Writing for Free or for a Low Pay – Don’t Let Anyone Else Judge You

I’ve been told that an ongoing debate that can get quite ugly on this site relates to whether or not people should take writing opportunities that are unpaid or offer a very low payment.

Let me preface my opinion on this topic by saying I don’t think anyone should judge why another person takes one job over another.  Every person, whether they’re a writer, an actor, a business person, or work in any other profession, has unique experiences, education and circumstances.  To judge another person’s willingness to take a job that is unpaid or low paying is completely unfair.  Until you walk a day in that person’s shoes, you don’t know what his or her circumstances are that makes that person choose to work for a rate that you feel is too low.

Have I taken writing jobs early in my career that were unpaid?  Yes.  As a matter of fact, I still write for a couple of publications for free because the exposure they give me to a broad audience is just as valuable to me as money would be.

Have I taken writing jobs early in my career when I was trying to build a portfolio that were grossly underpaid?  Yes.  Again, a writer has to start somewhere and getting a portfolio is important to attracting future clients.

Now, there is a ugly little thing called online article farms of which I am not a fan.  However, just because they’re not right for me, doesn’t mean that they’re not perfectly acceptable to another person.  I have no intention of judging how another person values their time and their work.  In fact, that process is none of my business.  Based on my experience, I can give unbiased tips and suggestions and try to steer people in safe directions, but if a person is okay with writing a blog post for $3 because they need the money or need to build a portfolio, then that’s their choice.

To recap, I’ve written for free.  I’ve written for the promise of a very meager portion of ad revenue on a site.  I’ve written blog posts for as low as $4 per post when I was first building an online portfolio and brand.  Each of these opportunities helped me build up my search engine rankings, so they served a dual purpose for me.  I avoided writing for sites that could damage my online brand (meaning they didn’t offer the quality of content that I wanted to associate my brand with) as soon as I could, and I made sure any low paying opportunity would help me to indirectly build my business.

Finally, I would never presume to judge another person who takes a low paying writing job because they need the money.  If employers are willing to hire people for low rates, and there are employees who are willing to do the work for that pay, then the rates those employers offer aren’t going to go up anytime soon.  As with most careers, there are varying levels of pay, and there are different types of employers.  It’s up to you to choose which pay rates you’re willing to accept based on your level of experience, goals, and financial needs, and it’s up to you to choose which employers you’re willing to work for based on their pay rates and reputations.

The goal for writers is to build up your portfolio with quality work, so in time, you can get even better jobs.  The path to growth and success isn’t different for a writer than it is for anyone pursuing a career.

Bottom-line, do I like that employers get away with paying writers less than minimum wage?  No, but we work in a global industry now where we compete with writers throughout the world who are willing to work for very different rates and for very different reasons.  I just don’t judge anyone else for taking a low paying job, because they have their reasons.  At Freelance Writing Jobs, I hope writers can learn that over time, they don’t have to take those low paying jobs anymore.  It might not happen overnight (in fact, that would be a rare occurrence), but with patience and determination, it can happen.  Freelance Writing Jobs tries to communicate the information, tips, and direction you need to make it happen.

That’s why I published the new comment policy yesterday.  Comments that attack other people for taking low paying jobs or insult people, etc., will be deleted.  Professional debate is always welcome.  Remember, attack the argument, not the person.

Now, enough of the guidelines and process stuff and back to learning about freelance writing …

Next up, how to build your online brand and reputation, which will probably be a multi-part series since branding is one of my first loves and is so important for anyone trying to build a business these days since it is tied so closely to search engine optimization.

Oh, and back to shorter posts tomorrow, too.  Long posts on blogs are not fun, but sometimes, it has to be done.  Sorry about that.  Shorter tomorrow!

Image: stock.xchng


17 responses
  1. Lindsey Avatar

    I still take low to unpaid writing jobs as well. If writing is your passion then it is okay to write for exposure, practice, portfolio reasons, or just writing for the love of writing. Would it be great to get that dream job, where you write what you want all day long? Of course, but you have to have experience first. Don’t discredit the under-paying jobs, maybe one day they will become your dream job and pay you to write.

    Great post!


