It appears the matter of whether or not you should be prepared to give your writing away for free is up for debate. A simple online search will bring up advice from some respected writers insisting that there’s nothing wrong with occasionally working for free and advice from others telling you not to even consider it. So, what’s the deal?
We believe that you can ask yourself one simple question in order to answer the question of whether or not you should write for free: are you (or do you want to be) a professional writer? If your answer is yes, then that settles it. You should not write for free. Here are a few reasons why.
Someone else is profiting off your work
Keep in mind that under this definition of “writing for free,” we’re not referring to personal writing you use to express yourself and interest on a daily basis. Personal blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and comments, diary entries, emails and letters to friends and family, etc. Assuming these items are never intended to make money, then there’s no need to charge for them.
If, on the other hand, you’re writing something that is meant to generate traffic, appeal to a paid readership, or promote another business or service—you should get paid for your contribution!
If the content you’re producing is somehow involved in the stream of commerce, don’t exclude yourself from the cycle.
You diminish your professional value
You probably wouldn’t be expected to be paid for one of your hobbies, like playing the piano or baking a cake. That is, unless you decided to record an album or open a bakery, thus turning said hobby into your profession, or least a stream of income. The determining factor would be that you now feel you’ve developed a level of expertise that warrants payment. That’s how you become a professional writer: By expecting to be treated as a professional. The truth of the matter is that you’ll end up with less respect if you don’t stand firm on being paid for your professional-level services.
“Exposure” is not a form of payment
Similarly, you shouldn’t accept the claim from any would-be “client” that exposure through their publication or platform is more meaningful than actual cash payment. Volunteering to do work for a non-profit organization or charity that you support is one thing, but if the content you’re producing is being used to make money, then you should go ahead and make it your policy to get paid. Any reputable publication or business will understand this. Keep in mind that if exposure within a certain venue was truly going to impact your career, they wouldn’t be having to ask for work to be done for free.
You’re doing a disservice to other writers
There is nothing wrong with producing “free content” by writing on a blog or on social media if it’s something you enjoy. And indeed, there’s the potential to leverage that writing into economic benefit in the future. That is not the same thing as providing your services for free. When you don’t charge for a professional service, you devalue the service and end up harming the prospects of others who are trying to make a living in the field. Charging a fair price for your work in an act of solidarity with other writers, so let’s all support each other and insist on being compensated for a job well done!