Why writers shouldn’t work for free

David Whitley June 23, 2013 3

Or why if your starting price is nothing, it stays as nothing


Undercutting established professionals

One thing that established writers tend to get angry about is seeing newcomers trying to get themselves established by working for free. Most of this fury is entirely selfish, of course – it means that the established professionals are being undercut. In an industry where outlets are continuingly going under and pay rates rarely – if ever – rise, it’s easy to see where they’re coming from.


No benefit to working for free

But hey, that’s market forces for you. So what if a few noses are put out of joint? Well my argument about not working for free is that, with the exception of doing work experience at a publication, there is absolutely no benefit to it.


The myth of needing clips

Many new writers seem obsessed with getting ‘clips’ – published articles that they can show to other editors to prove that they can write. This is madness. Editors really couldn’t care less about where else you’ve been published. And frankly, if that clip is from a publication that is based on getting free copy, then they’re probably more likely to look negatively upon it.


Send the article

If an editor likes an article, he or she will buy it, irrespective of previous experience. My first ever freelance article was published in a magazine that paid good rates and it’s one that many established writers are dying to crack but haven’t managed. Same goes for my second regular publication. I have heard similar stories from many other writers.

The clips are meaningless. The best way to prove you can write is to send the article.


Setting your price at zero

The other main reason not to write for free is not that it drives down prices for everyone else (although that, of course, is bad from my standpoint). In purely selfish terms, from your own point of view, it’s that offering work for free sets your price at zero. It’s very hard to go back to a publication and say: “Seeing as you got that one for free, would you like to buy one from me at the normal price?”


Get the going rate

It’s not going to work – your value is zero from then on with that publication. And if the piece is good enough, believe me, the editor will buy it at the going rate.

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