To Write For Free Or Not To Write For Free

jaws4242Tips & Tricks18 Comments

That is the question.

I often see heated debates on Facebook about whether or not a writer should write for free.  Personally I have written for both paying and non-paying publications, and I thought it might be interesting to have a debate-style post here on Beyond Your Blog where writers argue both sides.  Which side do you fall on (or lean toward)?  Leave a comment and lets continue the friendly debate.

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–Susan Lee Maccarelli, Founder – Beyond Your Blog

To Write  For Free  Or  Not To Write  For Free - Guest Post Debat By Blake Mandelberg and Janie Emaus on Beyond Your Blog


To Write For Free: Guest Post Opinion by Blake Mandelberg

They say money can’t buy happiness and sometimes balancing these two things can put us at a crossroads. For the writer, that balancing act happens over and over again and the dichotomy of passion vs money is often at play. Knowing whether or not to pursue something simply for the love of it, or because of what will earn you the most is a decision that can often escape us as writers. To some, being a writer is a passionate hobby, for others a career and to many, a working goal. For the latter, the struggle of strengthening your craft and brand, versus your bank account is a daily one. Although earning might be the end goal, it’s important to be able to find opportunity, and take it. That includes taking unpaid writing jobs.

Every day pictures on Instagram, and Pinterest bombard us with messages like: “Quit your Day Job”, or “Do what you Love”,Etc. They’re inspiring, and a great daily affirmation, but when the day ends the sun sets on a rather empty proclamation. But is it naive optimism to believe you can be successful in a career doing something you love? In a perfect world, everyone would make tons of money doing what they love. In reality, it takes passion, ambition, and a lot of big picture thinking. If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 reasons to accept that next writing opportunity, even if it doesn’t pay.

1. Exposure. Ideally we all want to get paid for our writing, but sometimes opportunities come along that may not benefit you monetarily, but will help you in other ways. Example? I was recently asked to be a content creator for a huge, well-known brand. Though it was made clear that there would be no pay to start, it seemed crazy to respond with a decline. Yes, I would potentially be doing work for them without pay. But what would I get in return? My site, name and writing featured on a website with 5 million fans and readers. A perfect example of how sometimes the best return isn’t cash, but connection.

2. Grow your rolodex of writers. It’s important to nurture and grow your community. The ability to connect with not just readers, but other writers can be one of the keys to success. Guest posting on other sites is typically unpaid, but can be an important and great way to get your writing noticed by an untapped audience.

3. It can lead to paid work. Developing a relationship with a brand or a certain company can be important for growing writers. Although that partnership doesn’t always translate into paid jobs, a continued relationship can.

4. Growing your resume. Writers need to have great resumes, just like anyone else. Brand work, and paid endorsements can rank high but so can a large arsenal of quality writing and work.  And like an artist showing a portfolio, you have to build yours and make it shine.

5. Practice makes perfect. The # 1 piece of advice that any writer will give you? Write every single day. It’s like the old question, what came first the chicken or the egg?  Your writing career won’t be served to you on a silver platter. You have to first work on it, and nurture it every single day before it can hatch.

photo (2)Blake is a native New Yorker and writer with a penchant for monogramming, thrifting, horror movies, Wes Anderson and anything Parisian. She carries a Vogue in one hand and a latte in the other.. You can find her at Style Island, your all in stop for Style, Food, Beauty, Travel & everything NYC. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram 


Not To Write For Free: Guest Post Opinion by Janie Emaus

“Thank you for allowing me to prepare your taxes. In lieu of a cash payment, all I ask is that you like me. And please tell your friends about my accounting services.”

“Now that your nerves aren’t exposed anymore, you should be feeling better. I’m pleased you allowed me to work on your teeth for free. Unlike you, I love the exposure.”

“Thank you for snaking my drain, Mr. Rooter. You saved my day. I can’t pay you, but I’ll happily wear smiley emoticons all week for you.”

How many times have you heard conversations such as these? Never. The reason being, most hard-working individuals expect and need to be paid for their services. So, why should it be any different for writers? Especially when words are one of the most powerful tools on this planet.

Words have the ability to change the way people think. They carry the reader to different and exciting worlds. They show us we are not alone in our experiences, our desires, or our needs. They have the power to make us laugh when we need it most. To allow us to cry, knowing we are not alone. To heal a broken soul. To inspire. To illicit action. To make us feel alive.

Creating something with so much influence is hard, solitary work. With more and more competition, getting published can be nearly impossible. When a writer is published by a reputable online site, they should be compensated. The site is most likely deriving income from ads. Those ads are viewed by the readers. A reader who is drawn to the site because of the content. And who created the content? The writer: a talented, driven individual who often has to seek employment elsewhere in order to pay the bills. This “other” job takes away from the creativity bursting within the writer’s soul. And to me that is a great loss to the community.

