Get Paid to Write? Ha! Why People Request Free Writing

get paid to write just kidding free writing

I like to get paid to write, but just last week I received an email asking me to send in two free writing samples, even though I submitted about forty previously written samples in my portfolio. They wanted to see that I could write in their niche. Fair enough, but at least pay me for it, dick.

If you want to become a full-time freelance writer, or even venture into the realm of novels and self-publishing, you’ll quickly start to notice that many people want you to write for free. I don’t think this is only limited to writers, but rather artists in general. Do people want free writing and logo designs and photography because they assume artists are poor and don’t have any interest in money?

It’s interesting, because most people who ask me for free writing are the most cunning of business people. They always seem organized, relentless and ready to conquer the world. Many of them already have thriving companies with lots of cash flow. But once they start looking for a copywriter or blogger, that money is nowhere to be found.

This isn’t to say that everyone is a cheap skate, but tons of job listings ask for free submissions prior to hiring. I mean seriously? Let’s say I’m pitching to four or five companies for blogging positions. If all of them wanted a free 500 word sample, I would end up working an entire eight hours for free.

Since most writers want to get paid to write, this started turning my mind wheels. Why is it that writers, and other artists, are so often seen as free labor, while any simple data mining worker would always get their due?

Everyone and Their Dumb Uncle Thinks They Can Write

I once casted a movie in college, and when all my friends heard about it they came out and tried to get parts. They all insisted that anyone could act, but even the most charismatic of my friends came to the auditions and failed miserably. They trembled, blinked rapidly at the camera, stuttered, mumbled and sounded unnatural. It turned out the entire cast was filled with folks from the acting department, because, well, they had training, or at least practice that showed in the auditions.

For some reason every thinks they can act, just because they talk and move and fart everyday, just like an actor. The same goes for writing. A businessman goes to the office, sends out some crappy tweets, a few emails to his employees and publishes a blog post and all of a sudden they are a brilliant writer. When people outsource tasks they think they can do, the rates drop significantly. You’re discounted to busy work the boss man didn’t have time for.

Writing is Often Packaged to Sell for Cheap

I pay for two magazines every month, each of them no more than a buck out of my pocket. Yet, dozens of writers and editors put their work into these magazines, and I can get them for less than a scratched up Redbox movie. The same goes for eBooks. You can buy some of the best stories for just $0.99, or go over to the newsstand and grab the Times for less than a dollar.

Consumers see the types of products put together by writers and assume it’s a cheap craft. After all, if the Chicago Tribune only costs me $0.75, writers must be cheap! I’m not sure about the solution to this, but the markets are no help. Writers get thrown under the bus, but people still want more content, at cheaper prices. It seems like a race to the bottom, and my finger really wants to point at the publishing industry.

Creatives Always Need a Portfolio Builder

This ties in with just about any person who creates art. I heard my mom the other day mention that when she goes to real estate conventions, everyone recommends to find college art students for free graphic design work. Why? Because these agents are apparently doing artists a favor by piling on the portfolio pieces! That’s fine and dandy until you pass those four years when being broke is acceptable.

Writers Don’t Care About Money

Well, this might ring true, at least compared to the business hounds of the world, but it’s unfortunate that people take advantage of it.

Writers Already Blog and Tweet for Free

This is a demon of the digital age, where anyone can go online and see that writers develop free content all the time. I can hear it now, “If you post a free blog post everyday, then why couldn’t you just squeeze in a quick free writing sample for me?” The free content revolution is upon us, and the fact that you can look at the Huffington Post for your news, turn to Facebook for updates on friends and then look at LinkedIn for knowledge from influencers is quite troubling. It’s great for the consumer, but it makes folks think that everything is free.

How Do You Respond?

Businesses and publications must understand that free writing is just fine, if the writer is using it for their own personal blog or to build their own company. Free writing is essential if you plan on self publishing a book or developing a free eBook to give out to your email subscribers. But if someone (beside the writer) starts a business and puts a couple of zeros next to the freelance writer budget, that’s a business person I don’t want to work with.

Why?

There are other jobs out there. If a company asks for a writing sample, tell them you have a portfolio and that should give them an idea of your style. If this doesn’t suffice, skip them and seek out another client. Think about it–if someone is already asking for free writing, what are the chances that this business relationship is going to work out in the future? That person doesn’t understand the mere basics of business.

Let me know in the comments section if you have ever accepted a free writing gig, or been asked to write anything at all for free. Tell me how far someone has pushed before you had to tell them that you actually like to get paid to write.

Set up a self-hosted WordPress blog in 10 minutes or less by watching my step-by-step video tutorial. Get your words out to the world and take full control of your blog. I recommend using BlueHost web hosting. It is the only hosting service I personally recommend, and I use it for this site! Learn more….

