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5 Things Freelance Writers Do that Editors Hate

(Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all freelance editors. This post is tongue-in-cheek and should be taken at face value. All views expressed are my own.)

I’m a freelance content editor. My job involves managing a team of writers, editing and publishing submissions, and recruiting and vetting new writers when needed.

Freelance editors must be confident, disciplined, and, most importantly, tough. We have a lot of responsibility — and with great responsibility comes great stress.

Look, I love my job. (I say so all the time on Twitter.) I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But it makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes.

So I’m just gonna come right out and say it: here are five things freelance writers do that their editors hate (with, like, a burning passion).

Padding their word counts

“The moon is located in space. It is located approximately three hundred and eighty-four thousand kilometers from the earth. The astronauts and scientists who have studied the moon have reached the conclusion that there may have been water on the moon once. That means that the moon may or may not have had intelligent life at some point.”

Sometimes, word padding is a conscious effort to be as lazy as possible. Other times, it’s an unintentional byproduct of bad writing.

Editors can tell if you’ve padded your word count, even if you do it intelligently. So here’s a pro tip: don’t.

Being rude or demanding

Your editor is human, just like you. If you want them to do something, be nice to them. (And don’t freak out if they don’t respond to your email in .05 seconds.)

I can release writers for any reason, and rudeness, for me, is a big one. Luckily, this isn’t much of a problem (did I mention my writers are lovely?).

Only once have I released a writer for being downright rude and difficult, and it was one of the most unpleasant experiences in my career.

Making excuses

In the past six months, two of my writers submitted plagiarized content. They both copied and pasted entire sentences, word for word, without even changing the original font!

(They were, of course, promptly released.)

And here’s the kicker — one of them had the audacity to complain that I treated them unfairly by letting them go!

(Perhaps I should’ve told them they treated my intelligence unfairly by submitting plagiarized content on five separate occasions.)

Yeah. Talk about a headache and a half.

What irked me more than the plagiarism itself, though, were their (paraphrased) excuses:

“I edited this article carefully before submitting; I must not have noticed that this font was bright red and in a totally different typeface.”

Yeah, I’m sure you edited with a super critical eye.

“I didn’t realize it was wrong to copy other people’s words and paste them into my own work, which I’m being paid to write!”

You really expect me to believe that?

Sure, no one’s going to admit to plagiarizing, but why do it in the first place? Any writer worth their salt would never plagiarize.

Giving false credentials

When I started this job, one of my candidates claimed to be a veterinarian. (Since I work in the pet niche, this is a huge plus for any candidate I trial.)

I knew the university they’d supposedly graduated from didn’t offer a vet program, since I lived 20 minutes away from the school.

And even if I hadn’t known, all I had to do was Google it, which I did, just to be sure.

So I called them out. And guess what? They didn’t respond. Shocker.

Don’t ever lie to your editor about your work experience or certifications. Seriously, fact-checking is part of our job.

Not treating freelance work like “real” work

This is easily my biggest pet peeve.

Your client is paying you — presumably decent money — for a service. They expect a certain level of quality and integrity in your work, and if you want to be a successful freelance writer, you’d better deliver.

Not all freelance writers do, though.

And that bothers me.

If you’re gonna do this, you’d better jump in with both feet. Don’t half-ass your work and expect your client to be impressed.

Granted, it’s easy for freelance writers to get away with this, because most freelance writing jobs are temporary.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen if something goes sour? You don’t get paid? You get a bad review? You give up freelancing and go back to the 9-to-5 instead?

Those alternatives terrify serious freelancers. But failure doesn’t faze those who aren’t serious about their work. They see the 9-to-5 as a fallback, a plan B. Even if their freelance career falls through, they have other options.

If you don’t plan to treat your freelance job like a “real” job, don’t become a freelancer. Seriously, you’ll just waste everyone’s time.

Sure, this post may seem cynical, but I’m blessed to work with some of the most talented people in the industry. Bad writers and bad experiences are, thankfully, few and far between.

And I’m certainly not perfect. I’ve screwed up. I’ve only been at this for about 8 months, so I’m still learning the ropes myself. But even in that short time, I’ve seen some shocking things.

Are you a freelance editor who deals with this on the daily? Gripe with me in the comments! Or on Twitter. (We can use GIFs there!)

Published in Freelancing


  1. I’m not a freelancer, but I am the main writer for the blog of the company I work for. God, I wouldn’t dream of plagiarising even half a sentence. I’m so shocked that people do that! You get paid to WRITE, a monkey with a pencil can do a copy and paste…

    • Mel Lee-Smith Mel Lee-Smith

      I was shocked, too! I never thought someone would have enough nerve to plagiarize their work, *especially* when they’re being paid for it! Plagiarism isn’t a problem I deal with often, but once is more than enough, let alone twice in six months.

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