>Should You Write for Free?

>It’s a question that never goes away. In fact, with so many ways of publishing on the Internet for no money, the question becomes increasingly important. Should you?

An e-mail friend named Candace recently sent me a link to an article she had done for an online pub called Neighborhood Life. It’s a thing of beauty, a meditation on her neighborhood, illustrated with wonderful photos. The package makes a clip she can be proud of. I asked if she was paid, thinking maybe this would be a good market. Nope, not a cent. Did I blow it, she asked. Does working for free make it harder for other writers to get paid?

Well, I won’t be writing for them because I know I can do similar articles elsewhere for money, but that doesn’t mean other writers shouldn’t. I suggested that the answer is much like the old parental warning that you have to eat your vegetables because people are starving in other countries. How does your not eating spinach have any effect on them? It doesn’t.

I think the same can be true in writing articles for free. If the publication truly cannot afford to pay anyone, you’re not taking money from other writers if you decide to write for them. If, however, they really do have money and are just taking advantage of writers, that’s another story.

How do you know if they’re short on funds or just scamming you? Take a look at the publication. Who’s putting it out? A small non-profit group or a big corporation? Do they run any advertising? If it’s a print newspaper, is it printed on high-quality paper with fabulous art? Do they have a sizable staff or run syndicated articles? If they can afford that stuff, they can afford to pay you. Tell them straight out that you need to be paid or you can’t work for them.

Money is not the only reward for writing and publishing. A great clip may be worth doing a freebee. Or perhaps you want to write this article so much you don’t care whether you get paid or not. You just want to share the story that’s begging to get out. Maybe the article is your passport to other work on the subject. Maybe you just don’t need the money. Lucky you.

In any case, find out what or if they pay before you accept an assignment or send a completed article, and decide whether it’s worth the effort for you at this point in your career. Do you need the practice and the clip, or are you just submitting to this editor because you know she’ll say yes? I think it’s fine to write for free sometimes, but not if it keeps you from moving ahead in your career.

As always, I welcome your comments on the subject.