure how you can expect good results when that happens.
I wish you luck in the future, but you article to me seems like an angry case of buyers remorse and unfortunately you are trying to take a war veteran who probably works very hard down with you.
Nope. She is entirely credible. Just because Tom has SOME happy customers, doesn’t mean he didn’t screw up here. Many businesses get overwhelmed even if they mean well, but he didn’t handle that well if that was the case.
And also, as a publicist, I can say that yes — she likely hurt her sales a bit with the accidentally giveaway, but it would still have helped with word-of-mouth and Amazon reviews and stuff, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Well if this is the case and giving the book away for free would have helped with Amazon reviews then she should be doing great.
I guess her lack of success speaks for the book itself.
Sounds like Tom had a hard sell.
You bring up a good point, Sarah. One thing that I’m curious about that maybe Tom can answer on his own forum: Linda had not yet written her book when Tom took this project on. She didn’t have a proposal or outline written, only a bare-boned idea. It seems rather odd for Tom to take something like that on, and even odder to throw out sales numbers at that point without seeing the finished product. It’s unheard of for anyone in the literary world to take on an “idea” without some meat behind it. This is one thing that raised a red flag for me, and something I mentioned to Linda at the get-go. At any rate, thanks for commenting.
“Sarah” didn’t do such a great job covering her tracks:
Oh my gosh i don’t know you Tom/Sarah but please don’t embarrass yourself further. Step away from the comments thread. And probably reconsider your business practices.
You are about as dumb as a brick, Tompuppet.
So, Ms. Formichelli seems to have given a draft of the book to something like 8,000 people (somewhere, here or on FB, I believe she mentioned that’s the size of her mailing list). Quite possibly the MS went out in some easily reproducible format, such as a PDF or .docx file.
_Maybe_ she can parlay it into word-of-mouth sales. But…would you, as a potential reader, buy the book when the person telling you about it can email you a copy? Or better yet, post it on DropBox or GoogleDocs for all his friends to access! Our author has made a very serious mistake with substantial potentially negative consequences.
Given that fact, the ethical thing for Mr. Morkes to have done was to put on the brakes.
He should have pointed out that it was going to be difficult or impossible for him to sell a book that she just GAVE away, for free and in reproducible form, to 8,000 customers. This is where he should have said “Let’s stop this campaign right now. I’ll refund the amount that would have covered the rest of the project. Alternatively, maybe we can come up with a service or ancillary product that we can sell in conjunction with the book, using the book as a give-away from now into perpetuity.”
Whether or not his services objectively were lacking after the accidental giveaway occurred, clearly things went downhill from that point. He could have avoided the bad feelings and he could have avoided the impression that he was ripping off the client by bringing a halt to the campaign as soon as it was clear the campaign was in any way compromised.
The impression of wrongdoing is as damaging as real wrong-doing. Even as he was as innocent as the Angel Gabriel, he needed to do the right thing at the right juncture. It appears he missed his chance.
True. I suppose it depends in part on the network itself. People who have it and can share it might do so, but some people would suggest it to others. All that said: I agree–whether or not it was intentional on his part, Tom just didn’t do the ethical (or smart) thing here. And if he really had the author’s interest at heart, he’d have done just what you suggested here, Victoria.
This comment is so wildly off-target it makes me suspect you’re one of Tom/Insurgent’s friends.
She had a choice to sign a contract, correct. This means she was entitled to a certain amount of services. The contract was breached but he kept the money. That’s what this is about.
Bingo, Jim. Thanks for giving me the idea.
Now that I know who you really are, Sarah, I want to say something. I think it’s utterly shameful to pull out the “war veteran” card. It speaks volumes about your character that you’d use this to gain some kind of sympathy. As I said above, I come from a military family with a father, stepfather, grandfather, two brothers, and cousins who proudly served our country from WWII to present in every branch of service except the Air Force. Their service isn’t something they pull out and wave around when they’ve stepped in a pile of it. Just something to think about next time you try to use that. Thank you for your service, but it doesn’t excuse you from screwing up as a civilian.
