Sarah: Should I write for free? It’s one of the toughest questions faced by writers and other content creators. Yes, you want to see your name in a byline. Yes, you need more experience to add to your portfolio. Yes, you want to show a business that you’d like to build a relationship with it.
But when should you say ‘sure thing!’ versus ‘thanks, but no’ to unpaid writing opportunities? I’ve heard many authors comment on the pros and cons of producing content for free. As I’ve written previously, Adelaide-based author Patrick Allington said,
“If you’re considering taking on unpaid work, you need to work out whether and how you’re going to make it work for you.”
On her website, freelance writer Allison Tait said,
“There are many people who will tell you that you should never write for free. There are others who will tell you that it is essential that you write for free to build a portfolio. I say… maybe. I say put a value on your words and decide where you think you will get a return on your investment. I say think about how you will transition from writing for free (should you decide to do this) to getting paid for your writing. I say choose very, very wisely where you put your words.”
Many scientists undertake communication activities for free, driven by passion and a desire to spread the word about how wonderful and diverse and useful science can be.
When I was a brand new freelance writer, I did some unpaid writing – mostly on this blog. In fact, having a daily commitment to write was one of the reasons for starting the project. Now I’m happy to report that the majority of my writing does provide an income.
However I still do write some words for free. Included amongst these are book reviews and interviews for the website Science Book a Day. An initiative of George Aranda, I support it because I believe it’s a great and unique idea and I enjoy reading books with a critical eye – hopefully it will improve my writing as well.
Recently I experienced another benefit of this commitment. Drinking champagne at the inaugural Women in Media event in Adelaide, I was introduced to a senior writer and books editor at The Advertiser (South Australia’s primary printed newspaper). I told her of a wonderful science/history book I had just reviewed for Science Book a Day – Severed: A history of heads lost and found. She said it sounded wonderful. She said would I like to submit a shorter review of the same book for The Advertiser? She said she would pay me.
It’s a positive outcome that arose from a happy collision between networking and an unpaid writing gig that I did for love.