Beware of the Decimal Placement: A Writer's Latest Battle with Being Valued


The calendar is declaring today to be August 7, the date that I promised to launch the new era of Beyond the Balcony. I had envisioned my first piece to be something about movies as a way to shift the site back in that direction.

But a recent experience with an ad copy agency has motivated me to kick off with my latest obstacle in freelance writing with hopes that I can help other aspiring writers navigate this world and send out a friendly reminder of the importance of valuing writers.

It is also the latest edition of 'Why 2023 Has Not Been Rocking and Rolling for My Career.' But the year is far from over, and there are many more chances to transform it into 'Why 2023 Was a Golden Year of Raining Skittles and Dancing Unicorns for My Career.' Plus, every day, I am blessed by my beautiful, intelligent, and fun family that makes my life magical.

This is not designed to be 'Woe is Me' 2.0, but a tale about a copywriting agency I'll never be working for again.

The carnivorous mutant blob that was the roadblock to my writing career birthed by Covid's impact on my clients and my self-worth continued to devour hope for success in the first half of 2023. My prospects got so desolate that I was pretty desperate by the mid-year point, and it was desperation that convinced me to go against two of my rules for freelance writing career success.

1. Never undersell yourself when it comes to pay rates unless the work is something you find fulfilling and exciting.

2. Never do an unpaid writing trial. They should know you're a good fit from your portfolio, and if they need to test you, they need to pay for it. 

I threw away those two rules because I needed work and validation that I had worth as a writer. This is why I said yes to the agency - that I will not name for legal reasons - when they asked me if I'd write for .12 a word, even though that is way below my usual rate for this type of work (I write ad copy to be paid not because I find it fulfilling and exciting). The recruiter was pitching the work as being relatively easy enough that I could churn out several thousand words a day and make a decent little amount of money on top of my other client work. It would also build my ad copy portfolio, which is getting a bit dated.

The next stop was filling out a thorough questionnaire and a small test. I had never done anything like this for a job, but again. I was desperate.

But then I made my biggest error by agreeing to write two significant articles for them for an unpaid trial. I knew this was foolish, but desperation was taking over the land again, and I needed the work. Writing both took up a few hours, and I realized how futile this was as there was no guarantee I'd get a job.

But I did get the job, and I was thrilled for a future of many ad-style articles that I could quickly whip together and make some fast cash. They gave me another questionnaire asking me to rank my expertise on specific subjects to guarantee I'd get stuff within my knowledge and minimize the needed research.

Then reality smacked me right upside the head for being so naive and foolish.

This was one of the most involved and demanding companies I'd ever encountered. I was assigned a team where I was expected to do various forms of communication daily (as a freelancer). I had a meeting with HR and as well with a team leader, both taking almost an hour after I got the position. I then learned these were different from the quick little writing jobs that I had been led to believe. There was a particular and intricate way to do the work, and there was quite a bit of technical SEO and different forms of validation that were mandatory for the writer to do.

I was expected to run many different writing and grammar programs to check my copy, then post a screenshot to prove I did it. I ran a few tests to discover that the software was flawed and did not ensure polished copy. I also had to screenshot the results of various AI and plagiarism tests. All this was a new activity for me and quite the soaring bee into the butt.

But I can't leave out my actual writing assignment. The articles were clearly chosen from the results of my questionnaire.

Every article was about the automobile industry and cars.

The guy who doesn't drive.

The guy who doesn't know how to tell the difference between a Toyota and Hyundai.

You can guess where I ranked my automotive knowledge, and it was quite a bit below movies, mental health, parenting, and entrepreneurship, which were subjects I never got.

It was ad-based, so most articles were designed to sell the reader to a specific dealership. I have experience with that form of writing and have done it on subjects I know little about. Most of the research was on dealership and car company websites detailing vehicles' various features and trims. It wasn't hard, but it took longer since I constantly had to Google what they were referring to.

Then after I did my time in the mines and followed the exact specifications of the order and the agency's clients' request along with the specified word count, I had an editor swoop in and hack away hundreds of words and give me a low score.

Did I forget to mention that freelance writers get graded?

This was another new experience for me as a writer. This was the first I had heard of this concept of grading a freelance writer. Usually, you write your very best copy, and then an editor looks it over and sends it back for possible revisions. Then it is all good and gets sent to the client or published on the site or magazine.

This grading thing felt like a DeLorean sending me back to Grade 1. It also didn't help that all the criticisms were about how I went against the client's requests without the editor talking to the client or clearly reading the actual order form. It was all a mess, time-consuming, and most definitely frustrating.

But at least I'd get paid.

So, then I invoiced them.

And they emailed me back to tell me to look at the rates I agreed upon and revise my invoice accordingly.

00.012 per word.


Who puts another number after a measly cent? Especially since, in the discussion, they said they usually pay 00.010 per word. Why is that extra zero at the end?

My brain never even registered the zero after the decimal because my brain never encountered a big copywriting agency that paid such a spit-in-the-writer's face rate. I thought .12 per word was a near insult and only accepted from desperation. I've learned to be grateful for that rate now.

After all this work, I was getting offered a rate that doesn't even come close to the minimum wage in Canada. It is far from a professional rate, and writing is a professional job that takes skill, creativity, and hard work.

My self-worth and confidence took a karate kick into the gut that sent it spiraling into an endless abyss. But I wasn't so defeated that I stuck around for more abuse. I immediately wished them the best in the future and demanded I get the pay that I agreed upon in the initial meeting.

The original posting was for a Canadian writer, which I now learned was likely due to the collection of dealerships being based in Canada, so they wanted someone versed in Canadian English and also able to easily toss in some Canadian references. I have no clue how this company that is not based in Canada is going to get any Canadian to accept that rate unless they are even more desperate than I was a few months ago (and to be clear, even then, I would not accept that rate for the amount of work and high expectation this company has for writers).

It is time to reiterate a fact. Good writing is a skill. It is a skill that takes years to refine. A good writer is always finding ways to improve and enhance their craft. A company must pay high-quality rates if it wants high-quality work that connects with readers.

I hope no Canadian writes for this company because there is no way for a writer to flourish and grow with the pressure one would have to write enough to make minimum wage. Every writer is too good for what this insulting company is paying.

This is a reminder of the risks of going through an ad agency, even if it is more consistent work and they seek out the businesses for you. This was a wake-up for me to really start pushing myself to find businesses on my own and work with them directly. 

If you are a business, I encourage you to work with a freelancer directly rather than an agency. You won't have the middle person to worry about and have a better chance of realizing your vision working with just one pro. I know a freelancer who would love to craft creative projects for you and has experience with landing pages, direct responses, brochures, ghostwriting, and advertorials.

Psst. . . it is me.

My goal is to dig out the positives in each experience. This was a golden reminder of how important it is to grow this site and my podcast so I can make the things I have total control over a more significant part of my career. It is time for me to seek out more businesses directly. I have been pitching to entertainment and parenting sites and magazines for years but have relied on agencies or job postings for ad copy work. This is a neon sign that it is time to shift that strategy.

I'm now in a spot where I need to regroup and fill in the holes planted by some bad clients and companies. So, I humbly request that if I've ever written something you've enjoyed or if anything I create gives you a great case of the smiles, please share and spread the word about my work.

I am looking at ways to better monetize the site, but I need to keep growing my readers for that to be worthwhile. I plan to make it worthwhile by creating more high-quality articles on the site and delivering the best possible weekly episodes of The Movie Breakdown.

I am so grateful for the years of support from my magnificent readers, and if you're a writer, please remember to value your work and never settle. Even when you're desperate.