Writing Auditions: Should You Write Free Samples to Apply for a Writing Job?

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It’s standard practice for hiring managers to review writing samples before hiring a freelancer. For writers, a professional portfolio is just an extension of the resume. It demonstrates to the hiring manager that the freelancer is able to produce quality, error-free work. For the freelancer, providing high-quality writing samples is a way to stand out from the crowd of applicants, and perhaps even to command a higher fee. But what should freelancers do when asked to write custom content as part of the application process? The answer is: It depends.

Paid Writing Audition

Some companies recognize that requesting free custom content is a potential red flag for applicants. Their solution is to pay applicants for their custom writing samples, although the trial rate of pay may be less than a standard rate. While paid writing auditions aren’t the norm, they are a reassuring sign that the applicant isn’t falling for a scam. But what should you do if the writing audition won’t be paid?

Established Company

If the writing sample won’t be paid, the next factor to consider is whether the client is an established and reputable company. There are exceptions, of course, but generally, freelancers can put more trust in established companies than in random individuals posting job ads. As an example, let’s say Joan Freelancer sees two Craigslist ads seeking a freelance writer. They both require an unpaid custom writing sample as part of the application process. The first ad poster is Harry the Hirer, who wants a freelancer to ghostwrite his personal memoirs. The second ad poster is Acme Marketing Corp., which is a boutique digital marketing agency that’s been in business for 10 years. Joan decides to write custom content for the second ad poster, but take a pass on Harry, reasoning that an established company is more trustworthy.


Another factor to consider is the requested content itself. If the hiring manager requests a custom sample of about 300 to 400 words, it might not necessarily be a red flag. An unpaid writing sample that is much longer than this probably isn’t worth your time, and it could indeed be a scam. And if the hiring manager gives you writing guidelines and detailed specifications to follow that are more words than the sample itself, then it’s likely that the company is just trying to get some free work out of you.


Before deciding to provide a free custom sample, freelancers should ask the potential client plenty of questions. The way in which the client answers can be telling. If Harry the Hirer gives vague, incomplete answers, then Joan Freelancer should definitely take a pass on the “job.” Legitimate hirers should be happy to answer questions, including the following:

  • I can show you several writing samples from my portfolio. Why do you need to see a custom-written sample?
  • Are you willing to pay me for a custom sample?
  • If I’m not hired, what will you do with my custom sample?
  • Who owns the rights to my custom sample?


If you do decide to go ahead and provide a custom sample, there’s one more test you can perform to determine if the potential hirer is legitimate: request that they sign a contract for the writing sample. Even if the writing sample won’t be paid, you can develop a contract that specifies you are to retain full rights to the sample, and that it cannot be published anywhere without your express written permission. If the client isn’t legitimate, he or she won’t be eager to sign a contract—and that’s a definite sign that you should walk away.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t hesitate to take a pass on a writing gig if it sets off alarm bells. Writers Work has a well-stocked Job Finder full of legitimate writing gigs to choose from, as well as the Writers Marketplace to help you showcase your writing portfolio. Join us today, and stop wasting time on scams!

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