By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist
Everyone thinks she is a writer, and everyone thinks he can make money at writing. That's why services like elance.com are so successful in content bidding wars. However, the truth is, not everyone can write well and not everyone should be in the business of writing. You, certainly, shouldn't have to be in the position of paying them for their work when you could be hiring someone better.
Moment of transparency: I have been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. I have copyedited as well as edited publications, and I have faced my share of professional writers. I know a good one from a poor one. Here are some things that you as a client can look for when considering a writer for hire.
Look at their work...
First, your potential writer should be able to provide a portfolio for your review. Most often it is a set of hard copies of their work, whether print off of Web pages or cut outs of magazine pages. You want to see examples from their body of work, but especially those that reflect the kinds of work they will do for you or can indicate how their work may reflect on you. Someone who specializes may not offer a lot of variety but they should be able to provide plenty of samples.
Verify that this work is theirs, not simply something they wrote but was reworked by an editor. Consistency of style and look may help you determine this. If the writer provides print offs of Word or Wordperfect documents, look for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and appropriate usage. Also look at presentation: If the work is sloppy, steer away from this writer! If it's sharp and polished, you may have a winner.
How well do they work...
Second, discuss the writer's clientele. You aren't looking for trade secrets here, just an indication of how the writer worked with them and any bad experiences he had and how he resolved them. Who has been his favorite client and why was it such a good experience? You would also like an idea of how much work he has done and how much like you they were, so you know how you may be able to work with him -- or not.
Are they dependable...
Third, ask about process. How does the writer work? Is she punctual? Can she turn on a dime? Is she flexible? What formats does she work with, and what services will she provide for what you're willing to pay her? This isn't about how much can you push her but how much can you depend on her and will you get what you need in the end?
What their price says about them...
Finally, ask about price. An actual quote may come as an hourly rate or as a project quote. If a writer is too cheap, you may be facing an inexperienced (though creative) writer. If a writer is too expensive, you may be facing an inexperienced (and demanding) writer, or a very specialized writer in heavy demand. Pricing depends a lot on the market and the kind of project you want. Don't be afraid to ask for a break if you're offering a lot of work. Make sure the writer understands the scope of the work and your requirements.
In the end, the writer you hire will be providing words for you. See how she writes, what words she uses, how she forms sentences and how her paragraphs flow. Do you like her style? Can you work with her tone? A sample of her work is the best way to tell all that. All the rest of your research should reinforce or refute that.
Look me up on Twitter: