To Free or Not to Free

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgWriting for free is a Gordian knot of should I or shouldn’t I for writers. Do we devalue our work, and by extension ourselves, by submitting to publications that don’t pay for the work they publish? Are a couple of copies adequate payment and, if so, do I declare that on my tax return? Is “exposure” worth the hours put into an article, story, or blog post?

I know the answer for myself. I work for free when I want to, for the reasons I need to justify to no one. But in the spirit of openness, I will share my personal rules for writing for free:

~ I might donate a story to an anthology that benefits a charity or cause.

~ I might donate an article, interview, etc. to promote an event or organization if I am involved.

~ I might donate my time to judge contests or give workshops that encourage young writers.

~ I might donate a story to a publication attached to a university or other non-profit.

~ I might donate my time to a school or public library.

~ I might donate a workshop at a library or arts organization I wish to assist.

~ I might donate editing services to a non-profit that has helped to advance my career or promotes a cause I support.

~ I might donate my time, work, or expertise in any situation not listed here but feels right to me, for whatever reason.

I have done every one of the above within the last year, and I’m comfortable with the level of my freebie work. I’ve also turned down invitations because, frankly, I may be willing to help my community but if a government entity, such as a county, has a financial surplus at the end of the year, and they want to hold an event, and they want me to work it—they need to pay me.

But enough about that.

Why is free or not free controversial within the writing community? Some say providing work without payment brings down the entire industry because free content means publications don’t need to pay anyone, and that hurts any writer trying to make a living via her pen. Writing for free is not professional. Giving away work in exchange for exposure is a fool’s choice because that exposure rarely translates to dollar signs.

All of the above is true, to some degree, but the operative word is choice. There are many ways to bring down an industry. Producing a shoddy product. Flooding the market with the same old, same old. Putting off your buyers by too aggressive sales pitches. Monkeying with awards. Maybe working for free belongs in this paragraph, but again, it’s a choice, just like traditional publishing is a choice and self-publishing is a different choice.

This year, I received a lovely writing grant from the state of Delaware. It requires me to do certain things–not all choices, but I’m cool with that. The grant does not require me to offer the free workshop below, but I am choosing to offer it because I have been fortunate in 2016 and I am filled with goodwill. I want to share the good karma. If you are nearby that day, I hope you will attend.

As for writing for free or for a fee—it’s a free country. Do what makes you feel comfortable, what you can afford, and no explanations necessary. But, if you are on the other end and ask a writer to participate in an event or contribute to a writing project that doesn’t pay, understand that they may refuse, and that’s okay too.

 Writers Workshop

Join Delaware Division of the Arts’ 2016 Masters Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction winner Ramona DeFelice Long for a casual and creative discussion of Creative Nonfiction, Writing Goals & Planning, and a Q&A on Submissions and Publishing.

Sunday, March 20, 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Kirkwood Library Community Room, 6000 Kirkwood Highway, Wilmington, DE

 Free and open to the public. No registration necessary!



4 thoughts on “To Free or Not to Free

  1. I agree with you on almost every point, Ramona, but I think one thing is overlooked. A very large majority of outstanding journals have staff that work for free and without those dedicated volunteers those journals would cease to exist, thereby making it harder for writers to find places to publish their work. I certainly am not advocating lowering standards (some of these journals are really tough to get into). In fact, some of the best writing I’ve seen recently has been in those journals staffed by volunteers. Do we want to get paid for our work? Of course that would be the ideal. But in demanding that ideal in every instance do we threaten the existence of some really outstanding publications? Yes, it is a choice by both the writer and the editorial staff to write and work for free. I am on both ends of that stick. I appreciate being paid for my submitted work but if a journal doesn’t have the means, that’s okay, too. And I love assisting writers in getting their work out to the reading public. Of note: it is particularly hard for poets to get paid which is why most of the “big” names that we recognize have other jobs. Not ideal, but, oh, my, what would we do without them?


    1. Linda, I agree with all you wrote, and that’s why I left the broad disclaimer as my final point. It’s up to the writer to decide under what terms she wants to submit her work. There are writers out there decrying any publication that does not offer its contributors a fee. I am not in that camp. It’s up to the author to make the choice she can live with. Telling someone else his or her choice is wrong is not okay with me.


  2. Ramona, as always, such a thoughtful post. What I noticed about your list is that you’re making sure that the organizations are ones who 1) perform “service” (e.g. serving a community that is under- or un- served and 2) aren’t backed in a way that makes paying writers particularly easy. It gets my goat when places that are well funded and charge submission fees won’t even pay a token amount. But for other places, many times it’s writers supporting one another and that seems like a good thing.


  3. Ramona, I’m so sorry I missed the news about your grant. Sometimes I’m such a dunce. I’m really happy for you. Congratulations!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s