Why You Shouldn’t Write for Free

I just saw this week a call for stories from veterans. Didn’t pay anything, and for that matter, didn’t even state the rights or what it would be published in. The implication, for this call anyway, was that it would be therapy.

I know a lot of people will look at the call and think it’s an opportunity to be heard, and the opposite is probably more likely to be true.

Because I used to think nothing of writing for a magazine that didn’t pay. Most of my early writing credits are non-paying, or at best, token. One of my primary reasons is because it gets passed around that you should build your writing credits by writing for free, or use it to get “exposure.”

And unfortunately, that’s a pretty big myth.

The exposure thing has a condescending quality to it, like writers are victims, and someone needs to feel sorry and help them. I’d see magazines say, “We don’t pay, but we’ll post your bio and link!” Said with a straight face.

If the magazine is selling on exposure, they’re marketing to writers, not readers. That says they don’t know what they’re doing.

The writing credits is a more troubling area because it really feels like success. Your story gets published, and you can show it off to people. I made the rounds and got a lot of stories published. One day I applied for membership in a writing organization.

Not one of those credits counted.

That was a big shock.

But there was a bigger one.

I remember going through the Short Story and Writer’s Market, looking at the percentages of acceptances. The high pay magazines received a large amount of submissions, but didn’t have a lot of acceptances. I’d see that and think it was too hard and go for the non-paying ones because the percentages were better.

And told myself, without realizing it, that I wasn’t good enough to get paid.

Free is sometimes has a pretty high cost.

3 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Write for Free

  1. This is an interesting topic. While I agree that writers deserve to be paid and that submitting to nonpaying publications diminishes the craft, I see value in unpaid publishing credits because they build confidence and add notches to our literary belts. I’m definitely open to being convinced otherwise.


    1. The problem writing for non-paying sets the bar too low. They’re not getting good writers because they’re not paying, and there’s no reason to getter better. Once I started only submitting to pro-rate, my writing took leaps and improved enough that I started getting personal rejections.

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