Writing 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.
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!