Yesterday I took a challenge offered by www.Redroom.com. Each week they have a contest to write a blog post on a particular subject. This week, this was the challenge:
BLOG TOPIC: WRITING FOR FREE
Many writers can no longer make a living freelancing, whether due to changing business models, technologies, or cultural shifts. There’s talk of mutiny, but much more talk about how to adapt. Some writers are thriving and others are not. Can we even say what writers want as if we were a monolithic group?
If most people want to read for free, is being a writer still a profession? It’s unclear where the boundaries are between old media, new media, and social media.
We want everyone to blog about their views on writing for free. (Yes, please write for free about writing for free.) It will be a lively discussion!
So I decided to write something. Today, instead of my normal fare, I’m sharing that post with you here. Usually I take the posts I write here and share them in Red Room; on this day, I’m doing the opposite. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on writing for free and that they make you think about all the free writing you do–or don’t do.
I Have a Writing Job I Love; I’d Love to Get Paid for Doing It
I spend a good portion of my day writing for free, and that’s putting it mildly. I have five blogs; none of them bring in any income—at this point. I have two on-line columns; I supposed I get paid for these if getting approximately .8 cents per click counts, which amounts to $30-60 for approximately 20+ 200-600-word articles per month. Plus, I give away a ton of content every day in tiny “posts” in social media groups, comments to other people’s blog posts, guest blogs, e-zine articles, and special reports and “gifts” offered to get people to sign up for my mailing list.
Once upon a time I got paid for my skills, and occasionally I still do. I am a highly trained magazine journalist (and nonfiction editor). I have hundreds (maybe thousands) of clips and a degree to prove it from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. I have written for more than 45 local, national and international publications. So, what has changed?
There are less publications these days to query—especially in my niches—and they take less articles. I’ve written for some not in my area of expertise, and made good money, too, but in the last year that work dried up—800 words for $1,000 per month. That hurt big time. Many of the magazines don’t pay enough to make it worth the effort to write articles for them: $150 or $200 for 1,000-2,000 words. The on-line writing opportunities pay even less. I currently get paid $45 per month (I negotiated an extra $10 above what others are getting paid) for a 500-600 word column for a website in one of my areas of expertise. I contacted an large site the other day that was eager to hire me—if I was willing to write an 800-word article based on three interviews for $50. No thank you.
I stopped writing for magazines—or print publications, I should say—as often partially because the world of writing moved on line. It’s a fact. And the way to make money is on line. That’s a fact, too. As newspapers and magazines disappeared because they were losing readers to the Internet, the place to be for writers became Cyberspace. New opportunities opened up to create a name for yourself by yourself as a writer on the Internet. Blogging was the way to go. Or landing an on-line column. These were great ways to gain exposure and possibly to make money. However, the companies paying on-line columnists have decreased their pay; in the time I’ve been with Examiner.com, my pay went from about a dollar per click (each time the article is read) to less than 80 cents per click. (Please go read my columns…often. Pretty please?)
Making money writing on line is not the same as simply writing on line and not something not every writer is cut out to do. Just like aspiring authors don’t like the business side of being an author, writers in general don’t like being business people. However, to make money as a writer on the Internet you must be a good business person. And you have to work hard in Cyberspace. I have a friend who keeps telling me I have to write five blog posts or columns a day to get the number of readers that will turn my blogs and columns into money-making machines. (He pays his Silicon Valley mortgage with his blogs and on-line columns.) This also involves having tons of ads on my blogs and columns; for the columns, that’s already in place, but I refuse to have my blogs look like an advertisers haven. So…I guess I won’t be making that kind of money there; no problem anyway, since I won’t be writing five posts a day—and who would want or have the time to read that many posts anyway? (I surely don’t have the time to write them. I’m too busy writing other things and trying to find a way to make money in the process.)
