Over the last ten months, I’ve written around 175 articles of varying quality and length. Looking back on this time and effort, I’m astonished that I got through writer’s blocks, time constraints, and various personal/professional issues to keep publishing. As I quickly approach a year of Frugaling, I wonder if I should adopt the “writer” identity. It’s humbling and anxiety provoking, as I question what makes a writer.
When does one become a writer? How much should be published? What degrees/professional experience must one collect? How much money should one make? What hoops must be hooped?
All I know is that people in my life — friends, family, and other writers — are telling me that I’m well on my way. This writing journey is not simple; rather, it contains a variety of choicepoints. One of the biggest forks in the road for writers is to write pro-bono (without commission) — otherwise known as guest blogging. That brings us to the question of the day: Should you ever write for free?
Build and diversify your audience
When you have no audience, brand, and/or name on the Internet, it can be supportive and constructive to write guest articles. If you’re just launching a new website, potential readers don’t know your voice or content. Well established websites can feed incredible amounts of traffic your way, and suddenly you have diversified your early audience.
Writing is potentially one of the strongest meritocracies today. You don’t have credibility–you build it. When offering up a free guest article to another website, it’s advantageous to have a little collection of articles for new readers to see in the beginning stages. These should be strong and exemplify what they could see in the future. This is the sweet spot for new traffic and subscribers. You will gain credibility.
Early days are characterized by single and double-digit days, where it can feel pointless writing a new article. The motivation wanes and many stumble here. The traffic of a guest article is tremendously reinforcing when starting a website. Having a big influx can encourage you to persevere.
Potential opportunity to move from free to freelance
A few months into writing I reached out to a writer in the personal finance community. As a top representative of this niche, I asked him for some writing advice. He made an offer I couldn’t refuse: write a strong guest post and then we’d see about freelance writing opportunities. I immediately said yes.
I wrote my one and only non-paid story, benefited from a little boost in traffic and was offered two, paid articles at 10 cents per word. Suddenly, my free went to freelance in the span of an article. These offers do happen, and they’re essentially trial runs as you build your voice, writing resume, and experience. The important aspect was the early disclosure that this could turn into a regular spot. Without that declaration, the offer of a free article would’ve been less interesting for me.
One of the most important pieces wasn’t the money or coverage; instead, it was this blogger’s advice and experience. He taught me beginning social networking skills and carefully critiqued my writing. He was an experienced editor who gave me priceless information about what succeeds online. I should’ve been paying him — heck, many people do!
What are you worth?
NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint. — Tim Kreider, NYT
The preceding quote is from a writer that regularly gets paid for his words. He found that many people assume that good writing can be done for free. Many people take that for granted and ask him to share his wisdom for nothing. Tired of the countless asks, he decided to write a scathing critique of this ineloquent demand for more free stuff.
If you’ve been writing for years, I’d be cautious giving away your ability. If you’ve built an audience, being asked to write for free can be insulting. If you’ve honed your editing ability, another person’s perspective may be frustrating. Point is, writing a free, guest blog isn’t for everyone and it frequently comes down to timing. Where are you in your writing career and how is your website performing?
Honestly, the question comes down to your worth. Writing a strong guest post takes time away from other aspects of your life — things you could be doing. Writing 700+ words could take hours. Giving away this time doesn’t come easy for me, and I’d discourage anyone to jump at these free writing opportunities with glee and benevolence for website owner.
Strike a balance and be demanding
Writing is a difficult craft with countless critics. I frequently screen and censor comments that lambast guest authors’ and my work. It’s painful to hear the hatred and tests of ability. It hurts to hear some anonymous person rip out your soul, spit on it, and cast your work aside. There are many judgments, and few answers about the power of your work.
Early in your writing career, guest articles for other sites may build and diversify your audience. Secondarily, they may help you write better content through editing and feedback sessions. There are real reasons to share freely and write without payment in mind.
Strike a balance, and gain that traction that makes you desirable. Just know you’re worth more than $0 — I can guarantee that much. Eventually, you must demand more for your work, because you are worth it!
Some further reading on free writing (there’s a significant debate about this):
Tim Kreider: Slaves of the Internet, Unite!
Matt Cutts: The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO
Matthew Yglesias: People Writing for Free on the Internet Is an Enormous Boon to Society