The most debatable topic I’ve come across since I’ve started my freelance writing career is in the form of this question:
Should writers write for free?
This is tricky because, as pointed out by the masses, a psychiatrist or a roofer wouldn’t be expected to perform their job duties for free (or for pennies, for that matter). So, why should a writer?
Let’s talk about this from a new writer’s perspective. If you’re a new writer and have absolutely no publishing background, you’ll need clips to support your resume or curriculum vitae (C.V) when sending out query letters. It’s difficult to land more work without showing evidence of the quality you’re able to produce, as well as knowledge of a topic.
In this case, the need to build a workable clip file, I support writing for free. It’s a good way to learn how to write a good query letter, communicate with editors and meet deadlines. Even though you’re not getting paid in dollars, you’re receiving payment in experience.
Another good reason for writing for free is to get in “practice.” Practice for what? Market searching, brainstorming, query letter writing, researching, interviewing, writing (of course) and editing. This list of what needs to be practiced in order to be a successful freelance writer can be quite extensive, these are just some examples. It’s important to know the in’s and out’s of these things before throwing yourself head first into a situation you’re not prepared for.
Writing for free will also build your confidence, help you discover your voice, help you determine your niche and help you determine who your audience is.
Now, let’s look at this from a seasoned writer’s perspective. If you’re a seasoned writer and have plenty of clips in your file, why would it be necessary to write for free? Many believe this would water down the market and prevent employers from understanding the importance of paying writers what they’re worth. What about newly launched magazines, newsletters or web sites that aren’t able to receive financial backing necessary to pay a pool or writers right away? Don’t they deserve a shot?
This is where seasoned writers can be very picky. If there’s something you’re passionate about and you find a publication you believe in, yet can’t pay you, what’s wrong with donating your writing in support of their efforts? You may not be paid in dollars, but you’ll be paid in gratitude and appreciation (similar to when you donate to a charity or some other cause you feel good about).
When will writing for free be a detriment to your career?
This is an important question. There are many “scammers” out there looking to get something for nothing and those are the people you need to be weary of. Not all “non-paying” opportunities are bad ones, but there are some that will raise red flags. For example, if they want all rights to your work. Forget that one, move on. Or, if they expect an inordinate amount of words, sources and in depth accounts. Would that experience really be worth your time? Another to watch out for are companies that are clearly producing a high revenue, yet don’t want to pay writers. Move on from them, as well.
In conclusion, it’s important to discriminate when making this decision.