Occupation: freelance smiter

By Mir
April 9, 2007
Category Job? Huh?

I wrote my first unprompted creative masterpiece while in the fourth grade. It stood out from my previous writing in that it was long enough to have separate chapters, first of all. Secondly, it featured as a central plot point the fact that the house the main characters lived in had a large hole in the ceiling of the family room which they’d somehow never noticed before.

(See? Twenty-six years of practice and I’m no less verbose, but at least my stories tend to make a little more sense, now. This is why I like to stick to reality; my lies tend to have large plot holes.)

It took me a long time to decide that I really wanted to stop working crappy jobs for other people and instead be an independent. Now I can work crappy jobs for other people and have no vacation and no benefits!

There are many, many things I love about being a freelancer. Although I work a lot of hours, I’m more or less my own boss. My schedule is somewhat flexible. I meet a lot of really interesting people. Some of my gigs are really awesome. I am rarely bored.

There are a few pesky little things I’ve not enjoyed quite so much, like that whole lack of benefits thing. When I had the flu and I still had to, you know, WORK, that kind of sucked. But that’s how it is when you’re a contractor.

What is happening more and more, though, and is starting to invoke my ire, is this delightful little thing I like to call Let Me Pat You On The Head.

There are several different forms this can take.

Form 1: Let Me Tell You About Me While I Pretend I Read You
Both Liz and Jenn wrote about this phenomenon recently (though I am too lazy to go back and find the specific posts; just trust me) and probably in a much more eloquent way than I will. Basically this approach sounds something like this:


I am a huge fan of your blog and read it absolutely all the time even though I clearly don’t know your name! I just know that you are going to be really excited about my latest gadget for busy working moms. The Olivator traps common household pests and then quickly and easily stuffs them into cocktail olives for a beautiful and protein-laden snack. It kills two birds with one stone and I think that your readers would really like to hear all about it, particularly from you, because you are such an industry leader and smart and pretty and the very bestest person in the world ever!

I look forward to your post about the Olivator, WOULDA COULDA SHOULDA. And this is totally not a form letter.

Farley Beezlewomp

I dislike these sorts of emails because they’re both patronizing and stupid. Do people really think that if they say “I read you!” or “I’m a big fan!” that it won’t be patently obvious that they found me on a Google search and have never read me before in their lives? Also, the suggestion that they’re doing me a favor by “letting” me give them some free press causes my eyeballs to roll far, far back in my head and get stuck that way. Ouch.

Oh my gosh, THANK YOU! All this time, I mean, for over three years I’ve been blogging about nothing, just waiting for some really worthy material. Thank goodness you emailed me in time to save me from another pointless post about my children!

Form 2: Let Me Ask You For Advice While Making It Obvious That I Think Any Monkey Could Perform Your Job
Periodically I get email from someone who reads me who has decided that they, too, want to try their hand at freelancing. I actually don’t mind this sort of mail, because lord knows I asked people for guidance when I was starting. It doesn’t bother me to get mail from someone who has a grip on reality, genuine interest/drive, and some manners. Actually, I love that kind of mail.

What I really sort of can’t stand is mail that reads more like this:

Hey Mir,

I been done readin your there blog for a while and I been thinkin I could do the same thing. So. Tell me how. I want to make piles of money do you make piles of money> Tell me how much moneyz you make and then how I can do it two. Like do you get paid to blog, cuz I has a blog and my mom reads it says its rilly rilly good. So I”m a gunna be just like you. Right back and tell me what to do okay.

A Fan

I know that this sort of thing shouldn’t bother me, because clearly it’s more a reflection of that person’s world view than on me in particular, but it does irk me slightly when I get something that basically reads, “What you do must be really easy, and now I’d like your secret.” Come a little closer. Closer. Okay. Now DON’T TELL ANYONE, but here’s my secret (and indeed, I suspect, the secret of most freelance writers): I work hard at what I do. I write all the damn time (blogging, yes, and other stuff, too) to keep those writing muscles limber AND I market myself like a shameless hussy AND I actively network with everyone possible because of that whole six degrees of Get Me a Job thing.

I’m happy to talk about my career. I just get a little testy when you suggest that I have a magic wand. Believe me, if I had one, I’d have a much better response to those questions….

Form 3: Let Me Offer You The Exciting Opportunity to Work For Free
The most aggravating of all forms of Let Me Pat You On The Head is the people who assume that all bloggers must feel the burning need to write for other people out of the goodness of their hearts.

