Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do you write for free?

Lately, I’ve been getting a stream of emails from editors of online magazines asking if I would like to be a contributing writer.

These emails have a few things in common:

They often praise my blog or other articles I’ve written.

They say I’d be the perfect writer for their website or magazine.

They offer no mention of payment.

When and if I inquire further, the answer is usually, “Well, we hope to pay our writers in the future, but for right now, we pay in links.”

My response?


My feeling is, you want a professional writer? One that would be perfect for your website or magazine? Then you should pay them.

Would you approach an IT professional and ask for free services? Or a lawyer?

Case closed. This is an overused topic on most writing blogs, so I won’t say much more. Except to encourage all writers to know your worth. It’s not necessary to write for free even if you’re trying to build a writing portfolio. There are local newspapers. There are trade magazines. And yes, there are even websites that pay.

What’s even more amazing is that editors are even asking established writers to contribute for free. I’ve been writing for magazines and newspapers for seven years now, and the requests to write for free still keep coming in. Luckily though, to balance out these requests, there are real assignments that get offered as well.

Have you gotten requests to write for payment in links? If so, how do you respond? Should writers write for free?


  1. I often get approached to write for free or for links and sometimes I do. I have a book to sell and a platform to maintain. However, I think that, as you say, you should know your worth and I am careful not to spend most of my time doing free stuff. On the other hand, most writers will tell you that there is more work to be done after the book is out, that there was in writing it. Book signings, talks etc are usually done for free and all in the name of book promotion, so I view link-payment along the same lines. You have to look at the exposure it will get you. It's not worth writing for free if the web site has less readers than you do.

  2. The free writing requests are definitely on the increase for me.

    I took the approach of writing for free to 'build exposure' for about 6-12 months then realised things wouldn't change unless I started to say 'no' and instead pursue the paying gigs. It is incredible how many times I've asked whether there is payment for a particular piece of writing only to be told the article will be good for my blog or personal exposure alone... and I've tried to analyse the results after and haven't been that impressed with the hits/page views/whatever you like.

    The paying gigs don't seem to be that easy to locate as there are SO MANY expat writers out there quite happily writing for any medium for free (and of varying writing abilities, it has to be said). It's definitely a hard nut to crack but onwards and upwards as they say!

  3. I think it has to do with your goals. True, if you have a book to sell or a business to promote then it may make sense to write articles as a promotional tool. But if you're just writing to write, then not so much.

  4. Hi, Chantal,
    I think that the innate need for writers to be read often drives us to write for free. Those of us who don't have a book or international pub credits still want to be as widely read as possible. I have worked as a PR writer for years but want so much for my "real" writing to be not only worth reading but worth paying for. Yet I blog and contribute a non-paying online magazine more so to feed my yearning to be read than to feed my children. But I have been frustrated in finding paying markets for personal essays. I've started to check out the literary markets. In some ways the Internet has hurt writers as much as it has helped get the "words" out. Why should anyone pay to read when there is so much out there for free?

  5. You're right - there's been a ton written and said on this subject already. I've spouted enough of it myself (this week, in fact). So I'll share another story.

    Weirdest response I've gotten to date, Chantal, was a few weeks ago. I queried a magazine editor. She wrote back "How much?"

    Huh? Isn't that within her budget and capabilities to tell me that? I knew then it was a lost cause, so I gave her my usual rate, to which she replied ever-so-professionally "No thanks. We don't need it."

    Guess what I uttered under my breath? ;-)

  6. No offers just yet. Though, I am glad I found your blog to read this, especially being new on the circuit. I know offers came for artists to basically give their art and such but I had no idea the same offer came for writers. Thanks for the warning and advice.

  7. I was approached to write a guest post for a very well-known travel brand's blog and despite my misgivings, I caved in. I wasn't desperately impressed with the subsequent increase in traffic so I'm unsure whether I'll do it again.

    I was motivated in part to say yes by the fact that it was clear from the email I received that the content manager had read my blog carefully and therefore was being genuine when he said he liked what he saw - flattery will get you everywhere it seems ;)

    I agree with the other commenters who said that sometimes we writers are undone by our desperate need to be read. I've been writing an expat blog about life in Prague for the past two years and although I've had lots of nice feedback I'm yet to work out how to really turn it into a moneyspinner. It's definitely the fact that I have a nice audience out there that keeps me going - but who knows if that will be enough to sustain my motivation long-term...

    Here's the link to my corner of cyberspace in case you're interested:

  8. P.S Nice blog, glad I stumbled across it!

  9. Amanda,
    I agree that the internet has definitely changed things for many artists, writers and photographers included. People think because there is so much out there, they shouldn't have to pay. But quantity doesn't equal quality. Quality must be paid for.
    I've had the same question from editors, which puts writers in a tough place. You want the job, but you also don't want to sell yourself short.
    I think guest posts are fine if you really enjoy the blog. There's nothing wrong with writing for free if you have reasons for it. Thanks for reading and welcome.

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