Saturday, July 11, 2009

Write For Free?

Freelance writing is a business and because of it, writers should expect to be compensated for their time and I mean all writers. I am not someone who thinks that if you are a new writer you should expect to give your work away for free in order to gain clips. Granted, you may not get thousands of dollars for your first assignments, but you should expect some payment.

When I first started freelancing, I initially went for the "big dogs" because I didn't know any better. I told my writers group (all experienced writers) I was going to send something to Better Homes & Gardens.

"You can't do that," they all said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because, you don't just start at the top, you have to work your way up to a national publication," they all replied.

"But I have something that is a good fit for them."

They all shook their heads at me. Against their advice I sent in my piece to BH&G anyway. It was no Pulitzer-winning piece. It was a short craft idea but I knew it was a good fit for their family department.

Two weeks later I got a call saying they liked the idea and wanted to publish it. I got the contract, sent the short piece and got paid for my time. My first ever clip appeared in BH&G a couple of months later.

I didn't get any other assignments with them, but I went on to publish full-length articles and features in other national magazines as well as regional publications--each time getting paid for my time.

I share my story with you, not as way to gloat or share my accomplishments, but as a way to show you that when it comes to freelancing, you can and should expect to be paid and that you don't necessarily have to start at the bottom. If you have done your homework and you have an idea you feel is a good fit for a certain national publication, then send it in. You have nothing to lose.

I subscribe to a couple of freelance job e-zines, like Ann Wayman's at About Freelancing. With so much out there on the Internet there are many opportunities for writers. I get frustrated with the ads that are looking for "experienced" writers, but they are only willing to pay $5 per blog post or article. To me they are not looking for good writers, they are just looking for someone to string some words together.

I think it is the responsibility of all writers to expect decent payment for their time and work. When we don't and we write for free or for $5, we lower the bar for the whole writing profession. We give the message that we don't value our own writing--- so why should anyone else.


Amo said...

I am glad to hear someone say this! Give all of us struggling writers permission to start at the top and to value our own contributions! I like it! Thanks!

Lillie Ammann said...


I totally agree with you. The only time I suggest anyone write for free is if you want to contribute to a nonprofit organization you support. You can make a significant contribution to the organization and get a byline and often excellent contacts as well. But I recommend that only if you would contribute to the organization anyway.

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Betsy Ashton said...

I spent the last 18 months writing press releases and articles for two local not-for-profits. No compensation, no real clips, but I began getting a local reputation as someone who could actually WRITE. Last month, one of the papers that carried my releases offered me a freelance job for pay. In the stroke of a pen, I went from "free"-lance to freelance. I can write what I want, as often as I want, and I'll be paid for it.

I didn't start at the top for feature writing, but I have submitted two essays and one poem to top magazines. If they turn me down, okay. I think the works are worth submitting. I'll see if anyone likes the essays and poem.

Kerrie said...

Amo, I am glad I could help.
Lillie,thanks for bringing up the idea of helping out nonprofits (and yourself in the long run) we support by occasionally writing for them. That is a good idea and a way to give back.
Betsy, thanks for sharing your story and congratulations. It seems you gained a lot of valuable writing experience that paid off in the long run.

Anne Wayman said...

Thanks for the link! Yes, I advise folks to start at the top, or near the top... you never know... congrats on not letting folks talk you out of it... I stay away from nay sayers.

Anne Wayman

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