Monday, May 25, 2015

Should Work be Offered for Free for Others to Profit From?

Should we offer our work for free for others to profit from? When is it appropriate, when isn't it?

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?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you, Lynda.

Carol has the same feeling as I do about valuing our work.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for sharing my piece, Lynda. I could've said so much more, but I was sticking to my word count!

I, too, value my work. Most of the places I've been published either offered the magazine for free or I was part of an anthology to raise money for a worthy cause.

There was a period of time when many self-published authors were offering their work for free, and I wondered if making those numbers on Amazon made it worth it. There seems to be fewer offers for free books now, which I think is a good thing. Whole novels take so much time and consideration and work. People should pay for quality books.

Pat Hatt said...

When just starting out, doing things for free gets exposure and allows you to make contacts and such. Once you have a body of work, giving a book away for free really works too, but as said, only if you have more books.

Christine Rains said...

I do give away the first novella of my series free to attract readers. And it does work to draw in readers. Would I offer a whole novel for free? No. I agree with Pat that the free thing only works when you have a fuller body of work.

cleemckenzie said...

It seems to work in a series. I'm not sure how successful it is for stand alone books. Giveaways often net reviews, so I'd be inclined to go that route.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've donated short stories to anthologies, but half were free books and the other half for charity. I wouldn't want to give away a full novel of mine.

Anonymous said...

I would discourage writers from offering work for free unless they are somehow benefiting from it by getting more exposure, getting feedback, or the like. You don't want to give yourself the idea that your writing is worth nothing.
However, even well-established authors might make a book of theirs available as a free ebook or do some other writing for free.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't think I could add anything that others have said. I've never had one of my novels offered for free though my publisher has lowered the price for brief periods.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I've done a few giveaways and I have a few permafree titles with that are short stories. I have noticed a small jump in the sales of other titles with those freebies, but not a huge one.
I think giving books away for charity is great, and giving stories/articles to free anthologies that have the purpose of helping other writers or helping a specific charity is a good way to share our gifts.

Janie Junebug said...

I gave one article to an online magazine. I hadn't published anything in a while, so I wanted the exposure without going through rejections. It's not something I'd do regularly.


Terri Tiffany said...

When I first started writing I did some articles for free to add credits. After that I won't write unless I get paid for it if it is going out to many people. That being said, I still don't get paid what writers should be paid I'm sure! :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Great thoughts expressed here. Theresa is doing a piece for free that benefits the Sturge-Weber Foundation which is the disorder my son Christopher was born with. She constantly gives of her time with feedback too. I am lucky to be one of the recipients of her critiques. I give away poetry, etc. to grow as a writer. It pushes me. I love that. I don't mind giving away some work. It's all about exposure. Right?

Toi Thomas said...

Free for a cause is about as far as I go if someone else is profiting from it. I use giveaways in my marketing, but that is planned out and often means I'm getting something else out of it along the way.

G. B. Miller said...

My first few published stories were gratis, as they were done for the exposure. Years later, that is something I will not do (have it published gratis, that is). I value my writing, and the only time that I will give it for free, is either in a contest giveaway, or recently, as a reward to a beta-reader/fellow writer who took the time out of her busy schedule to proof it for me.

Father Nature's Corner

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Diane, thanks for taking part

Theresa, a lot can definitely be said on the subject

Pat, the exposure is great, but there comes a time when it's not as needed

Christine, That's a little different to giving your novellas to someone else to publish and earn money from, while you get nothing in return.

Lee, giveaways are different. You potentially get a lot in return.

Alex, same. There's so much work in novel writing!

Antimatter, many people offer their work for free for various reasons. It's a matter of whether or not it's worth it to them.

Susan, yeah, I'm in favor of lowered prices over free.

Tyrean, charity is the best reason to give away your work for others to profit from.

Janie, that's another great reason to do it. Those rejections can get demoralizing.

Terri, ha, I honestly think writers are the most underpaid workers in the world.

Robyn, absolutely. Exposure is important, as is helping others.

Toinette, exactly, giveaways are a great way of generating reviews and spreading news of the book.

GB, yes! Our work has value and it's important to remember that. :)

Denise Covey said...

Carol said it well: Who else in the world works for free? Well, some do, but writers seem fair game for this practice. You have to look at the big picture, but then that starts looking like: what's in it for me? And I hate that attitude.

