"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Definitive Guide to When to Write for Free....

Some writers turn their nose up at the prospect of penning pieces for no pay.
They contend that doing so cheapens our profession, while enriching the businesses of deadbeats that build their success off of free labor.  And I don't disagree that there is some legitimacy to this argument.
In fact, it's been a topic that's been hotly debated in writers' forums for years.
So consider this a sequel.

As for me and where I stand?
Well, I have certainly paid my dues over the last decade as a writer; as such, I don't feel the need to take on free assignments that promise to promote me and "build my platform" by publishing my work.
Been there. Done that. Bought the teeshirt.

Still, there are times when I will provide my professional services without a fee.
You should too. It all depends on a few important factors.
Today we'll examine and explore some of these.

So, if you suffer from the "freebies hebeejeebies," here's a guide to decide what work to take and what to pass on, in the overall scheme of things.


  • Blogging Guest Posts  
Over the years, I have been approached by several guest bloggers to contribute to their sites. And I'm happy to do so, if the request is reasonable and the site is quality.
Why? I see it as a form of networking and building relationships in the blogosphere.
It also provides important links to expand your fan base and increase your Google Page Rank.
Additionally, blogging typically requires a small investment of time, as posts can be as brief as 250 words. When possible, blog for top sites that have a decent amount of traffic for it to "pay off" in terms of readership.
  • Anthologies
These collections of short essays and poems by different authors are projects that "reward" writers with travel opportunities, fun book signing events, and free promotions. Some pay. Some don't. I've been a contributor to almost a dozen to date.
One that I participated in a few years back initially started out as non-paying, but later I pitched the publisher, and she actually hired me to do some marketing and Blog work that ultimately paid a pretty hefty sum.
Be strategic. Think ahead.
  • Writing for important causes-"Passion Projects"
Call me crazy here, but pay doesn't always have to be monetary.  At times, it can be really cool and gratifying to use our talents and gifts to champion important causes, increase awareness of timely issues, and serve as an advocate for those in need. Think of it as feeding the soul. If lawyers can work pro bono in special situations, why can't we? :-)
  •  Assisting start-ups to STand up
Start up businesses many times are not able to pay freelance professionals simply because they're operating on a wing and a prayer; the money just doesn't exist in the budget yet.
Before I accept these types of assignments, I try to do my homework, though. I research their website, their advertisers, their market, to try to assess their true ability to pay. Not a bad idea for you either.
  • Building your portfolio
Everybody's got to start somewhere. And if you've got no clips, you've got no chance of having a successful, profitable career in writing, my friend. My point here?  If you're just starting out, free work can definitely pay off in strengthening your writing skills, building relationships with editors, and establishing a record of publishing credits.
  • Short term projects to get your foot in the door in new arenas
I once read somewhere about a romance novelist and self-help writer who wanted to break into the radio talk show business badly, but didn't have the background experience. Though he's hugely successful now, rumor has it that he worked for free for about 6 months to make a name for himself  in the industry, and to show how he could increase the station's ratings. Now he has another career to fall back on. Pretty smart.

What should you take a "pass" on?
Anything that potentially poses itself to be a strain or drain on your time and creative resources.
Anything that compromises your belief system or work ethic.

Summing things up here...

When you come to think of it, most of us have been able to benefit from the "free" services of other professionals in some point in our creative careers. Whether it was a veteran writer who provided advice as a mentor, and didn't charge us, or a friend who "donated" art work or photos for our Blog projects, when we were struggling and broke.
When the situation dictates, maybe you should too.

Pay it forward...

Keep in mind that turning down free work can actually be costly. So, choose wisely.

Your turn.
Make a comment. It won't cost you. :-)

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net



    1. Jennifer: Thank you for your insight.

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksFebruary 21, 2014 at 4:24 PM

        It's my pleasure, dearest. :-) Thanks for stopping by here.

    2. Jennifer--I also advise to writing "for free" if it's a new genre to the writer. For example, if you don't normally write romance, but a romance anthology has a call for submissions...

      (I also write for a might-as-well-be-nonpaying anthology because they were the first publisher to print one of my stories. I feel like I "owe" them.)

      Thanks for the helpful post, as always...

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksFebruary 21, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        Good feedback, Sioux. Thanks so much for your input.

    3. I agree with your points. Writing for free has its benefits when we choose our projects wisely and maintain a good balance. I don't even consider writing a guest post for a friend as writing for free, actually. It's just something I do as part of the happy friendship. :)

      Have a great weekend!

      1. Jennifer Brown BanksFebruary 21, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Lovely to get your thoughts on this. Much appreciation.

    4. Giving of my time and writing gift to my church is one way I serve. I guess this comes under your heading of "passion." I've written a lot of skits, Bible Studies, Sunday School material, etc. over the years - all freebies.

    5. That is certainly a worthy cause. Thanks for chiming in, Susan.

    6. Your points are all valid. I think we should never rule out all publications just because they do not pay in monetary terms. I have contributed to newsletters, literary journals and some anthologies, but they paid off in exposure. As a result I was contacted by an editor from another publication.

      1. I should also mention that another smart stratgey in "writing for free" is submitting to "Reprint Markets."

    7. Perfect point, Lin. "It works, if you work it!" Thanks so much for adding to the mix. I appreciate your time.

    8. Yes those indeed all can be valuable things to consider.

      You also can ask if you can think about it, especially when you have other paid projects in the pipeline, telling you first need to 'Crunch some Numbers' (even when with no budget there probably are no actual numbers to crunch:)) it does make it possible to buy you some time to think about your Offer Options, or possible Adjustments you might want to make to your offer.

      You can also buy them some time, to think of way's they can be valuable for you, for example it might create you some room to Negotiate possible future projects.