Monday, September 13, 2010

Writing ain't free

Once again, someone is on the ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards) discussion board offering writers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Write original fiction for me, for free, and you'll get . . . wait for it . . . EXPOSURE!

I can kind of see how people who don't write for a living would devalue the written word. They don't get it, because they don't know how hard it is. But for fellow writers to ask you to write for free? Shameful.

That's not to say writing for free doesn't have its place. Charity work, for one. Certainly, if you're giving back through your talents, free is cool. Another is "Guest Blogger" where you're selling yourself and expressing your opinions, or even a reciprocal trade.

But when you give work away, you're basically saying YOU yourself don't value your work, your labor, your creative ideas and talent. There is nothing that says professional like putting a dollar value on your work. Even if it's nominal, you have to give yourself credit.

Writers used to be paid by the word, and while that's not always the case any longer, you should still think of your work in terms of dollars. When you sit down, put a dollar figure to each word. Let's say 3 cents a word, for example. When you start writing each day, think of the dollars that piece is worth. A 500-word flash fiction mystery = $15. A thousand words on your manuscript = $30.

Seems kind of low, right? I mean, $15. Surely giving away $15 worth of fiction is worth the exposure, right? Not necessarily. If a Web site, magazine, blog, or other publication can't afford to pay you $15, are you really going to get $15 worth of exposure?

You wouldn't ask a plumber to come to your house and fix your sink for exposure.

Don't write for free.


  1. hmmm, now that you mention it, Im going to try that because it seems hysterically funny. I'm gonna call my plumber and ask him to fix my toilet for exposure. :)

    er, or maybe he'll take that wrong.

  2. But at least you'll get your sink fixed, right?

  3. For so, so many years, I wrote exactly as you're suggesting. Then I began to consider it, possibly, as my "gift" to the world with no money attached. But NOW, having gotten involved with this New Age thing called Money Manifestation, I believe you're entirely correct. I'm writing for money. I want money. Thanks, Jeff. Good post.

  4. Thanks, though I may be in the minority with my opinion.

    When I started out, I was in the camp of "get my name out there, and money will come later." Bylines and credits are very enticing lures. I was fortunate (or maybe not) earlier on to meet a very successful short fiction writer who explained to me that by working for free I devalue that entire market, not just myself.

    It took me time to see it his way, as I still got giddy over contributor's copies and seeing my name in lights. However, once I got that first check, I realized that I like money. Over the years, I've had thousands of bylines with fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, and magazines. I don't NEED to see my name, but I still NEED money.

    The root of all evil, it never changes.

  5. The plumber always gets exposure. Directly on his ass crack.

    I think it's okay to write for free for yourself or because you want to, but for someone to ask for it, um, a little tacky.