Friday, January 16, 2009

To Write for Pay or No Pay, That Is the Question

Writing for no or very little pay is an ongoing debate amongst writers. When first starting out, many new writers are happy just to get a byline. Seasoned writers are quick to point out that if you write for free, you are proving, once again, that your writing has no value.

Many years ago, I meditated and followed a guru. Part of the program was attending retreats. The retreats cost money. Not a lot, but it was a hardship for many of the attendees. Our teacher was quick to let us know that people who get something for free don't value it. Is this true if we give away our writing for little or no pay?

Just last year, I signed up for a "free" writing course. I was looking forward to interacting with other writers. From the beginning several people took part, but as the weeks went by, fewer and fewer people attended and responded to prompts. Did people not value this because it was free? (This isn't to say there aren't things for free that people value, case in point would be the MuseOnLine Writers Conference which is offered free and attended by thousands of people world-wide.)

Now, some might say that blogging is giving your writing away for free. Others would contend that blogging, for a writer, is an integral part of the job. As a blogger, you market your name and your writing style. You also network with other writers, if your blog, like mine, is writing related.

Back to the original question, should you give your writing away for free? I believe this is a personal choice. I hesitate to do so now, as a professional, yet there are times I might consider it. For example, I'm hoping to expand into the children's magazine market. In order to build credentials, am I willing to send a manuscript to a non-paying market? The carrot here, for one particular non-paying market, is that it has a "best of" anthology. The stories selected for the anthology are paid. If I submit to this magazine, it would be in the hopes my story is considered a "best of." Some may say that a clip from a non-paying magazine isn't much of a clip, still, for some, seeing one's name in print is exciting.

What are your thoughts? Would you submit to a low-paying or non-paying market? Do you feel these types of markets jeopardize your standing as a writer?


  1. Martha Silano posted this on my Facebook page -

    "A very compelling question about do we get paid, Penny. I tried to post a comment on your blog, but the letters I was supposed to type didn't appear. Here's what I would have posted:
    Of course I write "for free." I'm a freaking poet! Every once in a while I get $20 for a poem, and I've received a few grants and residencies, but I don't think of writing as a paying job, so all that's gravy. Poetry feeds my soul. I would write it even if it cost me money (and it does, in a way, cost me a lot of money, in the form of time). Do we get paid to pray?"

  2. Martha, sorry you couldn't post your response directly. I think poets have the hardest time of all writers when it comes to being paid for their work. There are so few avenues open to you for publication.

  3. In the past, I have submitted my work for free,just to get the writing credit,and I have them, but not sure I will do this as much anymore.


  4. Penny, I would never give away my writing unless I received payment - however small. And I do feel that people value something more when they hand over hard earned cash for the privilege of partaking.

    However your article made some interesting points and I enjoyed reading it.

    Margot Finke
    Books for Children - Manuscript Critiques

  5. Margot and Sharon, thanks for stopping by and commenting. As I said, it is a hot debate, and ultimately, each individual writer's choice. I suspect "newbie" writers are more apt to submit to non-paying markets than seasoned writers, although as Martha pointed out poets often submit just to get the byline.

  6. Penny, I agree that the newbies, like myself, submit our articles for free just to break into some kind of publishing.

    I also agree that this shouldn't go on indefinitely. Aside from loving to write, it's important to be able to earn something while doing it. Submitting to free markets hampers a writers ability to do this. I think more from a time aspect than anything else. If a writer is spending time writing for free that's less time writing in the hopes of being paid for your work.


  7. Hi Karen, thanks for your comments. I think once we have confidence in ourselves as writers, it's more likely we'll submit to those paying markets. Sometimes the early "write-for-free" stories help us to gain that confidence. Surprisingly even the magazines that don't pay have tough competition and high standards.