To Free or Not to Free

Should I write for free? Should I only write when money or other payment is offered? There are strong opinions on both sides of the freelancing fence.

The Debate:

  • On the plus side, having some bylines and credits doesn’t hurt, and this can be one way to start. Your next prospect is unlikely to ask how much you got paid for what you wrote.
  • You may choose to help a local organization, mission, or business. You may choose to offer your talent as a gift.
  • Entering a contest is essentially the same thing. There may even be an entrance fee. Yet many writers do this because of the hope of a cash prize, a gift certificate, or recognition.
  • On the minus side, some people think if you work without pay, at any time, for any reason, it hurts everybody. They believe editors will not pay if others are willing to work for free.
  • Some markets make enough to pay their contributors, but they do not because they know some folks will write without being paid.
  • Other individuals may give away their work because they think their work is not good enough.

My Experience:

I wrote for a ministry website which no longer exists. I met the website owner online and grew to respect him. With his limited mobility, confined to a wheelchair, and with limited funding he maintained his website and updated the sections often. He needed people to write for the children’s section. I wanted to develop in this area, so I volunteered.

During this time, Tyndale Publishers put together a book called The Young Believer Case Files. They contacted the webmaster about using two of the stories I’d written (he forwarded the message, I contacted them, they got back with me…you get the idea). They purchased the two stories (without changes). So something that started as volunteer work ending up getting published and earning 50 dollars (25 dollars per story).

Free- Writing- Free or NotSo should you labor without pay? I would say,

Consider the worth, the source, and your motives

Worth: If you want to bless an organization, or there’s another benefit (a chance at a prize, a byline in a larger magazine, etc.) it could be worth the effort.

Source: Can the source afford to pay contributors? If so, you have to decide what you personally feel about that.  Think about whether the credit will help you with the next market you want to approach.

Motives: Consider why you choose to write for free. Maybe all you want is to see your name in print. However, if you think your work isn’t good enough to get paid for, read some books on writing, improve your talent and give a paid market a shot. You may be surprised.

A final thought:

Be sure that whatever you submit is your best effort regardless of how much you might get paid. Your name and reputation are important. Keep writing!

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7 comments on “To Free or Not to Free
  1. Chip says:

    Started to leave a comment and wrote a blog post instead, linking back to you (all good!):

  2. Jeszlene says:

    I believe it’s a matter of keeping a balance. While writing for free (or dirt cheap) when working with specific types of businesses, hurts the freelance writing industry and potentially yourself, focusing too much on monetary returns sometimes hurts your writer’s soul. Blogging is a form of non-paying writing gig, so are letters to editors or volunteering for social causes, which are often healthy form of catharsis for writers that doesn’t hurt anyone. Great way to network and build relationships too =)

  3. Great points. I tended to write for free when I was starting out and needed clips, but these days I do it with a lot more intention–for a cause I believe in, for instance. It’s easy to get in the trap of thinking you have to give your writing away.

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"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
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