Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Writing for Free Debate

Every once in a while the debate of 'writing for free' comes up.

I have swung from one side to the other several times, but recently I came up with my rules for writing for free.

I have over 200 published and paid articles.

I began my career by writing a couple of articles for free. There were three reasons I did this.

1. It was a non profit that I volunteered for anyway.
2. It wasn’t just ‘exposure’, but exposure to a select audience in my niche industry.
3. The magazine did not accept advertising, but rather sponsorship. They were not making a profit from the magazine, it was for their members. The sponsorship dollars that came in went to a multitude of programs for members (of which I was one) and in return the sponsors were given space in the magazine.

Once I had TWO articles published, I pursued paid publication. At no point have I accepted an assignment and worked for free when:

a) the magazine accepts advertising
b) they are NOT a non profit
c) the magazine or site allowed anyone to submit anything (or the editing was so poor that it appeared that way) just for the sake of expressing themselves.

Many smaller publications will try the “oh, but I’m not a for profit magazine because I don’t even pay myself.” That’s bunk. If they are accepting advertising that’s called income. Just because they haven’t managed to make their income result in more money than their expenses is no reason to write for them.

I am always astounded when smaller pubs make writers jump through hoops like signing contracts, multiple revisions, signing away of rights when there is no pay.


I’m not one of the writers who feels that the hobby writers (those who don’t care if they get paid, but write for the love of writing) are somehow hurting the professional writers by offering their writing for free and thereby devaluing writing in general. I’ve heard the argument that “well, there aren’t any hobby doctors are there?”

Actually, there are. There are plenty of doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, therapists, etc… who give their expertise away for free or on a volunteer basis. You don’t see any doctor going around and saying “the reason I’m not being paid enough is because Dr. So and So is giving away his services.”

If a publication is reputable and professional, they WILL pay their writers SOMETHING. It’s up to you to place a specific value on your own writing. For example, I will not write for a print magazine that pays less than $100 per article. It is not worth my time when I can probably write the same article for over $250 for a larger, more reputable one.

I still volunteer with the same non profit that I wrote my first unpaid article for and I’m the Chair of the Communications Committee. I do a lot of writing for free, but this is where I choose to volunteer. Through volunteering in this organization I’ve made contacts and contracts to be paid for a variety of services. I’ve been contacted by people who want to pay me rather than me have to seek them out. This does not mean that if you volunteer to write for your local parenting magazine that it will work out to be the same…

Look for places that offer advertising space in exchange for writing articles. (Not pay per click, but actual, on paper advertising) Then put in a quick little ad about yourself and writing… maybe someone needs a church bulletin written every Saturday. Maybe someone wants to do an ezine for their company and needs some short articles, maybe ….

Recently a commentor said that I seemed to be too focused on making money with my writing. I am. It's about the only talent I have and it also happens to be my job. That means it's how I feed my kids. So yeah, I happen to love my job and make money at it. Why wouldn't I want to be focused on it?

Writing and making money allows me to stay home with my kids. It wasn't always that way, but it is now. And if I remain focused, it's the way it will always be.

1 comment:

frank said...
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