Dear Mir,

I’ve noticed that your blog seems sort of popular, and that’s why I know that you’re going to want to write for my semi-popular site for absolutely no money whatsoever. You’ll get exposure and the satisfaction of having your work appear someplace else, because that should totally thrill you. Really, although it may SOUND like I’m hoping to leverage your popularity to promote my site, this is a totally altruistic offer designed to help YOU. Because we are all about the sharing and caring, here at the supposedly well-trafficked site you’ve never heard of.

I look forward to your submissions. Supplication is optional but highly recommended.

Random Person

I’ve taken to ignoring such emails—mentally filing them alongside the generous offers I receive to make me thicker, harder, and longer-lasting—but recently I’ve gotten several that aren’t quite so clear-cut. It turns out, of course, that they want me to write for free. But the initial email seems legit and says they’d like me to do some writing, and it takes a bit of prodding to get them to admit that I won’t be paid.

Does this happen in other professions? My dad’s an architect; do you suppose people walk up to him on the street and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been thinking of designing a house. I bet you’d be great at that. And I’d tell everyone you did it, too, which would be AWESOME for you. So, could you have those plans to me by next week? Great, thanks!”

Here’s a little secret I’d love to share with the world. Despite my love of a good bargain, for the most part in life, you get what you pay for.

This is not to say that I NEVER do work that doesn’t pay or pays poorly, but I have to have a vested interest to do so. A random email from someone I don’t know is probably never going to translate into that sort of vested interest.

I got a slew of these sorts of email in the past week, prompting me to develop several appealing fantasies.

In the first, I merely respond to all egregious emails with “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

In the second, I trash the product I’m supposed to tout; I tell the wannabe-writer that I slept my way to the top (which is entertaining on two levels, both because I certainly hope this isn’t the top, and because, well, just no); and I write a truly horrible piece for the site that’s promised to send me all three of its readers.

In the third, I write back a detailed treatise on why their query is inappropriate and insulting, and they see the error of their ways and go forth and never sin in that way again.

And then large piles of money fall out of that hole in the ceiling which I never noticed before. Yay!


  1. Lucinda

    My husband is self-employed and actually quite good at what he does. Yet, we still get those requests to do something for free because of all the publicity it will get him (when he already has more business than he can handle). Uh, yeah. So I totally get what you are saying.

    My favorite email is the whole “I’m offering you advice because even though you are so very successful, I know more than you despite the fact that I have never done what you do professionally.”

    Can I just say, “Dude, here’s your sign”?

  2. ChristieNY


    Hee hee hee hee hee ~ you should DEFINITELY send that one!

    How obnoxious of some people (and how naive of others)! I used to be a certified ice skating & swimming instructor and anytime someone found out that it’s what I did they’d want me to teach them, or their kid, or some random person they knew, for free of course, because it’s a fun thing so it must be so fun for me to do it, for free and all! Didn’t you know that?! No? Oh well. It’s past my bedtime.

  3. Otto

    Form 3? They use that on photographers all the time … “Hey, you have expensive cameras, you should use them to shoot our thing and we’ll, like, give you a credit line. And then sell reprints of your work to everyone in them and not give you a penny of the profit. ‘Copyright what?'”

  4. amy

    I think there are just weird people out there who are always trying to make a buck and have no idea how obnoxious they are or maybe they do know and do not care. I never respond to those weird sorts of comments. Just delete and get on with real life. I recommend that too! It saves a lot of aggravation and time!

  5. Zee

    Can I just say, I SO admire what you do! Both the writing and the freelancing. Seriously, hustling up work AND doing the work you’ve already hustled AND fending off crazy people who think you should spend time talking to them instead of doing work for the people who are actually paying you AND being creative AND self-promotion AND … well, it’s more than I could do and I have to just sit back and say, “Wow.” (I have a similar awe for teachers…)

    In college, I worked as a personal assistant for a political cartoonist, and he used to get requests like the above all the time. Especially those of the “Yer like, rilly rilly good and how do I do what you do? Can you get me a job?” variety, complete with badly-drawn, unfunny political cartoons. We filed those letters in the circular file… :)

  6. Cele

    maybe I should start reading email instead of blogs. Bummer dude, the blogs are so much better, except some of the pictures :opps:

  7. Becky

    I’ve heard that artists in general have to face a lot of number 3 as well, because goshdarn, don’t they want to get their artwork exposed by making for graphics for advertisements, websites, etc without earning a cent for their effort?