Photo Credit: danielmoyle on flickr

About Joe Warnimont

I am a writer, marketing expert and adventure seeker. I help people write, market their writing, live truthfully and embrace their lives through creativity. You can find me riding my bike around the streets of Chicago. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Comments

  1. Richard (HumanEmbodiment.com) says:

    I completely agree with everything you have said, Joe. It’s tough being a writer trying to find paid work. I don’t understand why so many of these successful companies demand free samples or refuse to pay their freelancers. Writing is a skill that is crafted over time with dedication and focus, but they can’t see that. They want to hire you for free. You wouldn’t walk past an artist in the street, look at his portfolio and say, “Hey, can I have these for free?” “Sure, pal. Take the whole lot.”

    There has to be another way. This is why I’m so grateful for blogs and being able to publish on the internet…for free. It’s easier to get a portfolio out this way, and when writers come together and negotiate in terms that are not all about money, and instead exchanging services and ideas, then progress will be made. A lot of companies, especially the big book publishers, magazine and newspaper companies must be extremely concerned by the emergence of so many blogs and people going independent.

    • Rosemary McKinley says:

      Joe, your points are well taken. We writers are professional and we should be paid for our craft. I must confess, though, that when I began my writing career ten years ago, I was willing to submit work to get published without being paid. I was receiving so many rejections and I wanted to build my writing credits. Ergo, publication became my goal.
      Then, my work was being published again and again so I became more selective in choosing places to submit. I would no longer write without being paid. Just lately I was offered a job as a ghost writer for no payment, which I rejected.

      I don’t know if it true for every writer starting out but there comes a point when writing for free is not acceptable.

      • I think it’s acceptable to write for free when starting off, the only problem is that businesses take advantage of this. Just the other day my mom went to a real estate conference and they talked about how agents should never pay for graphic design, because there are so many college students who will do it for free. I worked for United Talent Agency in college and it was one of the few places in the entertainment industry that actually pays its interns. There’s this culture of businesses taking advantage of students and people just starting off, which I tend to think hurts everyone.

    • I think these publishers are indeed concerned, judging by the whole Hachette/Amazon controversy. I just hope the emergence of so many free outlets does’t lead to even more chances for customers/clients to say that we should write for free all the time.

  2. Christine Campbell says:

    Yes, I’ve noticed this to be the case. I write novels and one of my neighbours told me she would wait for my new novel until it was in the library because she didn’t believe in paying for books.
    Perhaps folks think we just sit down and writing pours out effortlessly with no expenditure of time, energy or any other billable commodity.

    • Wow, that’s pretty absurd. I mean if one of my friends came up to me and asked to read my book I’d probably offer it for free, but I would assume they would insist on shelling out the small amount of money just to help me out.

      This is a poor mentality, since your neighbor doesn’t really have a say in what types of books come out since he doesn’t pay for books. When you buy a book it’s like voting on the ones you like. If you never vote then you just put up with whatever other people are voting on. In my experience, if someone really cares for the well being of books or movies or music, they are the ones who pay to consume these types of art.

  3. Anita Rodgers says:

    I can honestly say that I’ve rarely written for free. However, I have allowed clients to convince me to reduce my rates,
    often based on promises of ‘volume’. Of course it was BS and it’s more or less a variation of the theme you describe.

    Like you said, people think that because they can talk, they can write.And eLance, Odesk, and Fiver doesn’t help matters either – where writers and other artists are willing to write/create for mere pennies. In a way, I think we shoot ourselves in the foot. You get what you ask for and if you’re willing to write for free or pennies, those are the jobs you are going to get.

    I think you have to stand up for yourself, know the value of your work and insist on getting fair compensation for your work. Recently, I even had a fellow who wanted me to write a few product descriptions and similar copy, he was okay with my rates, except that he wanted it to come with a guarantee of increased sales. Really? For product descriptions? Ridiculous. I explained to him that since I had no control over his business, marketing, planning or product that there was no way I could guarantee a rise in his sales numbers. Copy is copy. It ain’t the holy grail. Yet for some reason many business owners seem to think that if they’re going to pay you for it, you have to promise things other than bang up copy, that speaks to their audience and communicates their business ideals, goals, etc. effectively.

    Anyway…I’m with you. If a business wants your services they should be willing to pay for them. If not, they aren’t a prospect.

    Annie

    • Ah, the volume promise. That’s never a good sign. It’s funny you mention guaranteed sales, because I recently lost a client who said his sales weren’t increasing as much as he wanted them to with the blog posts I completed for him. Like you said, it’s simply content to make it easier for customers to understand what the company is selling. In terms of blog posts and product descriptions, they can improve SEO and really separate a company from the competition, but it’s quite difficult to attribute a sale to a blog post or product description. In your case, there’s no objective way for that guy to say your product descriptions improved the sales, and like you said, it’s not really the copy that makes a company profitable.

