Writing For Free Is Not Not Pure Evil, And Here’s Why

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If you are a writer, I’m sure you’ve seen all the recent to-do about how evil it is for publications not to pay writers, and how wrong it is for anyone to write for free. I take the opposite view, and here’s why.

Writing For Free Is Not Pure Evil And Here's Why...FB

The plumber argument doesn’t hold water – A popular argument against not paying writers is that you would never expect a plumber (or insert other occupation) to work for free. True, but if you are coming to install my faucet, you’ve probably had some training on how to do it. Writers come in all experience levels, especially since anyone can create their own blog and be published within an hour. Many bloggers have had no formal training. I myself have taken exactly one formal writing course, and I’m published all over the internet. I am very grateful to the sites that published me when I had little or no experience. I can’t say I would have been so open, considering that if some guy showed up to fix my faucet with no prior experience, I’d probably have kicked him to the curb.

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I’m adaptable – I know that some writers saw much bigger paydays in the 1980’s and 90’s, but with the internet-driven need for more written content than ever, writing has become a commodity. Rather than spend my efforts fighting that change and blaming the writers who write for free, I prefer to learn as much as I can about the current opportunities out there (paid and unpaid), and adapt my strategy accordingly. Plus I know my readers would rather read my posts about new writing opportunities and submission tips than my complaints about low or no rate opportunities.  P.S. This is coming from someone who is still lamenting the fact that my camera doesn’t take film anymore, so I wouldn’t say I’m the first to embrace change.

Some writing is worth $0 – My own writing included. I used to hate writing. In college I’d rather take 20 tests than have one paper assigned. My early blog posts were crap and the only reason I was initially published was because I personally hired myself as a blogger and knew how to work WordPress. I look back at some of that early writing and cringe, but it was published and worth the $0 I was paid for it.

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I don’t have time to spend sticking pins in my Arianna Huffington voodoo doll – The energy spent by writers busting on HuffPost for not paying bloggers is epic. Do they pay for republished material? Nope, but neither do the overwhelming majority of national publications out there. Should they? I’m not sure.

Since HuffPost does not pay for original work, my solution has been…wait for it…not to submit original work to them, and only to send things I’ve already published on my personal blog. Apparently 95% of the other bloggers who publish there agree, because almost everything they publish from bloggers is republished material. From what I can see, all the internet backlash toward them is because they don’t pay bloggers for original work, which no blogger I know would ever submit there anyway. Are there really bloggers continually submitting original work and feeling like they are not getting anything (money or otherwise) in return? I’d argue that this is a problem with the blogger, not with HuffPost. If you keep hitting your head on a wall and it hurts, is it the wall’s fault?

[bctt tweet=”I don’t have time to spend sticking pins in my Arianna Huffington voodoo doll”]

I’ll exchange free content for free reading – I think there can be good reasons to write for free. I’ve done it for practice, mentoring from an editor, and just to see my name somewhere other than my own blog (at first). I’ve gotten new blog followers, subscribers and site traffic from it. Some people do it to sell something or to promote their brand. One reason I’ve done it is because the site I’m submitting to is a site I enjoy reading frequently, and they let me read the site for free. As a thank you, I’ve often contributed my own work. Many of the wonderful guest authors on my site have thanked me for the value this site offers and subsequently submitted their own great content that I didn’t pay for. While I don’t yet pay, I try to provide as much value as I can as I work toward the day when I can pay.

I absolutely respect the decision of writers who want to take only paying opportunities. I want any writer who wants to be paid to work toward that goal and get there sooner rather than later. I submit mostly for paying opportunities myself these days. There will always be writers willing to write for little or nothing and sites that will publish work without paying for it. My job is to become as savvy about the market as I can and pursue the opportunities that are right for me at each point in my writing evolution. I don’t have time to stop and blame others for my paycheck or lack thereof.

Because I’m on a deadline.
Writing For Free Is Not Pure Evil And Here's Why...

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40 Comments on “Writing For Free Is Not Not Pure Evil, And Here’s Why”

  1. “If you are a writer, I’m sure you’ve seen all the recent to-do about how evil it is for publications not to pay writers, and how wrong it is for anyone to write for free”.

