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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

A Poll For New Writers — Take It, AND Take $50 Off My Mentoring Service!

New Writers PollHi all —

Today we take a break from our usual straight-up advice here on MALW to throw out a question: What do you want to know about the business of writing?

I ask because my writer-friend David Volk is organizing a Society of Professional Journalists conference in the early fall, and I said I’d help him shape the agenda by asking my readers what they would like to learn about at such an event.

So here’s your chance to penetrate the mysteries of writing success. Leave me a comment and tell me:

If you went to a writing conference, what topic would you most want to see a session about?

What do you find most baffling about the process of earning a good living from writing?

What writing question have I not addressed here on MALW that you’d like me to answer?

Is there something you just don’t get about the business of writing that you’d like explained?

If you were here in my home office right now, what one question would you most want to ask me?

To grease the wheels here a little, I’ll offer a $50 discount on my mentoring service to anyone who participates in the poll. If you’ve been wanting to work with a writing-business coach, now you can get your questions answered on the blog AND get a deal on personalized one-on-one coaching! Which comes with ongoing followup email support, by the way.

The discount is good only until the end of May 2010, for new mentees only. Leave your question, all!

Photo via Flickr user Matt From London

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6 Tips For a Great Freelance Writer’s Vacation

Time off is Important for a Writers' HealthI was asked recently to write about the art of scheduling a vacation as a freelance writer. (Have to apologize that I can’t remember who asked me!) But it’s important to take breaks from the writing grind, especially in this new-media world where so many of us have daily blogging deadlines.

Personally, I’m supposed to post like 7-8 blogs a week for one business Web site client alone!  So I know how hard it can be.

But writers can and should break away — and when I say vacation, I don’t mean the kind where you lug along your laptop and hole up in your hotel room while the rest of your family members swim with dolphins or hit the bike trails. The time spent away from your ordinary writing routine is critically important and can be transformative. For me, it’s my time to think about the big picture — where is my writing career going? Where do I want it to go?

The change in my mindset starts right away. Even as our car is pulling out of the driveway, I’m usually scribbling down new story ideas, thoughts about new markets to query, marketing techniques I haven’t tried…I come back with a whole fresh list of action items. It’s amazing the insights you can have when you’re not locked into your usual deadlines.

Here are my tips for creating a truly refreshing vacation:

1. Plan far in advance. Taking off for a week on no notice isn’t going to work. I rarely plan a vacation less than two months into the future.

2. Start notifying clients early. As soon as you know when you’ll be gone, start prepping your ongoing clients for the reality that they will not be able to contact you for a period of time. As in, “I’m going to be turning this piece in a few days early, as I’ll be gone starting on X date and I want to make sure you have a chance to ask any questions you might have before I go.” Or “This will be the last piece I can do until September, as I’ll be out the last couple weeks of August. I’ll pitch you some ideas before I leave and you can get back to me on them when I return.”

3. Work ahead. Unless you’re writing breaking news that must post the day the news breaks, you can work ahead on all your assignments. I’ve noticed some of my fellow Entrepreneur magazine Daily Dose bloggers writing and pre-scheduling posts up to three months ahead of when their blogs are due!

4. Save money. Unless you are a really good planner, it’s likely the month you vacation in will see an income drop. So on top of the vacation expense, try to sock some money away to cover that loss.

5. Set automatic notifications. Most email programs will allow you to auto-respond to messages to let folks know you won’t be responding right away. Make sure you turn those on and change your voicemail message before you go. I’ll often send a message to all my editors before I go to start them thinking about assigning me when I return, by letting them know when I’ll be back and how much open time I’ve got.

6. Really unplug. When you go on vacation, try your best to stay out of those Internet cafes. If you must, maybe take one hour at some point in the week to just clear out email. But otherwise, don’t just be physically away from your desk — remember to really let it go mentally and enjoy every precious moment of your vacation time.

Photo via Flickr user epSos.de

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Be a Writer, Not a Waiter

Don't Wait for Freelance Writing SuccessI have a writer friend I’ve stayed in touch with over many years. We recently met for lunch and caught up on who we’re writing for these days. She’s always struggled to earn as much as she needed to support her family, and our lunch reminded me of why.

She rattled off a list of very interesting prospective projects that seemed to be waiting in the wings. Some were potentially very lucrative.

