Psycho Freelance Writers

OK, I have blogged in the past about pushy PR and marketing bullies. Today, I’m blogging about another personality type that is just as much an annoyance but on a different level: the psycho freelance writer.

The main difference between the PR bully and the psycho freelancer is that I don’t identify that well with the “hard sell” mentality, but I do identify with being a writer, trying to drum up writing gigs, and wishing an editor would give me a chance to prove I really do know what I’m doing. I have been there at different points in my career.

However, I think our sinking economy has caused some “professional” writers to go off the deep end while negotiating writing jobs with editors. Article pitches and queries sometimes turn into acts of desperation, like trying to insult one’s way into a writing gig. It doesn’t make any sense, but it certainly does happen – a lot.

I mainly have dealt with psycho freelance writers during the last two to three years, which is why I am relating their insane approaches to, perhaps, tough financial times and today’s strained economy. I’d hate to think the world of freelancers is this peppered with these lunatics for any other reason.

Most recently, I was approached by a stone mason in Massachusetts via email. He sent images of a fireplace he’d been constructing that actually was unique and beautiful, but wasn’t a fit in our magazine’s trade format. (We aren’t an interior design magazine.) He, of course, thought it should be a feature story in the magazine, and that he should get paid lots of money to write the story and give me images of the fireplace. After a lot of back-and-forth, I decided I could run a small piece explaining the construction of the fireplace and showing an image or two, as a sidebar, in our “fireplaces and chimneys” issue this November.

Instead of being appreciative that I’d found a way to work in an otherwise useless bit of information into a trade magazine, my Massachusetts friend was offended and furious. His way of handling it? Insult the magazine and the editor!

Following are our conversations for your enjoyment. I promise, I am not doctoring it at all. Let me preface this by saying that his first email, which I deleted, addresses our magazine by the name of our competitor. Massachusetts Man seemed put off by the fact that I clarified he was contacting the magazine he meant to contact. The conversation picks up here:
PSYCHO FREELANCER:

I have designed and am in the process of building a very unique stone fireplace in Western Mass that I think the readership would have interest in. I'm enclosing a photo and brief description of the major design stone setting. I will photo-document the project, anticipated to be finished in late May. These granite jamb and lintel stones weigh 3,000 lbs. The lintel stone is 112" long. The fireplace opening is roughly 4 feet square. There will be a second fireplace upstairs. Project is expected to use 24 tons of stone.

JENNIFER:

Wow – nice picture. What is the crux of the story?

PSYCHO FREELANCER:

If I told you how I did it now, I'd give away some of my story!! (Heavy duty dollies and a chain hoist) I think it would be deduced, just from telling the story of how the fireplace came about, is that, there is much more creativity in using natural stone. You couldn't build this with fake rocks. They don't come this big.

JENNIFER:

I am so sad that we just ran our natural stone feature for this year. But, perhaps I can find another way to work it in. Let me think on it.

PSYCHO FREELANCER:

You could run it in the Fall as a fireplace article - the best time of year to use them. Its unique as a fireplace. It is built according the fluid dynamic research done by a British Physicist, Peter Rosin, who found the smoke shelf created turbulence instead of improving draft. Hence, this one doesn't have one. It also has a top sealing damper instead of a throat damper - again for better initial draft and better laminar flow of gases in the throat. (You shouldn't limit "natural (real!) stone projects to once a year, anyway. Especially given their history with masonry..)

JENNIFER:

We have a "chimneys and fireplaces" feature in November. I'll publish it then, as a sidebar to our fireplaces feature. Keep sending me pics as you work along...

PSYCHO FREELANCER:

I'm really looking forward to sharing this project and my fireplace expertise with the readership!

My agent (wife) wants to know if you have standard rates for article copy and photos. I'm not selling anything (and I don't travel) so have little to gain except some industry recognition and some compensation for my time and knowledge. I guarantee you'll get a first rate, informative article, so I know you'll want it to be a win-win arrangement.

JENNIFER:

Hi. I pay freelancers who I assign comprehensive feature articles to, but I don't pay for submitted material. If you want to list "the facts," I will write something. I will only have room for about 300 words and a couple of images, as I am running this as a sidebar. If the exposure of your name/bio to our 20,000 readers isn't enough, we might not be able to play ball...

PSYCHO FREELANCER:

You may be surprised to know that I seldom spend more than 30 seconds browsing your magazine before sending it to the circular file. You might want to reconsider which article to call the "feature" and which to call the "sidebar"....

I've already done submitted articles. I'm not going to build anyone anything outside my range radius of 50 miles. My "name/bio" is going to mean as much to Joe Subscriber, as squat. They're not going to call me to hire me for a job. The articles done by your editors (in contrast to those done by "in the field" contractors) are obvious from the outset. This one would have real substance to it...