As someone who also comes from a family with a long history of military service, I really appreciate your response to “Sarah,” Diana.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I should have also mentioned I live about a mile away from an Air Force base in a town that includes a large VA hospital. I’m pretty sensitive to anyone using and abusing their military service for sympathy points, while using a sockpuppet, no less. I wonder what his commanding officers or classmates at West Point would think?
Hey folks, Diana here. I’ve been moderating comments on this post and I have approved every comment that has landed in our queue, positive or negative. There is some lag time because I check the queue in between my other obligations. When Tom’s response came through, I advised Linda and asked her to make the decision to post it or not post it. She decided not to for reasons she explained above.
I am closing comments tomorrow morning, so if you have something to say, say it now. And thank you for taking the time to comment!
What reasons, Diane? I don’t see that post from Linda.
I assume you mean Diana, not Diane. Linda added to her post above.
Not showing Tom’s comment shows this is truly a hit piece and can’t be trusted. Let his words speak for themselves. I can only assume he set the record straight.
Tom is certainly free to respond to Linda’s post on his own forum. Thank you for commenting!
From the look of your measly platform and seeing his, I hope he doesn’t give you or Linda the publicity.
Looks like you missed yoga practice today. So sorry. Hope tomorrow goes better for you.
It’s interesting, “Sarah,” that your e-mail address is linked to Insurgent Publishing. To wit: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:WYhqRqGrdA4J:soularpoweredyoga.org.w3snoop.com/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
That’s really … sad.
Well, our platform may be “measly” but we are schooled in basic journalism. Perhaps cover your tracks better?
Yes I know Tom. I don’t deny that at all. I know him from work he did to help me market and launch a successful yoga retreat in Thailand.
You’re Tom’s wife or her business partner. Do you really want to go down this path? I’ve got more …
You know, I almost called “Sarah” “Tom”. It looks like I wasn’t too far off the mark.
The fact that you won’t allow his own comments speaks volumes.
Tom is absolutely free to share his side of the story on his own forum(s).
Good morning! I shut down comments last night because I didn’t want to wake up to a mailbox full of “Sarah” (see above comments/weblink to learn the identity of “Sarah.”) Linda is not moderating comments; I am. I’m approving all comments, supportive or critical of Linda’s actions with one exception. Linda does not want to give Tom the bandwidth on her blog, so we’ve held his two comments in the queue; their “hold” status is clearly visible above. He is free to speak his mind elsewhere.
Thank you all for your comments. Please keep them coming … although I could do without the sock puppet show. On the other hand, it was rather entertaining.
Sarah, aka Tom, noted that sales were low because of the giveaway mistake. But Linda hired Tom, aka Sarah, to expand her reach beyond her network. When you know that, you realize that the giveaway mistake wouldn’t have mattered that much. Marketing to Linda’s email list wasn’t Tom’s job. His job was to help people who don’t know her already discover her book.
Ugh this is the pits. Thanks for sharing. The lessons are so valuable. I went thru something quite similar with someone who partnered with me to write a memoir for them then started changing their tune in the middle. Long story but I missed the red flags of manipulation and while I was able to pull out of the project, will never recoup my losses in time and money.
Your contract was not fulfilled therefore you are due a full refund. Run fast from any service that does not offer a satisfaction guaranteed clause. At least within 30 days. If they don’t then they don’t care.
What a nightmare for you. I don’t have the funds for a publicist now, but I do look at them from time to time in case I can one day go that route. This was valuable information.
I want to address this to Sarah.
Believing Linda’s comment on this forum wasn’t even a difficult decision. I’ve been hearing about “Tom” and his “publishing” business for quite some time. Not one single comment I’ve read described him or the company as anything but a money-grabbing scheme. Many of the comments were funny–at Tom’s expense.
Another thing you might want to consider. You are trying tear Linda down with that wonderful little thing used against women everywhere. Victim blaming.
You might want to remember this very famous line. “Methinks you doth protest too much.”
