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30 Days of Writing Tips – Day 12 – When To Write For Free

Random Acts of Free WritingI’m tempted to say ‘never write for free!’ It’s tempting because there are so many opportunities for a writer to be tricked into writing for free.

For example, online job postings often result in requests for free samples. I strongly suggest you don’t. Or if you’re tempted, check out the advertiser. Insist on a company name and some references, then check them. If the employer provides that sort of information and the references check out, maybe, and only if you have no credits, it might be worth doing a single article on speculation.

Magazine writing is an exception. Legitimate consumer magazines (the ones you see on new stands) and trade magazines may respond to a query asking you to write the article ‘on spec.’ In this case you’ve got an invitation from the editor to submit your story because your query demonstrated you could write and you seemed to understand what the magazine needed. Now you’re writing on spec, with a good chance of having your article accepted and getting paid for it. Go for it.

It also makes sense, particularly for new writers, to put articles on their own website or blog. In this case you’re writing for yourself and while your not getting paid directly, your demonstrating your skill.

Finally, if you want to donate some of your writing to your favorite non-profit group or for another good cause, do so. Just be sure you’re not spending so much time writing for charity that you don’t have time to write for pay. Any such writing can be used as samples, and if you track your time you may be able to deduct it from any writing income – maybe. Ask your tax person. But it makes sense to track your time on any piece of writing.

When, if at all, do you write for free?

Do you have a writing tip to share? Leave it in comments.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Anne

    Grit – great word to describe hanging in there Kevin. And we agree.

  • On rare occasions I’ll write for my favorite charity or my immediate family. Beyond that, I NEVER write for free.

    Writing for free says, “My writing is not good enough to be compensated.” If it is good enough, you send the wrong message.

    A friend of mine throws around the word “coopetition.” Writers typically share a common thread and common passion for the written word and as a result tend to work together in upward and downward mentorships while also competing with each other; it’s a healthy relationships and found most often among premier writing associations.

    Queries are great but most people want to work with people they know – it’s human nature. Get affiliated with a (or some) healthy writing organization whose roster includes successful writers and corporate partners. CP’s often have media or communications directors – networking is the key here.

    All that said, it takes grit to get work in the writing world; rejection is so commonplace and can be downright frustrating. Mentorships and networking are where it’s at! It’s NEVER good to write for free. Professionals are paid.

    Would even the youngest, least experienced surgeon perform an operation for free?

  • Well said Cindy.

  • Yes, there’s always an exception… and getting clients is a primo example… also, if you write free a couple of times you may be able to get them to pay at least a bit for the third.

  • Like the magazines you mention, Anne, I have written free articles for online industry magazines in my niche. I don’t do it often and I’m selective about the magazine-I want to make sure they really do hit my targeted market and have some clout.

    I can tell you that I have gotten two new clients in the last year from an article I wrote for an online industry magazine and three queries.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..10 Business Blog Ideas Sitting in Front of Your FaceMy Profile

  • Good tips Anne. I hate to see writers giving their work away, especially in response to those “sample required” ads.

    I have written for free for charity, and I’ve done some copywriting for free as a giveaway in a contest. I don’t consider either to be working for free, though. In one case I was volunteering my time, and in the other it was part of my marketing plan.

    I think the most important thing when you take on a free gig is to be clear about your goals and reason for doing so. And like you said, don’t spend so much time doing free work that it eats into your actual work time.

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