The problem? I’d heard about many of these same projects months back. She was still in a holding pattern, waiting for them to materialize. In the meanwhile, she hadn’t earned much.

“I’m still waiting to hear,” she told me of many of the projects.

Which reminded me of one of my rules of earning well as a freelance writer: Be a writer, not a waiter.

My mentees bring this home to me as well. Often, they’ll get a nibble from a prospective client or editor…and then…paralysis. Weeks of waiting. And maybe that nibble turns into a client…but often, it doesn’t. Personally, I got four really awesome-sounding emails from four different, new possible copywriting clients late last week. I was kinda stoked! And then Monday came, and none of them got back to me. This happens — it’s just a reality of life as a freelance writer. There’s a lotta flakes out there.

To avoid wasting time on prospects that don’t pan out, here are my rules for coping with prospective projects that aren’t confirmed yet:

Don’t get excited about them.

Don’t “leave room” on your schedule for them.

Don’t stop marketing your business.

Don’t turn down other firm assignments, even if they’re not as good as the nibble.

Don’t expect them to pan out.

In my experience, many businesses that explore copywriting don’t ever end up doing their projects. Editors who make vague noises of interest but never translate that into an actual assignment are also not uncommon. So don’t get your hopes up prematurely, as it can put you into a deadly waiting game that costs you big money. This way, if a new client actually inks a deal with you, it’s an exciting and pleasant surprise — as opposed to the disaster that occurs when you pencil in a chunk of pay and mentally count it as income you expect this month…and then it gets delayed, or never happens.

When you have a signed contract, a confirmed assignment, and/or a deposit check in hand, then put the article or copywriting project on your calendar and consider it a “go.” Until then, remember — writers earn from writing, not from waiting.

Photo via Flickr user batega

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Blogging For Business Part II: How It’s Done

Blogging for business: How it's done.Earlier this week, I answered some questions from freelance writer Lee Lefton about rates and how to find business-blogging clients. After I sent him links to some of my business blogs, he had some followup questions on how business blogging technically works:

I notice that most of the blogs have links. Do you do the research to find those related articles and then make sure they’re included? Do you write any of them?

Also, do you discuss with your clients what needs to go into each blog before writing? The company that wanted to pay $25 said that sometimes their clients had an idea what they wanted said, other times I could just “make it up.” These were attorneys!

And, are you responsible for the technical aspects of getting the blogs up, or do you just do the writing? I want to make sure I don’t get in over my head when I start doing this.

OK, taking these one at a time:

Most good business blogs contain links, in my opinion. They are what’s known as mashups — you take several recent pieces of news you’ve seen online and provide analysis of what they mean when viewed together. That’s your value-add that makes viewers want to come to the client site instead of those six other places — you’re gathering up their industry news and giving it to them in a comprehensive, insightful way.

I get these links by gathering links from my own Internet browsing and from Google alerts I set up to capture news on my business clients’ industry topics. I set up a Word doc I throw them in for future use, along with a key phrase to remind me what each link was about. Read 50 or so news stories on a topic daily and at the end of the week you will have more ideas than you can ever use!

Sometimes I do link to previous stories I’ve done, either for that blog or other outlets. Nothing wrong with that…kind of builds your credibility that you’ve been writing on the topic longer than five minutes.

I discuss at length with clients their goal, intended audience, voice, tone, and ideal topics for their blog. Some hand me an Excel spreadsheet of approved topics and ask me to prioritize and execute them. Others expect me to develop all the ideas on my own. Still others are somewhere inbetween. When those attorneys say “make it up,” Lee, I think they’re referring to the latter, that they would want you to develop some of the topics (not that you could fabricate the posts from your imagination!).

Physically creating blog posts and getting them up on a client’s site can happen a number of ways, and may require absolutely no special programming knowledge, or a good deal of technical expertise. I have clients I email my blogs to with the links in parentheses or included as hyperlinked words in Word, and they take it from there.

In other cases, I’ve been given access to a dashboard in their blog program via the Internet and can post my blogs directly within their system. In these cases, I compose the blog right in the program (copying over text from Word usually creates problems) and do the work of enlivening links so that they’ll be clickable to viewers on their site. I also have a few clients for whom I serve as photo editor for my blog, researching and selecting appropriate photos (like you see above) to embed in my posts.

