Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing for Free

This topic comes up every so often -- should you write for free?

While there are enough harden writers out there who say no way, never, I think it depends on the circumstance.

My church asked me to work on a writing project, and I said yes. It's a volunteer thing. Even though I might be the only professional within the publishing business who is volunteering for this project, I think it is important to lend your talents to causes that are important to you. Sure, I hope that others in our community take note of my work and give me a call about job opportunities down the road, but that would be nothing more than icing on top of the satisfaction of doing something for the good of the whole.

And I love to write essays and even some fiction every so often. I've sold my essays, but really, the writing is for my enjoyment first and foremost. Again, anything I sell is icing on the cake. The fiction? Hoo boy, let me tell you, that's all writing for free because nobody would ever pay me for that.

Oh and I don't mind blogging for free because I like having a soap box.

If a magazine said, "You're untested. So you write this article for free, and then we'll decide whether or not to give you a contract," that's a tough one if you are a new writer. That's on spec, and I've been down that road. I felt that flutter in my heart when I saw the phrase, "I'd like you to write this article," and I felt my heart sink like a stone when I read the rest, "on spec. If we decide to accept the article . . ."

But I'd let the flutter get the better of me. The first on spec piece I wrote sold straight off. The second, sent with more confidence than the first, turned out to be a spectacular waste of time. She put me through 3 rewrites and then turned it down. I wrote a spec piece for another magazine I wanted to break into -- turned down immediately, without rewrites. The last time I worked on spec was for a pretty glossy pub that I saw as my chance to break into a much-coveted genre. A friend warned me, "don't write on spec!" I had my own lessons of how it can bite you in the butt, but I REALLY wanted this opportunity.

I wrote the article. I rewrote the article. I agonized over it. I sent it. I never heard another word from the editor. Ever. Despite follow up messages and a phone call.

I did eventually sell a version of that piece, but it was extra work to do so.

I learned my lesson though. While I might volunteer my writing services for an organization I volunteer for otherwise, my business is a different story. It's my job to earn money by my writing, and when I'm working with a magazine from the get-go, it doesn't help me or my business to offer them my hard work for nothing.

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