Can Talk, Can’t Write: Why Voice Recognition Software Doesn’t Make for Good Authorship

I frequent a chiropractor who knows I type a lot. She has asked me numerous times if I have purchased any voice recognition software (VRS) — like Dragon — to help give my hands, arms, and everything about my desk-sitting posture a break during long(er) shifts at the keyboard.
As of yet, I have not invested in such software.

I know my chiropractor uses VRS regularly: While waiting in the exam room, I can hear her in her office talking (albeit muffled) to her PC, giving it medical notes and telling it about her last patient. I’m certain she doesn’t do much typing, which is good considering she needs her hands for healing and shouldn’t subject them to the dangers of carpal tunnel syndrome, but VRS doesn’t work for someone like me who writes as a profession.

Why not?

Speaker’s Brain vs Writer’s Brain

First, speaking and writing are completely different in that we use different words, phrases, pauses, et cetera for each, so how we talk and how we write (or, conversely, read) are not nearly the same thing. The reason is because the parts of the brain that handle speech and writing work independently from one another. Perhaps this is why some people have such difficulty reading out loud: They have yet to teach their brains how to bridge the talking-writing/reading gap.

Granted, some people speak well. I’m not one of those. I know if I really focus and pull myself together I can make a pretty good speech without inundating it with a bunch of um’s and awkward silences, but speaking is just not where my strength lies.

My strength is in my ability to write well, which comes in handy for those clients of mine who have trouble putting together a written sentence that doesn’t read like an automaton typed it out.

Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you can write.

Second, VRS marketers have convinced the general populace that if they can talk, they can write. HA! If only that were true!

Most people understand that talking and writing require different skillsets and talents. Unfortunately, there are those who really do believe they are (or can be) great writers because they can talk. They feel VRS is their savior!

‘Why hire a ghostwriter,’ they say, ‘if I can just talk into my computer and it writes everything I say for me?’ This is especially true for professional public speakers: I’ve had conversation with a number of them who feel personally attacked when I criticize their writing, as if I were saying they’re terrible speakers as well!

They may be upset with me for correcting their writing, but I know that what they’re really having trouble understanding is that people don’t talk the way they write.

Human speech is riddled with vocal inflections, fillers (e.g. um’s, uh’s), and slang that just has no place in good writing. In bad writing? Sure. In Facebook posts and texts? Why not.

But would anyone take seriously a book full of slang, misused and misspelled words, um’s, and awkward phrases? I doubt it.

Bottom line: Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you can write.

VRS: A good tool

VRS has its place in the writing world. It’s a great tool for creating rough drafts; for getting down ideas if you can’t type quickly; or for train-of-thought writing. I’ve used Windows Voice Recognition software occasionally when my carpal tunnel is acting up. It’s a good tool, but it ends there. Rarely does VRS result in a draft that doesn’t require heavy-handed editing.

Having a good tool at your disposal does not replace the need for good engineering to back up a good product, and writing is just that: the engineering of stories.

When a new client sends me a manuscript, I can usually tell by the end of the first paragraph if they used VRS to draft the entire thing because the writing is so bad. I have no problem with editing those manuscripts — it’s my job, after all! — but sometimes my clients are left in shock when I send them a document with so many markups on it that it looks like my red pen had a sneezing fit.

Fine tuning the product

If you’re the type of person who prefers to talk over type, that’s great. Nothing wrong with that. However, don’t disregard the importance of having that work edited by someone who has a knack for writing. That “someone” doesn’t necessarily need to be a professional you hire and pay (although a second set of eyes on a manuscript never hurt). You can certainly edit your work yourself.

Before you publish, consider these tips on how to edit if you rely on VRS for the initial draft:

1. Read your work out loud.

Reading what you’ve said back to yourself can reveal many a writing hiccup. Sometimes VRS uses “our” instead of “are”, “there” instead of “their”, or just mishears what we say altogether.

Common mistakes are easily discovered and rectified by reading the draft or manuscript out loud to yourself.

2. Print out your work onto paper to read it.

Our brains process things differently on a screen than on a piece of paper. Studies show that we absorb information differently (that is, better) when we read from paper than off a screen.

Print your draft as a hardcopy and read it, away from screens and distractions. I like to read drafts in bed or while laying on the couch (that is, away from my desk and PC), because then my mind is in a place where I can review it as if I were a regular reader, not an editor or writer.

3. Use a ruler or other straight edge to read each line independently.

Remember how we learned to read, line by line, in elementary school? There’s a reason children learn to read that way: Blocking out the next line removes the distraction and anticipation of what words are to come, improving our focus on the words were reading at the moment.

This is an editor’s trick that can reveal errors you might otherwise be blind to. 0ur brains tend to fi1l in gaps or “autocorrect” mistakes our eyes see because it knows what things should look like, even if in reality they are completely different.

For instance, did you notice those errors in the last paragraph? There’s a zero instead of an O in “our” and a 1 in place of an L in “fill”. If you’re an editor and your eyes are trained to find things like that, you probably saw them. Otherwise, you likely glazed right over without a second thought.

Breaking up paragraphs into independent lines can help put a stop to your brain’s autocorrect function, making errors pop out.

Again, VRS can be of great help for authors of all types, even ones with a preference for typing like me. The good thing is that the accuracy of those programs continues to improve as tech gets better. However, I doubt any computer program will ever be able to replace the need for editors because writing is an art and one that can’t be substituted with a machine.

I’m hoping to soon acquire VRS to help me draft some of my longer projects — my carpal tunnel would certainly thank me, and my chiropractor could then stop worrying about my slouchy, computer posture.

Do you use voice recognition software? If so, which one and what do you think of it?


Consequences Of: Precisely Why We (Freelancers) Write Contracts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Contracts are important to your business.

Start With A Contract…

Every job — EVERY. JOB. — needs to start with a carefully detailed agreement between you and your potential client. That is: A contract.

Ideally, you’ll have a basic contract prepped beforehand so you don’t go through the trouble of having to write one from scratch (they take longer to draft than you’d think). From this basic form, you should leave blanks to fill in specific information regarding the particular project at hand. For example, duration/timeline, fees, name of the project, what you’ll do, and what you won’t do as the hired freelancer.

It’s critical that expectations for payment and related consequences for failure to pay are included in the verbiage.

I’ve mentioned before two ways you can protect yourself from non-payment: an arbitration clause in the contract itself and refusing to send the completed product to the client until balance due is received in full.

However, I have yet to address including accrued interest.

An Interest in Interest

Charging interest on fees unpaid is just a way of incentivizing prompt payment. Don’t get crazy here. This isn’t an opportunity for you to tack on an extra 25% to your bill and make money off of nothing but thumb twiddling.

Be reasonable and keep the interest rate to single digits, enough of a charge to be irritating but not enough to deter a client from wanting to work with you in the first place.