If Linda decides to obtain an attorney each comment made by you, Sarah, will be considered evidence. Right now, Tom, you, and his company are trying to use intimidating tactics. Good Luck with that approach. The judge will get a kick out of your ignorance. If Tom hires a good and ethical attorney his first suggestion to Tom will be to settle. This kind of thing has far reaching repercussions. If Tom and you want it to stop Linda then you need to be the ones leaving the battlefield. However, that apparently goes against your need to blame Linda and call her a liar.
Just admit it. An apology and refunded money will go a long way to making you look better and even reasonable. What you are trying to do here and everywhere else is victim blaming.
Remember most of us are writers and readers. We can and do read between the lines. We don’t need you to tell us that we are idiots for believing Linda.
I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. Very well written, and I appreciate the contrasting info of what good service looks like. It is important that things like this get publicized so other writers can learn the warning signs in general (because there are certainly more scammers out there doing the same things to writers) and be warned from specific scammers like Tom and his company.
And I’m sorry you’re now dealing with harassment from Insurgent Publishing and their sock puppets. Shameful on their part! Stay strong. You are in the right.
And good luck with your book!
There’s nothing scammy about our company. There’s a difference between scamming and not getting the results you want. Our company has launched dozens of books and digital products. We’ve helped books hit USA Today bestseller, Wall Street Journal bestseller, and we worked on the most crowdfunded non-fiction book in Kickstarter history.
I elaborated in another comment why the launch DAY performed so poorly (accidentally giving a book away free and then charging people on day one will affect initial sales no matter how you cut this)…we’ll never know whether we could have hit 10,000 sales over the next 12 months because the contract was cancelled the second day after launch, which is when we subsequently stopped the marketing and promotion of the book (which was prepped and ready to go out on dozens of platforms and we had over 100 outlets ready to engage with to leverage early positive reviews into more exposure….again – never had a chance to see what results that could have played in the first month of sales, let alone the first year).
In my 25 years as a freelance writer, author, and coach, I have been approached by many, many people asking if I might give them one of my products for free.
They want free books. They want me to answer a list of questions about how to get started as a writer. They want me to critique their writing. They want to jump on a “quick call” to pick my brain. They want free access to my products.
And most recently, I discovered that at least one writer is sharing a members-only link and password to a freelance writing course I used to teach, which remains online so past students can still access the materials.
I often wonder:
What goes through the minds of writers when they’re typing out that note asking me to provide them with free products and services?
Is this a strategy that works for them? Do they really receive virtual armfuls of free goodies just for asking?
Has an aspiring writer ever used the free resources they gathered to kill it in the freelance world? How many super-successful freelance writers started off by begging for favors?
And the big one:
How can these writers—who ostensibly want to make money from their own writing—possibly justify asking other writers to give their time, energy, and money to a stranger…in exchange for nothing?
So I decided to write this post countering the most common arguments that make freelance writers feel entitled to freebies (and even outright stealing).
Much of what you’ll read below was inspired by a conversation I had around this issue with long-time freelance writer, book ghostwriter, and coach Carol Tice.
I hope this post will support and encourage all of us small creators—while at the same time convincing writers that asking for handouts, sharing paid links, and the like are very poor use of your time and energy.
“I want to sample what you have to offer before shelling out money for it.”
Just like you do in a clothing store! Ever notice how they’ll give you a top, scarf, or belt to take home and try out for free, so you can decide if the products are well-made enough for you to buy more of them?
Oh wait, that doesn’t happen in clothing stores? Well, how about the way a lawyer will do the first few pages of your will for free so you can determine if it’s worth paying for the rest? Or a housecleaner will do one room gratis, hoping you’ll be impressed enough to hire them to do the rest of the house?
Here’s how to know if a product is worth buying
The way you figure out if a purchase is worthwhile is the same for a writing product as it is for a pair of jeans, a lawyer, or a housecleaner:
Ask for referrals.
Check online reviews.
Read the business’s content.
