Notes From a Hired Pen

Don’t tweet your way out of a client

Twitter is an amazing tool for authors and freelance writers. Not only can we publicize our work to a niche audience, but you can also mine twitter for editor contacts and to forge editorial relationships that might not be possible otherwise.

But you can also upset or end a freelance relationship through Twitter. Here are two examples (full disclosure: I write for both the New York Times and Runner’s World, and have pitched Running Times):

1. A lot has already been written about the Andrew Goldman dust up, so I won’t go into the details (though you can find those here). The short version: he said something on Twitter in response to a criticism of a story. The New York Time‘s public editor responded by writing a piece about his actions where she called him a “highly replaceable freelancer.”

2. In in April, a writer who listed Runner’s World and Running Times in his Twitter bio made a Twitter comment about women running the Boston Marathon. He then engaged in a war of tweets¬†with people who criticized those comments. Both RW and RT responded by making statements via Twitter saying they did not condone his actions and that his views didn’t represent those of the magazines (RW and RT are both owned by Rodale).

Three things freelancers can learn from these incidents:

1. Think before you tweet. It’s not easy given that writing out 140 characters takes so little time, but think before you share your opinion. And don’t tweet drunk. I’m an opinionated person, but I self edit because no matter what, those tweets will be linked to my professional life even if I’m making a comment about, say, bacon. This is also why I rarely curse on Twitter. I’ve found out long after the fact that some of my editors follow me. I don’t want the thing they remember to be a wayward tweet. Also, If I’m ever criticized on Twitter about an article, I ask my editor first how to respond. Most have social media policies or will offer guidance. It’s worth taking the extra step.

2. Don’t put clients in your Twitter bio. Because if you do slip up, your comment is going to be linked to your client. When the RW/RT incident happened, some people on Twitter started disparaging the magazines, not the writer. The last thing you ever want is for clients to take to social media to disassociate themselves from you.

3. We are all highly replaceable. I cringed when I read the “highly replaceable freelancer” line. Even if the public editor was writing specifically about Goldman, it’s a harsh reminder that we’re all replaceable, and one slip up can sever a relationship, no matter how long that relationship’s existed.

Now, I work very hard to make myself un-replaceable; and, on the flip side, many clients are replaceable. But the last thing you want is to lose a good client because of a 140 character slip up. Tweet, but with caution.

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