Also, consider the term: Are you adding the interest after a month, two months, three months? For me, I feel a month is more than enough time for a client to either pay up or get back to me either with requests for changes to the final product. So, once the bill hits its one month unpaid mark, I tack on the agreed upon interest and resend the invoice, making sure the client knows that they agreed to this increase at the start of the job (reference or quote the clause of the contract, if possible).

Issue Plenty of Reminders

Nobody likes paying interest, but nobody likes to be surprised with it, even if they agreed to it.

Send reminders for payment frequently after the initial billing to give the client plenty of opportunity to pay up. And, prior to tacking on interest, remind the client what will happen — what they agreed would happen — if they continue to ignore your request for payment.

For example, make this note on the invoice reminder just before adding the interest onto the bill: “The balance due will increase to $xyz after mm/dd/yyyy due to interest accrued per our contract (Section A, Line B).”

And if they still refuse to pay? Time to whip out the arbitration clause, and be ready to to take it seriously.

…End With A Contract.

Luckily I haven’t had to add interest onto my invoices except once. But I’ve always protected myself with the interest clause up front — just as I have with the arbitration clause and other contract terms — just in case.

Sadly, when unsavory clauses of contracts have to be utilized, that usually means the freelancer-client relationship is ending permanently. It’s like the nasty breakup of the freelance writing world.

You ain’t getting back together. Ever.

However, instead of mourning the loss of a client, remind yourself that it’s best to end it with this person anyway. Who wants to work for someone they have to beg for payment? Nah. Not me! No thanks!

There are plenty of jobs out there with clients who are more than happy to pay, and pay promptly, so don’t fret over losing a bad client. #Letthemgo.

Baby Steps: Starting Out Anew

In January, I declared a new motto for Mountain Owl Ink in 2017: See Farther. You probably don’t know that when I created that motto I had no idea I’d give birth to my first child in a few short months. And, how appropriate, because I’ve come to realize there is little that makes you see farther into the future more than having a child.

Then, on November 17, just over a month after my son was born, I had recuperated from childbirth and gathered enough of myself together to reflect upon 2018, the year I’ve come to call The Baby Year. And, like my 2017 motto, I’ve just come to realize that the name takes on a double meaning:

Not only is 2018 the first full year of enjoying my literal baby, but it’s also a time for me, in my “baby” stage as a new mother, to reevaluate myself and make changes. It’s a time for Mountain Owl Ink, in light of those changes, to restart itself in infancy and move forward in baby steps.

Taking Baby Steps

When my son takes his first steps, it will be something new. I’ll be amazed at how he’s developing. I’ll be happy and proud and slightly afraid as I am faced with the reality that he’ll forevermore be increasingly mobile.

At the same time, to him his first steps may not be much of a shocker. He would have been working toward that goal for a while, his whole life, in fact. After all, before he stepped out, he’d have been working on looking around, at rolling over, at sitting up, at standing, all these things would have happened before he took that first step out.

So, while I, the outsider, may be shocked at the development, to my son it’ll be something he’d been (more or less) planning on and pursuing for some time. It will be exciting, I’m sure, but it won’t be a surprise.

His developmental leap, from my perspective, will be just another “baby step” for him.

What Baby Steps Mean

In this light, baby steps are those small leaps forward that we take that go largely unnoticed by the outside world. They can be internal (emotional, mental, or spiritual changes within us) or they can be external (physical changes or material achievements, like a diploma or accolade), just as long as they bring us closer to a preconceived goal.

As an example, when I decided to wake up every morning and get dressed as if I were going to an office (even though I worked from home), that was a mental change I made even though it materialized as me wearing different clothes. But, did it matter how I dressed to the outside world? No. Absolutely not. Nobody knew that I was in office wear while puttering around my house. Did anyone notice I wore heels while I did laundry or vacuumed? No! But I certainly did. That was an attitude change — an internal baby step — that brought me closer to a preconceived goal (that is, taking my business seriously and not just as a hobby).

Baby steps mean you’re working toward improvement, whatever “improvement” means for you. And, when you can track those steps, you’re better able to see how far you’ve come — and how much farther you have to go — to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself.

But that brings up the question…

Can baby steps backtrack?


When my son starts walking, he’ll undoubtedly fall down. He may just bump down onto his heftily padded rear end (thank you, fluffy cloth diapers!) or he may topple forward and hit his head on the floor.

After such disappointment (and pain), he may not think that walking is as great as it’s hacked up to be. Nobody really wants to face plant on the floor. Nobody wants to be disappointed after putting in so much work and effort.

But he WILL keep trying, because that’s what babies do. They don’t obsess about what happened last time; that’s a grown up thing. Babies just keep on keeping on.

And that’s what babies can teach us: To stop obsessing about “last time” and just keep on. Sure, we’ll face road blocks, disappointments, backtracking, bumps, pain… but those are ways to learn to baby step better, not reasons to avoid baby stepping at all!

Let’s Learn from Babies

So, 2018 will be MOI’s Baby Year. I’ll be starting over with a fresh perspective about what I want from me, about what’s important to me and how I might get there (a little of this I already shared in my last post).

As a result, MOI will be shifting gears. I already know that that’ll involve working more on my own projects and less on being hired out to work on other people’s publishing dreams.

I also know that Le Mieux will be taking a temporary pause while I create a clearer path for it’s development (can you say website and swag?) and movement forward. That’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes we need to backtrack in order to baby step forward. Nobody knows this better than writers, who sometimes have to face the difficult task of tossing a few pages in order to change the story and make the whole of the book better.

More to come… See you in the new year!

Is 2018 YOUR baby year? If so, what changes do you foresee making for yourself, your business, etc.?

2018: The Baby Year

They say a baby changes everything. Well, I’d say a baby changes most things.

We’re entering the holiday season and that means holiday music. Right now, I’m thinking of Faith Hill’s “A Baby Changes Everything.” Not only because I really enjoyed the film that featured this song (“The Nativity Story”), and not only because I like Faith Hill (pre-2010), but because one month ago I had my own baby boy. And, man, has he changed a LOT of things!

(Sharing this video just because I can. Boo-yah.)

I say “a lot” and not “everything” because, at my core, I’m still the same person. The Jessi who was there pre-baby still exists. I still like to write, illustrate, create. Though my son is pretty much the cutest and most precious thing ever (EVER), I don’t want people to forget me in the midst of cooing and cuddling with my wee little babe.

But my interests have taken a slight re-direction. I want to write, but now my genre lies elsewhere. Things I used to care about matter less (or not at all), and things I hadn’t even considered before matter much, much more.

So in quiet[er] moments, while Luke is napping, I think, “Yeah, my baby has changed a lot, but I still want to write, and I want to write about things I’m passionate about. But what am I passionate about now?”

