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Writers Shouldn't Write For Free

Updated on October 29, 2015

A debate is raging right now. No, it's not about the upcoming Election. Instead the controversy is about whether or not creative people should do work for free or for exposure, as a lot of clients like to tell us. Every creative has to make the choice for themselves but I stand with Wil Wheaton and do not believe that exposure is enough compensation from these companies.

Earlier this year, Taylor Swift took a stand against Apple. Apple was launching a new music streaming service and they were going to give everyone 90 free days! Great for the consumer but not so great for the indie artists that depend on the royalties that they get from the streaming companies to eat and pay their rent. In an open letter Taylor wrote:

"I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company."

Apple immediately changed their tune and agreed to pay the artists after all. Everyone decried it was the power of Taylor Swift, and many of us secretly wished that she would stand up for the rest of us in the same way, Or at least that some of these people who are so anxious to lure us to work for them for free. They tell us that doing their project will help us get noticed, and that will lead to "REAL" work.

Recently Wil Wheaton experienced the same thing that many of us have had to endure over the years. He wrote a piece for his website, and then The Huffington Post came along and asked to republish it on theirs. He considered for a moment, and then asked about how much he would be paid. The editor informed him that they are "unable" to compensate him. He politely turned them down and tweeted out this advice to writers, “Writers and bloggers: if you write something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period." In 140 characters or less Wil has handed over the best advice to creatives and hopefully more of them heed it.

Last Sunday, instead of writing, I was playing on Facebook. There was a post on one of the writing groups I'm a part of that intrigued me. "Urgent: Writers Needed Immediately". So I commented that I was interested in learning more about it. The gentleman asked me to message him privately, so I did. We talked for a couple of minutes about the project, writing long horror scripts for him. The conversation suddenly stopped when he asked how fast I could get it done and I said that it depended on compensation. After a few minutes he wrote back and (in my head) incredulously said that there was no pay, and again this is my opinion as I have no proof, but he seemed irritated when I told him that I wouldn't work without being paid. He ended the conversation abruptly with "OK bye". This guy wanted me to spend hours upon hours writing a script that would be something like a hundred or so pages, and not get paid for it. Sorry I don't think so. And I hope that many other writers and creative people start doing the same thing.

The argument that everyone needs exposure and to get their name out there before they start charging is held in high esteem by some. It's hogwash though. We don't tell high school kids that they should go work at McDonald's for free, just to get their name out there, why should writing or any kind of art be any different? People in Congress make over $100,000 a year and get more vacation time than all of the people I know combined, Yet people who work hard, and rarely take time off are expected to suck it up. I don't think so.

© 2015 EdAnderson


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    • EdAnderson profile image

      EdAnderson 22 months ago

      Oh ok, I misunderstood what you meant. Please forgive me, Jodah. I don't think I would ever put my books up for free, there doesn't seem to be any upside to it. Though I might write a Wattpad novel, but that would be just for fun.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I never listed any books for free Ed. I read recently that research shows listing them for free makes no difference to getting them seen. I have one for $8.50 and another $6.50 at present.

    • EdAnderson profile image

      EdAnderson 23 months ago

      Ron, I understand where you're coming from but I think there's a major difference between a writer volunteering their work and a company asking the for it. I have less than 0 in my bank account, if HuffPo wants to use something I wrote then I believe that they should pay for it.

      Jodah, how long did you have your books for free?

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I agree with you to a point also Ron, after all I write for HubPages for virtually nothing, and have done guest blogger posts which I don't charge for. But if I publish an eBook for example I won't make it available for free like many do.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I understand the point you are making, but I wonder if a hard line on this is always appropriate. For example, a number of people have gotten started in the coaching profession by working for a time as unpaid interns in a college athletic department in order to get their feet in the door. In the writing realm, a piece of advice you see frequently is about guest-blogging: you offer your content to a blogger who is more widely read than you are, not expecting to be paid, but seeing it as an opportunity to gain greater exposure for your "brand."

      Couldn't insisting on always being paid in money for any and all work you do sometimes be short-sighted and counter-productive for an unknown trying to become known? Couldn't providing free content on occasion be part of a well thought-out strategy?

    • EdAnderson profile image

      EdAnderson 23 months ago

      Jodah, I have a minimum that I will accept as well. I don't ask for a lot but a little something to help pay my rent and what not. With the movie script I looked up what the average screenwriter makes and was appalled that this man probably was going to take what is written for him and make 10's of thousands of dollars from it.

      Kathleen, I haven't self published as of yet. But I was thinking about it in the future, would you offer any advice for someone new to that world?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 23 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I learned years ago that, once people find out you are a writer they have all kinds of projects you can do - to get your name out there. I adopted this policy: You must pay me something for my work, even if it is a plate of brownies. Even on Kindle I tried letting my work go for free and guess what? It made no difference. If folks do manage to find my needle in the publishing haystack, if they are at all interested they will pay a fair price. On average it takes me two and a half years to write a book. That is worth what the market will bear.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub and good advice Ed. I was approached recently through Twitter and also Google+ by a site that said they wanted me to write online content for them and to contact them by email. They would only accept new material that had never been published elsewhere, you had to agree to write a minimum number of articles/stories/poems per month etc. When I asked about remuneration I was told "Oh we can't pay you, but your name gets exposure on our site.

      I have a minimum amount that I will charge people per page of writing. It isn't an unreasonable amount and most that have hired me have actually tipped me more than I asked. However if they won't accept my asking price I turn them down.