  2. Marcia Frost Avatar
    Marcia Frost

    Very well said! It is annoying when people-who obviously have another income source coming into the household-make others feel bad for taking low pay.

    There’s one thing we can all agree on, we all WANT better pay, but whether it’s to pay the rent or get their first bylines, writers shouldn’t be made to feel bad for doing what they need to.


  3. Bakari Avatar

    I also agree with you. While I cringe at the thought of anyone writing long articles for $5.00 a pop, I also think because freelance writers don’t belong to a union (remember those?) it’s very hard to set expectations about what we demand to get paid. When you first start out in a career like freelance writing, you often don’t realize the business and economics side of the job. You’re just happy to get published, and maybe get a few bucks in your pocket for something you’ve done for free.

    You also overlook just how much time you’re putting into a piece of writing. So while $10 might seem great for a 500 word article, the time it takes to research, write, and edit such an article can sometimes be an hour or more, which means that $10 is not very much.

    So yes, writers shouldn’t be knocked for working for low pay, but we should help one another raise our standards and demand living wages for what we do. As someone looking to take on freelance writing as a full-time gig, I’m wondering if there’s even an industry standard for pay amongst freelance writers. Is it posted anywhere?

    1. franky Avatar

      Bakari, I think it would be virtually impossible to create a world wide union. The international market really makes any possible fee a reality, just look at all the different rates offered (and accepted) on a platform such as oDesk.

      People living in countries with lower financial demands shouldn’t be excluded and it creates an ‘interesting market’. Sadly it becomes harder for people in the more expensive areas of the world but we certainly should not exclude or look down on these content providers.

      Do they devalue the market? I don’t think so, they create a healthy atmosphere of competition. Content mills and wordshops (analogue to sweatshops) are the real threat for the sector but quality will always be paid and good authors (or voices) will always be able to make a decent living from freelance writing gigs.

      Even at Splashpress Media we have huge differences in fee and pay anywhere between $2 and $50/post depending on experience, profile and also location of the author. Writing for one of our bigger and more prolific blogs generally even doesn’t mean that we pay stellar fees because the opportunity to promote your own brand IMO also is a currency. For example writers on BloggingPro receive the opportunity to showcase their brand and skills on one of the most important and respected blogs in the WordPress scene. That certainly also is worth a buck and more than one even. And no union could set any rule about that.

  4. Leslie A Joy Avatar

    I think people often forget that when they see a $3 dollar bid to check what country it’s from. If you’re working in the US, Canada, or Europe, yes $3 is beyond a meager wage, but if you’re working in a country like the Philippines or India, $3 really isn’t so bad.

  5. Marisa Avatar

    I’m just starting my magazine writing career, still trying to jump my book publishing career, and I’m freelancing for a small rate but right now I’m just happy to start being paid for my writing.

    Another controversial topic is unpaid internships with magazines. There’s your next article right there.

  6. Georjina Avatar

    Well said. Everybody starts from somewhere, and writers must find their individual voice no matter how they find it.

    For years I wrote articles and stories for little to no pay, simply to learn my craft and find my writing voice. It was part learning, trial and error and at times frustrating but it also makes me a better writer.

    I still write for free under more than one pseudonym, and it works for my business. When you are a writer, you write. If it means sometimes for no or low pay, it’s a personal decision and you have every right to make the best choice for who you are as a writer.

  7. Victoria Avatar

    Nicely put. Great article. =)

  8. SamuraiMarine Avatar

    Thanks for this article… it was actually kind of motivating.

    Speaking from the point of the Entry Level Stooge, here… I have had several items printed in a local publication. There is no pay, but I do get complements that usually start with something like “Why aren’t you getting paid to do this?”

    This makes me very happy to hear, but the truth is that I am scared to death of rejection and have not submitted any of my works of fiction for publication. So my reason for going for the free stuff, I guess, is because I do not expect people to like what I write and they are less apt to complain about which they do not have to pay.

    I have decided that this is the year I am going to get published… and have been working hard to get something out there. Free is fine with me, since my goal is to become recognized and make, what I hope to be, a good name for myself.

  9. Angie Papple Johnston Avatar

    I don’t mind content mills that much – I don’t really see them as a threat, because people who are motivated enough to turn freelance writing into a career will do so whether they’re on content mills or not. I used to mind the “Will write custom SEO articles for $2” people, but then again, most people motivated enough to become successful freelance writers, and who are in the same pool as I am, are charging the same rates I do.