Granted, I have written for some literary magazines that only paid me with copies, but everyone has to pay their dues. After a few freebies I moved on. And I sometimes write for editors who are friends. But isn’t that what friends are for? We help each other.

But before there was this need to accumulate friends, before the Internet and social media, writers were paid for magazine and newspaper articles. A piece was turned in. The magazine went to print. And the writer moved on to the next project. He didn’t count how many likes he received or how many times his article was shared. In very few instances (such as this one, pertaining to such an important issue) should one write for free with the promise of becoming recognized.

A strong social media presence is great, and of course, we can’t turn back time, but no amount of “likes” is going to pay the mortgage. Sharing and tweets and exposure should just be the icing on the cake. Because without the money earned for her hard work, the writer won’t be able to buy the cake in the first place.

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Head shot - Beyond your BlogJanie is the author of two novels, Mercury in Retro Love and Before the After. And has essays in several anthologies, including the best-selling, You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth. In a previous life, she was a ghostwriter for Goosebumps and Fear Street series. Her blogs have appeared on The Huffington Post, Boomeon, In The Powder Room, Scary Mommy and Purple Clover. She was a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. Janie believes when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again.  Follow Janie on, Facebook and Twitter


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18 Comments on “To Write For Free Or Not To Write For Free”

  1. I’ve been an editor in chief at a magazine where I routinely asked people to write for free and a freelancer, where I’ve dealt with the need to be paid for my content.

    It’s really an “it depends” situation, and I agree that working for free is an excellent way to get a foot in the door. It’s how I got my job, and I’m employing that tactic strategically as I freelance to acquire some necessary resume-padding experience. But I have to say that I feel there is something fundamentally wrong with the publishing business model to rely so heavily on skilled people devaluing their work. Someone is making money, and it’s not the writers (or, often, the editors calling in those underpaid professionals). It’s also sad to see some of the truly bad writing that gets posted, all in the interest of 24/7 content.

    I recently blogged on this topic, offering some pointers to editors and writers for successfully navigating contractor work with magazines:

  2. Loved loved loved this article!! I’m still in that beginning stage of paying my dues and have yet to earn for my writing. Funny thing though I believe that the first time I get paid for my work (regardless of how small the check is) I will be more proud than I was after receiving my biggest commission check ever at my “day job”. I loved both perspectives on this!!

  3. I agree with both, so this is a tough one. Blake discussed the same reasons I have for writing for free—exposure, community and practice. And yes, these can all certainly lead to paid writing opportunities. Take BlogHer for instance. It’s all free when you post on their site and getting ‘Featured’ doesn’t ‘pay’ either. However, it’s a great way to be noticed by an editor who would be willing to contact you for Syndication = $.

    Janie’s arguments are solid as well. We work very hard to come up with good material and should be paid. I guess a clear line I draw is when it’s a business asking me to promote their product. I would never write for free for those cases, especially if it’s a relatively known brand/presence. If it’s a non-profit with a cause I really believe in, then I wouldn’t mind doing it for free. I’ll chalk it up to investing in my good karma 😉

    I suppose the important thing is that as writers, we should all be clear as to what our guidelines are for offering our services. What’s always tricky for me is figuring out how much to charge / what the reasonable rate is. Maybe that’s another topic for BYB, Susan? :-)))

    Great post! Sorry for the super long comment.

    1. It wasn’t too long at all, Joy. I loved reading your comment. I’d need all the fingers and toes of all my family members to count the number of free articles and blogs I’ve written. I just think that at some point, enough is enough. I work hard and put a lot of thought into every word.

  4. What great input from both of these contributors! I was firmly in Blake’s camp before I started reading, but Janie’s joking about other tradespeople performing free services really illustrated her argument well. How does the old adage go, “nobody will buy the cow when you’re handing out the milk for free?”

    As Blake put it, “you have to nurture [your writing career] every single day before it can hatch.” I concur wholeheartedly. As wonderful as it would be to receive compensation for every word I type in a given day, I choose to think of guest blogging, unpaid contributions, and other “freebie” work as a marketing investment. There are countless small-time bloggers who’ve increased their brand clout and gained new clients as a byproduct of well-written pieces in prominent publications and highly trafficked blogs. Yes, there are other ways to gain exposure, but casting your net far and wide often generates the best return, at least in my own experience.

    Instead of thinking of the time I spend crafting an unpaid piece as an hour tossed into the abyss, I think of it as an advertising or promotional opportunity. Were I to opt for pay-per-click ads on Google or a classified ad in my local newspaper, I’d expect to pay for the opportunity to promote my brand. In a way, I’m simply “paying” for these valuable promotional opportunities with my time and creative energy.

