If you write for free from time to time, you’re not alone. Many of us writers do. Maybe it’s because we look at our craft as a gift, a calling, or something we do for the love of it. We don’t generally view writing as a job. Yet, it is hard work and, like any vocation, worthy of compensation. So is it wrong to write for free? Yes and no. Writing for free makes sense sometimes and can even profit you; it can also be counterproductive and lead to a dead end.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you decide when you should and shouldn’t write for free:
- Do write for free when you’re just getting started as a writer and you need to build credits.
- Do write for free when it’s for a worthy publication, like a newsletter for a respected nonprofit.
- Do write for free if you get valuable recognition in return—a huge readership and a link to your website, for example.
- Do write for free if you’re returning a favor, such as writing a guest blog for a blogger who wrote one for you or sharing your knowledge with the writing community that nurtured you.
- Do write for free if it’ll lead to paid gigs, like writing for a startup e-zine that will pay in the future or a client who will recommend you to other, paying markets.
- Do write for free if it’s for something near-and-dear to your heart. Examples: a family history project, a memoir to share with loved ones, or a comforting poem to a sick friend.
- Do write for free when you need the practice.
- Don’t write for free if you have advanced from a beginning writer and have paid your dues writing for free.
- Don’t write for free if you can sell your work to a paying competitor and there’s no good reason not to (see above "dos").
- Don’t write for free if you’re only doing it because you think it’s easier to get published that way. Break free of that mindset—it’s unproductive and untrue!
- Don’t write for free simply to avoid rejection. There’s plenty of it in nonpaying markets too.
Writing for free definitely has its moments. So go ahead, give away your gift without pay—when it makes more sense to do so. But for all the other times, take the money you deserve. Either way, your hard work should always be recognized with more than just a nod or a pat on the back.