    That is just disengenuous. It IS evil if publications have a stash of cash behind them and they don’t pay writers. The argument is nothing about the evils of writing for free. It’s about not being ripped off by those who have the money to pay and who are so contemptuous of you and your craft that their editor has no problem trying to turn their non-paying into some kind of purity issue. Stephen Hull said: ““… I’m proud to say that what we do is that we have 13,000 contributors in the UK, bloggers… we don’t pay them, but you know if I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pay, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

    Well, I don’t think it’s anytning to be proud of. I have too much dignity for that. And yes, I write for free, at the times and places of my own choosing. But that is another thing entirely from greedy outlets who can afford to and who instead take advantage of people’s need for exposure. We’re all dying of exposure. Pay the writers if you can. And Huffington Post can.

    1. While one piece of my post is in response to the HuffPost backlash, it was more in response to statements I have heard about writers who write for free being somehow traitors to the craft. As for HuffPost, I think the comment about ‘authentic copy’ is rubbish as you do, but I appreciate that businesses can run how they wish. Would I do it differently? I think I would knowing only what I know as an outsider. I might choose to pay for the republished pieces that performed well, but I probably wouldn’t pay for republished work. As far as original work from bloggers, from what I have seen, they publish very little of that, and I keep coming back to the fact that no one is forced to write there. I appreciate you sharing your opinion, and there are many that take that view, so I think it is good to talk about both sides.

  2. Susan – you definitely make good points here! I have often wondered if it would be fair for HuffPo to just pay for the articles that they select as a “feature article” that get them a lot of traffic and page views. That seems fair to me. Meanwhile, I will still sometimes submit to HuffPo even though they don’t pay because they are HuffPo and it’s awesome! 🙂

    1. I like that idea. It would be a step in the right direction for Huff PR and it would offer some paying opportunities without wiping out all the free opportunities many bloggers still want to take part in.

  3. Thanks for writing this. I agree with you that there are times when writing for free is okay, and HP is an outlet that I feel that way about. What so many don’t realize is that you can’t pay for that type of exposure (unless you’re paying advertising dollars). If you’re a new writer trying to build your portfolio, it’s a great publication to get pieces published and build a name. And as a person who makes a living writing, I have earned a lot of money just from referrals I’ve received from people reading my HP pieces.

    1. This. Absolutely! Some the highest paying writing jobs I’ve received have been from being discovered on HuffPo, and I was one of those writers who began building my portfolio with HuffPo and Scary Mommy (before they paid). I don’t feel cheated because I’ve never written an original piece for HuffPo, they just helped me reach more people.

  4. I completely agree with you Susan. Most bloggers are not trained writers or journalists. I have used the opportunity to publish on huff post to gain exposure and also to learn about my skills and talent, since I took up writing a blog 30 years after earning my English degree. It took me 3 years to get my first paying job. There are plenty of places to get paid to write, but not nearly enough to pay every single blogger. You do so much to help bloggers succeed. Thank you!

  5. Quite frankly, I think you’re an angel for writing this blog and your newsletter. You give so much great advice and provide excellent leads where we can submit our work. And you give it to us for free. <3

  6. Susan – there are many experienced, previously published writers and creatives in other fields being asked to work for free, not just inexperienced ones. Tim Kreider for one – he wrote an excellent post about this. I don’t believe in making a blanket statement either way, sometimes it may be appropriate to write for free, it is not evil. But this has now become a serious problem for people who need to make a living, or those who have other other jobs and are stretched thin to do creative writing. There is no excuse – absolutely no excuse – for Huffington Post not to pay writers. Period. Do you know how much their employees make? Do you know the stock options upper management has? The Huff Post was built in reprints and it is a huge operation with an audience of millions. Now, the internet has made it so that not just writers, but creatives in other fields – many people in many fields – are no longer being paid. Photographers for example. What’s more, some of the blog posts in HP and other places I see are poorly written, very derivative of common tropes and themes of the day – why publish them at all? I understand this is an inevitable trend with the times, but that, together with the fact that ai, robots and technology are replacing many jobs, and we have a serious problem on our hands; if no one is to be paid, the system needs to change to provide more of a safety net. Work/write for free? In most cases, I don’t think so. I’m sorry this has become the norm. I earned a good living at writing, and I believe younger generations deserve to also.

