I’m a higher education freelance writer who creates supplementary materials for college textbooks. Here’s my nightmare story about working for an education-content project management company…
An Education Content/Project Management Company Contacts Me
An editor working at one of the dozens of education content/project management companies finds me on LinkedIn and sends an e-mail.
Her company has landed a project to create 100 multiple-choice questions per chapter for a new edition of a major political science textbook and she needs a writer to get a sample chapter done ASAP, by Sunday evening in fact, and this is Thursday.
The pay was $6 per multiple-choice question, with substantial additional explanations needed about why the correct answer was correct and why the incorrect answers were incorrect. And a majority of the questions had to be analytical/critical thinking questions. (See Bloom’s Taxonomy for details.)
I estimated I would make about $50 per hour, my bare minimum.
More importantly, I’m hoping to be hired to write the questions for all the chapters. In the course of the many e-mails we send during that first day she tells me that $6 per question is a higher rate because this is a rush job. The standard pay will be $4 per question because the company will need to pay a “subject matter expert” (SME) to review my work for accuracy. I don’t discuss this with her, but I’m hoping that she’ll pay me $6 per question for all the chapters because I am a “subject matter expert” in political science (master’s degree in the subject and taught polisci for several years at the college level).
I Agreed to Do a Rush Freelance Job without a Contract
She states that the e-mail thread would serve as our contract, and that I’d receive an actual contract the next week.
The work takes longer than I expected because it was a very complicated project and there were problems getting me all the files I needed.
I worked over the weekend and sent the files on Sunday night.
I didn’t specifically keep track of my hours, but I definitely made less than $50 per hour.
And Then No Contract Arrives
In fact, it would take several e-mails with my editor and another person before the contract arrived — exactly one month after I began work.
And Then There Were the Revisions…
Turns out the textbook publisher decided it wanted to go in a different direction with one aspect of the project, so the editor tells me that 25 of the questions need to be redone.
Fine, I say. How much will I be paid to do these revisions?
Nothing, she says. It’s part of the project. The contract (which I still hadn’t received or signed) states that I have to do revisions as needed.
You said nothing about this when I agreed to do the project, I say.
I only have $600 to spend on this chapter total, she says, and that includes all revisions, editing, reviewing, etc.
She doesn’t specifically say it, but I get the feeling I won’t get paid at all if I don’t do the extra work.
So, with no small amount of bitching and moaning, I do the extra work for no extra pay.
And Then The Hourly Rate Dropped For The Remaining Chapters
While we’re wrestling over the revisions and pay for the sample chapter, she asks if I want to work on the rest of the project. I ask if I can get the whole $6 per question because I’m a Subject Matter Expert and I have a lot of experience doing this, etc.
She says that, unfortunately, no, she can’t do that and in fact…
The pay for the remaining questions will be a little over $2 per question, a smidge more than half the $4 she mentioned on the first day when we first discussed the project, which would drop my hourly rate by nearly half.
If I had known that, I never would have taken the initial project in the first place!
Oh, And The Contract Had Two Scary Clauses
1. I Better Not Help Any Company Employee Get Another Job
‘Cuz if I do, I will owe the company a year’s salary for that employee.
Never seen anything like this clause. On one hand, what are the odds it would ever be relevant? On the other hand, I certainly don’t want to find out by getting a notice I’m being sued for $50,000 or more in a court in a state far, far away.
2. I Can’t Work on a Similar Project for 12 Months
Unless I notify them in writing first. What a hassle!
I refused to sign the contract. Eventually I dealt with someone higher up in the company. I sent a regular invoice and was paid within a few weeks, which turned out to be nearly three months after I did my original work.
1. Get a Contract Before Starting Work
Actually, I still occasionally ignore this, but now it’s only with clients I’ve worked with before and trust deeply. I don’t really fault myself in the case I describe here because the editor initially said the e-mail with the details of the project would serve as our contract. It was only later that the tune changed.
2. Education-Content Project Management Companies Can Be Problematic
I’ll have much more to say about education content management companies in a forthcoming blog post. I’ve only interacted with a few of them, and they are frequently under the gun and in a big hurry to get big and complex projects done quickly.
3. Editors Can Get Caught in the Middle
I actually liked the editor I worked with. Unfortunately, she likely got squeezed by both higher ups in her company and by the textbook publisher that had contracted with her company. Plus, like many editors, she had many, many projects on her plate.
4. Life Isn’t Fair
Things won’t always go your way no matter how well prepared you are, or how well you think you understand a situation. And this wasn’t really that big of deal. I had to do a few more hours of work, and I had some minor stress over how the whole scenario unfolded.
But nobody got hurt, and I did eventually get paid.
And I didn’t have to sign that contract!
Creating College Textbook Supplementary Materials Usually Goes Smoothly!
See the third edition of my ebook Writing College Textbook Supplements: Developing Test Questions, Quiz Questions, Instructor Manuals, Lecture Outlines, and Other Curriculum Components for all the details about landing good clients and getting the work done well and efficiently.
What’s been your worst freelance writing nightmare? Any thoughts on my ordeal described above? Tell us in the comments!