Earlier this year, I was approached at my day job by a new, local magazine that was looking for advertisers. As a freelance writer, I inquired whether this new publication was looking for writers and I was met with a resounding, yes! I contacted the editor and included my resume and writing samples. When the editor responded and asked for some story ideas for the next issue, I offered an idea and an interview subject.
It was then I was informed that, as a new publication, contributing writers would be unpaid for the time being. I was asked, did that change my decision about wanting to contribute?
When I first started writing freelance for local magazines, I wrote for free. I was new to freelance writing and was desperate for a byline and for published writing samples to build up my resume. I wrote for free for two years – probably far longer than I should have. However, it was a consistent writing gig, and a great writing experience where I got to meet a lot of interesting people and build my writing resume.
With a solid portfolio of published samples and a history of bylines I had to decide, was I going to continue to write for free?
After some deliberation, I decided the answer was no, but was left feeling disappointed that I had to turn down the opportunity because I wouldn’t be paid for it. Does that make me selfish, greedy? Or am I justified in wanting to get paid for what I do?
There seems to be a belief that writing is easy. With so many people blogging and posting their opinions freely on the Internet, there is a myth that anyone can do it. But just because anyone can write, doesn’t mean they can write well. People also seem to think that because I am a writer, writing comes easy to me.
When I write, whether it is an article for a newspaper or magazine, a blog post, a short story or a novel, it is always hard work. I spend hours writing, rewriting, editing things out and then writing them back in.
For an article, I start with an interview. After the interview, I review our conversation, find an angle for the story and pull quotes to include that will enhance the story. Then the writing begins. It usually takes two or three tries before I find the right starting point for the story, and even once I do it is a process of writing, rewriting, and editing until I get the story to a point I feel happy with it. In the end, the per-hour pay is pretty minimal.
I don’t write because its easy, I write because I enjoy it. Being a writer certainly isn’t an easy way to pay the bills, even when the gigs are paying ones.
I understand that taking unpaid writing gigs is virtually unavoidable for a new writer breaking into publishing. But when it comes to writing for free, where do we draw the line?
Writers, how do you respond when someone asks you to write for free?