In some cases an editor goes over my post, where in others, as I gain a client’s trust, they’ll give me free access to publish my posts directly to the site without review. If you get this…be responsible and proofread carefully!

Blogging programs I’ve used include WordPress (which you see in action here), Blogger and Movable Type. If you haven’t used any of these popular programs before, don’t freak out. It’s incredibly easy to learn the basics you’ll need for most blogging situations, and they’re highly similar to each other. Once you’ve used one, you’ll pretty much know how to use the others.

If you haven’t used any of the popular programs, it’s probably because you don’t have a personal blog. I highly recommend starting one to provide an audition piece for business blogging clients. The topic isn’t as important as having a blog that’s well-written and shows you understand the blog format. You’d be surprised how valuable a stepping-stone your own blog can be to get into business blogging.

If you’ve got more questions about business blogging, ask them below and maybe we’ll cover them in followup posts. Thanks for the thoughts Lee!

Join my freelance writer community: Freelance Writers Den


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A Crash Course in Writer’s Contracts

Freelance Writing Contract Guidelines
By Carol Tice

Today I’m going to take you on a quick tour of the basic points you will usually find covered in a writer’s contract. I have signed many of these over my career and was a legal secretary in a galaxy far away from here, so I’ve always felt comfortable reading and negotiating my own contracts.

But if you’re new to contracts, they can seem intimidating and even boggling. I recently negotiated one that was more than 10 pages long!

Which brings us to point one about writers’ contracts: They’re negotiable. Every point in them. Beyond that, here are some of the basic areas you may see covered in a contract. Some you’ll want to make sure are in there, while others you may want to try and get removed:

1.Definition of the work. The contract should state how much work you’re supposed to do and when it’s due.

2.Payment terms. I’ve learned to define these sharply. The contract may say simply that payment will be $X. You want it to say something more like “payment will be $X and due in net 30 days. A 3% monthly late charge will apply to overdue bills.” If there are any possible bonuses you can earn from traffic, retweets or anything else, they should also be defined in the contract. If it’s a new corporate client, you should be looking for 25%-50% of the contract as an up-front payment due before you start, with those terms in writing in your contract.

3. Ownership. The contract should clearly state who will own the work. This could be straightforward — it’s work-for-hire and the client owns all rights. Or it could be more complicated — the publication or client owns the work for 90 days and then you can resell it, for instance. Or they only own it for online and you could resell it to a print publication.

4.Credit. The contract should define if you get a byline — and in this Internet age, I’m asking for my byline to be a live link to my Web site. Free marketing you want to have, and many clients are happy to give it.

5.Exclusivity. You want it to say you are free to work for anyone else you choose, or for there to be no exclusivity clause. If they have competitors they don’t want you writing for at the same time, they need to name them. Resist efforts to forbid you from writing for competitors after you’re done writing for the client.

6. Warranties. The client will want you to warrant that you are not plagiarizing the material you give them, or making up lies. They assume you’re smart enough to not write anything that could get them sued for libel or defamation of character. If you do, you will take the lawsuit hit, not them. This lovely clause is also known as indemnification.

7. Confidentiality. If the client is sharing company secrets with you as you prepare articles, they’ll want you not to share that information with anyone.

8. Termination. If it’s an ongoing contract, there should be a clause stating how notice is given and how much notice either side must give to end the contract. Thirty days seems pretty standard.

9.Limitation of liability. Translation: the client would like to limit how much you could sue them for if the relationship goes sour to the amount they have paid you. Resist if you can.

10.Kill fees. Many print publications still do pay kill fees if they decide not to use your article, of 20% or so. Hopefully you won’t need it, but ask if they will offer it.

11.Likeness. These days, many markets you write for will want permission to use your headshot and bio on their site. And that’s all good!

12. Right to reproduce. A good contract will specifically grant you the right to reprint the article in any media where you produce all the content, i.e. your own writer Web site. I’ve talked to too many writers who’re worried about putting a clip on their site because they didn’t make this point clear.

Did I leave anything out? If you have any questions about basic writers’ contract clauses I may have overlooked, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer and this post should not be construed as legal advice. Seek expert advice if you have a question about a contract.

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


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