Why humour isn’t the best way to get freelance writing gigs*

See the post below this one? The one about its/it’s confusion, in which I used the example of an error made by a major publishing house as an example of how even the “best” of us get it wrong, sometimes?

You all understood that the “major publishing house” wasn’t me, didn’t you? I mean, I thought I’d made it pretty clear that the advertisement containing the rogue apostrophe was an example someone had sent me, and not a mistake I’d made myself, but apparently not because today I received an email from someone berating me for “my” mistake, and telling me I desperately needed an editor, and should hire them.

The person went on to tell me all about their writing experience and all of the “high points” in their freelance writing career, presumably to covince me they were the right person for the (non-existent) job. Sadly, the email they sent me wasn’t one of those “high points”: it was written entirely in lower case, and the writing quality was poor to say the least. So, not only had the person completely misunderstood my post (always a bad sign for someone who wants to be an editor), they’d also insulted me with their rudeness and displayed the writing skills of a young child.

Clearly, none of this would make me want to employ someone, and I replied to tell them so. It’s OK, though, folks, because, guess what? The person was just joking! Yes, that’s right, they were being “funny”, and had done it in order to “get my attention”.

Well, they got it alright – but not in a good way. When I told them this, though, they replied to say that I have no sense of humour.

Right. Got it. It’s my fault. I just need to get a sense of humour! Whew!


The problem with this, of course, is that the person’s emails just weren’t funny. Not even a little bit. The first one, in fact, was downright rude, and rudeness is never a good way to “get someone’s attention” if that person is someone you’re hoping will employ you. Just trust me on this.

The other problem with it is that unless you’re applying for a job as a humour writer, comedy has no place in a speculative job application. No matter how hilarious you think you are, unless you have a really good idea of what kind of sense of humour the person you’re writing to has, it’s safer to leave the “funny” for future correspondence, once you’ve built up a relationship with the person and can be reasonably confident that they’ll enjoy the joke just as much as you do. For all you know, your “funny joke” could be my “very insulting email”, and if you’re asking me for a job, that’s not really the kind of impression you’re going to want to leave me with.

(Few people enjoy “jokes” that poke fun at them, for instance, especially when they come from a stranger. If I know you well enough to realise that you’re joking, and to know you don’t mean anything by it, you can make fun of me as much as you like. If I’ve never spoken to you in my life, and you write to tell me my website sucks, but would suck less if I employed you as an editor, I’m probably not going to split my sides laughing. Or, indeed, give you the job.)

That doesn’t mean all emails to prospective employers have to be overly formal and totally lacking in personality, of course: quite the opposite. There are ways to write an email that make you sound friendly and intelligent, without causing offence, and if you don’t know how to write that kind of email then you’re probably not ready to start applying for freelance writing gigs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve received emails containing some variation of “Oh my God, your  website is so bad and you totally can’t write to save your life! You better give me a job as a proofreader, because I’m perfect, and you’re definitely not.” It seems there are lots of people out there who think that being rude to someone is a great way to get them to employ you, and to build your representation as a freelance writer.

They’re wrong.

*Unless, perhaps, you’re going for a job as a humour writer…


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