Monday, 28 January 2013

Writing For Free

The topic of writing for free seems to be popular at the moment, so I thought I’d add my take on the subject. (There’s an article on the subject in the latest issue of Writers’ Forum magazine, Alex Gazzola has written a post on his blog, and the topic has cropped up in a couple of Facebook groups too.)

Many writers are horrified to hear about others writing for free. It does them out of a job, they argue, and they have a point. To use the example that writers often trot out on this topic, who expects a plumber to come out and work for free? But, if two plumbers knocked on your door and one offered to charge £80 for the job, whereas the other was prepared to do it for free, which one would you choose? (Mind you, which one would you expect would do a better job: the plumber charging for their expertise and skill, or the one who doesn’t value their craft?)

Of course, whether you should write for free is something that only you can decide. Have I written for free? Yes. But there’s usually a benefit for me, for doing so. As an author, I’ve occasionally written free articles to help publicise my books. Sometimes, I’ve offered free articles as an investment in potential future work, which has resulted in opportunities.

There are also other times when I write for free. I like to support a couple of small organisations for writers with free articles, because they helped me so much at the start of my writing career. And, occasionally, I submit to anthologies that are produced for charitable purposes.

At the start of their writing career, some writers are so keen to see their name in print, they’re happy to write for free. And, on occasions, there can be some merit in this. Being published might provide the motivation to start on the next project. It might give the writer the confidence to try a bigger, paying, market in the future. And being able to tell an editor that you’ve been published in XYZ magazine can be useful (especially as most editors won’t know how much XYZ magazine paid you, even if it was zilch).

But you should always be sensible and realistic. Would you expect Cosmopolitan, or Good Housekeeping magazine not to pay their writers? If a publication charges advertisers for advertising within its pages, then it should be paying its writers for the work they produce to appear within those pages. It is those written words that attract the readers to buy the publication in the first place - not the advertisements.

There are many small press publications out there who claim to operate on tight budgets - and many do. Some claim they don’t have the resources to pay for submissions. Others work hard to offer something, even if it only amounts to a few pounds. At least those that offer a minuscule payment acknowledge that a writer should be paid for their craft.

Even writers who (pay to) enter writing competitions do so in the hope that they will win … and be paid for their efforts in prize money.

So, in my view, writing for free has its place, but it should be a small part of a writer’s productivity. If you value your craft, then you should target most of your work at markets who are prepared to put a monetary value to that craft. For someone like me, writing for free doesn’t put a roof over my head or food on the table.

Good luck.


  1. About 12 years ago, I was asked to write each month for a local magazine. They paid me £100 for a short piece of humorous faction (yes, with an a.) I happened to mention this in a class I taught and one of my students offered them the same number of words for free.
    At least she got her come-uppance as the magazine folded after her first free piece. I'm not saying it was so bad that she caused the closure but it damned well served her right.
    Anything I've written for free has been for the same reasons as you mention above.

  2. Perhaps the magazine folded because of all of the money they were paying you ;-)

    But as you say, that writer certainly got her come-uppance!

  3. Yes this is always an emotive subject. For me the bottom line is writers should not be abused - so if the publication is sold and makes profit then they should pay their contributors. But, of course, with times being hard and paid opportunities dwindling writers may opt to write for free to keep their name in print.

    1. Yes, Rob, writers shouldn't be abused. But it takes two to Tango, as they say, so if writers don't want to be abused then they shouldn't work for those publications. The professional publications are the ones who talk money upfront. There are some out there!

  4. A few months ago, I was finding it difficult to interest magazines in an article I'd written about the Exmoor ponies on my local Nature Reserve.(Cossington Meadows--as seen recently on Countryfile). Had tried Horse,Country mags etc.with no success. So finally I approached a local magazine(v. glossy and full of expensive property ads).They published the article with photos and to be fair, it was a v. profesional job. However, I received not a penny! I don't think I shall make that mistake again.

  5. Aha: wondered where the traffic was coming from!

    Maureen - did you enquire about a fee? From the way you describe it, it sounds as if you just accepted the fact that no money ever arrived. It may not be too late. "Just realised I didn't check the fee - what should I invoice you for?" or somesuch might do the trick ....


    1. Hi Alex,

      Glad you're getting 'traffic'. :-)

      Yes, Maureen, I agree with Alex. Drop the magazine an email and ask them where to send your invoice to, and how much to make it out for. All is not lost yet.

  6. Meant to add: funny how topics seem to come around in 'clusters'. I hadn't actually seen WF this month. Something in the writerly 'ether'?