When you Should Just Say “No” to New Projects

Like most writers, I have a day job and a long, laundry list of responsibilities. For us, the core responsibilities of our day job come before freelancing–no question about it. We may also have families, pets, and personal obligations to manage. Now? Add freelancing on top of that and you’ve got yourself a pretty full calendar.

By now you should know, realistically, what you can and cannot write, and how long it takes you to complete your word count.

Please note: If you don’t know how to estimate your word count, there are many articles you can read like D.L. Snell’s The Wordkins Diet, obtaining a rough word count from your file size, this forum post about estimating word count based on your handwriting and my article about estimating word count.

Now comes the fun part. Knowing what you’re capable of, I find it essential to “life plan” or that is, set up both longer-term and shorter-term goals for yourself. Next, you’ll want to set up your free time like a project to see what you can and cannot fit in.

Saying “No” to new projects can be tricky because on the one hand, you don’t want to turn down an opportunity but on the other, you want to make sure that publisher keeps you in mind again. Freelancers often make the mistake of committing to projects they can’t reasonably complete within the timeline that they’ve been given. Maybe they don’t know the topic or game they’re working on; maybe they’re more familiar with writing fantasy than sports. Or maybe they’ve overcommitted, taking on more work than they can finish.

Admittedly, when things come up like additional trips or unexpected surprises, I’m often thrown off-track and off-schedule. With the way that I plan, I try not to let a horrific schedule affect the current projects that I have a signed contract for; when things go crazy, it does influence the amount of time I spend on “free” or “interest”-related work and new projects.

The responsible thing to do is to say “No” to a new project if, in your heart of hearts, you know you can’t realistically do the job. Take it from someone who has witnessed other writers get a bad reputation based on their inability to make deadlines: you do not want to be “that” guy or gal. If you can’t meet your goal in a timely manner, it doesn’t matter how great of a writer you are because the publisher will lose money on a project they can’t print according to their business plan.

There are times you may be contacted by someone that you normally don’t work with. My policy is to respond to every query because really, you never know where that person might end up. From my experiences, the same small press publisher you may be working with now may move on to a larger company; your employee may one day end up being your boss. There were a few instances where I couldn’t respond due to a returned email address or a technical difficulty with the person’s website. Please, when you’re putting yourself out on the web, make sure your technical bases are covered.

Tomorrow I’m going to give you some examples I’ve used to turn down new work as well as some instances where it’s smart to be forthcoming about your situation to ensure that your reputation is preserved.



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Want to Interview or Hire Me? Send Fan Mail?

Would you like to hire me? Because my projects and manuscripts are in flux, I am always open to discussing new opportunities with publishers and studios. As a full-time writer, I spend a portion of my time seeking new gigs–so don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re interested, please e-mail me via my Contact Page. I typically reply to work-related e-mails within one-to-two business days.

Want an interview? If you’d like to interview me or request a guest blog post, please connect with me via the contact page, too. Due to time constraints and other communicative concerns, I typically don’t follow up on requests via social media.

Keen on sending fan mail? I am also happy to engage with readers and fans. Please note that I am unable to reply satisfactorily to certain types of queries related to the companies I work for due to the agreements I typically sign. If you have a question about a TV show or a line of books, the best way to get your answer is to contact the studio or publisher directly.

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