Great post Lyn. :-)

Michelle Wallace said...

I don't mind doing my bit for charitable causes, but when does it stop? Is it after the third or fourth or tenth story contribution? I have no idea.
Exposure is great - we all need it to grow as writers. Don't we?
I love Denise's perspective - who in the world works for free? Spot on. Who?
A great article, Lynda! Really got me thinking.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thank you, Robyn. That's such a nice comment. You also are always there for critiques or to be part of charitable anthologies. I think that's many of us writers in general--we offer help to others. The whole critique process helps everyone involved, doesn't it?

Gail said...

I would like to know how to begin. Is paying for your body of work to be published the way to go or keep submitting for consideration?

Gail said...

A wonderful place to gain knowledge. Thank you.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I don't think I've ever given away my work -- written work or even my time and expertise -- that someone has profited from with actual money, unless it was a charity. I have spent my time and expertise helping other writers with their craft, because I enjoy teaching and giving my time to others.

As for school visits, I know authors who absolutely refuse even to Skype without getting paid, but I don't see how generously giving 30 minutes of my time (while I'm at home and wearing pajama bottoms, for all they know) to interact with students who have read my book profits anyone but me and the kids. It's not "exposure." They've already read my book. It's spreading goodwill and in some cases impressing a reader in a long-lasting and memorable way.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

This is a question with many answers and reasons for both sides. I agree with what everyone says. For exposure, I wrote for South Jersey Mom, a local Mother's Magazine. I had an essay included in an anthology about parenting special needs children and received 10 copies of the anthology as payment. But I contribute to their blog for free. It's a fine line about self-worth and publicity. Thanks for sharing this with your readers, Lynda and everyone.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Denise, as always, it's a fine balancing act, especially when bills need to be paid.

Michelle, it's something that's been on my mind for a while now.

Gail, my 2c is to keep submitting. It's a good way of honing your skills and thickening your skin.

Dianne, there is always a place for offering work and time for free. Goodwill is one of the main reasons I'd do it.

Victoria, exactly right. There is a time and reason for both sides. Thanks so much for your great input to the discussion.

H. R. Sinclair said...

Thanks Carol, Theresa, Diane, and Lynda for your thoughts. I like Diane's "It depends on what is to be gained." Free, especially for new, emerging authors, gains exposure.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I give my first novel away a lot because I believe it entices those readers to look for novels 2 and 3. Who knows if it really works. Maybe in the long run.

Karen Lange said...

I think it depends on the circumstances. Appreciate the insight!

Anonymous said...

After doing some things for free, both writing-related as well as related to another line of work I do, I've come to realize that people value a product or service the most if it costs them. Yes, I've added things to my resume and CV, but now I want to get paid.

Carrie-Anne said...

I've heard both pros and cons of offering books for free on Amazon's Kindle Direct program. What I ultimately came away with is that it's generally not a wise idea to give away your hard work if you're an unknown, it's your only title, or you don't have several more where that came from. Free promotions tend to work best if you're promoting a series and featuring an earlier volume for free. I've heard a lot of folks get negative reviews from people who took their books for free, since these people buy anything that's free and then trash these books because they're free, and not the kind of books they ordinarily read.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lynda, Carol, Theresa and Diane ... interesting insights - perhaps starting off - we can get a feel for talking, for fielding questions etc ... and getting accepted before payment comes into play - which it will do automatically ...

I guess the other thing is having a range of products available .. so we have value suitable to all purses ... and making sure we collect that email list ... for future offers and sales ..

Cheers Hilary

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Holly, absolutely. If you're getting something worthwhile in the end, then it's all good.

Joylene, Hope it works.

Karen, it's definitely not a one size fits all thing.

Medeia, that's actually a really important point you've raised.

Carrie-Anne, in the case of offering free books on Amazon, yes I think people may not appreciate the free products as much as they would if they'd chosen to spend money on it

Hilary, yep, it all depends on what is needed.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and your experience. It's a tough call, sometimes, and one that is individual. Yet, it can bind us as writers.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful discussion! I've written a few things for free, just to get the feeling that I am a writer, some have given me a name within my state SCBWI. I did a lot of free line edits when I was helping an un-named agent. Although the experience didn't go the way I had planned, I learned I had a good eye and am now editing for reasonable rates. I still have my core group of critique partners that I work with and we always have each others backs. We also watch out for others who might fall into traps with not so eithical people.