Not All Good Writers Are Good Writers (+ What to Do About It)

Before I launched Hero’s Journey Content this year, I spent 22 years writing magazine articles, books, and content on a freelance basis.

Now I’m in the editor’s seat, testing out writers to make sure we onboard the very best talent.

We typically give a writer one or two small assignments to see how they fare before adding them to our team. And, sadly, I’m not surprised at how many writers with amazing samples just…can’t write.

Why am I not surprised? Because when I was a freelancer, an editor at a major newsstand magazine told me that only 10% of the writers she’d hired turned in work that was on point and on time.

So how do these writers get so much work, and so many beautiful samples? It’s simple: Their samples are the work of talented editors who spent hours rewriting, fact checking, and polishing. The writers then use those samples to get more work, and the sad cycle continues.

Yes, this really happens! I was just hosting a webinar with an editor at a large media group in New York City, and she confirmed that this is a big problem.

Of course, Hero’s Journey Content’s clients never see the duds, because all content goes under my red pen before it’s considered done. And after much testing, we now have four incredible writers on our team—one of whom was once an editor of mine!—and more on the way.

Two Ways to Find the Best Content Writers

To make sure you don’t get stuck with “good” writers who can’t write, try these tips.

1. Ask for the Content Writer’s Raw Draft

Whenever we send samples to someone who’s interested in our content services, we make sure to include one or two that are original drafts as we turned them in to the client. Early in my career, I started doing this because in some cases I simply didn’t have a PDF of the content I wanted to send to a prospect. I discovered that clients liked seeing these drafts because they could see what my writing was like before the editors did their magic.

So instead of relying on the shiny, well-designed PDFs on a content marketing writer’s website, ask the writer to send you a draft—or even a before-and-after with a draft and then the final piece. (This helps ensure that the content writer doesn’t just copy/paste the text from an edited piece. Not that I think anyone would really do that!)

2. Test the Content Writer with a Small Project

Do what we do here: Try out the writer on a test project before hiring a them to handle more important pieces of content. Instead of giving them a contract for six months worth of blog posts, for example, try two posts. Instead of a 20-page white paper, try them on a 1,000-word article.

Then ask yourself:

  1. Were they easy to work with?
  2. Did you mesh with the writer, personality-wise?
  3. Did they turn in their content on time?
  4. Was the content clean, fact checked, and well written?
  5. If this was a reported piece of content, did the writer use credible, verified sources and supply a source list with the content?
  6. Did the writer offer suggestions or explain why they chose the format, style, and organization they did?
  7. How did the writer handle revision requests?
  8. Did the writer provide a professional invoice?
  9. Did the writer follow up to thank you for the assignment?

The answers to these questions should let you know if you want to continue working with this writer—or test out another one.

Looking for personality-driven content writing and strategy for your complex brand? Reach out to schedule a free discovery call to see if we’re a match for you. (And yes, we prefer to do a pilot project to make sure we get along!)