Writing for pay and for free

On my way to becoming a successful pro writer — not a glamorous writer of best-sellers, but one who makes a living working with words — I’m discovering a few things that are worth sharing. One is that it’s important to be clear on when you’re writing for pay and when you’re not. All of us write for free a lot of the time; no one’s paying me to write this post. We write for free to express our thoughts, to communicate with friends and businesses, to publicize ourselves, and to help people out. But we have to know which situation we’re in; the middle ground of vague promises offers only frustration.

One blog pulled me in with claims there would be payment out of advertising revenue. I wrote a couple of articles for them, and they got some favorable notice. After that, I held off on writing more till payment — at least a definite statement on payment for future articles — materialized. It never did. I asked on the blog’s private Facebook group what was or would be happening. The organizer’s answer was that I wasn’t getting any money because my articles didn’t have enough hits, and I wasn’t doing enough to publicize the blog.

That, of course, was the end of my dealings with that blog. The initial mistake was mine. I should have known from past experience with “payment” in equity that if there’s no promise of a minimum dollar amount, there’s very little chance of being paid at all. It’s better to write for free and know it than to accept a vague possibility of payment. We’re earning a living by running a business, and a clear line between paid and unpaid work is necessary to avoid being suckered.

Avoid the websites that say they’re giving you “exposure.” They mean that they want you to give them content for free. Guest blogging and other free contributions are fine, but they should be part of a networking strategy. Writing for a colleague’s or friend’s blog, especially for someone with a bigger audience than yours, can be valuable even without pay. If someone on Craigslist offers “valuable exposure” to writers, though, it’s not worth a moment’s attention. They’re just looking for free work.

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