As a freelancer, I am often asked to work for free. I've been invited to provide editor contacts and advice to men as a favor (like really, it's "no big deal"). I've been asked to do writing "tests" for freelance jobs to prove I can write, despite having a degree in English writing and hundreds upon hundreds of articles which prove my salt as a writer. I've been asked to write things for friends, because I'm so good at it, and they know I wouldn't mind.
I receive these requests, not because I am a well-known pushover, but simply because it comes with the territory of being a freelance writer. Ask any writer what the most egregious request was they received this week, and I guarantee you it’ll make your head spin (at least if you’re in the freelance game).
Sometimes you can just ignore, delete, and burn bridges, but other times you can’t or simply don’t want to. You are a professional. You want to handle your business with a certain air of sophistication. You want to tell them "f*ck no," but want to do so graciously, tactfully — you are, after all, a wordsmith.
So in the nature of solidarity, I share with you a helpful guide to crafting the perfect “f*ck no” for a variety of writerly situations.
For those exciting, unpaid opportunities, observe Example A:
I am writing to share with you an exciting new opportunity to write for our outstanding publication. We have a reach over 100,000 unique pageviews per day, and are the leading source for all things fresh and new in your writing niche. We think your expertise would be a perfect fit for us, and we want YOU to be OUR VOICE.
In exchange for your hours of work in what is clearly your chosen career path and not a mere hobby, we will pay you in exposure. We will even LINK BACK to your personal page and/or Twitter. SAY WHAT? I know, it’s a deal too good to be true. Who would give all this exposure away just for writing a couple blog posts a month? But it can be all yours if you agree to send us two 800 word samples of your writing, you know, so we can get a sense of your voice. No contract. No takesies backsies.
Are you in?
Now, here's a tactful "f*ck no" respone:
It sounds like you and your team are doing some amazing work over at (insert publication name here). All those eyes on MY writing on YOUR site, that does seem like a really great deal for one of us. Unfortunately, the last time I tried to pay my bills in exposure bucks, my lights got turned off. Did you know that exposure cannot be used to pay for rent, food, or even the internet one uses to write? It was a shocking discovery to me as well.
So while I would love to help bring my unique voice to your publication, unless you decide to start paying in actual real-world money, I will have to instead offer you a sincere f*ck no.
For strange men on Twitter requesting your help, consider Example B:
@gemmahartley what’s ur contact info for ur editor @(insert big name publication here). I’ll DM you to pick ur brain on some ideas. OK?
@douchecanoe2017 My resources and knowledge are valuable to me in ways I cannot express in under 140 characters, so please accept this sincere f*ck no.
For the casual text from a friend, AKA Example C:
Hey! My boyfriend just finished writing this really cool sci-fi novel, and I told him you could look it over and give him some notes on it. Maybe clean up the grammar and stuff since you’re so good at it. No rush, but he’d like to start sending it out in a month or so. I told him you’d probably read it in a week.
Hey! Reading and editing an entire novel is actually a very labor intensive process, and I don’t have the time to take on a project of that magnitude. I would love to help him out for free if only my schedule would permit it, but alas, I have a lot on my plate. When my workload lightens up a bit, I’ll be sure to give it the good "f*ck no" it deserves.
For the strange PR gear reviews, Example D:
I recently read your article on how you can’t keep your house clean, and thought you might be interested in our new product — the knee pad floor polishers. Now you don’t have to hurt your knees while scrubbing the floors, and they’ll be extra shiny. Win win!
Please let me know when I can set up a time for you to speak with our founder, and where you might want to publish a review of our life-changing product. I know your readers will find it just as useful as you will.
Reviews of products aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse unless they are assigned out by one of my publications. I might add that the reason my house isn’t clean has very little to do with wear and tear on my knees while floor scrubbing. I’d need to see the floors in order to scrub them.
Thanks for thinking of me and my downtrodden house, but it’ll have to be a f*ck no at this time.