Gratis Anyone?

A popular writer's debate is whether or not to work for free.  Should I pound out that article for nothing or next to nothing?  Should I copyedit my friend's work just because?  Do I help out with Acme Marketing Inc.'s campaign because they're starting up and they promise loads of future work?

It depends. On a number of things.  But I've narrowed it to a few sorting criteria to help in the weeding process:

1) Experience.  Are you already an established writer?  Meaning you have published clips, established clients i.e. several editors with whom you work on a regular basis and you are satsified with your writing station in life. 

If not, definitely consider writing for nada.  Because as a writer you NEED published clips to show around.  Clips, links, pdf's..If you don't have them, you can get them by interning or writing articles for non-profits or startup magazines.  I've mentioned The Writer's Market several times and will note it again because it is a virtual fountain of writing venue information. Tap into it for market compensation ranges from zilch to the big $$.

2) Status.  If you're experienced chances are you won't need or want to take on anything for free.  But let's say an academic publication asks for something but they can't afford to pay. Or they CAN pay but only a symbolic stipend. It's a judgement call. Will writing for the publication boost your reputation?  Do you have the time to put in the effort? 

Recently a magazine asked me for a 2000+ word article to include multiple sources, interviews, sidebars and adherence to stringent standards.  They were willing to pay very little (i.e. not over $100).  Figuring the cost-benefit of telephone, travel and investment of time, it wasn't worth it. Although it is a reputable education publication I'm not seeking that type of exposure. Their writers are academics who want to be published, not writers who write for a living.  There's a difference.

3) Who's Asking? Your cousin Stanley runs a business and needs white papers & a brochure. Your friend Rain asks for a grad school essay edit. Antonio needs a speech for his best friend's 40th birthday party.  And Acme Marketing Company GUARANTEES they're going to make it big.  But not until next year.

This is the elective category.  Do you have time to work on 5 white papers and a brochure for Stanley?  Do you want to?  Does Rain's essay demand an entire re-write?  How long of a speech does Antonio need and how much effort will it take to cull the background information for writing it?  Acme I'll get to in a minute.

I've done all of the above - recently and for free - except for Stanley. I don't have a cousin Stanley and if I did and he wanted that much work, there's no way I could do it for nothing because it would mean putting other assignments aside. At the end of the day, we all have to earn a living.  But if there was a Stanley, I would compromise either on a fee or on giving him a limited number of items. 

As for the speech and the grad school edit.. The speech took half an hour - it involved e-mailing a few questions to get detail.  The grad school edit turned out to be pages and pages of not well written stream of i-don't-know-what and somewhere around midway I commented in the margins "maybe you should shorten some of this. it's repeating".  She was (i think) grateful.  I did both because I like my friends and it makes me feel good to do things like that for them and ...they're friends.

Acme and the promise of paying when the guaranteed clientele begins streaming in;  Hmmmm.  Unless I know someone involved in the venture or a financial analyst has advised investing time and effort into Acme (which has never happened), I steer clear of the Future Promise. Call me conservative. Now is now and the future remains forever just that:  The future. 

Over & out until next time!  steph