Writing Samples Are Not "Free" Samples

 (Photo by jbcurio via Flickr)

Wow!  I can't believe the nerve of some agencies and companies looking for freelancers these days.  Most are amazing, 100% legit, and willing to play by the rules of the writing world.  And then you have this guy....

When responding to a job posting today, I included a writing sample, as requested.  I have a few that I usually stick to --- ones that display my writing style in the niches that I'm most likely to apply for.  I included the sample in my application, with a proper credit to the online blog that it was originally published, and a note that it was published previously and only a sample.

I immediately got a response (probably canned) that thanked me for my time.  I was informed that my sample would be published on the ad poster's website, and after he/or she was able to see how popular the article was, it would be purchased.  What??

This is a new one for me.  A writing sample is a clip.  It is a showcase of my work, designed to tell a potential future client that I know my stuff.  It is not a "help yourself to this article and publish it at will" permission.  I thought everyone knew this.

To avoid finding yourself in a situation where someone publishes your work without your permission (and especially work that may already be published elsewhere), follow these quick tips:

  • Use abridged work when possible. Remove client-sensitive info and details that could prevent it from infringing on copyright issues should someone decide to go ahead and publish it without your permission.
  • If you feel like it could be swiped, use a free article (or better yet, don't apply). Make sure you note that it is a "free article" in your application, and request that credit be given back to you and your website.
  • If you find yourself being stolen from, speak up.  Sometimes, it's simply an education issue.  Smaller companies may not know that it isn't OK to use your sample without your explicit permission, or they may be confused as to what a writing sample really is. (Many of them just follow a basic ad format that they may have seen on another job posting without really understanding it.)  The good companies will take your content down ASAP, if requested.
  • Write content specifically for your sample stash.  It's OK to build a small portfolio of samples that are not published elsewhere.  While it isn't something I'd spend a great deal of time on (or a great deal of super ideas on), it's useful for situations like these.
What has your experience been with samples?  Do you find too many people "sampling" without permission?

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