a new writer, I look to the veterans of the industry for guidance, and guess what I've found? Successful, respected writers can be poles apart on their business strategies. And, few topics can punch a writer's buttons like payment for work.
In Jeffery D. Zbar's article, “Should You Write for Free?” (Writer's Digest, Aug 2002), he suggested thinking like a corporate marketing manager who offers new product samples. “Writing for free,” he states, “is a way to introduce your writing to potential clients, build new relationships, establish good faith and potentially garner new business.” You must first get your byline and bio in the magazine. Zbar emphasized that his work is not for free if the publication has the budget to pay, and he offers only one free article per publication. This sounded reasonable to me.
“Free Isn't Always a Four-Letter Word.”
-- Ellen Notbohm
Ellen Notbohm, in her article, “Free Isn't Always a Four-Letter Word” (The Writer, Jan 2006), calls herself an unrepentant outlaw. “Clips are the currency of credibility,” she says. “You can think of those first free clips as your starter capital, your sweat equity, the up-front marketing investment required of any worthwhile enterprise.” Notbohm took any assignment until her writer's resume filled one full page. “In my third year of writing,” Notbohm says, “my income climbed into the five figures.” I figured she must be doing something right.
“…if you choose to exercise your right to pen words for no money, then you lose your voice to seek higher pay.”
-- C. Hope Clark
Then along comes Hope Clark of Funds for Writers fame (and WOW! columnist) to rattle my cage. Of the hundreds of writers' newsletters out there, I consider Hope's one of the top ten. When she speaks, I listen. Have you read her “Hope's Hopeless Rant?” (http://archives.zinester.com/30604/119755.html) You'd better put your asbestos gloves on first. She warns writers, “…if you choose to exercise your right to pen words for no money, then you lose your voice to seek higher pay.” And to publishers and editors she says, “[…if you] like a writer's work…pay him or her a respectable income. Otherwise, write the dang stories yourself.” Yikes! She's right, too. What was I to do now?
Yikes! She's right, too.
What was I to do now?
I decided on a compromise that works for me. I consider myself an apprentice. I need more time than seasoned writers to craft an article. I need experience in scheduling myself, researching, interviewing, querying, and editing an article to perfection before deadline. Let's face it: top magazines demand and deserve top performance. I'm not there yet—but I will be. I'm confident of my potential. Writing for free reduces the pressure and is helping me reach my income goals. I view these magazine editors as partners in my success. They provide opportunity, a platform for my work.
I decided on a compromise
that works for me. I consider
myself an apprentice.
My first published feature, a 1300 word article with two sidebars, will be published next month in a local town magazine. The editor wants to run my environmental column, Planet Habit, as well. And I've already received a follow-up assignment. I have also unearthed another market in a neighboring county—a paying one - that publishes similar articles.
When I'm confident of my craft and business skills, I won't hesitate to approach regional magazines because these valuable free clips will have laid the foundation for my writing career.
Deb Kincaid, married mom of three, writes freelance on health, family, and environmental topics--and whatever else strikes her fancy. She lives with her family in Vancouver, WA.
Deb's fiction won her a prestigious award in the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest with her short story Game Over, which placed in the top 10. She was interviewed in the January on WOW!'S BLOG for her award-winning short story.