Spec Work: Beneficial or Not?

Stop Sign

Over the past two weeks I have been asked to do four separate spec pieces. Normally, when I get these requests I email the potential client and let them know that I don’t do spec work, the reason why and I send them some of my published clips. Generally, I don’t hear back. Ever.

My issue with spec work is that in the past when I have done it with no questions asked I have never heard back. Once, I even found that my spec piece had been used, without my permission or even my name and after repeatedly trying to get in touch with the company, I never heard back. Yes, I got burned. How does the saying go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me…..

I’m not sure why all of a sudden there is a flurry of spec work requests but, here are some tips on how I handle these requests:

  • Don’t do it if it sounds like they are asking for spec pieces from a bunch of people. You know those emails that start out “You’re in the top 20 candidates, to determine the best fit we are asking for…..”
  • Always ask questions before you do any spec work. Clarify that your article won’t be used without your permission and get it in writing.
  • If you can’t get in touch with the company about your questions, it probably isn’t going to benefit you to do the piece anyway.
  • When a company asks for a spec piece just to apply for the gig, give a few sample paragraphs, but not a whole article. Explain why you can’t give a full article and direct them to samples of your published work.
  • Follow your gut, if you have a bad feeling about it there is probably a reason.

I have not actually gotten a job off of a spec piece. Most clients that hire me look at my online portfolio and can determine if they want to hire me based on my published clips without needing additional writing. That being said, I don’t like to rule out opportunities, especially if it’s a gig I really want. I try to handle every request on an individual basis. How do you handle spec work requests? Have you had any luck with spec work?

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3 thoughts on “Spec Work: Beneficial or Not?

  1. I just got a request for spec work today, even though I provided some VERY relevant writing samples with my original application letter. I am trying to decide how to respond. I will probably tell them that I am not in the habit of doing work on spec and that I trust the previously supplied writing samples are indicative of my skills and experience with the subject matter, but yeah … I don’t really expect to hear back from them after that.

  2. In general, I refuse to do spec work. However, in certain circumstances it can lead to lucrative gigs and might make sense if you aren’t experienced.

    With corporate clients, I would NOT do spec work, especially if I have relevant writing samples to show them. The only time I would do this is if I was entering a niche in which I had no samples or experience to speak of.

    When it comes to magazine/newspaper publications, it was the same type of deal. I agreed to do this for a newspaper I started writing for – one spec piece – because I had absolutely no portfolio or professional experience, just my education. They liked it and it led to more assignments. I recently tried breaking into the magazine industry and I have an editor interested in one of my pitches, but since I have no magazine writing experience, he’s asked me to do it on spec. I will in this instance, but I wouldn’t if I had clips to show for myself.

    I went to a writer’s conference last summer and every experienced writer there encouraged us NOT to do spec work unless it was a) warranted (no experience or clips) or b) worth it because it might lead to some high-paying, lucrative gigs. So in general, I avoid spec work.

    • Thank you for your responses. I generally avoid doing work on spec, but sometimes it’s hard when you really want the gig. Janine, I won’t ever do it for corporate clients either. I don’t think any of my corporate clients have ever even asked. I did end up doing it for a magazine with the hopes that it will lead to more work. We’ll see. Work on spec is always a hard call for me – but I am learning to say no and will be saying no more often in the future.

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