If you want to get a group of freelance writers talkng, throw out a statement like “every writer has to write for free sometime,” and stand back. You’ll get all sorts of opinions that range from “that’s true” to “no way!” with everything in between.
And, if you tell the world, or even your neighbor that you are a writer, you will be asked to write for free. It may be that neighbor who has an idea for a book that wants you to write for a percentage. Or you’ll join a group and, surprise, need a newsletter editor and ask you to do it at no charge.
A website or even a magazine may suggest that if you write for them for free, you’ll get traffic to your website or exposure that will help you build your career, at least get a credit. The implication always is that your efforts for free today will parlay into good income in the future. It rarely works that way.
There are always a ton of opportunities to write for free; what’s more difficult is to get paid for your writing.
Getting Paid For Writing Is Possible
As any even partially successful write can tell you, it’s possible to get paid for your writing. The truth is, assuming you can write a cohernet, complete sentence or two, it’s possible to get paid right away for your writing. It’s often more about how you present yourself to a prospective employer or publisher than your actual writing credits.
Even if you’re new to the game, keep these points in mind:
- Writing is hard work. When we write well, we work hard, and we deserve to be paid for our efforts.
- You’re a professional. Really, you’re a professional writer when you decide you are. There’s not test to take, license to earn, or degree to be gotten. Professionals get paid. In fact, being paid is one definition of ‘professional.’ Sometimes you need to take yourself and your writing career seriously enough to insist on being paid.
Reasons To Write For Free
- When you have no clips. Getting a byline in a local newspaper, web ‘zine, or even a club newsletter can help you assemble the credits you want to present to an editor when asking for an assignment. Before you agree, however, read No Clips? No Problem!
- When you want to break into a new area. If you’ve been writing, say travel articles, and want to start publishing self-help, you probably won’t need to write for free. But if you’re moving from non-fiction to fiction, getting one or two stories published for free may help you break into the paying short story market.
- When you want to contribute. There are always a few situations where we simply want to make a contribution, and donating our writing can be a good way to do it.
Obviously there’s no single answer for everyone, or for every situation. When I began writing, I did do some writing for free. Now I rarely do, and only if I feel I have enough time to devote to the project.
Tread cautiously when you’re asked to write for free. Think through not only what you’re being asked to do, but how it fits with the rest of your life, and your writing career. In fact, unless the person asks me specifically uses the word “donate” I always ask how much they are willing to pay. Once and awhile I’m pleasantly surprised.
How do you decide when to write for free?
Write well and often,
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