Should you write or publish your work for free?

I took a recent, albeit impromptu poll about being paid for you work, of some friends of mine who are professional writers, artists, designers and photographers.

This started because I submitted a query letter to an on-line publication about an article I had been working on. At the end of the letter I asked about payment rates for writing, illustrations and photos. Imagine my response when I was told, "We don't pay for articles, photos or illustrations. We also retain publication rights." 

If you are not a professional writer, you're probably wondering what this means. It means that they can resell your article/photos, re-use your article/photos and use your article/photos in marketing and publications without you getting a dime.

Still want to write or submit photos for free?

The poll revealed a couple of things:

Don't work for free

Standard rates should apply (Get a copy of The Writer's Guide) 

You should only allow a one-time only publish and no reprints

But there was a bit of a caveat: unless you can afford to, or unless you're a young writer looking for more prominent exposure, writing for free might be okay. (Might, being the operative word.)

It's simple if you think about it, a publication makes money by selling advertisement. If a publication has a rate chart, they're selling ads. Advertisers want to know how many subscribers the publication has and what demographic they serve. Subscribers want content that is worth reading, useful, and entertaining. You, as a writer/photographer/filmmaker provide that content. And when an advertiser looks at a magazine it wants to advertise in, guess whose work they look at? That's right, you are generating revenue and working for free while someone else profits from your work.

Let's say you're a guide, imagine if I brought two people on a guided trip, you row, put us on fish and I collect the fees and tip and give you a handshake with a smile. Then say, “There might be some residual reward for you for doing this.”

Or you go to your day job and they say, “Hey thanks for helping us make a profit, and no, we’re not paying you because we’re such nice folks.”

Still want to write for free? Still want to schlepp camera and gear around just to get a handshake, a wink and a byline?

Unless the publication is prominent, I suggest you bypass working for free. A couple of things to remember, if you get a reputation for doing work for free, it suggests that your work isn't professional and if you want to start charging you might find it difficult to get someone to pay you what is considered a standard rate.

Remember the line, "If you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow?"

So here’s a few tips for you:

Check the references of the publication and see if they have a rate for writers. If not, move on.

Buy a writers guide and see whose buying articles.

Write a query letter and see if they're interested in your idea and willing to pay.

Most importantly of all: write and edit your work until it is polished and professional.

Clean up your photos and make sure they're in a format the magazine can use.

Be professional and you can charge what the market will bear.

There are some on-line magazines that profit from your work. There are print magazines that profit from your work.

The important question is, how do you profit from your work?  



Stuart Van Dorn

Mr Van Dorn in his element

Mr Van Dorn in his element