Over the past ten years, I've made a lot more money writing for free than I ever have writing for a fee.
You heard me. Writing for free is my preferred method. Here are my favorite reasons to write for free.
Every newbie needs to write for free. There. I said it. And before you comment about the evil capitalists taking advantage of unsuspecting writers who are desperate for validation by publication-- just go away. I don't serve victims, and I don't believe that writing a few pieces for free to earn our chops drives down the market rate for everyone else.
What actually drives down market rates for writers? Offshore talent who write from a hut and appreciate the paltry sums they get paid because it puts food on the table. I certainly hope you wouldn't have a problem with that. When someone else is willing to do our job for a lower rate, it's time to learn some new skills. Am I right?
Writing for free to get clips is a temporary situation to get you where you want to be. One writer I know freelances for NBC, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. I met her when I she pitched me, to write for free for a teeny tiny parenting site I managed. She contributed for a few months until she outgrew our little platform.
Did you see The New York Times above?
Okay, just checking.
Write for free. Get your clips. Move on.
Market Your Work & Your Platform
I have you tell you the best kept secret in publishing. If you write romance (ahem... erotica), sci-fi, fantasy, or self-help, and you write like a mofo--at least four titles a year--you are going to make BANK on book sales. However, if you're not you're cranking out title after title of this high consumption content, you'll actually make more money from writing-related revenue streams.
What is that supposed to mean?
It means, that most of us need to consider our writing as a low revenue contribution that promotes a more lucrative stream. What pays better than writing? Mostly everything, but specifically: speaking, teaching, coaching, and in some rare cases--productizing.
All this to say, writing for free on other people's property is a great way to get the word out about all [more profitable] things you do to bring home that bacon.
But I can promote myself on my own website!
Oh, sweet baby. Sweet. Misguided. Baby.
I know you've worked hard on your fancy little website. You worked with that hot designer on the mood board and getting just the right combination of fonts. You've created your pillar content and posted religiously each and every week. You maybe even learned all about your Google Analytics and could tell me with extreme precision where your traffic comes from and how long it lingers.
All that is important. Keep it up.
Still, you might not crack through that traffic ceiling any time soon.
Best for last! Always.
If you've followed my squiggly little line of a career path, you may know that I graduated with a degree in business. Concentration: Accounting. For a decade as a licensed CPA, I assembled two-hole punched file folders and hustled spreadsheets. Ten glorious years of forensic accounting and tax planning. Don't get too excited.
My education and experience taught me to value the asset over the expense. Every time.
If you're not familiar with a balance sheet, here's your cheat. Not suitable for CPA Exam preparation, but good enough for the rest of us.
When a business spends money, that expenditure hits the financials as an asset or an expense. Assets are things that generate income in the future. Expenses are just money out the door. So if you own a landscaping business, a mower is an asset, and gasoline is an expense. The mower enables thousands of mows over its lifetime. When the gas is gone, it's gone and you just need to buy more.
When we write we are spending our precious TIME. Will that expenditure result in an asset, or an expense.
When we create assets that we OWN (ie. retainnig intellectual property rights, self-publishing, driving traffic back to your website) those assets continue to generate revenue in perpetuity.
That's the reason I still make money today from an essay I wrote ten years ago about a diaper change I executed twenty years ago. That's an asset. Create as many of them as you possibly can.
Just like the builder who invests in building a spec home, and then has to go about marketing and selling that property, writers can create on spec and monetize later. No one is going to pay us upfront to create our own assets.
But they'll pay over time.
I get checks and deposits each and every month because I spent years writing books and essays, for free.
And even though the content on your website may never bring in the bucks [see above], it's important to build up that content over time too. You'll use it later, in ways you may not be able to imagine today.
The sooner you start creating assets, the longer they'll work for you.
So, have I convinced you to write for free? I hope so, because I wrote this for you, for free. Let me know in the comments!