Should You Write For Free? The Writer’s Dilemma

If you’re a professional writer, should you ever write for free? I used to be adamant that direction lies madness. However, I’ve changed my mind. Sort of.

I still believe that if you’re writing for a major publication which accepts advertising, you should be paid, and paid well. If a magazine, newspaper or Website charges thousands of dollars for advertising, they can afford to pay the writer for the content which delivers the eyeballs to that advertising. Without writers, there would be no advertising, and the publication wouldn’t exist.

Should You Write For Free? The Writer’s Dilemma


However, there are problems.

1) The problems with paying writers’ markets

Here are several of the problems I’ve identified:

* Declining pay rates for writers. If you write for major magazines, you know that you’re getting paid less today than you were a couple decades ago.

* Stiff competition. You send your query in and never hear. This is understandable. Major magazines receive hundreds of queries every week. If they replied to them all, the staff would never get anything else done.

* Editor churn. Even ten years ago, if you sold to a major magazine, you formed a relationship with the editor. You sold her other pieces over the next year or two. Nowadays, you’re lucky if the editor is still with the magazine when the issue with your article in it hits the newsstands.

* Slow payment in tough times. Even with pay on acceptance markets, you may wait months for your check.

* Wasting time. You can spend days wracking your brain and researching, to find the perfect story for a particular market, and then receive the reply, thanks, but:

“We’re running a story on that in our next issue” or “We’ve just signed a writer for that”.

What’s the upshot of all these problems? If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’ve turned to copywriting, that is, writing for businesses, rather than put up with the hassles of writing for magazines.

2) The benefits of writing for free

It makes sense to write for free if you’re being paid in other ways.

For example, as a promotion. My sister and I have just partnered with a new Website. I’ve been happily writing articles to promote the site for a few weeks now. I send my articles out far and wide and hope that article directories’ editors and Web site owners will publish them for free. It’s not really writing for free, it’s quid pro quo because, in exchange for using my articles, the publications include my Resource Box, which includes a link to my site.

However, beyond promotion, I’ve discovered other benefits of writing for free.

* You write more. This is pressure-free writing. You get to write what you like, when you like.

* You get more ideas. All this keyboard-tapping is making me more creative. I’ve got pages and pages of notes for articles, books, and courses.

* You enjoy writing more. It’s been years since I enjoyed writing this much. Why? Because it’s more play than writing.

* You’re pioneering new ways for writers to make a living from writing.


3) You, the writer, a pioneer

The Internet turns writers into pioneers. You get to discover new ways to make a living from your craft. Is this easy? No. Is it fascinating? You bet.

I first became aware of the Internet in 1993-1994. In those days, getting an Internet connection was an adventure. I finally got a free connection, set it up with lots of help (there’s nothing as unforgiving as a Unix command line), and discovered online bulletin boards.

Within months, I had a CompuServe account, and the real adventure began. I couldn’t believe the possibilities. I still can’t.

There’s a revolution going on. Thanks to the Internet, writers are discovering new ways to make money. They’re publishing their books as ebooks, setting up subscription Web sites, and subscription article directories.

They get started in this adventure by writing “for free”. As their following builds, they sell their work to the people who know them and trust what they have to say.

* These writers built this trust by writing for free.*

Can you make money from ebooks? You work it out. If you write an ebook on a hot topic, it takes you a month or so to write. You sell it online for $35. You sell 200 (let’s be conservative). Not bad pay for a month’s work.

If you’re writing professionally, it takes a change in perspective to write and not get paid for it. At least, not in a way you’re used to being paid.

But writing for free can help you to discover how creative you really are.