Writing for Free

By posted at 9:48 am on August 3, 2009 5

This HuffPo writer is right. Not paying writers is not a business model. Or if it is, it’s not a sustainable model. She touches on many good points in this debate, namely that only those that can afford to write for free will do so, meaning that we’ll increasingly be hearing from the idle rich almost exclusively.

There’s a voguish notion going around, espoused vocally by Chris Anderson as he stumps for his book Free but also creeping into job listings for any number of online publications, that you write for free in order to make a name for yourself and to get your personal brand out there. Once you’ve got sixty posts under your belt at HuffPo, the idea goes, you can take your “clips” and go find a paying gig or pitch a book or get speaking engagements.

If you are a good enough writer, you can probably jumpstart a career this way (though if you’re good enough you probably didn’t need a jumpstart in the first place), but do not operate under illusion that when someone invites you to write regularly for free, you are anything more than a cog in their pageview-generating machine. Paying writers nothing is just a way to increase profit margin.

Certainly, times are tough and its hard to make a living wage as a writer these days, but if a place fancies itself a business, then it can afford to pay you something, maybe not much, but more than nothing.

If you can find no one to pay you to write, start your own website and write for free for yourself. You won’t feel like you’re getting ripped off, and any success you find will flow directly to you, not the pageview counters who cash the checks. The tools that let you showcase your own writing online are free, easy to use, and plentiful, so it’s worth putting out your shingle and seeing if anyone shows up.

(This item also appears alongside responses from Eve Batey and Richard Nash at The Rumpus.)

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5 Responses to “Writing for Free”

  1. Emre
    at 8:08 am on August 4, 2009

    I don't know what Anderson is smoking, but he sure is living by the concept he espouses:

    I'm still befuddled by this notion of free labor/content. Call me old school, but I really don't think this will work. And if it must, I agree with Max that each should make it work for his/her benefit/satisfaction.

  2. Jim
    at 8:17 am on August 4, 2009

    Amen! A fair day's wage (or at least A wage) for a fair day's work. If I'm going to work for free, I'll put all my energies into my blog as I do now. No clip is worth it. Okay, most clips aren't worth it.

  3. Jennings
    at 3:40 pm on August 7, 2009

    Every author should be paid for their work.. it's hard to do! Blogs should be sponsored and books written should be paid for. period.

  4. My Literary Blog of the Week – The Millions « Annette Dunlea Literary Blog
    at 7:25 pm on August 17, 2009

    […] Writing for Free 3 […]

  5. What’s the Buzz: Lit Sites Add Ads; Seeking Sustainable Arts Journalism | Publishing Perspectives
    at 3:18 am on August 18, 2009

    […] The change, says GalleyCat, is so they can pay their contributors. Recent essays posted onĀ  The Millions and The Rumpus addressed the very idea of writing for free being pushed by folks like Chris […]

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