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m passionate about now: pregnancy, birth, the parental struggle, and the raising of babes in this crazy, hectic, going-too-fast kind of world.

Passions Change. We Don’t.

9b93ee82b6591583d7921026f1ee747a--real-estate-quotes-philosophical-quotesWe are not the things that interest us. Interests are merely tastes, and they change as we grow and adapt to the changes that happen to us over time.

As a kid, even in elementary school, I was mesmerized by the conception and birth process. How could a baby be made… from nothing? Freakin’ magic! I would (shamefully) hide in corners of my school and public libraries flipping through books about childbirth.

This past year, the experience of pregnancy not only engulfed my life but fascinated me on a deep intellectual level. Finally I was justified in researching everything there was to know about it without feeling awkward or guilty. I’d always had this curiosity, sure, but the experience itself literally changed me, mentally and physically.

As an inquisitive person, I discovered certain aspects of pregnancy to be misunderstood and miscommunicated. As a writer, I developed a journalistic photo book concept (with the creative and jestful help of my midwife) that I hope to bring to fruition in 2018.

As a parent, I’ve unexpectedly had to adjust my ways of thinking about the world. My direction and attention as a writer has not gotten less ambitious, the execution of my ambitions has not become less complex, but the projects themselves (at least the end products) have become simpler.

A series of science fiction novels has transformed into a series of children’s books.

A long-winded, autobiographical piece has evolved into the photojournalism book mentioned above.

In short: The simple has become more intriguing. I try now to see my work through the eyes of my little boy so I can connect with him.

And isn’t connection with one another — whether from parent to child, adult to adult, friend to friend, etc — what this life is all about?

And that’s why 2018 will be different. It is the Baby Year, the year that my work’s direction will take a slight detour into the simple, the pure… the baby. ❤

Jessi Woken proud mommy to Luke, as well as the owner and writer of Mountain Owl Ink, LLC.

“Sorry, Not Sorry”: Don’t Apologize For Clients’ Oversights

There’s no doubt that, no matter how upfront you are, at one point or another you’ll end up  with a client who just doesn’t return the favor.

I don’t mean clients who are outright rude, inconsiderate, or cheap. Those types are easy to spot and stay away from (or handle appropriately). I mean those clients who are nice but who communicate in such a way as to leave a little lingering guilt in their wake for whatever and possibly any reason.

They’re like that relative who says they love you as you are but somehow have a way of criticizing you vaguely enough to make you question yourself.

I’ve had the displeasure of working with more than one of these types and, while I’ve never had problems with them paying their invoices (they’re too “nice” not to), I usually have to bite my tongue when emailing or talking with them because they’ve, knowingly or not, insulted me or my work.

This post focused on getting paid what’s rightfully yours. Now, I want to tell you about a type client species called…

The Reluctant Acceptor

The Reluctant Acceptor is the client who will accept the work and pay what you’ve asked, but will leave you feeling like you still did a substandard job and didn’t fully, you know, deserve their money.

But, you know: They’re so nice they’ll pay you anyway. Maybe.


Consider this scenario:

You work on a project that lasts several weeks. Like the responsible freelancer you are, you provide your client regular updates at the end of every week to let them know where the project stands. With this update you include not only a time sheet (that shows when and how long you worked, what you worked on during that time, and how much the invoice has currently racked up to, even though it may not be payable immediately) but also includes a draft of what you’ve so far written.

Look at you, being all professionally transparent! How considerate!

Basically, you’re doing everything you can to let the client know what’s happening and what the current bill looks like.

It’s not up to you to force the client to review these updates. Sure, you HOPE they will, but if they decide not to that’s their choice. Regardless, you’ve made your best effort to keep them informed and move forward with the work, as planned.

Then comes time to submit the final product and the final invoice, which is now due for payment. You send the invoice and shortly thereafter the client emails, shocked that the amount due is so much. On top of that, they’re less than satisfied with the product!

From Anger to Actuality

Receiving an email from a client who hasn’t kept themselves informed and essentially blames you for their shock and dismay can be infuriating. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself screaming profanities — or at least thinking them, if you’re in public — at your computer screen. You’ll wrestle with the temptation to write immediately to explain how their laziness is to blame, not your lack of effort.

My advice? Don’t.

Take a few breaths — or a few hours — and let your anger die down. Responding with emotion isn’t going to get you anywhere (at least not anywhere good). Let that anger dissipate into actuality — when you can bring yourself to rationalize and realize “Hey. This is the situation. I made every effort to keep them up-to-date. It’s not my fault and if the client’s going to be upset about it, they’ll have to deal with that” — and then respond to their email with your usual professionalism.

Don’t let the client’s business immaturity infect your work. You’ve been responsible and mature up until this point and there’s no reason to let yourself slip now. Reacting out of emotion can land you in professional hot water, risking not only having the client refuse to pay the invoice but also risking them mouthing off about your sub-par work, high prices, and bad attitude to everyone they know.


First impressions are great, but its really the final impressions that stick.

Invoice aside, there’s a chance this client also insults the work you’ve done. (This is especially infuriating if they’re a repeat client who knew what kind of work you produce in the first place.) Obviously they could have guided you in the right direction or called it quits early on, but that would have depended on them doing their part. That is, reviewing the updates you offered in the first place.

Again, it’s the client’s laziness at fault, not your lack of effort.

Reluctant Acceptors use guilt throwing as a way to get out of paying for something they know they should rightfully pay for, like your time and hard work. They make weak excuses and quietly whine to get you to back down, to admit this is your fault… to get them out of their own jam.

But, you know what? It’s NOT. YOUR. FAULT.

You did your part. You sent the updates. Remained available for correction or redirection. Responded promptly to their concerns and questions. Made what you were doing and how you were doing it very, very clear. Short of finding them in person and shoving a printed copy of your work in their face for them to review while you stood over them like a vulture, there was nothing more you could or should have done to keep them updated on their own project.

The big takeaway here?

Never apologize for your clients’ oversights.

Some client complaints ought to be recognized for what they are: guilty admissions of their own oversight and laziness!

In my experience, these clients easily give in and pay their bill after a single firm and professional email from you stating, if anything else, that you’re sorry they are dissatisfied with the product/invoice but that you gave them ample opportunity and time to address those issues from the beginning onward.


“You think this is MY fault? LoL!”

(NOTE: Be careful how you respond. Being empathetic about the client’s feelings — however misdirected they are — is not the same as saying you’re sorry you’re billing them or that you’re ashamed of the work you’ve done. For those two things you should not be sorry! If you are, you need to seriously reassess your rates and/or your craft.)

You’re not a crisis negotiator or a counselor. You’re a writer. Don’t beg them to pay or change their mind. Don’t ask for an explanation of why they feel the way they do. Don’t try to amend their emotions.