  8. mama speak

    No Soup For You! Best response evah! no rilly! ;-)

    There are a lot of professions that deal with this type of stuff; doctors get people asking them to diagonsis their “problem” at dinner parties, lawyers get asked for free legal advice, etc….The worst, when family or good friends ask or even assume you’ll do this stuff for them FOR FREE! Cause you love them so much, and why wouldn’t you want to??? Just bad, bad, bad.

    No Soup For You!!!

  9. Rachel May

    I’d just like to say a big THANK YOU to you, Mir, because I emailed you probably 10 times when I was starting my own piddly blog. You were so nice to answer my questions because I know crap about blogging. Now I know crap plus 10 things. I emailed you because you seemed nice and I really like your writing, and, really, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

    No, seriously, I really do enjoy your writing. Thanks for sharing with us.

    I do identify with your issues, here, though, because I teach high school science. You wouldn’t believe the number of requests I’ve had to tutor somebody’s kid in chemistry or biology. That’s great – I’d love to teach your kid because I really do love to teach and I’m good at what I do. Somehow I’ve always slipped in there that I charge $25/hour for in-home tutoring; that weeds out the ones who don’t really need it.

    Knight deals with the same thing because he designs websites and “works with computers”, so people are *constantly* asking him to come look at their computers.

    I think we’ll just start saying “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

  10. Mom2One

    Oh Mir, you have to start writing back, “NO SOUP FOR YOU!” just because it will confuse them or if they know Seinfeld, insult them, and both reactions would be worth it. :D

  11. Tracey

    My husband gets that WITHIN his office.. he’s a hydrographer (measure water…), with more than 20 years experience now, and this manager at his office keeps trying to send totally unqualified people out to do hydrographic stuff, and thinks my husband can fill them in in 30 mins as to what they have to do!

    It also astounds me that, because I’ve managed to do a few webpages for family stuff and a website for my kids’ netball club, people ask me if I could maybe come over one day and ‘show’ them how to do a web page. It annoys the hell out of me because even though I’m not even at the level of expertise with web design at which I feel like I could even charge people, that is knowledge I gained from bothering to get off my backside, do a couple of courses, and spend more than a few hours at home playing around till I figure out how to do something. So then someone thinks it must be so easy I could go over and teach them in as long as it takes to have a cup of coffee! Grrrr!

  12. MomCat

    As a freelance illustrator, I can relate. The one I hate the most is the exciting opportunity to work for free. “You’re an artist? You’re so lucky! God has gifted you with talent and this must be so fun for you! And no real work at all! Would you paint a gigantic, lovely mural in my child’s bedroom? Tomorrow?”

  13. tori

    My husband is a good guy who happens to sell (and maintain? I really have no idea what he does all day!) internet security products. Friends, and people we hardly know always ask him to come over and update them, all for free. My poor husband works long hours and travels a lot. The last thing he wants to do when he is home is to do more work for free! But he does, because he is a kind generous guy.

    But I do think you “right rilly rilly good” and should be making piles of money!

  14. Bah

    I agree with Otto. The minute anyone sees me with a camera or scopes out some of my work, they’re all over me for free pictures of their kids frolicking in the tulips wearing their Easter dresses. I tend to burp on them and they run away.

    I like the NO SOUP FOR YOU thing, too. Probably less work.


  15. brown eyed girl

    See, I told YOU- you were famous!

    Just goes to show..no one propositions you when you’re a “nobody” like me. I’m not good enough for even “Come write for us for free” spam email.


  16. chris

    And where can I get the Olivator? because that sounds tasty and efficient. I don’t think I am allergic to common household pests.

    I am a HUGE fan of your blog. And you are an awesome mother.

  17. Mir

    Chris: No soup for you, suck-up!

  18. chris

    I probably can’t eat soup. Which is why the Olivator is SO appealing to me.

    Please tell me all about it. I’ll share my 26.8 million dollar winnings with you from a lottery in west Africa. You just need to send me $150,000 in advance for fees.

    I’ll share it with you because I love your blog.

  19. Brigitte

    Well, we have once or twice been guilty of using and abusing the knowledge of close friends (though they at LEAST get beer and/or supper!), but to do it to a stranger?

    Even deleting their emails is already spending too much time on them, while make-believe answers are fun to fantasize about, it’s just too much work (that you wouldn’t be getting paid for!).

    I keep picturing the results of the Olivator too vividly, especially the freakishly long legs of a plump wood spider poking out – GAH!!!

  20. Chuck

    I work for an airline, so the worst I ever have is people asking me if I can get them free plane tickets (NO) or asking if their airfare is a good deal (I have no idea since my job doesn’t deal with fares in the slightest way.) I probably get more people asking if I can come fix their computer, though…which, if I’m friends with the person, I usually don’t mind doing. I do find it funny that something that got me ridiculed in high school (liking computers) now is something that has me “in demand” on occasion.

