Referrals aren’t a given

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Dear Dr. Freelance: I’m an editor rather than a freelancer, but I’m hoping you can provide some guidance on the protocol for referrals. A freelance writer I’ve used is asking for recommendations, but I’d frankly recommend people NOT USE her. In addition to being a poor writer, she’s awful to work with.—Holding My Tongue

Dear HMT: Back in my staff editorial days, one of my pet peeves was when a new writer turned out to be far less talented than his or her clips would indicate. There’s a certain subsector of the writing community that seems to survive on the good fortune of having been edited well and then perpetually parlaying that into new gigs.

So, you’re in an important position here — yes, you can do your part to stop the cycle! Client referrals aren’t a given just because someone completed an assignment. Indeed, the reason that referrals are so valued is that the referrers are putting their own reputations on the line as well as boosting the standing of the recipient.

This is one of those cases where brevity is your friend, though exactly how blunt you want to be will depend on your relationship. If it were me, I’d try something along the lines of:

  • “I’m flattered that you asked, but sorry, I don’t give referrals to writers who don’t have a long track record with me.”
  • “Gertrude, you and I both know that most recent article did not go very well. As a result, as you can imagine, I’m not comfortable giving a referral at the current time.”

Have you ever been put in the awkward position of being asked for a referral that you really didn’t want to give? Tell us about it in the comments.

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  1. says

    My response was more along the lines of the second example. I also suggested that the writer study the basics of grammar and structure a little more before the next pitch.

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Devon, that’s an excellent suggestion: If the writer can “be saved,” by all means, some helpful professional advice would be worth providing. (I got the sense from the editor who wrote the question that this particular writer was beyond salvation!)