On writing for free

I’ve heard valid arguments from both the Write-for-free and Don’t-write-for-free camps.

One side says that writing for free is good because it gives you exposure. You gain a wider audience, get more Google search results on your name, spread the word about your products and services, make connections and gain valuable experience.

Then, you have the people saying that writing for free is a waste of time. That no amount of exposure is worth the money you’re turning down by choosing a free assignment over a paying assignment. If you want to be taken seriously by clients, agents, publishers, and potential employers, writing for pay is the only way to go.

Having written for both free and paying markets, I see and understand the benefits of both and don’t necessarily think you should choose one over the other.

When I started out, it was with expat interviews and my own blog. Eventually I met more people and found out about more expat sites that don’t pay for content. Expatriatism was (and still is) something very close to me — something I enjoy writing about and hope that my writing can help and inspire others like me. I remember how much the expat blogs, websites, and magazines helped me and how grateful I was for them. It felt nice to do the same for others.

Not long after, I discovered Demand Studios. I applied, taking the process extremely seriously. I was elated when I was accepted as a writer and put far too much effort into writing my first article. But I got paid and that felt great. My name showed up on a popular site (eHow), I was proud of my efforts, and, best of all, I got paid. For the first time I realized that I could make money off of my writing.

Without the clips from articles for all those non-paying expat sites, I never would have been able to get the Demand Studios gig. And once I saw how easy it was with Demand Studios, I began to branch out.

My next move was print publications, and the first one I started with was a magazine for a non-profit organization. They didn’t pay, but they have a very professional looking product and a wide circulation. I worked my buns off for the piece and, even two years later it remains one of the articles I am most proud of.

Using a clip from that magazine, I got a gig writing for XM Magazine. Guess what? This one paid. I got €75 per article. Realizing that I could get way more than the measly $15 per article Demand Studios pays, I began seeking out other paying publications.

It was in this way, still using the clips from my free work, that I found The Holland Times. I now write for them once a month at €0.20 per word. That helped me get my foot in the door at Transitions Abroad, which pays even more per word.

Eventually I also got gigs with Insego Smart Expats and Amsterdam City Tours Blog. Both are paying — somewhere between the Demand Studios and The Holland Times pay, so it’s not much, but it adds to my income.

When I’m hard-pressed for quick cash, I’ll turn to Demand Studios, but for the most part, I’ve left that door closed.

I do still write for free though. Guest posts, interviews and articles. Writing for free has still done too much for me. As a rule, I only do free writing if I can link to my blogs either within the content or in a byline, and doing that has really given me a lot of traffic. Those people read my articles, buy items through my affiliate links, and click on the ads.

I don’t get much money, but I get some and most importantly, I gain loyal fans and readers. Those free articles also link back to my blogs, giving them better search engine results and more credibility. They’ve brought me Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

And writing for free is a great asset to getting word out about your book and driving sales.

For instance, with my Mary books, I can write articles on Twelfth Night, Henry VIII, children in the Renaissance, phrases and sayings we’ve borrowed from the Renaissance and Middle Ages, the castles Mary grew up in, and Renaissance education, art(ists), games, toys, clothing, food, etc.

I can find blogs as well as paying and non-paying publications interested in such information. Then it’s just a matter of writing the content and including information about myself and the book either within the article or in the byline.

Readers of these sites and publications are interested in the topic and are more likely to buy the book, increasing my sales. Those articles will be circulated to a much wider audience than I could reach on my own. They’ll pop up in search engines and link back to my site and my book.

And if you’re a writer in a certain niche, you want to have lots of experience writing in that niche in order to show your expertise. When people Google your name or your niche, you want to pop up on the first or second page. Free articles can help you establish authority and increase your Googlability just as well as paid articles can.

My advice, however, is this: use non-paying markets and content mills to give your writing career a jump-start. Then begin replacing them with paying gigs. Don’t forget the non-paying markets and content mills, because it may benefit you to revisit them once in a while. But once you begin getting paid for your work, your focus should be on getting other paid work.

What has worked for me is 1-3 pieces of non-paid content per month. I usually don’t do any more than one, but some months two or three will prove more beneficial. But the more time I spend on Demand Studios and non-paying publications, the less time I have to write for paid publications.

And, with the halt in my day job due to summer vacation, the money is more important. Plus, I’m looking to build my freelance writing income to last us through my upcoming maternity leave. I’m hoping what I build up can continue once I go back to work to supplement my income.

Perhaps once I’m where I’d like to be in my freelancing career I’ll do more in the way of Demand Studios and non-paid writing (I know I’ll concentrate more on it once I’m ready to market my next book). For right now, I’m setting them on the back burner. But I’m not giving up on them completely.

Do you write for free as well as for pay? Do you think this is a good idea for writers?

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