Now is the time for them to grow up and pay up, not discuss the terms of the project or the amount being charged. Those things should have been settled before the project was completed (ideally, before the project was even started).

At the end of the day, you deserve to be paid. If the client wants to argue, refer to the project contract for the verbiage on client updates and payment protocol.

And, by all means, hold the final product “hostage” until you are paid and you can officially close the project. Seriously. If this isn’t part of your contract, it should be. As part of weekly client updates, I don’t offer clean and editable .doc files, nor do I send PDFs that don’t have glaringly obvious and annoying watermarks plastered all over them (because a plain PDF can be uploaded to Kindle and — voila! Ebook!).

In short: Until the client pays you IN FULL, the work you do on their project ISN’T THEIRS, it’s YOURS. To say otherwise is like saying the burrito the guy at Chipotle built to your specs is yours, even if you haven’t paid for it at the register. (Mmm… burritos…)

Once you’re paid, submit to them editable .doc/.docx files, PDFs, unlocked image files, or whatever else they need to do what they want to do. But never beforehand.

Closing statement: Don’t be sorry! And never apologize for your clients’ oversights.

Jessi Woken is owner/operator at Mountain Owl Ink LLC. Read more about her and her company at

Asking For Money: Why We’re Afraid To Do It and Why We Shouldn’t Be!

A contact of mine — let’s call her Nancy — mentioned something that happened to her:

A freelancer she’d hired with whom she’d become friends with during the course of a project started sending vague ‘What’s up’ texts.

“It wouldn’t have been awkward,” Nancy said, “if they actually had something to say or share, but it was just text-y small talk. You know, ‘What’re you doing?’ and ‘How’s things?’ We don’t small talk in person. Why would we small talk on text?”

Even though emotions are notoriously difficult to decipher in texts, “I knew something was up. I could just feel it.”

Turns out, she was right.

As a result of some recent life drama she’d completely forgotten to issue payment on the freelancer’s latest invoice. She knew she was the one to blame for the slip and apologized, saying she’d pay them right away — “I was mortified. How could I forget to pay them?” — but the freelancer was also apologetic… for bringing up the subject in the first place!

“That struck me as weird,” Nancy said.

And, I agreed: It is weird. But also, sadly common.

Why Are We Afraid To Ask For OUR Money?

Can you imagine your telephone company apologizing for asking you to pay your bill? Of course not! They’ve provided a service with the expectation that they’ll given money that is, in a way, already theirs.

So why are so many freelancers shy about asking to be paid? Just off the top of my head, maybe they’re worried they…

  • #1: Won’t receive future work from that particular client if they nag for payment.
  • #2: Will be told their work isn’t any good and that’s why they’re not being paid.
  • #3: Have a client who never actually intended to pay.

There may be others, but these three particular fears stand out. However, when broken down, they’re actually pretty pointless. Here’s why.

Worry #1: Fear of No Future Work

Has it ever happened that a client will not offer more work if you nag for payment? YES. However, the keyword here is “nag.”

There is a critical difference between professionally asking for payment (even professionally demanding payment) and nagging about it. The latter involves whining, complaining, pleading, insulting the client, and other annoying dialogue that will only manage to get you blacklisted and not respected (or paid).

If you’re sure you’re being professional and the client is still playing hard to get, consider this:

Do you want the kind of client you have to wrestle money out of at the end of every project? If your answer is “no” (and it should be!), then just get payment ASAP for what you’ve already done and let them go their merry way.

Then there’s this: If your fear of not getting rehired is getting in the way of you asking for payment, then freelancing simply isn’t for you. Sorry, guy.

But, if you’re willing to bravely face the “Pay me” discussion, there are

Ways To Reduce Your Anxiety Over Getting Paid

  • Write a Contract and include an arbitration clause.
  • Write a Contract and include terms for an upfront deposit.
  • Write a Contract and set terms for payment at project milestones, like:
    • Setting up an escrow account in a money handling service like PayPal, or
    • Directly arranging the work through a site like Upwork, where escrow is already a fixture in the system.

I mention WRITE A CONTRACT multiple times because doing business without a contract is just asking for trouble. Contracts are Freelancing 101 and, if you don’t have one handy to present to clients at the start of every job, I strongly encourage you to draft one now.


Incorporating details like an arbitration clause, upfront deposit terms, or payment deadline terms can help payments stay on track and on time and leave your worries to more critical matters… like just doing a good job on the project!

Worry #2: “Your work isn’t worth it.”

Let’s consider what “freelancing” means in the first place.

By definition, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

No commitment to any one employer? It sounds so… freeing, doesn’t it? ::wink:wink:: But that also means that the employer (or client) also has no commitment to YOU other than those terms they’ve agreed on and are legally held to (you know, via your contract).

There are two good reasons to nix this worry in the bud.

First, if payment is dependent on TIME (i.e. $/hour), you should get paid for work done even if the client doesn’t like the end result. This is part of the hourly arrangement: pay is largely independent of product (unless, of course, the product is grossly disastrous, in which case you should let the client keep their money).

Flat fee arrangements are tougher to negotiate, as they more strongly imply a product-dependent payment system (“I’ll pay you for 5 hours spent writing XYZ” vs “I’ll pay you $100 for an article on XYZ.”).

Either way, consider including one or both of the following in your contract(s):

A. Require an upfront deposit (e.g. 30% or 50% of the full fee, or the equivalent of 5 hours of work) before you even begin. This encourages the client to feel vested in you and the project and offers them the opportunity to show they’re serious about holding to their end of the bargain.

B. Use an Escrow service. Arrange escrow through PayPal or set up the job through a writing brokerage, like Guru, Upwork, or Servicescape (though, beware: ServiceScape demands a steep 50% commission!).

The main trouble with using a writing brokerage is that if the client hasn’t used it before they’ll have to set up an account and learn how to use a new platform, which they may not be eager or willing to do. In this way, PayPal is easier because the client doesn’t need an account to deposit funds into a PayPal escrow.

Finally, let’s say the client really did intend to pay you and they are dedicated to the project. What gives? Well, it’s time to ask yourself a hard question:

Is your work worth paying for, or not?

Either you produce a good product or you don’t. Unless the client can point out glaringly obvious reasons why they shouldn’t pay you (e.g. outlandish editing mistakes, blatant spelling errors, or an article that’s off-topic) clients may use the excuse “I don’t like it” to see if you’ll let them off the hook.

Why would they want to get off the hook? Two reasons come to mind:

  1. They changed their mind about the project. Maybe jumped the gun and hired you before thinking it through, or didn’t realize that a writing project is actually a lot of work (for them, lots of reviewing and approving your work). Or…
  2. They didn’t realize how much it would cost and are facing sticker shock. (See “Hard Truth #3” HERE.)

