Archive for Writing

January 3, 2008

Should You Write for Free? 3 Tips for Freelancers

In a previous post, I cautioned unpublished writers about magazine markets that don’t pay. I stand by my statements: I think that magazine publishers should pay writers something for their work, even if it’s a token amount. Why? Because professionals should be paid for their services. In what other field are people routinely expected to donate their services to help someone else get his/her business off the ground?

However, I’m not saying writers should never write for free. I just think they should do it when the benefits outweigh the costs (time and effort) and when the working conditions are not one-sided in favor of the publisher. For some people, the benefits have nothing to do with business: they write for publications that support causes near and dear to their hearts or that cover topics about which they’re passionate. Altruism is a good thing.

But if your goal is to earn money as a writer and you have not yet signed your first contract, how do you know if writing for free would help your career? Unless you have a crystal ball, you won’t know for sure. But the following three questions can help you evaluate the costs/benefits of writing for free.

Question #1: What else can the publisher offer if they can’t give you cold, hard cash?

Examples include:

  • Large readership: How many readers will see your work?
  • Prestige: Is the publication (or editor/publisher) highly regarded in its field? Will another editor to whom you show the clip respect the publication?
  • Networking: What other industry connections does the publisher have that might lead to additional, paid work for you?
  • Longevity: Does the publication seem well managed and financed on the business end? It can be hard for a writer to find out, but it’s important to try. A byline in a flash-in-the-pan publication has very limited value.
  • Affiliation with new market or medium: Is the publication doing something original or breaking new ground in some noteworthy way?

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December 28, 2007

Breaking in as a Freelancer: Have Confidence

Are you desperate to get published, to get your first byline and clip to show friends, family, and especially editors you’d like to write for? Don’t be. And don’t let publishers make you feel like you should be.

No doubt, it can be hard to get your first magazine article published. Many editors like to work with previously published writers. The pressure to get that first byline is legitimate, even for published writers who are trying to break in to a new market.

photo of billiard balls breaking - do you need a big break?

Breaking in is hard to do

It’s the age-old question, but it’s not unique to writers: How am I supposed to get experience if no one will hire me? We all have to get that first job/clip/whatever for our resumes, regardless of the field.

That’s why unpublished writers should exhibit confidence when they interact with editors; in no way should they assume or behave as if freelance writing is different from other professions. We all need to get our foot in the door at least once.

Don’t Let Editors See You Sweat

To a certain degree, I’m echoing sentiments expressed a short while ago by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer Blog. Linda notes that writers should never let editors see them desperate for work. No matter how empty your bank account, Formichelli cautions, always present yourself in a positive, “how can I help you?” light.

That advice holds true whether you’ve published 200 articles or none. Editors shouldn’t see you as someone who so badly wants that first clip that you’ll accept just about any terms they toss your way.

As I mentioned in my previous post, in a recent call for submissions, a magazine editor announced that she needs several articles for her next issue. Unfortunately, it’s a nonpaying market. As compensation for published articles, writers will receive two subscriptions to the magazine, a $55 value.

I’ll write more about weighing the decision to write for free in another post. For now, let’s just say that writing for free does sometimes, under the right circumstances, have benefits.

But this editor also wants writers to work on spec, to submit articles that she may then hold for as long as six months before making a go/no-go decision. That means a writer could spend tens of hours researching and writing an article that never had a chance of being published in that magazine. And while the editor takes up to six months to decide whether she wants to publish it, the article is worthless to the writer, who can’t shop it around to other markets.
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December 20, 2007

How to Handle Publishers Who Don’t Want to Pay Writers

Remember, writers:

  • Beware editors/publishers asking for free content.
  • Beware editors/publishers who want you to help them get their publication off the ground (by way of your free labor).
  • Beware editors/publishers who try to convince you that they’re doing you a favor or that you need a break to get published.

A call for submissions to a nonpaying magazine market appeared on a Yahoogroups writers’ list I subscribe to. Unfortunately, work-for-no-pay is not terribly uncommon with new, small magazines. Thumb through the Writer’s Market and you’ll find plenty of consumer magazines claiming their budgets are too tight or their businesses too new to pay writers for their work.

You’ll also find that most nonpaying markets have awfully high standards for work they want done for free. What ever happened to “you get what you pay for”? (Kidding — we should always put our best foot forward.) I’m amazed at the arrogance of some of the ads — you’d think that they’d be begging for submissions and kissing writers’ butts.

But they’re not. And that’s because they don’t have to. There seems to be no bottom to the pool of writers willing to give someone else’s business free stuff in exchange for seeing their name in print or pixels. The call for submissions that came through last night was particularly ballsy, though. The editor/publisher wants writers to:

  • Blindly submit completed articles of up to 2000 words (who needs that pesky query process?)
  • Submit their work by January 5 (the post was written on Dec. 18)
  • Accept two annual subscriptions (two subscriptions for one year, not one two-year subscription; $55 total value), a byline and brief bio, and two copies of the issue as “payment” for their professionally written article(s)
  • Wait up to six months to find out if the article will be published or rejected
  • To “sell” (somehow, without any money exchanging hands) first North American serial rights to the publication

Obviously, the magazine is offering very little in return for someone’s hard work. The burden lies entirely with the writer, while the publication will commit to nothing, not even a quick turn-around on their go/no-go decision. And they don’t seem to value the query process — they expect writers to hurry up, write a long, quality article, submit the work, and then cross their fingers that the article will be accepted and published. All of this for not a single penny.
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