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Should I Write for Free?

Writing For Free is Rarely a Good Idea

People are always asking writers to write for free. It may be your neighbor who has an idea for a book, or the president of a group that needs a newsletter editor. A website or even a magazine may suggest that if you write for free, you'll get traffic or at least get a credit.

Poke around the web and on mailing lists and you'll find plenty of places that will accept your writing and never pay you a cent, no matter how popular the piece becomes. Writing for free is easy; getting paid is another matter.
 There can, however, be a few good reasons to do a bit of writing for free. They include:

  • 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 or 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.

That said, there are lots of good reasons not to write for free too, including:

  • Writing is hard work. When we write well, we work hard, and we deserve to be paid for our efforts.
  • You're a professional. 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.

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.

Write well and often.



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Email Anne: Anne@AboutFreelanceWriting.com

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