Do you think writers should write for free?

Posted on June 11, 2008

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In your last post about author bios you seemed to be advocating that beginning writers should write for free. I’ve been told writers should never write for free. On the other hand it makes sense to pursue publishing credits. Do you think writers should write for free?

The question is not whether writers SHOULD write for free, but will you be expected to work for free? The answer is yes, you will be expected to write for free, or next to nothing. Whether or not you do write for free is every writer’s choice to make.

First and foremost, as a writer you must place value on the work you do. Therefore when the issue presents itself, if it hasn’t already, you can decide what is best for you and your career. Ask yourself: What’s in it for me? Or if you prefer a less narcissistic approach: What is the value in this assignment?

Once you have a book published, writing for free takes on a whole new meaning. My blogs and book reviews are non-paying gigs but they are part of promoting my published books. What’s in it for me? I gain exposure and build readership.

Finding the value or what’s in it is a little trickier for the unpublished writer. However the truth is, you can’t get something published until you get something published. So there’s your value right there. All writers – whether published or unpublished – need to gain exposure and build readership.

Of course there are endless opportunities to write for free. The best course is to pursue those which you have the most control over. Blogging, book reviews, and newsletters give you the most control and some of the best training.

Blogging is the ultimate control and the easiest. It teaches you self-discipline and intimidates you into posting on a regular basis. It’s a real kick in the butt to visit your own blog and see you haven’t posted for a month.

Writing book reviews gives you exposure to other writers, plus keeping up with what’s new in the publishing world. I have met many brilliant and wonderful writers this way. If you persevere and get those book reviews published, you can make contact with publishers’ publicists to get on their mailing list. You never know where those contacts will lead.

Writing, editing, and publishing a newsletter teaches you just about everything you need to know about the industry you work in. You learn deadlines, layout, editing, graphics, and production. Producing a newsletter can be an empowering experience. The bonus is, you can always sell ad space, which might not pay you a whole lot but will help defray expenses. The same value applies to producing a newsletter for an organization.

Barter is another form of value. Free subscriptions, free dues, free books, and free services are all forms of barter that add value in exchange for your work. My chiropractor once asked me to write a patient report about a treatment I had received. I agreed to write the report in exchange for a $50 credit on my bill.

I will say this, though: Never write without a byline. Always be sure your name and hopefully a link to your blog and/or website will be included in the work you do for free. For example, I won’t write ad copy for free, and you shouldn’t either. The advertiser is going to make money off the ad, so the writer of the text should be paid.

More opinions on writing for free:

Should You Write For Free?

Should writers work for free?

Writing For Payment Or For Art’s Sake By Lynette Rees

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