I don’t often resent writing for free. I reach a lot of people with my blogs—more sometimes in a day than I could with a book. And I’ve done a lot of this in my quest to build the coveted writer’s platform—a built-in readership for books (something I assumed came after my career as a journalist). And that’s another reason I don’t write for money so often anymore. Building platform has been paramount to me for about six or eight years. The best way, or maybe the easiest way, to do that entails writing for free—blogging, commenting on other people’s blogs, writing free e-zine article and posting them to directories, and offering content of other types. In the last five years I’ve focused way more than half my “work” time on promoting myself and my work as a way of making myself attractive to readers and publishers. It worked pretty well as far as agents go; I’ve had several and have one now. To date, I remain without a traditional publishing deal. And I know better than anyone that it’s become harder and harder to land one of those, since I go out a write and speak about what it takes to get published and how aspiring authors need to build platform if they want a successful book (traditionally published or self-published).
A few years ago I got blasted publically—to about 70,000+ subscribers of a newsletter about writing and publishing—by someone who said I advocate writers write for free. Actually, I had simply asked the author of this particular newsletter to write a guest post for one of my blogs for free. This person, who I won’t name, was appalled. More than that she was infuriated. Of course, writing guest blog posts for free is a common practice, but she seemed not to know this. People do it all the time to get exposure, links back to their blogs, traffic to their websites, etc. Yet, this person reamed me out publicly and claimed I was one of the horrible people who think writers should not get paid for their work.
In fact, I do sometimes tell writers to write for free—if they need a few by lines to start their journalistic careers (How many of us haven’t done that, including me?), in their blogs or for other people’s blogs (to increase their expert status), to promote their books, to build author platform. Lots of reasons exist to write for free. That said, I’m all for writers getting paid to write.
I’d like to get paid to write, too. I’m looking for ways to monetize my blogs, to increase clicks on my on-line columns, to turn all my content into e-books that actually sell (for more than 99 cents). But the other day I had to stop and ask myself why I was doing all of this—and feeling overwhelmed and underpaid—rather than doing what I was trained to do—write for some of my favorite publications. For all the reasons above: too few publications in my niche, too little pay to make it worth my while, too busy building platform, too difficult to land a magazine or book contract, and then, of course, there’s the long waiting period to get paid.
Yes, you can be sure I’d like to get paid for all this writing I do. My husband would like it, too, especially when he sees me at my desk for 12-15 hours per day Monday through Friday and most of the day Saturday and Sunday—but he doesn’t see me contributing a paycheck for all those hours. He’s a confused when I tell him I need money to self-publish the books the publishers were supposed to pay me to write. That request peeves him actually, since I’ve been claiming that all this blogging, writing for free, posting in social media groups, writing on-line columns was going to help me land that big publishing deal. I was “building platform” after all, which was a requirement for traditional publishing.
And now here I am…writing for free again. Why? Because Red Room insinuated when it announced this week’s blog topic that I might get noticed by the Huffington Post if I wrote about writing for free. Well, how could I pass up one more chance to blog and maybe be recognized—in Red Room or to have my work published in the Huffington Post? Who cares if it’s another unpaid gig?
Underneath it all, I do.
There comes a point when all this blogging, posting, platform building, and generally writing for free must turn into something else—into income, into information products that produce money pouring into a checking account while I sleep, into high-paid writing and speaking gigs, into book deals, and into a life as professional writer. (Isn’t that what I am, or was, or do I have to be paid to qualify? Did I lose that credential when I stopped getting paid?) Otherwise, I fear I will begin to feel my efforts are for naught, that I have failed…that I have lost my identity as a professional writer.
Despite all I have accomplished—all the by lines I’ve earned, the readers I reach every day, the people who tell me I inspire them or help them through my writing, the inability to bring in a decent income from all those words produced every day and turned into sentences and paragraphs—I have to admit the lack of a paycheck leaves me feeling unsuccessful. The comments of people who read my work and appreciate it go a long way towards making me feel fulfilled, but they don’t fill my bank account. They don’t help me justify why I should continue doing what I’m doing rather than getting a “job” each time my husband complains that we need more income—from me—or I want to self-publish my work and my business bank account is empty and my credit card account maxed out.
I have a job. I love it. I’m a writer. A blogger. A columnist. An author. Now if only I could get paid for what I do.