Do A Writer’s Samples Really Matter?

Clients often ask freelance writers for samples, but samples may not indicate a writer’s true range of abilities. A writer may inflate his contribution to a team project. And writing isn’t like wine; you can’t taste a sample and assume all the bottles will be the same.

Frequently, a writer will not have a sample to show you. Generally this is because the writer neglected to get a sample, not because he lacks the necessary experience. This is especially true of freelancers, who are rarely around when the project is designed and produced. They may be able to show you a copy sheet, but this will not represent the final project. Likewise, the final project after it has undergone committee and legal reviews will not represent a writer’s best intentions.

Many projects fall apart in the design process. Design has an incredible impact upon readers, and poor design keeps many projects out of my portfolio. Writers do not choose who we work with and it is up to us to make the best of every situation. So, even when the design talent is less than stellar, we try to do great work. But we are reluctant to show it to you because we know that you will be influenced by the clashing colors and honking-large-ass typography. It is easier to pretend we don’t have samples for those projects.

Some industries demand experience because they are full of legal mazes or unique business propositions. Things like insurance and tax sheltered investments can require industry knowledge to avoid bumps in the road. On the other hand, freelance writers are adept at jumping though hoops. The first hoop is always to prove one has a short learning curve. No freelance writer can survive more than a year without the ability to learn quickly. It is just part of the game.

In general, I would say samples are not very valuable when selecting a writer. Even if a writer has loads of samples to show you, your project is unique. It should have a unique point of view and style. Sometimes, experience works against a writer. He learns what clients expect and it becomes too easy to provide something that will pass muster because it sounds like everything else. You may actually come out ahead if you choose a writer outside your industry who will bring a fresh perspective.