Stories

3 Freelance Horror Stories That’ll Make You Cringe

By Yael Grauer October 27th, 2015

For freelancers, horror can mean all sorts of things, from dealing with financial issues, fighting with unruly PR reps and sources, or working with odd-ball clients. Heck, even a few overlapping deadlines can be enough to strike terror into the hearts of even the most grizzled freelancer.

But every freelancer has that one horror story when things truly went off the deep end.

In honor of Halloween, we’ve gathered three of the best freelance horror stories we could find. So turn off the lights, get your best flashlight, and read these sordid stories from your fellow freelancers.

So your client is a cult

After losing a full-time job, freelance writer Dina Gachman found an ad on Craigslist asking for someone to blog about the company’s latest “miracle” vitamin. [Editor’s note: Dina writes for The Freelancer]

She went to the job interview in downtown L.A., and it was even weirder than she expected.

“They asked a lot of personal questions,” she recalls, and “the way they talked about the main guy who ran the site was very reverent. It was kind of odd.”

It quickly became clear in the interview that this was actually a New Age cult, and they were looking for a blogger to tell a Messiah-like origin story. Gachman smiled and nodded as if she was interested, like you do in job interviews, but her fear was already growing—and that was before they gave her a small silver tin full of miracle pills and told her she had to try them. (Take three a day and it will change your life, they said. You can go party at the club until 4 a.m., they said.)

“When I smelled them, they kind of smelled like licorice and dirt,” Gachman recalled. Not to mention that the tin had no list of ingredients or even a label; and that the pill pushers didn’t look all that healthy themselves. She thought taking the pills might be her Hunter S. Thompson moment, but ultimately decided not to try them.

Meanwhile, she had to turn the job down, since the company assumed she’d take it without even asking her. After she turned it down, they started calling and emailing, asking her what they did to offend her—and then asking for the pills back. Sometimes hitting the delete button is your best option.

Complaining is so punk rock

About a decade ago, journalist Heather Johnson got her very first nasty voicemail message—and it happened to be from none other than guitarist East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys.

She’d interviewed both him and singer/songwriter Jello Biafra for a Mix magazine feature called Classic Tracks, where she wrote about the making of the song California Über Alles.

Apparently the two didn’t get along with each other at the time, and although Johnson had let each of them review their own quotes, they (obviously) didn’t get to review each other’s. The problem? East Bay Ray didn’t agree with some things Biafra had said.

He promised to write a letter to the editor in his huffy voicemail message, but never did. Luckily, Johnson’s editor had her back. “We figured that his flying off the handle had more to do with their disagreement than the actual story itself,” she said.

The good old bait and switch

Medical writer Jill Elaine Hughes had barely started a staff job as a writer after being heavily recruited by a company that offered her a decent salary, benefits, and the opportunity to work remotely.

The company wanted to ramp up content production, and she had a robust source network of clinicians who she could interview as experts for the site, which is exactly what she planned on doing.

But the job description immediately changed. “When I started the job they basically pulled a bait and switch. They lied about what the job would entail, I think to entice me to take it,” Hughes recalled.

Instead of writing, they wanted her to be an editor. But it gets worse. They wanted her to generate 300,000 to 400,000 words of content each month, and get her source network to write it all for pennies on the word.

When she tried to tell the hiring company that people with MDs and PhDs are not going to be tripping over themselves competing to write posts they find on Fiverr at three dollars a pop, she was fired.

But the nightmare didn’t end there. She then had to chase payment for her 3.5 days of work after the hiring company claimed she was just a freelancer on spec. Oy vey.

Have a horror story of your own? Send us a tweet @TheFreelancer, and we’ll give the best ones a retweet.

Image by Benoit Daoust
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