The soul-crushing client

Writers have to deal with rejection and not let it hurt too much or too long. Sometimes you write a really great piece and it’s just not what the client wants. Sometimes clients don’t make it clear what they need, or their needs change suddenly. And sometimes you have to admit you were in over your head, or you had a bad writing day and wrote a piece of garbage. It’s all part of the job.

What’s harder to deal with is the deliberately malicious client. The one who tells obvious lies just to spite you. These people claim you made errors which you didn’t make, or that you didn’t do work which you did. Many of them like to string writers along. They’ll encourage you to submit a revision and then claim you didn’t follow instructions when you did meticulously, or they’ll reverse their previous requests.

The quest for power

Such people see their jobs as a chance to hurt people. Senior editors rarely do this; people who do are a poison to their employers and don’t advance. They like to make you feel small and worthless. But the truth is that they’re small and worthless. They may resent their jobs, or they may have gravitated to entry-level editing work because it gives them a sense of power. They may be trying to cover their own incompetence by making the writers look bad, or they may just want revenge on the whole world for something. They do it to every writer; it isn’t just you.

It’s a mindset that equates lies with power. They’re trying to substitute their “reality” for the actual one. They want you to feel that facts and reasoning are useless in the face of their alternative facts. Yet they have no power unless people fall for their scam.

My biggest annoyance when I deal with people like that is that I’ve missed the signs that should have warned me off. There usually are signs in the way they request the work and have dealt with other writers. Usually I spot them. But I have to take chances on people, and sometimes that means submitting work to ones who turn out to be jerks. I have to learn from the experience and move on.

If they try to damage your reputation publicly, that’s more of a problem. Arguing with dishonest people accomplishes nothing. You might post a brief statement on your website or other suitable place rebutting the charges. If they lie to an agency that represents you, present the facts. Short of an expensive libel lawsuit, you can’t do much else. Fortunately, such people usually don’t have much credibility or a big audience.

Harshness isn’t always malice

These people are a different category from the brutally honest client or editor. They’re trying to improve your writing through shock therapy, or just making it clear why your work isn’t up to their standards. Their criticism may sting, but you can learn from it. The most insulting editors can be the best teachers — if their insults accurately identify the flaws in your writing.

Some clients just don’t express themselves very well. By looking for freelancers, they’re admitting their in-house skill with words is limited. Don’t assume malice where clumsiness is a sufficient explanation. The really malicious client is, fortunately, rare. There are clients who seem to expect you to read their minds. A few do this with malice, but mostly they just aren’t explaining themselves as clearly as they think they are.

Other explanations

There’s another reason customers might act this way, and it is worth worrying about. They may blast you just so that you’ll think they have no desire to publish your work. The truth may be that they want to publish it but not to pay you. If they tell you it’s worthless junk, especially after praising and encouraging further work on your earlier drafts, you might consider doing a Web search after a couple of days to see if they plagiarized it. You may be able to complain to the hosting company or notify the agency you work with. A letter from a lawyer might get it removed or bring payment, though it could cost more than the article’s sale value.

People who insult you sadistically hope that you’ll internalize the condemnation. They want you to believe the insult and direct it at yourself. If you don’t do that, they’ve lost the game. As the mock-Latin saying has it, “Illegitimi non carborundum.” Don’t let the bastards wear you down. Recognize how small-minded they are, and realize they aren’t worth thinking very much about. What’s important is to avoid them, so you can make money writing for better clients.

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