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Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?

by Leo Wiles
17 August 2018

Whether it’s a well-meaning relatives asking if ‘I’ve gotten a job yet’, or a flat-out rude editor or client who’s said something that’s left me speechless, I thought I had heard it all in terms of being insulted as a freelancer.

So last week when a client mentioned that they thought that the work should be done on spec, despite approaching me having seen my work in print and liking it, I decided to do a shout out asking our Rachel’s List Gold Group members asking, ‘What’s the most insulting thing you’ve ever been told as a freelancer?’

And boy, did the floodgates open… with answers ranging from the laughable, to anecdotes that made me want to bang me head, repeatedly, on the desk.

Here’s what you shared. (And feel free to keep sharing in the comments.)

“A few years back when my husband and I were renting we had a few dealings with the real estate agent who was attempting to sell the property, organising open houses and that sort of thing. I mostly dealt with him, as I was home during the week, but there was one weekend open house where my husband was home and I was out of town. The real estate agent said to my husband, ‘So your wife, she tries to write does she?’ Tries to write?! I’ve still never been more insulted!”

Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?

“Interviewee forgot he’d been interviewed by me and contacted the editor when he saw the story. Fortunately the interview had been organised via a PR person and she sorted it all quite quickly but still, I thought I was at least a bit memorable.”

“I was approached by a successful businesswoman who really liked my stuff and was interested in me ghostwriting a regular column for her on a major site. She asked for my costs and I gave them to her, explaining that for agreed ongoing work, the price was reduced as opposed to one-offs. She couldn’t have been nicer and suggested a one-off trial then if she thought we were a good match, we could negotiate an ongoing rate. I wrote the first piece, she was over the moon, it was published. Then when I sent her my invoice she responded saying that a trial generally meant it was ‘free’. As tactfully as I could I explained that I never write for free (I’m a writer with over 20 years experience – not a 17-year-old intern). Awkward!”

“New editor took over very successful high profile newspaper supplement and rang all the freelancers including me to say she was asking them if they could write features that were not so boring… lol!!! Needless to say very few decided to continue under such an uninspiring supervisor!”

“I was freelancing from home with my then one-year-old son. I took him outside to watch the garbage truck lift the bin (pure joy). All going nicely until the driver leans out of the window and yells, “I’m coming back as a woman in my next life, so I can sit around all day like you and do nothing!” After the shock, I walked inside and continued to edit a 90,000-word book.”

“An editor phoned, spluttering and said my quote was more than 10x what he paid. He couldn’t believe I wanted to do about 8 days work for $400 in total and said he could not make a profit on his high end mags that way. Oh and an editor once thanked me for ‘typing’ up a piece.”

Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?

“I used to work for a Christian organisation. I myself am Christian but not overly religious. It wasn’t a requirement of working there and there were many faiths in the office, and people of no faith. I was working in PR and was asked to submit a piece to a Christian women’s magazine. I was quite proud of it and happy to share my experience and write from a personal perspective.  The person in marketing who had arranged the piece said it wasn’t Christian enough.  I was furious! Luckily my manager went into bat for me. And this is why I don’t go to church.”

“Last year, on an email with at least 5 others including my manager and his manager cc’d in, a colleague insulted me.  He didn’t name me but he knew the person he was speaking about was me. I had removed a post from Facebook that he had put. I was in charge of the channel and content but he thought he is Senior Journalist and 30 years of experience trumped my social media knowledge.  He said “I was travelling with the CEO and she said whoever removed that post must be very junior.” I got a half assed, reluctant, apology a few weeks later.”

“A few weeks ago a guy approached me to quote him for editing his ‘book’ – he sent me his ‘manuscript’ (a higgledy-piggledy pastiche of different languages and at least one conspiracy theory about lizards) on request so that I could determine what kind of work was needed – at the very least a serious structural edit before ANYTHING else could happen! While I was still working on the quote, Facebook messages came through: “I’m the richest man in [certain Sydney suburb] and I haven’t heard back from you yet! Is my book too much of a mind f**** for you, huh?!?” So I sent him a quote. And I didn’t hold back when it came to explaining what would be needed to turn his pet project into something publishable. Not a peep since. Somehow, I don’t regret losing that fish…”

“My (well-meaning) neighbours keep seeing me during business hours when I check the mail etc and ask me if I’ve found a job yet. Yes. It’s called freelancing.”

“I had an agency client ask for a quote and said it was too much and that they’d do it themselves. Of course the end client hated it and then they came back to me and took a loss on the job. When I fixed it all he emailed me and said ‘wow, you really are good at what you do, aren’t you?’ Umm. That’s the point.”Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?

“My parents always refer to what I do as freelancing not work. They ask my husband how his work is going and they ask me how my freelancing is going, as if freelancing is not work. And then there was the time I mentioned I was going into the office, having recently moved from a home office to a shared office, and my FIL asked if I’d gotten a job 😤 I can take it from clients but it’s a lot harder copping this sort of thing from family!”

“When I told my former neighbour that I write books for a living she said, ‘Oh, but that’s just a cushy hobby!’” 

“I once had a prospective client say no to my proposal because ‘mothers don’t have the concentration to write effectively’.”

“When I changed over to a freelance creative career, I was explaining to my friend what I do. Her absent minded reply to me was ‘I guess it’s good to keep busy…’”

“Recently I’ve got told by two bilingual client leads they prefer to work with a native English speaker. Doesn’t matter they also speak different languages like me. Told one of them to sod off just now.”

“‘So, I know your quote was X, which I accepted, but how about if I pay you X. I have based my calculation on ABC.’ Ah, nope.”

“I once worked with a designer who kept vampire hours. I would work all day in the office subbing pages and

Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?

he’d design pages at night. OK in theory, except when he would come in and copy his newly designed/redesigned pages OVER THE TOP of my already subbed pages. When I complained, his reaction was basically, ‘No big deal, just sub it again’. (I’m pleased to say the editor backed me and I lasted a lot longer in that job than he did…).”

I was meeting with a really wealthy real estate power player in the city and gave him my marketing collateral. He looked at it, looked at me, and said, ‘You can’t possibly be good at ALL these things’.”

Got a story you’re itching to share? Comment below, email us privately or share on social media with the hashtag #insultedfreelancer

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

4 responses on "Most insulting thing that’s happened to you as a freelancer?"

  1. I’ve been a freelance writer for about 14-years and have won a couple of book awards, including one for a publisher who at the time was also publishing several magazine titles which I also wrote her. After the publisher won an award for a book I had written, which was a group effort as it takes a whole team of people to create a book, the editor announced in a group email to all her team that they were reducing their rates by more than 1/3. It wasn’t a great rate to begin with but when I made a fuss her husband, also a journalist, sent me a series of disgusting messages about MY lack of professionalism. Needless to say I never wrote for that publisher again and it still surprises to this day that there are writers that still do.

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    Gawd. That’s quite unbelievable, Carmen. 🙁

  3. John says:

    This remains my favourite tale. A few years ago, I was at a dinner party and sitting next to a doctor – a surgeon. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a freelance writer and explained I wrote across a number of genres. He looked at me for a moment and said, ‘Send me through some of your most recent published work, and I will send back a critque of your various writing styles’.
    I stared right back at him and replied, ‘Sure, I will do that as long as I can sit in on one of your operations, and then give you a critque of your operating style, and what I think you might be able to do better’.
    With that, he turned to the person on the other side of him and didn’t acknowledge me for the rest of the evening. And that was a very good thing.

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