Guest Post: Your Competition Stinks – Isn’t it Great!

When I wrote a guest post at Poewar: Writer’s Resource Center, John Hewitt promised to reciprocate. John’s site is a great place for writers of all kinds—I’ve been a subscriber and a fan for a long time, and I’m delighted to host John’s guest post. I hope you like the post as much as I do and that you will show John your appreciation in comments.
There are a lot of people out there competing for freelance jobs. A freelance posting on a popular job site such as or can easily generate 400 responses. Numbers like that can be intimidating. You may wonder why you should bother applying if you have to compete against that many people. How can you possibly win?

I’m here to tell you it is easier than you think. The truth is that your competition stinks. They’re terrible. They’re awful. They don’t know how to apply for a position. They don’t know how to write a decent e-mail query. Many of them can’t write their way out of a wet paper sack. Just reading their e-mails is painful. Ninety percent of the people applying for these freelance positions can be eliminated within a sentence or two — a paragraph at the most. That is because their writing is terrible and it shows. The first 90% can be eliminated immediately because they have made one (or more) of six mistakes:

• They use informal language
• They make an obvious grammar or usage error
• They talk about their personal problems
• They don’t know what they are applying for
• They don’t give their qualifications
• They don’t send samples or links to samples

These very basic mistakes take that 400 person applicant pool down to a manageable 40 people. That is still more competition than you would like, but even at this point, many of the applicants aren’t serious competition. They have their own series of mistakes that they make. These mistakes are less obvious and less deadly, but they still keep most of these candidates from moving forward.

• They fail to cite relevant experience
• Their samples are not appropriate (or they point you to their web site instead of specific pieces)
• They don’t provide full contact information
• They don’t discuss why they are the best writer for the job

Once you eliminate the people who make those mistakes, you would be surprised how dramatically the pool of applicants shrinks. In the end, out of 400 applicants, there are perhaps 10 that can withstand even this level of scrutiny. That doesn’t mean there are 10 great applicants, just that there are ten who didn’t already blow their chances because of an easily correctable mistake. Competing against 400 people is daunting, but competing against 10 is a reasonable challenge, especially if you think you are the right person for the job. Just follow these eight simple steps and you will get yourself into the top ten most of the time:

• Write in a professional style
• Check and recheck your query to be sure that the language is correct
• Discuss your qualifications, not your needs
• Know exactly what you are applying for
• Discuss your relevant qualifications and experience
• Provide relevant, specific samples
• Provide full contact information, including your phone number
• Give at least one reason why you are the best applicant for the job

That’s it. Those eight things will rocket you to the top of the pile. There are plenty of ways to improve your chances even further, but these eight will keep you from being lumped in with the idiots.

Good luck.
John Hewitt is the publisher of the writing site, If you like this article you may also enjoy reading, How to Write a Query Letter and 10 Ways to Make Editors Hate You Before They Even Know You. He also knows all about Writing Your Way Out of a Wet Paper Sack.

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