Don’t give in: Neither of these excuses are your fault and you still deserve your money! Be firm about receiving payment, about the amount due, and about your end product, especially if the client had many chances to cancel the job or make changes along the way that would have alleviated the above two problems.

Worry #3: The client never intended to pay.

Unfortunately, this does happen. And it doesn’t feel good because you realize you’ve basically been scammed. In fact, one of my first clients hired me to write a few product descriptions for $10 apiece. After I submitted the work, they fell off the map.


Look, some people will do this. Why? Because some people are jerks. And even with safeties in place to protect yourself, something as small as $100 due won’t get you much attention in small claims court or be worth the trouble of hiring an arbitrator. In my case, I wrote it off as a learning experience and a monetary loss on my taxes.


At the end of the day, a solid contract with clear terms and expectations from both parties will help alleviate anxiety over all aspects of payment, from initial deposit to milestone payments to final invoice.

Other than that, all you need to do is provide a product worth paying for.

Have you had any experiences with non-payment? Share your stories — and solutions — in the comments.

5-Minute, 4-Ingredient Blueberry Syrup

Every once in a while I stray from writing about business and write up something a little more fun, a little more educational, a little more… tasty.

Last time, I shared a morel soup recipe from pickings on our property. Mmm. Morels…

This time, I’m going to show you how to whip up blueberry syrup in about five minutes using a microwave.

Let’s start with ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 TB water
  • 1 TB natural sweetener (e.g. agave syrup, honey, maple syrup)
  • 1TB water + 1/4 TB cornstarch

That’s it. (NOTE: This recipe makes enough for a single[ish] serving, so adjust accordingly to feed more hungry mouths.)

Start with berries & water.

step one_berriesSummertime is berry time, so I try to stock up and eat as many as I can before the season is over. Berries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and, ultimately, deliciousness. Unfortunately, as any berry fan knows, these little delights don’t keep for long.

The wonderful thing about blueberries is they freeze exceptionally well. I just bought a big tub of of them at Sam’s Club last week and, knowing I wouldn’t get to them anytime soon, popped the whole thing in my freezer immediately. Now when I want some, I pull out the container, grab a handful, give ’em a quick wash in a colander (because freezing doesn’t kill food-borne bacteria), and dump them where I please: on vanilla ice cream, in a bowl of cereal, in a batch of muffins or other recipe, etc.

1. Straight into a microwave-safe measuring cup go 1/2 cup of frozen blues. But, before you get too excited about adding sweetener, we’ve got to zap these babies so they soften and warm.



Berries are warm, popped, and ready for the next step.

2. Add 1 TB water to the berries and pop the whole thing in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between sessions, until the berries are soft, warm, and most of them are popped open.


For me, it only took three 30-second rounds to get my berries to the right consistency.

Add a little sweet to your blues.

While this is a great motto for how to improve a bad day, it really is just the next step in our syrup-making process.

Today I used agave syrup, but I would have used raw honey had I any in stock. You can also opt for maple syrup, brown sugar, or even (*gasp*) refined white sugar. There’s really just one rule here: add something sweet that’s liquid or will dissolve in liquid.

(Also, don’t get crazy. Blueberries already have natural sweetness, but their characteristic tart after-bite doesn’t do much for my taste buds when I’m trying to enjoy my meal. You only need a bit of sweetener to offset that tartness, so better to add not enough at this point than too much.)

3. Add 1 TB sweetener to the berry mash, stir, and microwave again for 30 seconds. When the mixture comes out of the microwave, it should be slightly bubbly (see photo). That means the sugar and fruit have cooked… and you’re halfway to delicious syrup!

Thick it. Thick it good.

After cooking the sweetener with the berries, the whole thing will be a hot, watery mess (kinda like one of your girlfriends when she’s crying over her ex). It’ll smell good, sure, but it’s in no way ready for the real world.


Berries, check. Cornstarch, check.

Get it together, gurl.

In regular syrup making, you’d probably end up boiling the concoction until all the water evaporated off.

But, right now, my belly is hungry. And, boiling? Seriously?

Guuuuurl, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Enter: Cornstarch.

4. Create thickening solution — 1 TB cold water + 1/4 TB cornstarch — and pour it in the berry mixture. Stir thoroughly.

You should start to see some thickening happen, but don’t get jumpy with the cornstarch: The mix won’t achieve a true syrup-y consistency until it cools off, so give the container a little cold water bath to help things along.

5. In a larger mixing cup, fill about 1/3 with cold water. Nest the cup with the berries in the water and let it sit, stirring occasionally. You may even want to replace the cold water a time or two, as it’ll warm with the transference of heat from your delicious syrup.


Nesting: Not just for birds and pregnant women.

Once things cool off, you’ll notice the syrup thickening to it’s proper consistency.


(If you don’t, give it a little more time or, if you really can’t wait, chuck the whole thing and just eat your pancakes with jam smeared on them.)

Congratulations! You made blueberry syrup in five minutes!

Your friends will be crazy jealous of your sweet (literally sweet) skillz.

Since this is a single serving recipe, I assume you’ll be dumping your delicious creation all over something immediately edible. But, if you just wanted to test my recipe and it turns out that it really is as awesome as I say it is, you can save the syrup in the fridge for later use.

You’re welcome.

Now, what did I do with mine? I drizzled it all over a watermelon “pancake,” which really isn’t any kind of proper cake at all (drat) but a circular slice of watermelon that covered my entire plate. Then I sprinkled some granola on top, just to make myself feel better.


Disclaimer: Not a real pancake.

I would have eaten a real pancake, but I’m 8+ months preggo and I’m trying to cut down on my carb intake, which, sadly, was tragically high yesterday. (It was a never-change-out-of-my-pajamas-all-day kind of #Monday.) Seriously. My breakfast yesterday was toast with butter and jam and a package of cherry Pop Tarts.


Yep. Healthy.

I know you can hardly tell it’s fruit under there from a picture, but it really is. I promise. And it really was tasty (even considering the bland, end-of-season watermelon I got from the grocery store).

Could I have eaten the watermelon by itself? Sure, but then I wouldn’t have gotten creative in the kitchen today to share this little berry syrup recipe with you!


Jessi is the owner of Mountain Owl Ink LLC, a creative services company located in Minnesota that offers writing, illustration, and editing services to people who ask (and pay). 😉

Writing a Super Proposal: Getting a Foothold in the Freelancer Bidding Wars

Okay, so it’s not really a war. Freelance writers are all part of the same occupational family, each of us offering a different creative version of the same service. We partake in forums where we help one another do the best we can do; we all go (or want to go) to the classes and conferences that help us define and refine our craft.

Even so, families have their rivalries.

For freelancers, that rivalry takes place on the bidding field.

But, before I get into how to write a great proposal, there are four things about the freelance writing market you should keep in mind…

moron-gifHARD TRUTH #1: Even bad proposals get selected sometimes.