  4. Kathryn McClatchy says:

    This is a bug-a-boo of mine also. I write on my blog to build my platform, and I have written, or presented training seminars, for non-profits for free or barter. Other than that, I expect to be paid. The sad fact is that since so many writers are willing to work for free, most employers are happy to move on to one of them. Additionally, since so many people “think” they can write, the quality of published material has dropped significantly, and it’s so prevalent that few actually notice. I have an advanced degree and over twenty years of experience, but still get asked to work for free. Show me a banker, lawyer, or doctor with twenty years experience who would work for free, other than the occasional pro bono case. Thanks for advancing this discussion.

  5. You are definitely writing about a very modern issue. People assume two things: writers are rich and since content is mostly free on the internet, everything has to be.
    Magazines pay very little and almost always after publication which can be months after a contract has been signed. It is of course worse for unknown writers. Many magazines, printed or online, think they do a favor to writers when they accept unsolicited submissions and offer publication for free. Too many writers accept, thinking thyr have a foot in the door but in reality it doesn’t guarantee another paid story.
    You are talking of non fiction writing but the same is true with fiction.
    There is a huge difference between writing a blog and stories or novels.
    This free market is the reason I started to publish independently.
    Great post, Joe. Best to you and your readers.

  6. To me, this is an important point you’re making Joe.
    I watched this happen to the music industry in the Nineties, drum machines and band-in-a-box pretty much obliterated the scene for live bands and worst hit were jobbing drummers.
    The entry level for a club to offer “Live Music” fell through the floor along with professional standards.
    E-publishing is doing the same to writers and journalism.
    However, as has already been mentioned, the standards are dropping; copy/paste reporting and what would seem to be a total lack of proofreading has made reading the morning paper a source of constant frustration.
    Then again, is it not down to us as writers to set the standard on an individual basis?
    I can see you keep your own high standards when it comes to composition and rightly so.
    It is, after all, your profession.
    I believe it is up to us as writers who care about this to proliferate work that keeps the bar high and hopefully garner a niche for ourselves as not ‘just another blogger’.
    We have to do what you are doing, make this an issue, refuse to give in to those who would denigrate our work to the level of ‘free copy’ and keep our standards as individual writers high.
    There are enough readers out there who want to read something without all the low quality issues that are dragging the industry down.
    I’m not suggesting we’ll make a difference to the industry as a whole, just that we’ll at least make sure there is some quality work out there.
    I found it with my music career; if you’re good enough, there is paying work out there and you will find it, if you don’t give in.

    • Agreed William, it seems that most of the artists engage in the race to the bottom, but for those few who stand their ground with high standards, they become the obvious choice for clients seeking the best work.

  7. Emma Baird says:

    Great post Joe – I bid for writing work through elance (and it’s incredible how little money people are prepared to pay for writing) and I do get asked to provide free samples as part of the bidding process from time to time – which I don’t do these days. As you say, that’s fine when you are trying to establish yourself and your portfolio, but my portfolio is big enough these days.

    • Yea Elance is rough. I would recommend moving away from the freelance sites that have thousands of people bidding for jobs. It’s not really a route to a consistent career, and the client pretty much think all the writers will give them as many free rewrites as they ask for. It’s a decent place to start and maybe find a few consistent clients, but it’s draining most of the time.

  8. Hi Joe. Thanks for following my blog. Yours looks interesting but I don’t see a simple ‘follow’ button so that I can do likewise…

    • Hey Paul,

      I have an email sign up along with an RSS button at the top for people to follow along. I used to have a WordPress follow button, but no one ever used it, so I just removed it to make some space. Have good one!

  9. Haha! Constantly!!! Apparently I LOVE writing so much I can go on doing it without eating anything. Ever. People think that real “writers’ out there would go insane without participating in the creative albeit frustrating art, so naturally, supposedly being paid would only cloud the orgasmic feeling 😉

  10. Large Rick says:

    Writer? Maybe… Adventure Seeker? Who isn’t… Marketing Expert? That’s taking it a little far.

  11. Richard Huang says:

    Hey. Thanks for the follow.
    I mean, I was sorta forced back into my favorite hobby, since my college gave me high expectations of what they expected us to graduate into, aiming way below that still didn’t provide me a minimum wage job, forcing me to look for methods to collaborate on journalistic writing to meet pay-per-click standards. There’s always small odd jobs, but nothing stable, so there’s really no opportunity for me to provide pay for fellow writers that need pay for their great work, not to mention myself.