  21. The Other Leanne

    Hey, Leanne, can you write a grant for me? I know there must be plenty of grants out there that the government gives to private individuals who think they have a good idea but don’t know how to go about financing it or even DESCRIBING it. You write grants all the time, would you at least tell me how to do it? Maybe you could research these grants for me in your spare time, find an appropriate source of funding, write the grant, and then when I get the money I’d be so very grateful.

  22. Aimee

    See, that second kind really gets to me. Not so much the asker’s world-view, but the idea that writing is just so bloody easy that anybody could do it. My husband and I get that all the time regarding our screenwriting — people opining that most movies are crap, ergo anybody can write one; or that anybody could do it if they only had the time. And on some of the online writers’ forums we frequent, at least once a month some person will pop in with a script for critiquing, and it’s obvious from line 1 that they have never even READ a screenplay, and yet they think that some thing that they typed out over the weekend is going to be the next Citizen Kane. The only thing to do, really, is to point them politely in the direction of a CLUE, and go back to beating our heads into a pulp as we spend every second of free time crafting and re-crafting our own work.

    Huh. I think you might’ve hit a nerve with that one!

  23. Heidi

    Yup, I can comiserate with Rachel May. My honey is the chief technology officer for a company. People hear “technology” and they immediately assume he’d LOVE to spend his (non-existent) free time solving whatever computer-based stickywicket they’ve gotten themselves into. For free. For life. Yeah, right. Oh, and he’s a fabulous grant writer, too. Good thing my email address won’t show up here…

  24. cce

    Ughhh, I’m so glad that no one in my new location knows I’m a landscape architect. I’m not practicing now and may never go back to it because I just can’t stand the thought of running into Allison Freeland in the supermarket and having her ask me what she should plant around her air conditioning unit because it’s such a tough spot with all the hot air it blows out. Little does she know that this is like asking an architect to come over and fix your toilet for free. I don’t miss that conversation.

  25. Melanie Marie

    Aww, shoot. I was all set to ask you to pay me for the privilege of writing something on my blog…

  26. Stephanie

    Dude, I can so relate. I am a secretary, and people are all the time asking me to come to their house and answer their telephones for them. For free!
    Nope, sorry. I tried, but I can’t relate. But I do have a friend who works in IT who I ask an occassional computer question, and my mom used to be a beautician, so she cuts my hair.
    By the way, I have this newsletter I have to write for the PTA, and I was wondering whether you could do it for me since you are so good at that kind of stuff. :)

  27. Stephanie

    Beezlewomp! Ha! I think I dated that guy.

  28. Rachel

    I think everyone gets this phenomenon. I tell people I’m a librarian and they want book recommendations and they want me to take their books back for them. Seriously, I just met you in a grocery store, I’m not taking your books for you. My husband does computer networking and occasionaly spends his evening fixing the home networks of acquaintances. My father is a math teacher and is constantly asked to help kids learn algebra for free. Is it cheapness? Are people cheap or just clueless?

  29. Erika, Plain Jane Mom

    My personal favorite was when I got letter #3 from stranger who wanted me to write for a Splog that had been started THE DAY BEFORE! At least that one was good for a laugh.

  30. Her Bad Mother

    I can have soup though, right?

  31. Annie

    Ha! I’m living that right now. Hey, you’re a theater director! Make my play good, and deal with me to boot. You’ll get experience, right? It’s a chance for publicity, right?

    The problem (and it is a huge one) is that so many people in theater actually will work for free, or for very, very little, and organizations then expect everyone to work for free. Hence why there are so many damn trust fund babies in theater.

  32. Lisa

    I am finally de-lurking. Amazing. I love your blog and your sense of humor about stupidity is fantastic. I am not as well read in the blog department, but I am constantly offered great “opportunities” from Monster.com searchers. “No Soup For You!” will be my new reply. Thanks!

  33. Melissa

    I know exactly what you mean – my husband is a chauffeur. We have a very nice Town Car w/ all the extras. I absolutely hate it when people call with “Hey, can he give me a ride to/from (insert location)? My car is in the shop/being borrowed/nonexistent because I ride the bus”. We’re in Boston people, taxi drivers are EVERYWHERE… and when he was a taxi driver these people never called to ask for a ride.

    I am was a florist for years – so I get the plant care questions, the wedding questions and the occasional request to go with me to the wholesale market.

