Don't Write For Free! (When You Should Give Away Writing and When You Shouldn't)

Today, I was scanning through some of my leads for paying writing jobs so I could post them on the forum for the paying writing leads section, and I ran across something that I see once in awhile. It was an online magazine that requested writers, had some pretty stringent guidelines, and then I look for the payments to writers, and I find there isn’t any payment. That’s bad enough. I mean, content and writing is what gets people to a website, and getting people to the website is what results in making money. So asking people to do work that makes someone money without being willing to pay them for that work is just wrong.

But it is abhorrent when that wrongness is coupled with something like this true, copied and pasted statement:

we cannot pay contributors for their published pieces, but we hope seeing the literary product of your hardwork and passion in electronic print will fill you with joy and a sense of accomplishment.

You know, joy doesn’t pay my bills and a sense of accomplishment doesn’t keep the lights on. I would never ask someone to change the brakes on my car and tell them I’m going to pay them with a sense of accomplishment and joy for the job.

Why, why, why do people think we should consider it an HONOR to be published? It’s not an honor. It’s the result of hard work, experience, practice and skill. While I won’t go so far as to say that the websites we submit to should be honored to publish our work, they should at least be willing to pay us for the work, skill and talent. As they say down here in Texas, this just chaps my hide.

Okay, so no one outside of the movies says that in Texas, but you get the idea.

Not JUST anyone can write. I know intelligent professional people who are very successful in their careers who hire me to write their correspondence when it matters, because writing is not their strong suit. There is a talent that is innate for some people who just have a way with words. For some, writing doesn’t come easily. For some, it does. But we shouldn’t have to give away our talent just because it might be easy for us.

We writers provide a skill and a product – our writing and the works we write – and those writings have a value. If you want content, be prepared to pay for the value the content will provide you. Low wages and content mills are bad enough at exploiting writers for low pay, but ones who want to pay us in joy and gratitude need to be stopped.

This particular website that wants use to be thrilled and happy with our accomplishment requires first electronic rights and demands that we give them credit for being the first publisher if we republish that work anywhere. (shaking head)

REAL PUBLISHERS PAY

Real publishers pay their writers, period. They don’t make you pay a fee to join their site. They don’t make you pay a membership fee to get a job with them, and they don’t make you work for free. The only exception to the membership fee are the bidding sites – some of them charge a fee, but you have to decide whether it’s worth it for you or not. The most a real publisher will ever ask you to pay is to buy a past copy of the publication to see what type of writing they publish. Some good publishers will even offer writers reduced rate sample back copies upon request.

WHEN CAN I GIVE AWAY MY WRITING?

When and only when you choose to do so. EzineArticles asks you to put up articles on their site for free. It’s no secret that they make money from Adsense revenue when you put things up on their site. They are a business and have staff, so they have to pay the bills. They don’t, however, pay you for your content. Why would anyone want to write for them, since I’m saying only write for sites that pay authors?

The answer has to do with VALUE. There are other ways to be paid than cash. Joy and gratitude doesn’t pay the bills and does little to help feed the belly. EzineAticles lets you put up your outbound links, your bio, share your website and information with others, and market yourself, your website and your products on their site, which is open to any number of people who need content, provided they link back to you. The traffic that can come from this is real and measurable, and it’s targeted traffic. Would I write for EzineArticles just for fun? Nope. But I do write for them now and again to help build credibility and links for my website and my services. There’s value in that.

But these other sites that have very low PageRanks in Google and have little to no traffic percentage (total traffic and how much each page gets are two very different things — after all a site with one hundred thousand pages that only gets 50,000 page views per day is only getting traffic to half the site – which is how content mills work. Quantity beats out quality, and it’s why you get paid so little but they make so much.). These content sites with lower traffic, lower PR, no advertising or marketing of which to speak are making money on your breaking back and you won’t make much if at all. The links you get are usually nofollow links, which means the search engines don’t even see them, if the links are even live and active links anyway.

BUT I NEED EXPOSURE

Buy a trench coat and flash people if you need exposure, but don’t give away your writing for free. There are many, many, many magazines and paying websites that specifically say they hire new writers or writers without track records or tear sheets or clips. Write up two or three really good, edited, professional works as a representative sampling of the style and tone you usually write with and use those for your clips if you are unpublished or underpublished.

DO NOT give away your writing just to get a clip. Believe it or not, some publishers will look at an unpaid clip as a sign that you are not a professional and that unpaid writing credit will hurt your chances more than not being published at all.

You need to find a place that has at least moderate editorial control (and that is NOT Associated Content, btw. Their review is only to tell you if they’ll pay you, not to provide any editorial feedback.)

BUT THEY’LL GIVE ME A BYLINE!

Uhm, getting a byline when you write an article is sort of standard operating procedure. You absolutely should get credit for what you write and a byline is something you should just expect, not something that should be negotiated as a reason not to pay you.

NOT KNOCKING CONTENT MILLS

Unlike some professional freelancers, I won’t knock the content mills. They have their purpose, if you use them right, but don’t expect them to lead you to fame or fortune. They really aren’t even a stepping stone in that direction. They are, however, a good place to put up articles you don’t or can’t sell anywhere else that you just don’t want to mess with anymore. You can make a little money from it and it won’t be a complete loss. They can also be a good place to put up stuff you wouldn’t want to sell anywhere else, such as things of a personal nature but information that you might not put on a blog or to write a column of sorts and gain some readership. However, I still highly recommend that people get their own website and write content and market that website. You’d be amazed how much you can make if you take the time to research and learn the ins and outs and then do the work for yourself rather than doing the promoting for another site that will pay you pennies.

I’m working on a nonfiction e-book right now that will tell you guys exactly how to break out of the content mill gerbil wheel. Stay tuned for more on that.

Later tonight, or first thing in the morning, I’ll announce the winner of the first book giveaway I did here on my blog. I’ll also be announcing the next book giveaway, which will be a different type of book, so stay tuned for that announcement and the new giveaway contest.

Until then, keep writing. And remember: publications and publishers pay you to write, not the other way around. Also, while it’s okay to take pride and joy in your accomplishments and your writing, pride and joy don’t pay the bills. Call and ask your electric company; they’ll verify.

Love and stuff,

Michy