Should I write for free?

 

The following is a repost from a closed blog.

There are various posts that do the rounds on writers’ and artists’ sites and forums which make fun of the idea of working for ‘exposure’. They are often phrased as adverts from the artist asking for tradesmen to work for free or simply pointing out that, in no other industry, is it so common for people to be asked to work free. Largely, I agree. Before I go any further I would say that any cheeky offer, particularly to someone for whom a creative art is their main income, should be treated with the contempt it deserves. But when is an offer cheeky and when is it something that should be considered – even welcome? As a writer I, like all artists, need exposure. So would I be so wrong to dismiss such an offer out of hand?

On reflection there are probably three key things I (and other artists) should consider before turning down such an offer.

1 – How much exposure?

2 – Should I consider doing this as a favour?

3 – Is it a legitimate business to business deal?

How much exposure?

My point here is this. If a magazine with a multi thousand person readership, especially my target audience, offers me the option to publish a story, unpaid, ‘for the exposure’ of course I’m going to take it. Let’s face it, lots of writers provide free content to magazines and blogs etc. when they start out. I accept, there’s probably a cut off point when the cost of production outweighs the savings gained from getting free advertising. And I can’t tell you where that is. For example, I might work free for a start up magazine which is aimed directly at my target audience as it’s worth taking a chance on the sales that could follow. It’s getting free advertising. But I’d be less likely to do so for a random start-up with no indication that my work will get to a relevant target audience, or any audience at all.

Should I consider doing it as a favour?

Human, and business, relationships are never cut and dried. If a friend is starting up an imprint or a magazine or blog I’d be far more tempted to do them a favour than I would a random stranger. Things I do all day every day for a salary I may also do for free for a charity. Likewise, if you have a chance and the opportunity, what’s wrong with giving someone else a start? Who’s to say that the random stranger who is asking for your help now isn’t going to be the next big publisher/agent/whatever. Sometimes it’s worth playing a hunch.

Is it a legitimate business to business deal?

Ok, strictly business to business is a sales transaction, one business selling to another. But there is also the option of fair exchange. Ten hours of my work for ten hours of yours. I write the text for your website, you take my author pictures and no money changes hands. And this loops back to point one. If you are treating your art as a business, then working for exposure is a legitimate business to business transaction if the business you are delivering it to is in the business of giving exposure.

There is probably a fourth option. Do I just want to do it anyway? Most hobby artists effectively give their material away. My Blog is me giving away my work – arguably to build an audience in the hope they will buy my books in the future, but also because I want to share my creativity with the world. So, is giving my work away through another route, ‘for exposure’ any different?

My advice, therefore, is this. By all means decline offers to work ‘for exposure’ if you don’t think the person offering is genuinely able to offer the exposure they appear to be claiming to offer. But don’t decline such an offer without any thought as to the value.

© Chris Johnson 2018

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