Trust me. This job/article will be an eye opener for anyone wanting to build custom, stone faced fireplaces - and show them how I do it.

PSYCHO FREELANCER AGAIN:

Ignore my last email. Written at the end of a long, hard week. I'm going to write up and photograph the project as it goes along. Please consider it as a feature article - for free.

JENNIFER:

It's fine. I have been a magazine editor for 13 years, and I have received emails and mail much more rude than the one you sent. I do appreciate your opinion as a reader. I am sure you realize that insulting the editor isn't how to get your article published. I do not have editors writing articles, by the way, but freelancer writers who cover construction and have for years. They are members of the Construction Writers Association, which I where I found them. They aren't ignorant about masonry.

Even if you do put our magazine down after 30 seconds, you obviously want to write for it. I take this as a compliment to the extremely hard work I and our entire staff put into each issue.

I'll reconsider this week if I want to move forward, and I'll get back to you.

Have a great rest of the weekend.

PSYCHO FREELANCER:

I appreciate your openness to feedback. I understand why, but most of your articles are geared for commercial work, which I don't do, so the reason for the short browse isn't the quality of the articles: they tend not to be as applicable to artisan/residential masonry construction. I go right to the "new tools" section first.

(end)
The moral of the story is, I explained that, yes, we cover commercial masonry, not residential. I told him to contact me in September.

I also Googled my way into discovering that this guy has written a paperback handbook on his fireplaces, so I don’t believe for a second that getting published and furthering his reputation as an “expert” isn’t helpful to him.

Any thoughts? How would you have handled this guy?

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Comments:
I think you handled him with admirable patience and professionalism. Reminds me of the time I was hiring a technical writer. One applicant sent me a scathing letter critisizing my failure to respond to his application (he was assuming the position had been filled). As it turned out, I was just about to phone the short list people that week. Needless to say, he did not get an interview.
# posted by Anonymous Barbra Sundquist, How to Write a Bio : April 4, 2008 at 1:29 PM
 
Isn't psycho a little strong? I admit telling an editor you can't wait to File 13 their pub is, er, unusual business practice.Weird behavior in this business comes from both sides, though. I have been a full-time freelancer for 26 years and often ask employers if their offered fee is negotiable or indicat that it's below market. For this, some bloggers call me "rude." But this is a business--I ask about the money. For their part, I notice many editors see a properly framed query and can't spare 3 seconds to even push Reply and say, "Not for us, try again." Instead, it's the "no answer" answer, what many writers call the NAA. Check out our website, Writer's Catablog, http://writerscatablog.com. This is comfort and reassurance for writers--yes, you are still worth something. Worth a lot, in fact.

OK, now I need to sharpen my ax for those psycho ax murders I have planned.
# posted by Blogger Star Lawrence : April 5, 2008 at 11:56 AM
 
Wow, that was pretty psycho. I'm only hoping that the fact that this guy was not a professional freelance writer had something to do with his lack of professionalism. Although even so, as someone who works with clients he should have known better. Have you experienced similar things with freelancers who are primarily writers?

It was also pretty odd that he broached the subject without asking about payment up front, especially since he later claims it wasn't worth his time to do the article unless he got paid. I guess he didn't realize that some publications might not offer compensation until he talked to his wife.

For what I would have done differently, I guess I would have asked up front whether he expected to get paid. And I think after he wrote that insulting email I would have told him to try publishing his article elsewhere -- not because he insulted the magazine, but because I wouldn't want to deal with someone who is obviously so unprofessional. I'd expect further grief during the editing process.

Martha Spizziri
Web Editor
ASBPE
# posted by Blogger Martha Spizziri : April 7, 2008 at 2:11 PM
 
RE: "psycho" being too strong a word...maybe the better word is "schizophrenic." :)
# posted by Blogger Jennifer Morrell : April 7, 2008 at 3:12 PM
 
Actually, I think "freelance writer" is too strong a term. What you had was a psycho stonemason who types, not a writer. Unfortunately, he played directly into the pitiful stereotype of the desperate, demanding freelancer, which gives a bad name to all of us who chose freelancing as a career. We've entered a time when anyone who can hang together two words is a writer, but you might have better experiences by raising the bar, assigning to professional writers who would go out of business tomorrow if they behaved so badly.
# posted by Anonymous Holly Ocasio Rizzo : April 11, 2008 at 4:21 PM
 
I'm not sure that he's a "psycho freelancer" as much as a "phycho writer hobbyist".

I think that the first clue he wasn't a freelance writer was I've already done submitted articles."

All the more reason to only hire professional writers, not professional stone masons.
# posted by Blogger Serenity Now! : April 12, 2008 at 10:30 PM
 
The thing is, judging from these emails, I don't think this person *is* a professional writer. I'm surprised to see him described as such.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : April 13, 2008 at 7:34 AM
 
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