    1. Bring on the universal basic income! Then we will all be free from the shackles of this rotten financial system and writing for free will be a pleasure ☺

  7. I have to agree with Valorie and Sue. I won’t reiterate their arguments, but I’ll add that it’s very sad when a piece of professional writing is valued at less than an item in a dollar store. As a professional writer, I won’t work for nothing unless it’s for a friend or for a cause I support. I would add that everyone is free to do what they want, except that those who give their work away are cheapening the market for all of us, and it’s thanks to them that writers like me are constantly asked to work for nothing. And yes, I admit that in 2012 I did write for the Huff Post, when they asked me to – I wasn’t aware that they didn’t pay back then!

  8. Great post, Susan! I’ve been published a few times with HuffPost in the past month (first time ever was early February, thanks to YOU). I haven’t sent them new material, but I am absolutely thrilled to have the experience and exposure of working with HuffPost.

    I’m with ya, I’m leaving my Arianna voodoo doll on the shelf. There’s so much more to life than worrying about why or if they should pay.

    I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, and when I’m ready to get paid….I’ll submit to sites that pay!

    Thanks for all your time and resources! You’re a huge blessing to me.

  9. Thanks for this perspective, Susan.

    I’m with you re HuffPost. I do think they should do a better job of that promised “exposure” for the writers because I’ve had personal experience with my article being buried and barely getting any views. I can only do so much to promote on my end. I also think Megan’s suggestion of rewarding articles which do well on their own, be rewarded monetarily. I also think that people who complain about HuffPost not paying, are established writers who are used to being paid well for writing. HuffPost as a platform for newbie writers/ bloggers who are starting out is invaluable.

    As for other sites which republish and don’t pay (and I work for one such site and co-founded another) – it’s not that they don’t want to pay anyone, it’s that most of them are self-financed by the site finders, and we’re out of pocket every month with various expenses. Once we make money, we always want to pay the writers first, because their work is the most valuable commodity. But without good content and reach, it’s hard to make money. Without writers who are willing to syndicate for no payment, it’s difficult to increase that reach. I think it’s a symbiotic relationship – writers and places that republish. Work together for the mutual benefit other than $$, and many good things can come out of that. I’ve had amazing opportunities from writing for places for free (yes, even originals), which bore fruit many other ways. For that, I am grateful.

    One last point which may be seen as a jibe but it isn’t: as an editor, I read many pieces of writing daily. A fair few are originals, and they expect to be paid. Here’s the thing – hone your skills before you expect to shop your writing and get paid. Writers who want to make a living from writing – please practice. By that, I mean write, write and write all the time. Then go back and edit, edit, edit and edit again. Do this over and over, and eventually, your writing will sparkle. Then you can go out and demand to be paid. Otherwise, practice by writing and submit pieces for syndication. Ask for feedback if you get a rejection. If you do get that, it’s worth more than cash.

  10. I love this post Susan. Thank you for sharing! I’m a brand new blogger and when a piece I submitted (it was original, oops!) ran on HuffPo and was posted on their FB page, I was thrilled, proud and honored. Maybe that’s naive of me, but it, along with many others I have yet to achieve, was a personal goal of mine. I can understand why people are so anti-HuffPo, but besides exposure, I do feel like they somewhat make up for not paying — once you are in, you can pretty much post as much as you would like which is great for building clips and having something other than your LinkedIn profile come up when people search for you. Instead of paying you, they give you their platform. I know it’s these free pieces that they are then profiting on, but I guess I see it as a trade-off. And of course, a choice by the writer.

    I think a lot of people’s feelings about writing for free depends on why they are writing. If it is for their livelihood, then I get it, you want to target places that pay. If it’s for personal fulfillment (and not that this is mutually exclusive for writing for a livelihood), then maybe the pay (or lack thereof) isn’t as important.

    Finally, I completely agree that writing for free for a site you have long read and enjoyed is a way to thank the site for letting you read for free. I’m not sure my work is quite that valuable yet, but I know there are certain sites on which if I had my writing selected, I would be thrilled just to be in the company of the work I have admired.

    But this is all coming from a writer who was on a complete writing high last night because I loved a post I wrote for my own blog which was probably read by my husband and mom (and even they probably scanned it!), so you know, to each his own 🙂

  11. Thanks for this article, Susan. The thing about HuffPo is that once you become a blogger for them it’s really up to you what you post and when. There are no deadlines, no editors making demands, and minimal editing is done to your pieces. So it’s not exactly the same as not getting paid for doing an assignment; it’s more like a place for free publicity for your (generally already published) work. True, if they don’t like it they won’t feature it, but you can still promote it yourself. So I think it’s a great platform for my work with very little extra effort. Because it’s totally up to me how I use it, I’m OK with not getting paid.