After all, many people looking to hire a freelance writer readily admit they don’t know how to write — like, at ALL — so chances are that eventually one of them will also not recognize what reads well. That person will probably choose a proposal that exhibits a feature they do recognize, like price, turnaround time, flexibility, responsiveness to messages, et cetera.

Or, heck, maybe they just close their eyes and point to their computer screen in order to randomly select a name from an applicant list (#itcouldhappen).

So if you think you’ve been getting jobs simply because your proposal writing skills are great… well, that doesn’t always jive. Think of your proposals as your advertisements, mind you they’re directed toward an individual person and not a broad audience. Just like there are a lot of good companies out there that run crappy ads and still stay in business, so can a good writer put out bad proposals and still find work. And maybe that works for you, but… what if you could get better work by running better ads? If that sounds like something you’d like to get in on, keep reading.

meh lady

“Meh. Don’t care.”

HARD TRUTH #2: Clients may not care about your perfectly written proposal. At all.

This is a truth that really sucks because really great proposals take a lot of time to craft. And since time is money, it hurts when you don’t get a return on your investment.

Still, the fact is that there are some clients who don’t care about what a proposal contains or how it reads. They may not be the type of clients who are oblivious to what a good writer’s writing looks like (see Hard Truth #1) — in reality, they may know exactly what good writing looks like — but these folks actively DON’T CARE about your skills. Period.

Instead, they’re focused on other aspects of your candidacy. Things like:

  • your rate
  • project turnaround time
  • availability (i.e. “Do you work weekends/nights/holidays?”)
  • alternative skill sets (in case they want to hire you to do more than one thing at a time, like both write and illustrate, or both write and manage their company’s blog)
  • proximity (I’ve had clients who’ve hired me just for being nearby because they prefer to meet in person rather than discuss the job over email or phone)
  • how you want to get paid (e.g. fixed rate or hourly? in increments or in a lump sum at the end of the job? with or without escrow protection*?)

It’s our best guess as to which of these — if any — drive the potential client to select their ideal candidate. So while you may think the client wants to hear about your five award-winning novellas, they may only care if you can meet with them regularly on Sunday evenings to discuss the project.

Oh, and if you take checks.


“I feel like this is getting complicated. I’d just rather not.”

HARD TRUTH #3: The client’s commitment to the project may be… fickle.

I’ve had this happen many a time:

A potential client will reach out either on a jobs board, privately via email, or in person (if we happen to be crossing paths and talking about our work at the same time). They’re excited about their project. They have this great idea and they can’t wait to get started and ‘Do you think you could do it!?’ they exclaim.

‘Sure,’ you say. So you listen to their idea and draft a quick bid (even if only mentally) for the work you think you’ll have to do. Then you proceed to discuss everything concerning their project: outlines, time tables, budgets, contracts… you know, all that boring, business-like, non-writing stuff.

As you talk, the wind gets blown out of their sails. Suddenly this sounds like work; it’s not as fun anymore. Suddenly it occurs to them that they’re entering into a financial agreement (via contract*) and might have to — gulp! — pay you!

Once you show them the cost estimates, their eyes gloss over. You’ve officially lost them.

‘That’s a lot of money,’ they say aloud (or write) (or think) (or say via body language).

‘Well, writing is hard work,’ you say (or write back) (or think) (or say via body language).

Their interest deflated, they offer up an “I’ll get back to you about it” but never do. Should you have pushed the sale harder? Should you have fluffed your writerly feathers and wowed them with more amazing stats about your #skillz?

Maybe. But if it was either of the following two realizations that turned them off from their own project, there was really little you could do to get them to commit:

  1. They wanted their project to be fun and games, not work and business.
  2. They don’t want to pay you what you actually charge.

If the client wants you to work for free or to do it for “exposure” or “experience,” they can ask their Auntie Ava to write their memoir (unless she’s a freelancer, too, then I hope Auntie Ava charges a fair rate!).

HARD TRUTH #4: Even GREAT proposals don’t get selected.

Yours could be one great proposal among many. Or for another reason altogether your awesome proposal may not have been selected.

Sometimes, we just gotta chalk it up to “Not meant to be” and “Better luck next time. Because, let’s face it: Sometimes it really is about luck.


Though it’s frustrating to admit, we always can’t tell what, exactly, the client is looking for or how seriously they’re looking. But as freelancing spirits we’re not so easily deterred, so trudge ahead and do our best we must, despite detours, disappointments, and hurdles!

That said, here are my

strong man

Tips on Writing a Super Proposal

timeclock clipart1. Take the time to know the job.

Seems basic, but sometimes out of desperation (or as part of their self-marketing strategy) freelancers will go for quantity over quality. Hey, I can’t say mass submissions never works, but they can be mentally draining without being financially rewarding.

Also, refusing to take the time to see what a job requires could put you in the hot seat in the event that you do (somehow, magically) score the contract. What if you find you can’t do the work and have to decline the job after you’ve been awarded it? Or, worse, find yourself mid-project and realize you can’t finish the work? That’s just embarrassing and a hard hit to your professional portfolio, especially on sites like Upwork where the client has the opportunity to leave a negative review on your profile.

2. Customize your cover letter.

While you may be able to get away with using certain aspects of a previously submitted proposal for a different job, don’t copy and paste your way into the freelancing game.

Potential clients can see right through this tactic and, unless they’re looking for one of those alternative aspects mentioned previously, submitting an impersonalized cover letter will only cause them to think (a) you’re too lazy to read the actual job description, (b) you’re too lazy to do the actual work of writing a good response, or (c) you don’t really care about the job (see ‘a’).

Either way, you don’t come out looking good and, like a resume cover letter that isn’t tailored to the employer’s needs, your proposal will likely get swiftly tossed in the round file.

think money3. Make clear your rates.

Take the extra time to be clear about how and why you’re charging what you do, especially if the job description expresses client concerns about rates. If you’re interested in the job but your price is higher than the client’s initial budget, it’s okay to still apply and offer up a solid explanation as to why your rate is higher than they might like and why it’s worth it.

This is a great opportunity to sell your skills as well as show you’re a professional who understands value. If you feel you need to, refer to the Writer’s Market’s “How Much Should I Charge?” report. It’s a little outdated, but certainly a usable reference when discussing various writing fees.

Just remember: You’re not defending your rates, you’re just explaining them. And don’t patronize the client when you clarify your rates, either. Nobody likes a smarty pants who makes other people feel stupid.

4. Offer appropriate samples.

Like your cover letter, get into the habit of being selective about which writing samples you share with a prospective client. If the job is for nonfiction work, share nonfiction samples. If it’s for blogging, share blogs you’ve written.

