These questions came to the forefront recently when an editor asked me to contribute an article for a magazine. Initially she did not offer any kind of remuneration, even though she’d earn money through selling the magazine to the public. In the end she offered me a six month subscription, which I happily took, but the questions remained buzzing around in my head. So I asked other writers on different walks in their journey what they thought about the issue:
Carol Riggs, Debut, The Body Institute, releases in September 2015
When we are first building our writing careers, we are often willing to do certain things for free, like speaking at a school or making stories available online. It's a gray area sometimes, but it tends to devalue our work. Who else in the world works for free? Although we write because we enjoy it and we want to share our creativity, it shouldn't be viewed any differently than other skills or careers. (An exception involves the marketing strategy of offering free books as a sample of your writing so readers will want to buy more of your work.) Even libraries purchase books before they offer them free to the public. Paying for something gives it worth—our words have worth. You can certainly do an occasional free event, but value yourself and your writing enough to treat your talent professionally. Get paid for doing your job as a writer.
Theresa Milstein, writes for children, teaches, and is a poetry editor for Vine Leaves Literary Journal.
When it comes to novels, I’m still waiting for “the one” (agent) followed by “the one” (publisher), and all that fame and fortune that follows. But when it comes to smaller fiction and poetry pieces, I do it for the creative outlet, experience, and exposure. Not the $.
Two exceptions: One anthology made a profit, and I received enough money to download about 3 songs on iTunes. The website BlogHer has also paid me a flat fee to republish a few of my previous blog posts. That seems generous, especially since they were already available for free on my blog.
When I published a couple of vignettes in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, they didn’t pay me. Now they give a small amount to contributors. For the last year, I volunteer many hours as their poetry editor and understand what a labor of love it is to run the magazine.
L. Diane Wolfe a.k.a. Spunk On A Stick, Professional Speaker and Author
It depends on what is to be gained. Writers can give up rights when signing a contract to gain exposure and add to their resume. Giving away work for free online or for a publication walks the fine line of added exposure versus devaluing of one’s efforts. Is the exposure worth the lack of compensation? Again, it can look good on a writing resume.
Offering a book in a series for free works well for some authors. Without a back list though, that free book is less effective. It might generate some reviews, but without other titles available for sale, readership ends there.
Writers need to weigh their options carefully. Give away work for free when it will greatly further a writing career and/or spur future sales.
So what do you think? When do you think it’s appropriate to give away your work for free even though others will profit from it? What experiences have you had?