4 Questions to Ask Before You Write for Free
I talked to a writer/editor friend of mine recently about the next, hot, new website where you can publish your erotica writing and attract more readers and (hopefully) book sales. She wanted my opinion and I gave it to her. (Is anyone shocked by that?) The paraphrased version of what I told her goes like this:
If I’m being compensated for my work, I’ll publish it almost anywhere. But if I’m not, I don’t have time to build an audience on my own website and someone else’s site. I’d much rather play in my own sandbox where I have all the control.
We’ve had the discussion about writing for free versus getting paid. Many more discussions will be had about it by me and plenty of others. In a way, this is one of them. But to me, this isn’t just about whether I’m paid or not. It’s about control over my work and the best use of my time. How you decide these questions is up to you.
What’s In It For Me?
Not to sound too mercenary, but if they’re paying and it’s a topic I want to write, put me down as a yes. Magazine, website, fortune cookies, it doesn’t matter to me. If compensation is not available, then it’s time to weigh the benefits – to myself. The benefits to the other side are obvious and immediate – free labor, content for their publication, something new to keep the Google gods happy. The question to ask yourself: What’s in it for me?
- Do I get access to a massive, thriving audience I really want to connect with?
- Can I link back to my own website or work?
- Will I get a byline I can include in a portfolio or resume?
- Am I writing about a topic that matters to me and will it help people?
Even when the answer to these is yes, I might still decline the offer. Why? Because there’s only so much time in the day, and I have my own websites to nurture. If I’m creating content for this other website, when will I publish something to my own?
What are the Terms?
Every website has terms – some are more open than others, but you still have to follow their rules. Whatever they may be. So it’s time to ask more questions or do a little digging.
Can I republish my content somewhere else? On many sites, the answer is usually no and for good reason. The Google gods don’t like duplicate content on the web. Your site may get penalized for it which means you drop out of search results and can’t be found. The last thing I want is to be ghosted by fucking Google.
What will this website do with the content I create for them? From repurposing it in other ways to using it in advertising, they can do a lot – without necessarily giving you credit. Once you hand it over or hit publish, you may lose total control over your content.
Do I retain the rights to my content or get them back after a certain point? Yes, no, maybe? Only if the website goes belly up? Every publication is different but many don’t let you re-use your work or publish it elsewhere. Ever.
What Am I Expected to Do?
A new (to me) thing I’m seeing from many publications is a stated expectation that writers will share content on social media and to your own audiences. This makes complete sense and it’s not something I’m opposed to at all. When I’m paid for the content, I definitely don’t mind. The more eyes I can get on my work for that publication, the more willing they’ll be to give future pitches a second look. As a result, more work and more money for me.
The problem I have – when you write for free for someone else – is that the time you spend pimping their site, you’re not pimping your own. We all only have 24 hours in the day, and spamming our social media followers with link after link doesn’t build your audience. If my time has to be divided between pimping the writing I did for no pay on my own website or someone else’s, my website should (and does) win.
Has This Worked for Other People?
Buyer beware of the fabulous claims from shiny, happy people who say all their wildest dreams came true with little effort and no time. That being said if someone you admire or respect says writing for this website worked for them, it’s worth considering. Of course, it’s more than that, and you need to dig deeper.
What did they do to make this website and that audience work for them? Did it require more time or effort than you really have? Were there other factors at play besides a little content on a single publication?
On Creating Free Content
We’re all looking for the magic bullet that builds the audience overnight, leads to fame and glory (whatever that may look like to you), and makes us the sex writing deities we long to be. But there is no magic bullet. We only achieve real, long-lasting success with consistency and hard work.
Before you spend a lot of time and effort creating free content for another website, make sure it’s really worth the effort. No, you’re not getting paid (yet) to write for your own blog, but all that effort you’re doing for free for the other guy is better spent in your own sandbox and your own sexy space. Creating free content isn’t all bad or all good, but it should definitely be worth it.