  12. “Since HuffPost does not pay for original work, my solution has been…wait for it…not to submit original work to them, and only to send things I’ve already published on my personal blog.”

    Brava, Susan! Wonderful treatment of an oft controversial topic in the writing world.

  13. I love this, Susan. I agree with you. I was thrilled to be accepted at Huffington Post and posted a lot of published work there for exposure. It was definitely a confidence booster as well. I hate looking at my posts there from long ago but I was not the writer I am today and I’m sure in the future, I will cringe looking at what I’ve got published so far. However, no one forced my to write for Huff Po and like you said, no one submits original content there. For me, it’s like TV or the radio, if you don’t like the channel, don’t watch! If you don’t believe in Huff Po’s ethics with regard to paying writers, don’t submit there. Or, as you said, just submit published work. Being upset and/or angry about it, to me, is just a waste of time. Great, great read!! I hope you do more opinion pieces like this. I know I’m not alone when I say how respected your opinion is and how thankful we all are for you and all you do!!

  14. What a great article, thank you for your insights on a sometimes confusing subject. I can still feel the thrill of being published on a site other than my own blog, I was so honored. It was unpaid, but the boost to my confidence was priceless.

  15. I completely agree. There is a time and place for everything. When I heard all the complaining, my thought was, “Don’t submit there!” If you want to get paid, go somewhere that will.pay you! As the owner of a collaborative blog that has zero budget, I would be in serious trouble if there weren’t writers willing to share their work for free. I would feel guilty IF I was earning any money. But we don’t have advertising or sponsors. Anyway, great perspective.

    1. I think your site falls under the category I talked about in the article where writers enjoy reading it, so they also share writing with you and are happy to do it in return for you offering content for free to them. Thanks!

  16. I agree that submitting previously published work is fine, and I certainly don’t begrudge people who do write for free. It’s just that most times I see writing for exposure, the promise doesn’t match up to the reality.

    Free writing must be strategically placed in a clear view of what each writer wants for his or her writing.

    The problem arises when content strategies like the HuffPo’s lead to overall rates for all writers going down, because they can just find free content. And two, when new writers believe they can’t get paid for their writing when they can.

    Again, I’m all for middle ground, but I mainly prefer to be paid for my writing.

  17. I agree Susan. I have submitted short stories, flash fiction and essays to literary journals, knowing I would not receive pay. I did it for the exposure and to find out if a journal thought my writing worthy of publishing. Now I have published novels and have started blogging on my web site. I like to write and I like to blog. I do it for no pay because I enjoy it and love it when someone enjoys reading what I write. I have been thrilled when BlogHer publishes my blogs. Maybe I’m too new to care, but I enjoy the exposure and acceptance in a community of creative people. I love to see what an editor can do to my pieces. I’m easy and too old to take advantage of such a thing. However, I think if a blogger wants pay, they should submit to paying platforms. I wish I could say I had been published on HuffPo. When I am, I will say hooray and move on, thanks to my mentor.

  18. Yes! It took me a while to figure out that I should not submit original posts to sites like Huff Po and Good Men Project but now I have it down. GMP in particular “pays” in non monetary ways…training, a great syndication network, and excellent access to editors. Plus…if you are willing to spend the time to use their site back end you can earn money. Which pretty much rounds down to zero unless your post goes viral. I have been waiting for a response like yours. You hit all of the points. There are times that my writing is worth less than zero. I feel I should be sending readers money back for time wasted.

  19. I agree with everything you said. Wholeheartedly agree. I think it’s interesting that HuffPost is the largest online media outlet to become unionized. Their writers and staff lobbied for it and HuffPost agreed. That’s a good precedent I think we can all get behind. The other thing I’d point out is this interesting article by Nate Silver at the NY Times. He does his numbers thing and breaks it down, what most of these blog posts are worth. The bottom line is most of our posts don’t do much for HuffPost. They don’t really bring traffic or views which is what advertisers look at. Basically, we are getting free real estate there. And if one of our posts does well and ends up on the front page and gets a lot of traffic? We get the “exposure” that we all want. http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/the-economics-of-blogging-and-the-huffington-post/?_r=0

  20. Ok, I feel better now. I have only been paid one time in my first year of writing. I am not a writer anyway, so lucky for me someone thought I was, wait ,more than once. I think I have written now for 5 different sites. So I am having fun. cookinginthejungle.com

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