Why I’ll never take another writing test again.

A few days ago, a potential client asked me to take a writing test to qualify for a gig. The product was a powder that forms a beneficial drink when mixed with water. Things are slow for me, so I said yes.

When I received the creative brief, I was shocked. The brief was for, not a hypothetical project, but a real one. It included a send date for the actual lead generation email it was connected to.

Incensed at being asked to work for free, not even spec work but actual work work, I replied to the client that slavery had been outlawed in the 1860’s and that if he wanted an email written for free he could damn well do it himself. (I was slightly more polite than that.)

Mr. Client reassured me that he would not use my words commercially, and that he wanted my “take” on a project that was already in process, to see how I stacked up against their current writer. I was skeptical, but very reluctantly, I wrote my version of the email, adding a copyright watermark to protect my intellectual property.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I didn’t get the assignment.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t won a single one of the assignments I’ve “auditioned” for in this way. And that’s why I’m officially not participating in these demeaning exercises anymore.

It would be easy enough to conclude that this is all sour grapes on my part, but I don’t think so. I’ve proud of the work I’ve done helping startups grow into publicly traded giants. I’ve won my share of awards, and have written hundreds of effective campaigns for household names, some of which I helped make household-y. I haven’t done much video or consumer, but I’m OK with that.

What’ I’m not OK with is writing for free. And it ends now. Here’s why:

  1. Not one single job or assignment I’ve ever received has required a copy test.
  2. Conversely, no copy test I’ve ever done has led to a job or assignment.
  3. I’ve therefore come to the conclusion that copy tests are a complete waste of time.

I mean, try to find the hole in the argument. You can’t.

I can only assume that every person who asked me to complete a copy test already had someone in mind for the role they were trying to fill, and had me do it as a way of showing due diligence. In other words, from a legal perspective, to cover their asses. And that’s it.

Copy tests, I’ve concluded, are abuse. They’re a fundamental violation of a writer’s valuable time and morale. After all, everything I do is right there on my portfolio page. Every possible variation on voice and tone, nearly every media channel. That’s me on that page.

And if you don’t trust that it’s my own work—me, a three-decade industry veteran—why should I trust you, when you have more money, more power, and more opportunities for corruption?

Look. I have no idea if Mr. Client used my copy in his real email which was frantically slated to go out the same week. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.

But I do know that he stole an hour from my life that I’ll never get back. And I don’t have that many of them left.