Upwork: How I got rejected in 5 minutes

Upwork is one of the largest freelancer communities available online today. It was formed after the merger in 2013 of Elance and oDesk, which were already two of the biggest players out there at the time, and was subsequently rebranded as Upwork in 2015.

It’s the third platform I tried out (after starting with Freelancer.com and then testing out Fiverr). Unfortunately, my experience with it was cut rather short.

After registering my account I immediately proceeded to set up a project (I was testing a project post for my book “Dreams of Monsters ABC” on Freelancer vs. Fiverr vs. Upwork to see what the difference in bids would be in terms of both quality and price). The project was posted at 11:38pm on 6/15/2018 (by the way the empty 4th bullet point in the email below is, I assume, a typo on their end as this is a direct screenshot):

Exactly 2 minutes later (at 11:40pm), I received the following email:

I was a bit shocked of course, particularly because of how harsh their words were. “Dishonest schemes or scams”? The project I posted was to look for illustrators for an ABC children’s book about robots showcasing emotions; not sure what’s dishonest or scheming about that. They were telling me I was permanently deactivated and that they were unlikely to reply to any correspondence regarding the issue. In other words “Go away and don’t try pleading your case.”

Given that it took them only 2 minutes to make their conclusion, I can only assume that an automatic rule-based system decided there was something fishy about my post. The only thing I can guess may have triggered their system is that my project post included a file with images to show potential bidders what style of illustration I was looking for. Each image included a link to the source as the images weren’t mine (the images were found on Pinterest). Perhaps they felt I was misusing art that wasn’t my own? Or perhaps they thought I was trying to advertise a site (to be very clear, I wasn’t).

I tried re-registering with the same email address and, no surprise, found they had blacklisted me and were giving me the generic “technical error” message:

Tried registering with another email address and it worked, so I guess they are not (at least currently) doing IP blacklisting.

I’d like to reiterate that there was absolutely nothing dishonest about what I did, and I was the victim of a rule-based engine that was built as a one-way communication tool preventing me from defending myself. That means my money went to freelancer.com and one of their freelancers instead. Upwork may work out for some, but in my case this experience means I most likely won’t be using Upwork any time soon.

Sourcing quality art – Freelancer.com vs. Fiverr vs. Upwork

A children’s book without illustrations is like a bird without wings – it won’t fly. Children love all sorts of illustrations and so many styles can work, but quality art that lights up their imagination (and engages the parents…) is an important part of what’ll make a children’s book work. I know that’s the case for me and other parents I know, and it’s pretty clear from spending a few minutes in the kid’s section of a book store that we won’t get very far without quality illustrations. I don’t draw, and I don’t have someone close to me who can provide all the illustrations I want. Not to mention I want to have different styles in my books, because I just find that to be more engaging. So in come the freelancers…

There are numerous websites available today where you can find great freelancers, and they are crowded with excellent illustrators. This post covers the top options at a high level, with separate posts going in depth on some of the mechanics of the sites I use the most.



Freelancer.com opened shop in 2009 and today is one of the largest sources of online freelancers in the world today, boasting over 29 million designers, developers, illustrators, writes, and more. It’s very easy to set up and get started, lets you post projects nearly instantly, and has a simple user interface which is a bit buggy at times but mostly very functional.

For more details on setting things up, discovering artists, how payments work, and more, check how this in-depth review of freelancer.com.



Fiverr is one of the newer kids on the block, having started its operations in 2010 where the original idea was to let freelancers post gigs they would do for $5. Yep, 5 bucks! Don’t get too excited – you probably won’t get the illustrations you want for a mere $5, but you can certainly find some impressive deals on the website.

It has a more modern user experience than Freelancer.com, a more fully functional app, and generally feels a bit more refined and well established. That said it does seem a bit less flexible than freelancer.com. Projects need to be approved before they are posted and you can gather bids, and it’s more geared towards paying for existing gigs rather than building your own custom project from scratch.

With that said, there are some incredible gigs posted on Fiverr and it’s worth checking out.



Two of the earliest online freelancer communities (Elance which started in 1999 and oDesk which started in 2003) were merged in 2013 to create Elance-oDesk, which clearly must have competed for “least appealing brand name of 2013”. In 2015 the company rebranded to Upwork and is now one of the juggernauts of the online freelancer industry.

My experience with Upwork, unfortunately, is very limited as it abruptly ended when Upwork rejected my project proposal and banned my account (for reasons that are still unknown to me). You can read all about that experience here.



Website Scale Client fees
Freelancer.com 21 million freelancers 3% transaction fee
Fiverr Unknown $1 for jobs under $20
5% fee for jobs >$20
Upwork 14 million freelancers 2.75% transaction fee
(or $25/mo flat rate)
Guru 3 million freelancers 2.5% invoice fee

* Source: www.fitsmallbusiness.com



The freelancer websites mentioned above all have their pros and cons, and you are probably going to be able to find good talent on any one of these platforms. Personally I’ve used freelancer.com the most and also find the value in Fiverr, but your situation may be different. Start by spending some time looking through listings on each website in order to decide where you want to go. It’s very easy to get started on these and for the most part won’t cost you anything, so dive in and experiment until you find what you like.

There are plenty of other websites out there where users can find freelancers, including Guru, PeoplePerHour, and Giggrabbers. Have you found one you think is particularly helpful when it comes to sourcing art for your books? If so, please point it out in the comments section and I will take a look and do a review.

What’s Lulu Lolo Books?

For a long time, I’ve wanted write books. I dabbled with various ideas for science fiction novels, then spent time thinking about non-fiction, but nothing really stuck. I work full time as a Director of Product at a technology company and it’s a job I love and that I find very fulfilling (and which keeps me very, very busy). But I still wanted to write… Then I had kids – two beautiful daughters. Even less time left in the day… After a few years, while reading for Luna (my older one who, as of this writing, is 3.5 years old), it hit me – I’ll write children’s books! Seriously, how hard can it be? I’ve read countless awesome children’s books and also seen countless terrible ones (which I still somehow bought or were gifted to me). Not to mention I’m always making up stories for my daughter, so I’ll just turn those stories into books.

So I thought about it like a Product Manager – scope out the work, build an MVP (that’s a Minimum Viable Product – the least costly thing you can build that your customers will value and that will help validate your concept), and work efficiently within specific boundaries and with a specific goal in mind. I’ll find help for the things I can’t do (illustrating isn’t exactly my strength), gather feedback along the way (I “user test” with my kids and wife), and then release my MVP to the world and improve my content and marketing strategy incrementally, in an agile way. What could possibly go wrong! Turns out none of it’s easy, but I’m holding to it and decided to document my learning, so that perhaps another aspiring writing slash full time professional slash full time father could benefit from my experiences.

Read on, check out the books I’ve released, and most importantly, please give me feedback!

Here’s the list of books I’ve released on Amazon so far:

  • Dreams of Monsters ABC: https://amzn.to/34i6Uah
  • Dreams of Monsters ABC (tracing edition): https://amzn.to/316RIe9
  • Princess Spells ABC: https://amzn.to/2ZDr5A6
  • Robots Emote ABC: https://amzn.to/2NIfuJo

I’ve also started a YouTube “read aloud” channel where you can find videos to some of these books:

Please enjoy and let me know what you think!