If you have questions about whether the product is right for you, ask. Honest creators will give you a straight answer.
If they have a refund policy, purchase the product and simply return it if you don’t like it.
If you wouldn’t ask your hairdresser, plumber, or local hotel for a free sample, don't ask writing entrepreneurs for one either.
How this attitude hurts small creators
1. You’re encouraging a “sample economy” for writers
Ever have a prospect ask you to write a sample (unpaid) article to make sure you’re good enough to earn their 5 cents per word (or whatever bullshit fee they’re offering)? Often, they have no intention of hiring you…they’re just looking for free content. Or they never respond at all, and you wonder why you spent all that time and effort writing for nothing.
If you believe this is an egregious scam, don’t foist it on other writers—you're just encouraging the practice, which will hurt all writers in the long run.
2. Many people use this as a ploy to pay writers as little as possible
I have actual data to prove this!
Years ago, I decided to offer all my e-books on a “pay what it's worth” plan. The books ranged from shorter, Q&A-style books to full-length books that had once been published by a traditional publisher (such as The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success).
I asked writers to pay the amount they thought each product was worth, and I set the minimum at $1 to cover my costs.
And what happened?
Most people went through the catalog of books clicking $1, $1, $1 all the way down.
How strange! Didn’t they at least want to try out one book at $1, and then decide from that how much they’d like to pay for the rest? Did every one of the products my co-author and I spent months creating—each of which was the culmination of over a decade of research, learning, and real-world work—really offer exactly $1 of value?
Nope. The buyers’ goal was clearly to get all the products of my hard work for as little as possible.
That experiment did not last long.
Wondering how to decide if a creator’s product is right for you if they don’t offer a sample or a trial? Instead of asking for a freebie, check out the creator’s website and reviews. If you’re really worried you’ll waste your money—especially with high-priced products like courses—look for a money-back guarantee.
“I might buy something big from you someday, so you should give me this thing for free/at a discount now."
Gotta love it when someone hints that they might buy your $500 course someday, and then uses that as a springboard to ask you for a handout or discount now.
Every writer on the planet could have potentially been a big-fish customer of mine someday. Were they all entitled to free products? If so, I should have packed it in 25 years ago, because I would have gone broke.
Smart business owners focus their attention on their current customers, and on the people who are most likely to become customers in the future. They cannot spend their time and money ingratiating themselves to every person who might possibly, maybe, kinda-sorta, someday buy their product.
To ask them to do so is unfair…and also gives your clients an excuse to ask you to work for free. (“I may have a $40,000 book project for you down the road…but for now can you write this blog post gratis?”)
Also: That’s what blogs, newsletters, and downloads are for. They’re free resources the creator made so you’ll hopefully keep them in mind should you ever need their services. And—bonus—you can get them even if you have no intention of ever becoming a paying customer!
“I don’t have enough money for this product, but I reaaaaalllllly need it!”
This justification is one that hurts you more than it hurts the small creator, for three reasons:
1. You won’t do the work (I guarantee it)
When I taught my Write for Magazines class, before each session I would offer a free ticket to the first person who asked. It was a scholarship of sorts.
Over the several years I ran that class, only one scholarship recipient ever did any of the work at all. The other 99.99% didn’t even complete the first lesson.
Yep. They got an 8-week class with hands-on coaching for free—and did absolutely nothing.
I realize now that people don’t value things they get for free or cheap. Their reasoning is, “Hey, I didn’t pay for it, so I lose nothing if I don’t do the work!”
You hand-wash a $200 sweater, but throw a Walmart T-shirt in the hot wash. You carefully detail your $80,000 BMW, whisking away every speck of dirt with a specially made microfiber duster—and cram French fry wrappers into the cup holders of your $500 junker. The less you pay for something, the less you value it (and vice versa).
2. You don’t have the resources you need to make it as a writer
If you don’t have, say, $25 to invest in a writing community or $5 to purchase an instructional guide for freelancers, you don’t have enough money to be a freelance writer. Getting the products for free doesn’t solve the main problem that you can’t afford to invest in your business.
