Ah, the age-old question. Should a writer ever write for free?
The simple answer to that question is that, if you can help it, no. You should not write for free. Writing is work. It’s labor. And we need to be compensated. As awesome as exposure and fame sound, they don’t buy groceries.
Which brings us to the “if you can help it” part. You might consider writing for free when:
- You are a newbie with no clips.
What if you can afford not being paid in the short term? Maybe you are still at your full-time job. Maybe you have another source of income or a partner who can help with the cost of living for a bit? Then, you might consider writing for a very authoritative, popular and respected site – like Copyblogger – for free.
While Copyblogger can afford to pay writers, guest posters – as far as I know- are not paid. However, the traffic, social media shares, and hopefully email subscribers are potentially a lot more than you’d get from writing on your own blog or writing for a site that is much smaller, not-as-well-known and pays a pittance.
You’d also be exposing yourself to a wide audience coming from a variety of industries. You would be majorly enhancing your portfolio by including a link to your Copyblogger piece in your pitches. Clients have a better chance of reaching out to you after your piece there as well.
- You are an experienced writer but you have no relevant clips, and you are looking venture into a new niche.
Sometimes you have clips, but nothing remotely close to the ones your potential client is looking for. You can try getting published for pay, and that is better than writing for free. But sometimes, you can’t get published for pay.
Sometimes a publication pays but does not offer a byline: You need your byline to add to your portfolio. You can still opt to get paid if you need the money, but that means you still have zero relevant clips.
You can write for a relative/friend/acquaintance for free. They should ideally pay you. But if they can’t afford it, and or you are new at this niche – meaning you have no experience from your education, work experience, etc., you can write in exchange for a stellar testimonial from them.
Remember, we all write for free…for ourselves.
We write our blogs and social media posts. No one pays us. OK, we are our own boss, but we are also our own marketer. We are marketing our writing with each thing we put out there.
Since we already do a lot of free writing, it is better not to write more for free, as much as we can help it.
I believe that most publications that don’t pay are setting a bad precedent.
Make a website, offer exposure, don’t pay anyone. Right…
Yes, obviously, if my favorite author came out of nowhere and asked me to do some writing for free, telling me that he will share my post (with my byline) with everyone, then yes, I’d do it. For the exposure. Because I’d totally fan out on him. (Yeah, probably not a term.)
But my favorite author is filthy rich. And at this point, he knows I can write. Why else would he ask me to write something for him? So, the obvious question is, why the hell is he not paying me?
The lesson to take from this piece is simple: It’s complicated.
Things, unfortunately, can work differently than other professions. The best thing we can do is to go after paid opportunities as well and as much as we can.
But if we need the byline more than the money, we can swallow our wallet (not our pride; writing for them is prestigious, remember?) occasionally to make our portfolio shine.
Yet every time we do swallow our wallet, we are making it harder for other writers to get paid too.
So, let’s have a toast: May we always get paid and get a byline too.
Tell me, what do you think about writing for free? Please share in the comments.
And if you found this post helpful, please share it on social media. My boss, aka me, is paying me with exposure for this one. 😉