8 Rules to Consider Before You Write for Free for the Exposure

Writing for Free is Great if You Have a PlanBy Carol Tice

Writing for exposure. We all do it. I’m doing it right now on this blog.

If you’re going to write without pay, you should have a darn good reason — some end goal the free work is serving.

The question is, when does writing for free for the supposedly great exposure cross over and become simply exploitation and a waste of your time? How great is free exposure, anyway?

This question was on my mind after a letter I recently got from budding freelance writer Rodolfo Guajardo (rudyguajardo@hotmail.com).

I’ve been working for a small finance company for almost 10 years. During that period of time, I’ve also been doing some writing for a Spanish language newspaper and magazine (now extinct) as a freelance writer in El Paso, Texas. I love writing.

Now, I started to write content for a new Spanish language magazine.

Even though I enjoy writing, I’ve always considered it as business, so when it comes to writing for publications, I keep track of the amount of time invested in each piece of writing.

Should I write for free for this new publication?

I did write [a] couple free texts for the newspaper, then I started to get paid for my writing.

I don’t want go back to the non-paying market, but at the same time I think the exposure I would get in this new magazine is an equal trade off for the money.

Reading about Rodolfo’s situation made me realize I’ve got some basic rules about writing for free exposure that help me evaluate whether to do a gig like this. Here they are:

1. If you already have some clips, you don’t need to write free articles. Rodolfo already has 15 clips, so my initial, gut reaction is he doesn’t need this free gig. He should keep looking for paying markets instead.

2. Explore every opportunity to write for pay for a market before writing for free. Don’t assume a market won’t pay you. I know some people who’ve been asked to blog for free for one market that pays me $1,200 a month. I also write for $300 an article for some markets that I know pay others $50. Don’t make any assumptions that a market won’t pay you, or pay you more — ask. Try calmly saying, “I’m sorry, but $200 is my bottom price for this type of piece,” and see what happens.

3. Realize your skills have value. Rodolfo, honey — you’re bilingual! I’m jealous, because that skill is worth a lot of money. I have a writer-friend who’s Spanish-English bilingual who makes $2 a word for some of her stories, playing off that expertise. I wouldn’t give it away.

4. Size up the true exposure you’d get. How much ‘free exposure’ are you really going to get from a startup magazine, or Web site? Usually, very little. So why write for free for a tiny amount of exposure? It would have to be an awesome, elite audience you’re dying to get in front of to be worthwhile. I’m sensing Rodolfo’s getting byline-junkie itch here and just wants to see his name in print again. Instead, keep your eyes on the prize, crack that Writer’s Market and find new paying markets.

5. Weigh how much time you’d spend. A key for successful ‘free exposure’ gigs is that they be easy to do. If these articles would take less than an hour to write and might put you in front of a lot of other prospective clients, maybe it’s worth it. Otherwise, likely it’s not. Remember, your time is the most incredibly precious resource you have. Every hour of it you spend on freebie stuff is an hour you’re not writing for pay or marketing to find paying clients.


6. Don’t write for free in hopes of getting paid later. While this apparently worked for Rodolfo once in the past, it’s unlikely to occur again. In general, once a client gets you for free, they’re never going to want to change that deal. If you’re willing to write a couple free pieces after which you want to get paid, make that clear at the beginning and get it in writing. Whatever you do, don’t write for free on some vague hope that exists only in your mind that this market will start paying you later.

7. Limit the number of free-exposure gigs you do at any one time. Everyone who works with words comes across situations where they want to give of their time — maybe for a favorite charity’s newsletter. Which is awesome. Just keep it down to a dull roar so it doesn’t start to make a dent in your earnings.


8. If you write for free exposure, be sure to measure the return. If you take a free gig in hopes of, say, finding customers for your ebooks or getting better clips that will land you good-paying writing jobs, swell. Give it a short time and then evaluate whether this free gig is achieving your goal. If it’s not paying off the way you anticipated, pull the plug. I interviewed a writer who did 100 free Ezine articles here on WM a while back as a form of marketing, and the ROI seemed kinda skimpy to me for all those hours of writing…so watch these free projects closely to make sure they get results.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user James Khoo