What happens when your laptop breaks? When you need a printer or accounting software? When you have to buy gas to meet a client across town? Will you spend your time calling around for free resources whenever you need something new?
Freelancing, like any other business, incurs expenses. Take the fact that you’re asking for handouts as a sign that you may not be able to afford these necessary expenses.
3. You’ve fallen for a scam
If you truly cannot afford to spend $3 on an e-book or $50 for a writing tool—it may be that you were tricked into believing freelance writing was the perfect job for you.
Scammers and charlatans tout freelance writing as an easy, fun, cheap, and sure-fire way to earn cash fast. This draws in people who don’t want to, or can’t, work in other types of professions.
They think, “I keep getting fired from jobs for not showing up/not doing the work/not doing the work well…so I’ll just become a writer!” Or, “I have an illness that makes it difficult for me to work a 9-to-5 job. I know, I’ll write for a living instead!”
And then they discover that freelancing is a business. A business that requires a huge investment of time and money. That requires you to market yourself, qualify prospects, act professionally on the phone/Zoom, set rates, learn project management, track invoices, and pay taxes.
A business where it can take months to land your first paying project—and then the writing project itself takes weeks to complete.
Where you discover that writing for clients isn’t the fun, easy, creative endeavor you thought it was; it’s hard work.
And where the client pays you 30 to 90 days after all that!
By the time many of these aspiring writers make this realization, they’ve burned through their savings, gotten zero freelance jobs, and are about to get evicted. And that’s when they start scouring the internet for handouts that can get them out of this mess.
I am not making this up! I have heard this exact story from many writers, as well as from writing coaches and authors I know. I even had one writer tell me she hadn’t made a dime in two years…but she had to make freelancing work because she “refused to stoop to retail.”
What makes it even sadder is that many of these people have turned to writing because they are suffering. They may not be able to hold down a job because they have an anxiety disorder, or they’re sick, or they’re taking care of ailing parents. They’re suckered into thinking freelancing will save them, they get a harsh reality checkup, and then they start begging creators for free resources.
So if you can’t afford a $3 product…if you ask for discounts or payment plans on tools that cost less than $50…if you really, really, really need a handout from a small creator—stop and ask yourself whether you’ve fallen into this trap.
If you have, it's not your fault. You’ve been played by one of the many, many scammers who prey on writers’ dreams. Freelance writing as a business is probably not for you. I don’t know what is for you, because everyone’s story is different, but I’m pretty sure it’s not writing.
“It’s no skin off your nose to give me a digital product for free…it’s already been created and is just sitting there on your hard drive.”
Except that small creators need to pay their bills just like everyone else, and they do that by selling their products and services—not by giving them away for free.
Business coaches point out that in order to make good money, you need to find an audience that has money. Lawyers. Doctors. CEOs. You can sell these people a $2,000 product and they won’t blink an eye.
But people who create products for writers flout this advice. They know they are not going to earn as much money as they could if they targeted super-high earners—but they do it out of love, passion for the business, and a feeling of responsibility toward their fellow creatives.
These small creators are already limiting their income by serving an audience that is typically not wealthy. Why ask them to earn even less by expecting them to give away their work for free?
“Jeez, it takes one minute to either just send me the free thing or respond to say no. What’s the big deal?”
Here are three reasons this is a big deal for small creators.
1. It doesn’t take a minute
When I get a request for a handout, my internal process looks something like this:
Interrupt my flow of creation, which is not a good thing for someone with ADHD.
Read the note, which usually entails wandering through a long narrative about why the person needs/wants/deserves the free thing.
Figure out whether and how to reply.
Send a response saying no, but pointing the requester to other, free resources.
And sometimes: Fume that the requester never bothered to send a thank-you. Vow to never respond to these requests again. (Ha!)
I’m not one of those hardy souls who can simply hit Delete and be done with it. I’m a sucker for a sad story, while at the same time resentful that the requester doesn’t seem to understand that other people have stories of their own.