Offering samples of unrelated work is a great way to show you’re NOT paying attention. For instance, if you’re applying for an adult romance fiction writing gig, don’t share the latest nonfiction elementary school inspirational picture book you wrote (and/or illustrated).

A special note: If you’re often hired as a ghostwriter, be sure to obtain the permission of past clients before sharing their work as part of later bids. You can easily do this by giving clients the option of declaring permissions at the start of the project, as part of your written contract. Then you can simply refer back to the contract later on to see if you have received permission to share the work or not.


5. You’re a writer, so write well. (Always!)

Another seemingly obvious one, I see a lot of comments on freelancing forums from self-proclaimed writers who don’t take the time to type out complete sentences or use proper grammar or punctuation.

If you can’t offer me paragraph separation in your 250-word rant about low-paying work, it’s no wonder nobody is taking you seriously!

Learn to interact in every way (every day!) the way you want to be seen as a professional. Make good writing a personality trait, not just a profession. Whether it’s in your texts or emails, in private forums or in proposals, make it a habit to show your best abilities (and not only in writing, but in attitude as well!). Do that, and people will begin to remember you for those things.

Likewise, habitually communicating with bad writing will cause people to habitually remember that about you… even if, in your work, you’re a very clean-cut writer, nobody will know it!

6. Be confident, not cocky.

People don’t have time to wrestle with your ego and, trust me, it won’t do you any favors either. Confidence is professional and magnetic, but cockiness will just turn potential clients off from liking you as a person which, in today’s workforce, is critical.

When writing your proposal, describe relevant accomplishments and abilities without embellishing them.

For example, instead of writing, “I’m an amazing historical novelist with several award-winning publications under my belt,” and inserting a link to your author website, opt for the more relaxed and low-key, “I am a published author of three successful historic novels” and allow the client space to ask for further information if they’re intrigued.

(Never interject irrelevant information or brags into your proposal. #TMI!)

Learn to be likable and you’ll experience a more successful freelancing career. Likability involves traits like honesty, positivity, and the ability to build and maintain good co-working relationships.

And just because you’re freelance doesn’t mean you work alone! The saying “No man is an island” applies here, and you need to learn to [quickly!] develop positive working relationships with clients in order to gain their trust, respect, and, ultimately, their business.

shaking-hands7. Say “Thank you.”

Your mother was right: Kindness pays.

Sometimes it might just take a little acknowledgement to put your proposal over the top. End your proposal letter with a quick “thank you” to the client for taking their time to read what you’ve had to say. Finish with a closing — “Sincerely,” “With Kind Regards,” et cetera — and type out your name, just as if you were signing a real letter.

Where other proposals may end in terse business lingo (bor-ing), your offer’s clean finish may be all the client’s palette needed to initiate a conversation with you instead of your competitors.


As long as you digest the four aforementioned hard facts of freelancing — and can equally learn to not take every rejection or non-response as a personal insult (though some clearly are) — you’ll be able to dedicate yourself to writing the best possible proposals in a way that best expresses and sells your skills and abilities.


Have additional tips for fellow freelancers about writing proposals? Share them in the comments!

*Like those who refuse to sign contracts, be wary of clients who don’t want to put money into an escrow account, especially if it’s a large project and an escrow service is readily provided (like on Upwork). The client may be trying to swindle you into working for free. This has happened to me before, and being duped is not a good feeling to either your ego or your wallet.

Review Reads & Pretty Paperbacks: 3 Reasons to Have Your Manuscript Reviewed (Before Publishing*)

Last fall I was presented with the opportunity to review a book written by an indie author in Tennessee named Kayla Lowe.

We connected on LinkedIn. I was a LinkedIn suggestion, nonetheless, when Kayla was new to the platform. Unlike many other “connections,” the connection with Kayla immediately turned out beneficial for the both of us, though I think I got the better end of the deal. Kayla got her book reviewed and I got, well… to read a good story, make a new writer-friend, get some business promo, and most recently received a free signed copy of Maiden’s Blush! Score!

Reviews are important in the book business - just ask Kayla Lowe!

Holding my (signed!) copy of “Maiden’s Blush” by Kayla Lowe.

Kayla Lowe writes Christian fiction and poetry. She’s recently been releasing some of her poetry as memes on her blog, some of which may even pull this anti-poetry editor into the magic of prose poetry.

But, back to the book review…

Reading the original version of Maiden’s Blush was less work and more a pleasure. True to form — what with her various recognitions for her talent as a writer — Lowe’s story was complete from start to finish and her writing was easy to peruse, a small blessing an editor doesn’t commonly get to enjoy.

There were only a few problems I caught onto when reading the book, and those were passed to Lowe in a head-to-toe Mountain Owl Ink manuscript review that involves notations on…

  • dialogue,
  • setting,
  • character development,
  • tone,
  • believability,

…and more. Of those issues, a number of them were writing habits I see commonly in others’ works. Little things like overuse/preference of certain words and phrases, pronoun ambiguity, and character trait vagueness are common issues that writers often don’t see in their own work but can present as problems for readers.

Which leads to my reasons for

3 Reasons To Get Your Manuscript Reviewed* (Before Publishing)

Reason #1: Self-Blindness

Self-blindness is the concept of being blind to what we do wrong. Sometimes our errors are pretty obvious (thanks, Spellcheck), but from time to time we can all use a second pair of eyes — not only in writing, but in life — to help keep us on the straight and narrow.

Nobody is immune to self-blindness, not even the most diligent writer or and editor (yes, including me!). That’s why I always say that “even editors need editors.”

Writing errors common in self-blindness include…

  • the overuse of “that”
  • comma overuse (or under-use)
  • pronoun ambiguity
  • setting confusion
  • vague transition(s) between action, speaker, point of view, and/or setting

The only way we can learn to recognize our bad (and good!) writing habits — and learn from them — is by having the help of other people pointing them out to us. Remember…


#2: Avoid the “Whoops!” Re-Release

While there are a number of good reasons to do a re-release of a book, you don’t want to feel compelled to do so in order to fix (um… hide) writing mistakes!

Other than being an expensive and time-consuming way to fix mistakes,

In Lowe’s case, her re-release of Maiden’s Blush also included the integration of a brand new, simplified cover. Other good reasons to re-release, other than integrating a new cover:

Lowe_old cover

The first edition cover of Maiden’s Blush.

  • Addition of a new chapter (e.g. a different ending that leads into a sequel);
  • Addition of artwork within the book itself (e.g. illustrations);
  • As part of a promotion for another product (e.g. with the release of a sequel);
  • Changing author’s legal name to a pseudonym; or
  • Addition of an introduction penned by a guest writer.