    What it boils down to for me is that I don’t care what you’re charging for a job. I care what I’m charging and I care that my clients, new and old, are willing to pay it. I think that none of us should judge others based on what they charge (or for any other reason) – and we ought to help other people become better writers whenever we can.

  10. Tony Avatar

    I understand your point of view. While I do appriate the ideas presented here, I have to say that I want to punch someone in the eye on several job listings I’ve seen. One wants 6 – 250 word blogs an hour for $2 an hour. That is rediculas. That is 1/10 of a cent per word. And some smuck will take the job further demeaning the work we do. I hear you saying that there are reasons for this, but it disrespects and cheapens writer’s talents and the profession in general. That’s what I think. But, what do I know. I’m just a carney.

    1. franky Avatar

      Tony, that is exactly the kind of content mills I mean (and love to hate).

  11. Naya Avatar

    Thanks, Susan, for encouraging others to consider looking at the situations of writers accepting lower-paying jobs. Recently, I’ve experienced being rebuked by someone for accepting a $5 per 400-500-word-article job, but we’re able to explain our sides, and even though our exchange ended well, it still didn’t change the fact that her freelancing income has dropped dramatically.

  12. Kat McCracken Avatar

    I am seriously a newbie as I write for pennies. Any suggestions on any other sites to write for besides examiner.com, associated content and hub pages? So far I have made the most with examiner.com (close to $30) for 14 articles. It hardly seems worth my time. But alas, I am building my portfolio. I am always open to critique as well if somebody would like to review the things I have published. The downside of these type of sites is you don’t really know if you are writing anything that people really want to read about. My examiner website is http://www.examiner.com/weight-loss-in-detroit/kathleen-mccracken. Check it out and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I will continue to build my portfolio until something better comes along. I freelance write obviously not for the money at this point in time but because I love it!

  13. John Packer Avatar

    Sorry, but I was rushing to go to dinner, and accidentally sent before I edited. Is there a way to delete a post that you post? Anyway, here is the edited version.

    Hi. This is my first time commenting. This is the perfect article to weigh in on since I currently have only one freelance job and it is low-paying. I took it because I needed to get some clients under my belt. I was trained as a journalist in US Army. I worked for a weekly newspaper group for more than 20 years. Though, I started as an assistant editor, I spent most of my time on the production side with very little writing in-between. After the company went out of business, I took a course in web design because I thought it would help me. I have yet to go live with my own website – for a number of reasons. I know that I should write more on my blog. I decided to try and build a freelance business about a year ago. I have a small portfolio because most of my stuff is very old, or I have to scan and pdf. I am currently working outside of my field — usually nights and shift work which wears me out. Now this company I freelance for has given me a monthly assignment, and most recently added another assignment, which I accepted — though at the same rate, but it will net me more in the long run, as it is larger. Even as my client list begins to build i think, as along as I have this original client, I will continue to work for him at the lower rate, since he gave me my first freelance break.

    1. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      Thanks for sharing, John. Your other comment is now gone. 🙂
      Good luck with your freelancing, and I hope we can help with the jobs and other articles. Have a good one!

  14. Luana Spinetti | Writer's Mind Avatar

    I believe there is no “judgment” in telling a person who’s struggling to make ends meet for writing $3 articles to raise their rates or seek better clients. I write $2 blog posts myself from time to time; I do it with short opinion posts that I can have fun with. But when it comes to serious articles that involve research, interviewing and days of work, I’ll be in the range of the hundreds. It’s a matter of balance… and living necessities.

    That said, attacking someone *personally* for working at low rates is downright wrong. Every person’s career evolves differently, a country’s economy may be differ from another, or a writer might not have the experience and confidence to work at higher rates/on more demanding articles, interviews and research.

    I’ll always tell someone’s who struggling in despair to pay the bills to raise their rates, but to how much amounts the rise, that’s the writer’s business.

    And writing for free is no crime either. What counts is that the writer doesn’t accept exploitation. But working for noprofits and guest blogs is good stuff. 🙂


    ~ Luana

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