Maybe the entrepreneur you’re asking needs the money from the product they created to pay for their son’s surgery. Perhaps their car broke down, and they need that money for repairs. Maybe their spouse lost their job, and the creator has to hustle to cover the bills on one income.
2. It wastes precious creative energy
It doesn’t just take time to send you a freebie or a “no” reply…it takes mental energy, too. Every one of these requests is like a tiny cut to the creator’s brain, draining away their motivation to create.
Over time, the entrepreneur starts to wonder: “Is what I’m creating truly valueless? Are the 20+ years I put into creating resources for writers worth nothing? Is all the knowledge I gained in the trenches pointless? Maybe I should just stop creating.”
In fact, there is a stream of writing authors, coaches, and teachers who have fled the business for this very reason. I know this because I know these people. And because I’m one of them. (See this video about the writer who caused me to quit coaching.)
3. You are not the only one to ask
Finally, even if it does take one literal minute to deal with your request, you need to multiply that by 100 or more.
You are not the lone writer who came up with an unprecedented way to score free stuff. There are thousands of people out there who feel entitled to ask for charity from entrepreneurs they don’t know.
In fact, Carol Tice had to develop stock verbiage she sends to requesters: “I regret that I am unable to be a free source of individual coaching for the many writers who ask me each week.”
Over the years, I’ve gotten these requests for every book I’ve authored…every class I’ve taught…and every product I’ve created. Add to that the plethora of people who’ve asked me to “jump on a call” so they can “pick my brain”—you know, instead of paying the $300 I used to charge other writers for coaching—and you can see how those “one-minute” increments add up.
Every one of these freebie requests grinds the small creator down just a little bit more. If you aspire to be a paid creator yourself, put yourself in this position and consider how much you would like it.
“I bought something from you/joined your mailing list/took your class in 2014. You shouldn’t have a problem with answering this list of questions.”
Many of the handout requests I receive start out with, “I bought your book X” or “I joined your mailing list.” The subtext: “I spent time/money/attention on you, and therefore you owe me.”
What a guilt trip! With so many of us writers being sensitive souls, it’s exactly what we don’t need.
So here’s a refresher on how commerce works:
You pay $3.99 for a book and you receive a book. You join a mailing list to access free content in an area of interest to you, and you get free content in an area of interest to you. The transaction is now complete.
Creators don’t owe you anything beyond the product or service you purchased. They are not on the hook to send you additional resources, spend time coaching you, or give you free stuff.
“The product isn’t worth what you’re charging.”
We can have a world where creativity is valued...or a world where it’s not valued. Every action we take contributes to one of those worlds.
If you want to be valued for your work as a writer, you need to value other creators’ work as well. Complaining that clients want to pay you 5 cents per word, and then asking for a handout from another creator, is the very epitome of hypocrisy.
A million calculations went into the price the creator is asking. If you can’t/don’t want to pay it, don’t.
If you can’t afford the $500 course, find a $200 course. If don’t want to buy the $200 course, find blogs and downloads you can use for free. Just don’t grind the creator to lower their prices for you.
With Much Love...
I really, really appreciate the support of the hundreds of writers who have bought my books, taken my classes, hired me for coaching, followed the (now defunct) Renegade Writer blog, and subscribed to the Brainstorm Buddy App—a product that took 25 years to develop, and many months to test and create.
I’d estimate that fewer than 5% of writers approach me for freebies and discounts…but 5% of entitled people out of thousands of appreciative, paying customers has managed to congeal into a big, energy-sucking mass that would test anyone’s patience.
I hope this article has offered support and help for creators who have experienced the same lack or support and care from fellow creators. At the very least, when someone asks you for a freebie you can send them this link and be done with it. And I hope this has also been insightful for writers who feel "it couldn't hurt" to ask other creators for free products and services.
Do you have a comment, a critique, or an experience you’d like to share on this big topic that affects so many writers? The conversation will be happening on my LinkedIn post promoting this article.