It happens. The writer you hired to create your web content or marketing materials just isn’t working out. Maybe it’s the writer’s fault and maybe not. So, let’s talk about when, if, and how you should go about terminating a freelance writer.
Are you really the one to blame?
Be honest with yourself. Did you start the project unclear about what you wanted? Did you waffle on the initial direction or change your mind after a draft was submitted? Did you fail to come through with needed information? I have dealt with all these scenarios… this week, in fact, on a single project that I had to work 26 hours straight on to complete. While most writers are extremely perceptive and quickly catch on to what you want, no writer is a mindreader. And, if your mind is muddled, it wouldn’t help to be a mindreader anyway. If you are at fault, admit it and ask for a second draft. If the work is really far off and you totally screwed up, think about killing the project with a kill fee and starting over. If the deadline is too close to start over, ask the writer how to come up with a solution. Admit your fault and work with, not against, your writer. Try to understand things from the writer’s point of view. Every writer values a good client and most will be flexible in order to keep your business. If you are a jerk, there is no incentive for a writer to deal with you.
The first draft is horrendous. Absolute garbage.
This gets tricky. Some writers have language in their contracts that protects them. Some don’t. If you have paid the writer a retainer, you are not likely to get it back. Send an email outlining how the draft deviated from the brief (I hope you gave the writer one) or from your verbal instructions. You are going to need documentation if the writer takes you to court. The likelihood of this generally depends on the amount of money involved. You need to be very clear about what you don’t like… saying, “I don’t like it” is not being clear. I have never been in this position, but I worked with one writer who turned in garbage on a big project. She asked for and got a kill fee. This is usually about 25 percent of the total project cost, but if the writer knows deep inside he did a shoddy job, a token kill fee might be enough. The purpose of a kill fee is to stay out of court or to stay on good terms with a writer you may need later.
It’s okay, but kind of mediocre. No real spark.
Mediocre writing is average writing. Most writers are average. So if the first draft seems sort of blah, you can either ask the writer for a better effort or find another freelance writer. This depends upon how much time you have. It also depends upon how likely the writer is to turn in a better draft. If you ask for a second draft, you will owe the full project fee. A second draft implies a commitment to and belief in the writer. If you decide to cut your losses, the writer will either keep the retainer or accept a kill fee. If you have no money on the table, you are free to walk.
Do you owe an explanation?
If you decide to terminate a writer after working with him for a period of months, the decent thing to do is to say why. Sure, it’s easier to hide out and ignore the writer’s emails and phone calls. But sometimes, speaking to a writer about why you have decided to move on will reveal problems you didn’t know you have. For example, I worked for client whose web developer refused to give me any information whatsoever on the projects I was hired to write. The client assumed I had a full brief, when in fact I didn’t have a single keyword to work with. Most freelance writers will respect the hierarchy in your organization. They will not jump over the person you assign to work with them. So, if you initially liked a writer but the work seems off kilter, find out why. The answer may surprise you.