  5. This is a really tricky topic indeed. I have been blogging for nearly 4 years now. In that time, I watched my stats climb slowly… very slowly at times. There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the biggest growth came when I was featured, for free, on other sites. I also have no doubt that the bulk of my growth, had to do with my own determination and consistency– neither involved payment.

    I began writing on Huffington Post this past November. When my first 3 pieces did very well, they made me a “Featured Blogger.” There is no payment involved; I submit my work to them, and they publish it for free. However, I’ve definitely gotten a lot of visibility from this experience, and I’m grateful for that opportunity. Of course my hope is that Joy is right: that others see my work and offer me paid work.

    Blake and Janie both provided solid arguments for both sides, but I think Janie opens her piece with an excellent point: we would never ask a dentist, plumber, or other professional to work for word of mouth and exposure. It’s ludicrous! That said, I don’t see this system changing anytime soon. I am keenly aware that if my work doesn’t keep people’s attention, HP will feature someone else… for free. That exposure is important to me, as an “unknown” writer, and I remain grateful for the opportunity. To be paid, would be icing on the cake. Great topic!

    1. This was a tricky side to take as I do write for Huffington Post, for free, of course. But I’ve tried to limit my freebies throughout the years. Thanks for stopping by and giving your opinion. And I wish you all the best with your writing.

  6. This is a common issue in any creative profession, music, art, writing. It’s common to start working for ‘freebies’ to gain exposure and connections. The important step is to set goals and boundaries for yourself as your work improves and stick to them.

  7. As a lifelong writer (for pay) I resent that profit-making machines take our work without compensating us. That’s the bottom line for me. A site with 5 million views and a big name is probably well able to pay, but they don’t. We devalue ourselves when we do not get paid for our work. Only rarely will I write for free. The pay available today is half or less than what it was for freelancers a decade ago, but even so…. Part of the low pay is because so many hobbyists will write for free and thus they devalue the worth of writing for us all. I have debated this with myself, because there will come a time when I would like more exposure and in that case I might do something for free on a big site. But I would do so with a great deal of heartburn because I know that I would be contributing to the problem.So far, I have resisted. Am I cutting off my nose to…? Maybe. But I need to look at myself in the mirror every day. IF the price of integrity is no nose, well..ok then.

  8. I’ve drawn a line in the sand on this issue for myself. I will provide content for reprint for free. If I’ve already done the work and it’s already benefiting me as far as being on my personal blog, I’m willing to share that work for the exposure on other sites (I’ll even rework it slightly if it needs to be). But if I’m going to write content from scratch for another site, I need to be paid.

  9. I have been a freelance writer for more than 7 years and I have rarely written for free. But, I am actually starting to because I am moving into a new niche. I agree with those who say it is a gray rather than a black and white issue. Sometimes you will write for free because you need the exposure, but if you did it all the time, the exposure would mean nothing.

    Also, there is a logical fallacy in the arguments Janie made using other types of services. Creative arts are unlike anything else as a product (at least that’s the way people see it). A dentist fills a cavity, a plumber snakes your drain, an accountant prepares your taxes, these all have hard, measurable, immediate effect. A writer who blogs for a business may never increase the bottom line in reality (or the change is so small it is never seen). Our services are theoretical to an extent and harder to quantify than other types of services. So, even though I disagree with writers being paid nothing for their services, it is sometimes difficult to make a case as a writer.


  10. I love the debate! Each side makes great points.
    My path is MY path.
    I love considering both sides of the issue.
    I just don’t want anyone condemning my choices…which, are deeply personal.
    (I assume everyone else feels pretty much that way as well.)
    But if we don’t have someone pointing out to us some of the points that Jamie has made, there is a danger that we might undervalue our work. So, thanks for the discussion!

  11. After writing professionally (for pay) for more than 25 years, I would much rather get a check than exposure. There are definitely times when it’s worth writing for free but because that’s now become so commonplace, we have completely devalued the craft and the “real” writers have to fight to get more money than those who are just filling space.

  12. I love the idea of getting paid for my writing but as a newbie to the blogging universe (one year in May) I’ve yet to pay my dues as well. I love getting the exposure for now though!

  13. This is a great conversation! I can see both sides. I think it depends on your mission and your business plan. It is very individual. Love the discussion, thanks!

  14. I feel another piece of this as well — it is not just writing, it is anything that goes on my blog on my site that is being devalued and companies who can absolutely afford to pay for my games and puzzles believe they should not have to pay as well. Too many cheap Flash games out there and so much is being given away and, yes, that de-values our time as professionals. I will write for social capital (for nonprofits that share my values and for people who lift me up) and I don’t consider that working for free. Goodwill, in my world, has a value and has nothing to do with exposure. Tough and sensitive debate but….

  15. Pingback: 1129+ Places That Pay For Your Writing!Beyond Your Blog | Beyond Your Blog

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