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.
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.