On the IWW writing list, someone asked if she should write for free to advertise her services? My answer is an emphatic, “No.” Before I tell you why you shouldn’t work for free, I’ll confess that in the distant past when I was transitioning out of public relations I wrote book reviews for online sites. But there was an exchange between a free book and a review. I saved thousands of dollars because I didn’t need to buy books. I have also bartered for services. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I no longer write for editors who think that paying me less than a nickel a word is a sufficient rate.
Why not work for next to nothing or for free?
Simply because it’s work. Just because I sit in my home-office surrounded by my dogs doesn’t mean that I don’t have to research, read through material, conduct interviews, write and revise numerous drafts.
To some people that might not seem like work, but every word that’s written is carefully thought out. The content of the topic has to make sense to the reader. It’s not gibberish. To write cogent copy takes time, expertise, and that’s a service I provide for a price. I don’t need clips for exposure, I have them. I don’t need to write on spec because I have numerous writing samples, ranging from press releases to web copy to articles to this blog, which proves I’m able to write on a number of topics.
As writers we need to stand united. I know times are difficult, but we can’t be accepting assignments that amount to pennies per word or don’t pay at all. When just one of us accepts an assignment from content mills or from a potential client for free, you do a disservice to yourself and to other writers. You devalue your worth and your talent, but also our profession. And trust me on this, once you accept an assignment that’s free or next to nothing, your client will take advantage of your time and come back to you repeatedly for copy changes. A three hour writing assignment will become the project that ate up the entire day, and for what? Nothing.
As tempting as it may appear to work for free to get noticed by potential clients, don’t do it. You’re a writer not a chump. Just the way you wouldn’t work for a company that pays below minimum wage, don’t take on any assignment for free.