Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Leveling the paying field

My first writing job was just that: A job. Meaning I got paid for it. This type of luck doesn’t come easy to every writer. In fact, a lot of writers started out writing for free until they have a decent C.V. But I got lucky. Despite having a few stories appear in my local paper, I didn’t consider this to be my job. I was a journalism student at a community college and wanted to try my hand at real-world newspaper reporting. That stint was considered “practice.” The minute I ended up being on somebody’s payroll, with a deadline to meet each week, that was when I called myself a “working writer” with a J-O-B.

And you would think that this meant only bigger (and better-paying) jobs would follow. Alas, this hasn’t happened. Sure, I’ve made the occasional sale where I earned more on one article than I got from a week’s pay, but I have yet to keep this type of income improvement a stable part of my writing career. Any check I receive from SIGNews also means a financial improvement, but on the whole the rest of my writing income (or lack of one) deserves scrutiny.

What I’m getting at here is writers who work and write for free, AFTER they achieve a degree of success.

With anything a writer starts – newspaper writing, greeting card writing, screenwriting, copywriting, etc. – there isn’t going to be any big paychecks coming in at the very beginning. Actually, for some, there won’t be any at all. The reason for this is because of the universal understanding that when you start a new kind of writing job (such as copywriting), some pro bono work is in order. This is only meant to garner you some testimonials which will, hopefully, make your business appear legitimate.

That’s all well and good for the writer brand-spanking-new to the writing field of choice. But what’s to be said of the writer who’s been at it for a while, then opts to do some freebying?

Freebies aren’t actually too much of a bad thing. Used effectively (and in the right market), they CAN do a writer some good: Advertise their business, tempt readers to buy their books, get themselves listed at a popular site, etc. But if your freebies are going to an unpopular market, aren’t bringing in any sales of your books AND you’ve got a kid who needs braces, that’s when it’s time to stop and ask yourself if doing the freebie thing is right for you.

I have been freebying here and there. Heck, this blog is even a freebie. Nobody’s paying me to write this stuff or to keep a blog (though I have heard of job opportunities for writers which involve as much). And I have been known to slip an occasional original article into my E-zine. But there are times I can’t help but wonder if doing too much of the freebying, with some pretty lengthy articles and likewise-worded material getting bought, is hurting my career more than it is helping it. I haven’t had any book sales recently, even after I had an article appear in a print AND electronic magazine, and nobody has e-mailed me about anything on my site. (Maybe that’s a good thing?)

I’m not making this point to whine. My only point here is that I wonder if there’s a time when freebying can get a little out of hand, even mishandled. I try to SELL something every week but it seems I have better luck when I send something in to the nonpaying markets. Sure I’m happy about yet another publication credit to add to my C.V., but some small part of me wonders about what this unpaid credit does to my writing career in general. Other writers can pretty much figure out I sent it to a nonpaying market; what does that do to their opinions of me and how seriously I take myself as a writer? The same goes with editors and publishers.

Then I take this into consideration: I’m working on broadening my writing wings. I’m getting ready to launch a writing business which doesn’t have anything to do with freelance writing but everything to do with business writing. This is why I started freebying in the first place. (Well, that and to clear out a bustling inventory of unsold and unqueried work.) So for this reason, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing for a fellow writer to see that I placed an article on how to write a query with a nonpaying market or that I had an essay appear at another nonpaying one. My general rule is, if I can’t sell it, freebie it. And maybe considering that I don’t need so many paid credits to fluff my freelance C.V. with anymore, that’s not such a bad rule to follow.


  • At 5:17 AM , Blogger MK said...

    When you start questioning it, I think it's time to move on.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home