Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Why Working for No Fee is SOOOO Tempting
Everyone has written for free. Some justify it as charitable. Others call it building clips before graduating to paying markets. Some just don't care because they'll do anything to see their work in print.
The Myth - Writing for free builds clips. Well, it may your portfolio in number, but not credibility. Listen. If someone can't afford to pay you, how is that a reputable clip? Furthermore, how the heck is a paying market going to respect a nonpaying market as a representative clip? When someone pitches to me and says they have 47 articles on Associated Content, Suite101, et al, I consider them uneducated in their profession. Sorry. That's me. (It's also a zillion other publishing markets out there. They just don't broadcast it.) I want someone who either has a phenomenal idea that's pitched very well, or someone who has been vetted in publications that actually reject people.
Charity - Okay. I can see writing for charity. As long as it's occasional. If it becomes routine, it should eventually become a paying market. By the way, writing for free for nonprofit publications is NOT writing for charity.
Byline Hungry - Yes, when you start writing, you want instant gratification. You haven't learned that writing takes a butt-load of patience, more so than any other profession I can think of other than research. Just know that gathering all those easy bylines, and receiving no pay, is not furthering your profession. If you write for fun, as a hobby, that's fine. Just don't complain about not making any money, because you can't write for a hobby and cry about being poor at the same time. Uh-uh.
So, why do people keep writing for free? We all agree that as long as writers write for free, those of us trying to fill up our cars with $4/gallon gas from our profession are suffering. However, people do it, and are afraid to stop doing it.
1. It's easier. Heck, you're giving it away. Who looks a gift-horse in the mouth?
2. It's painless. You're avoiding the pain of a big fat "not good enough for our publication." It's like swimming in the shallow end all the time for fear of water over your head.
3. It's quicker. You can build clips faster since most free work involves little review from a picky editor.
4. It's safe. You aren't competing.
Yes, writing for free is tempting. We're afraid to speak, dance, perform in public. We compare our wardrobe to others at work and parties. We worry we'll sound stupid, look stupid, behave stupid in all sorts of settings. Why should writing be different? Where else do you put your soul on display and say, "Look at me and feel free to take your best shot"?
So, I'm not beating you up for writing for free. I'm saying that like anything else in this world, you do not improve without a challenge. But as an editor, and like others like me, I can say this...I'd hire a writer who's written for three paying markets over someone who's written 100 articles for free.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.