    So yeah, I feel your pain.

  34. Liise

    um so I shouldn’t ask my IT Guru of a boyfriend to hurry the eff up and build my website already? Because, technically? I know him and he will be paid (just not in money). Oh TMI? ok.

  35. Therese

    I know exactly how you feel. My husband’s a contractor, and if I had a NICKEL for every time someone asked him how to install, build, called him on the job to ask some stupid question, neither of us would have to actually WORK any more.

    Hmmm, how do I go about billing for all those nickels??

  36. Jan

    Actually yes, I think it does happen in other professions, particularly the wanting you to do it for free because you’re friends part. My husband is a freelance landscape designer and he gets a lot of people that would just like to “pick [his] brain a bit”. Um, yeah, that’s called a CONSULTATION and there’s a fee associated with it. He also gets the whole, “oh, I bet that’s really fun, I love picking out the pretty flowers in the spring” crap. When people aren’t asking if he would mow their yard for $5/hour.

    I think maybe with you it’s partly because on the blog here you talk a lot about the other stuff you do (because who wants to read about how you worked all day … bleh) and so it comes across a little like you have lots and lots of free time. In which to do all this other stuff, you know? So people look at that and say, wow, I’d sure love to have all that free time, and maybe she could tell me how. Not totally logical, but then when have the internets been accused of logical smarts?

  37. Nancy

    I vote for “No soup for you!”

  38. ffbgirl

    I like the option of trashing the product, telling them you slept your way to the top, and writing a p.o.s. of an article for the little site… That’s just me though…

    I was honestly reading your blog (before this entry) and thinking, “hmmmm… what does it take to be a freelance writer? I am getting a ph.d. in political communication. I wonder if it is something I could get into.” But then, I thought, “I don’t want to bother her for an ‘informational interview.'” or something like that. Then I read this post and was really glad I didn’t just dash off an e-mail to you.

    I am going to do some research. I am going to find out more about freelance writing opportunities within my realm of expertise. I am going to work to find some information on my own. Then, when I can ask educated questions (beyond what exactly does freelance writing entail), I will send you a question or two.

    I thank you in advance. I also thank you for your fabulous blog! I just love reading it. You always make me laugh out loud!

  39. Character Builder

    We used to have a neighbor who was a plumber. One of the other neighbors told him that he was thinking of taking up plumbing “as a hobby.” How insulting! As if it would be that easy.

  40. beatrice

    My husband is an estate and probate attorney. Because of malpractice laws and insurance and the rules of his firm, he *cannot* offer any kind of advice to anyone on any legal topic without clearing it through the firm. Does that stop people from asking? Sadly, no. Even more sadly? We’ve had people stop talking to use because he won’t give them free legal assistance.
    I’m a policy researcher/SAHM. Oddly, no one ever asks me for free advice. And I’d give it out, too!

  41. almost vegetarian

    I am a freelancer. I’ve been one for well over a decade. And I know (I KNOW!) that the reality and the illusion are, vasly, vastly different things.

    No boss? Erm, well, actually, I can have several at a time, depending on how many projects I am writing. Set my own hours? Erm, well, actually, I find I have no time of my own. Beause I learned, VERY QUICKLY that no work = no money. And no money = no dinner. And I happen to like my dinner, thank you very much.

    But I’ll be the first to admit it has it’s rewards. Like posting blog comments in my undies. For example.


  42. Daisy

    OMG, The comments for this post were almost as great as the post itself! No soup for you — gotta love it. Rilly.

  43. Sophie

    I’m so glad that you wrote about this because it helps me on so many levels. I’m dreaming of going freelance… so I guess I need to put my feet back on the ground. Got it!

    I, too, had the experience of “please write for our new site.” At first I thought, “What the h***?” But, like a dumb bunny, I took the bait (is that a mixed metaphor?) Anyway… do you know what they did? They igorned it! I put a heck of a lot of work into that post, and they didn’t use it. AND THEN they came back five months later with some lame excuse as to why they didn’t use my post, but could I please write another one?

    In a few more months, I think I’ll reply, “NO SOUP FOR YOU.”


  44. Krisco

    Mir. You crack me up. It’s too bad they’re not worth it, because it would be so funny if you sent them ANY of those responses.

  45. Jennifer

    This was hilarious! I am a self-employed translator and get #2 and #3 all the time. I never quite know how to handle the requests delicately, but “No soup for you” might work.

  46. dorothy

    I’ve only recently begun receiving these sorts of things, but now I know EXACTLY how to respond. Phew!

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