Writing for Free - Okay, or Not?

Most writers battle this question several times in the course of their career. Do unpaid writing assignments offer any non-monetary benefits or do they just put you up for exploitation? When I started out as a freelance writer, I did write for free on more than a few occasions. However, it was a calculated career move and I didn’t ‘give away’ my writing to just about anybody. Whenever I was faced with an opportunity to write for free, I would always ask myself: “am I doing this for the right reasons?”

Here, I would like to enlist what I believe are the WRONG reasons for taking up unpaid writing jobs:

  • “My writing is not good enough for paid markets”
  • “He/she is an old friend/ colleague. It would be rude to charge”
  • “I need to ‘test the waters’ before I plunge into professional writing”
  • “Unpaid assignments will provide me with experience and prepare me to take up paid ones”
  • “I have to begin SOMEWHERE!”

Some writers won’t touch a writing assignment unless it has a price tag attached to it while others dish out free content without a second thought. I see myself somewhere between the two extremes, leaning more towards the former.

When is it OK to write for free?

To build your portfolio: Writers are no good unless they do some smart marketing for themselves. This may include guest submissions on popular blogs or writing for reputed article directories such as Ezine Articles and Hub Pages. Not only does this allow you to reach out to larger audience and build an online presence, it also establishes you as a specialist on the subject. As long as it helps build your brand as a writer and bring in new business, free is good.

For practice and fun: Soldiers seldom forget to clean and service their weapons even when they are not at war. When paid assignments are a trickle, use your spare hours to polish your writing skills. Write as prolifically as you can without worrying about the money. Blogs, journals, article rewrites – just about anything to keep dust and rust away.

For a cause: Is there a cause/ organization that you strongly support? It may be alright to use your pen power towards charity.

When is it not OK to write for free?

The ‘free sample’If you have just stepped into the world of freelance writing, you are probably willing to go any lengths to bag a new project. Be wary of “free sample scams” that exploit writers and fleece them of time, energy and money. Scammers usually ask hundreds of applicants to submit a free sample, use all of them and pay/hire no one. Most clients would be happy to accept a previously published sample of your writing and pay for any samples they ask you to submit (irrespective of whether they hire you or not). This does not imply that anyone who asks for a free sample is out to plunder you. Sometimes, a client may want articles on a niche subject or in a particular style/tone. If you do not have any published samples to show, you may write a short piece (250-300 words) on a relevant topic for the client to assess your skills. Some projects, however, involve writing to a specified brief and may require a customized sample. In that case, you may claim copyright over the free sample article and prohibit the client for using the material unless it is paid for.

To see your name in printSeeing their name in a byline is every writer’s dream and who understands this more than editors and publishers? Any publication that says “we are not able to pay for submissions at the moment but we would be happy to publish your article with a byline” is not doing you a favor. Rather, they are running a print/online magazine on a breezy budget. Invest your efforts in pitching to a paying market instead.
Do you write for free? Do share your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. We ask writers to provide a sample of 3000 words based on a creative writing brief. This is always focused on a project but 9 out of 10 writers dont get the work. Is this writing for free or just selling your skills? We are based in the UK, however we find that the quality of writing in the English language in India is excellent and the costs are lower. I would be interested to know if you think this is exploitative?


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