One reason an author may not opt to have their manuscript reviewed prior to publication* is the cost. It can cost $200+ to have a manuscript reviewed by an editor

However, get creative and you may be able to get a review done on your manuscript for free (or close to it). For instance, see if you can strike up a bartered deal, as in the case of Mountain Owl’s review of Maiden’s Blush. Our simple barter involved me doing the review in exchange for a little promotion on the new review service I was offering. Win-win!

#3: Don’t turn off new readers.

Especially if you’re an indie or self-publishing author, you don’t want to run the risk of deterring new readers before you’ve even begun building an audience.

Readers are critical folk. They like pointing out (sometimes cruelly) errors and problems they see in books they read. They tell their friends, their Facebook pages, the bookstore clerks, Amazon reviews… And a bad review can hurt sales of that particular title as well as your future releases.

Start your audience off on the right foot with a well-written, strong, positively reviewed book to gain their respect, loyalty, and future business.

And that’s today’s #HappyWriting advice about #seeingfarther.

Have a manuscript that could use reviewing or questions about the review process? Send me a message at Jessi [at] MountainOwlInk [dot] com.


*Ideally, manuscripts should be reviewed prior to publication so as to prevent putting sub-par writing out into the world to be read (or, in the case of bad writing that gets published, not read).

A Fair (Fare?) Working Relationship

I happened upon this ad yesterday as I scrolled down my Upwork screen looking for jobs to bid on:

Ad for Children's Book Illustrator

An ad pulled from freelancer site

When I first saw this ad I laughed. The problem isn’t with the wording, or the need, but with the advertiser’s expectation. Just take a look: They’re wanting an expert to draw likely 10+ illustrations (probably in full color) for $125, total. Really? That comes to $12.50 per illustration, maximum.

Fees and the question “What to charge?” has been on my mind lately. Not because I don’t know what to charge (I now have a fair set of rates that I go by regularly), but because I run into the problem so often of potential clients feeling like a writer’s (or, in this case, an illustrator’s) time is worth a dime on the dollar.

I don’t know what it takes for other illustrators to do their work, but I know when I’m drawing a full page for a client each image can take from half to a full day to complete. At a half day (4 hours), that comes to $3.13/hr; a full day, $1.56/hr. Unless they’re ten and doing chores for candy money, nobody in their right mind would work for such low wages.

Most don’t realize an illustrator isn’t just mindlessly sketching in some notebook. There’s a lot of thought, drafting, finalizing, and coloring to do, and this doesn’t count the back-and-forth communication with the client about the layout, characters, color choice, et cetera before pencil even touches paper.

In short, a hobbyist or novice will sketch out something for $12.50 per illustration while riding the bus to his day job. An expert, on the other hand, will charge $125 per illustration.

The unfairness starts with YOU.


Ads like this — of which there are many — tell me there is a big reality gap between what a client thinks we do and what actually happens. And this doesn’t just apply to rates, but also to time schedules: Clients will be willing to dish out a fair sum of cash but their expectations about how long it’ll take to complete the work are far off course.


The above is a funny rendition of the gap between outside perspective and what actually takes place at the illustrator’s desk. Illustrator’s certainly don’t work for free, draw all their business-owning friends (free) logos, or doodle all day like Kindergartners. (Some of us do, though, get our sleep. I happen to take sleeping very seriously.)

Entering into business with someone who doesn’t understand what a freelancer puts into their work is like going into a one-sided relationship: Person A makes good effort to spend time together and Person B sits around twiddling their thumbs while also complaining that Person A never hangs out anymore.

Annoying? Yes. Unfair? Absolutely. Toxic? You bet.

Luckily, as of late last year I’ve purged myself of toxic clients, guilt-free. And I do mean “luckily,” because I know a lot of freelancers don’t enjoy that freedom. Why? I think a lot of it has to do with perspective about what good clients give. That is,

It starts with the writer’s expectation about what they can get. If that’s skewed, everything goes downhill from there.

If you think you’re not worth more than a few dollars an hour, you’ll only get paid a few dollars an hour. A lot of the freelancing game is about mentality, so build and maintain your mental strength when conducting business.

It’s about setting your market value. I’m not going to repeat the overdone freelancer’s chant, “We need to stop taking such low pay!” because it’s a cop out. Saying “we” takes the pressure off of ourselves and puts the obligation out there, into the wide, empty nothing, for some unknown entity to take hold of. Taking low pay is now the world’s problem, and who can fix the whole world? Nobody.

But stop passing the buck! YOU are the only entity you should be fixing!

Instead of chanting to the proverbial “we,” take charge of your situation. Stop worrying about everyone else’s earnings and the general freelancing market value (i.e. what freelancers overall are willing to accept as common expectations and wages) and start focusing on your freelancing value.

I’m not saying that since I’ve altered my expectations and self-valuation I get the “best paying freelance jobs” out there. (I put that in quotes because I’m sure you’ve typed that into Google more than once as a freelancer, just as I have!)

But I am saying that my earnings per project are better than what they used to be, and certainly better than what potential clients advertise, like the one looking for an expert illustrator at $12.50 an illustration. Pfft.

To improve your own situation starts with just three easy steps, which are more like new mentalities you need to adopt and apply. (Sorry — no easy 1-2-3 checklists here!) Here’s MOI’s strategy for…

How to Get Paid a Fair Fare

1. Don’t get into an unfair relationship in the first place.

Just because its business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking out for your own — present and future — well-being.

Think of starting and developing a working relationship with a client like you would a relationship with anyone else. Your business relations should be fair, understanding, open, and respectful. That means the client should respect your time and effort by paying you a fair rate, and you should respect the client’s money (and time) by doing your best job and staying on schedule.

2. If you’re already in an unfair relationship, adjust it.

Whether that means renegotiating your rates, deadlines, or availability, do it and do it NOW.

And don’t forget to do it via a contract, on paper. (Don’t have a contract to begin with? Yikes… doing work under contract is respect rule #1!) Make the new terms clear and concise, and make available a way for either party to back out of the deal at any time. One of you isn’t indentured to the other (or if you are per the terms of a contract you signed, you shouldn’t have agreed to that in the first place!).

Remember: You’re working with, not for, the other person. You’re a freelancer, not an employee! So take the “free” in “freelancer” seriously.

3. If the other party won’t adjust, dump them.

If the other person doesn’t want to change terms — or doesn’t even want to see or admit that they are doing you wrong — then it’s high time to say goodbye. It’ll hurt, but in the long run you’ll be better off. (Don’t worry about them: They’ll undoubtedly find someone else to fill your shoes at $3/hr. That’s not your concern.)

If your clients don’t respect you, you shouldn’t want those clients. Period. So let them go.


Bad clients. Just let them go.

Keep to this strategy and eventually you’ll have clients, old and new, who value your talent, time, and who will pay you a fair fare.

Mountain Owl Ink LLC is a freelance creative services company located in Minnesota, USA, that has been providing writing, illustration, and design services since 2013. For more information, visit