There is a raging debate among creative writers today:
Is writing for free an acceptable practice or does it essentially “pigeonhole” the budding author?
Though there are plenty of freelancers supporting either side of the coin, there’s really not one definitive answer. To help you decide for yourself whether or not to “give away” your art, consider the following pros and cons of the “writing for free” argument.
Pro: Your Works Will Be Read
If you choose to write gratis, your pieces will be published somewhere and read by someone. If you’ve been frustrated because you feel as if your poetry, short stories, or other creative writings will never be seen by the public, this could be an excellent means of getting your voice “out there.”
Con: You Won’t Get Paid
Though this disadvantage is obvious, it’s worth stating. If you’re planning to put hours and hours of time into your works, it can be tough to simply allow someone else to publish them without receiving any remuneration for yourself. And if the other person is using your writings to obtain money for him- or herself (as in the case of a website where your stories could be used as content to drive customers to the site), you might be better off steering clear of this “opportunity.”
Pro: You’ll Still Be in Control of Where Your Works are Printed
One nice aspect (and one that’s sometimes overlooked) of writing for free is that regardless of whether you get paid or not, the copyrights for your pieces will still exist with you until and unless you explicitly give them to someone else. Many novices assume that once they allow someone else to publish their works, they have lost all control of their writings from a copyright standpoint, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, it would be very unusual for any company, website, or magazine to ask you to work for free and also demand you sign over the copyright to your intellectual property.
Con: You’ll Be Seen as an Amateur
It’s true that most professionals only give away their works on a limited basis, if they ever go this route at all. Thus, you may be considered an amateur by editors and publishers if you continuously write for free, never attempting to earn money in return for your time. Should this possibility concern you, there’s nothing wrong with asking potential clients whether they could afford to pay you a small stipend, just so the transaction is handled in a businesslike manner (and you can tell future editors that you’ve been paid in the past.)
Pro: You’ll Build “Clips”
Even if you’re working for nothing in terms of payment, you’ll still be getting “exposure.” No, this isn’t worth anything at your local financial institution, and some professional freelancers scoff at the notion. However, if you carefully pick and choose where you’ll allow your works to be used, you may wind up with some excellent “clips” (published samples of your works.)
Con: You’ll Have Less Incentive to Keep Creating
If you’re not getting any revenue in return for your writing, you may become pessimistic, wondering if penning your imaginings is truly worth the effort. Resultantly, your desire to continue creating new works could seriously wane, especially if you hope to someday make freelancing your main source of income.
Pro: You Could Be Given Some Nice Perks as a “Thank You”
Many publications that cannot afford to pay their writers will offer other “quid pro quo” benefits. These reimbursements could include tickets (as in the case of a theatre paying back a free of charge reviewer), meals (if you’re writing about dining experiences), or even travel packages (such as overnight stays in hotels.) These perks may not cost your client many (if any) pounds, but could be very valuable to you.
Big Pro: You’ll Be Able to Start “Networking” among Other Writers
Should you choose to don the “write for free” moniker, if only for a short while, you’ll likely begin to meet other creators in your same position. By building upon these relationships, you could eventually come to hear about paying assignments through the proverbial “grapevine”. And even if you never break into the world of professional creative freelancing, you’ll have made some likeminded, lifelong friends along the way.