Dear Dr. Freelance: I was asked to write an article for a popular website that puts out a digital magazine periodically. The stories in it get advertised all over several popular websites. I’m something of an expert in my field and a freelance writer. The editor tells me it will be great exposure, but has made no mention of payment. I get the feeling she is treating it like free PR for me and that if she chooses to use my submission, I should be grateful. I don’t have a lot of writing (for bigger sites or magazines) under my belt. Should I do it for the exposure and experience, or turn it down if there is no payment? — Underexposed
Dear Underexposed: There’s no hard-and-fast rule here—you kind of need to use your spider-sense to determine whether it fits your business model. I do plenty of guest posts elsewhere for free, because I enjoy it, it is good for exposure and link love, and it encourages guests to share their wisdom here. (Best-selling author Chris Anderson, whom I interviewed for Speaker magazine, has made a career out of extolling the virtues of free. Lining up on the other side of the argument is legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, who said, “I sell my soul, but at the highest rates.” And we all know how the Huffpo fiasco worked out.) Somewhere in the middle ground, I’ve written on the lower end of the pay scale when I’ve been trying to break into a new market.
In formulating your decision, I think there are a couple of factors a freelancer needs to consider:
- You say it’s a popular website, but just how popular? Are we talking a couple of thousand hits a month…or millions?
- Is a clip from this website going to give you a legitimate piece that you can add to your portfolio and tout to prospective clients?
- Will they allow you to put a brief bio and a link to your website or blog, or an email address for people to contact you directly? One of my regular niche magazine gigs has been a decent source of referrals as well as the pay for the articles.
- If you do write something for them, is it a 1500 word story that’s going to take tons of interviews, research and effort, or is it something you can write quickly and easily based on your expertise?
- Did you ever ask directly if it is a paying job? Do they pay for other content, but just not in this case? From your initial comment, it sounds like you may not have asked, but doing so politely might be worth it. It sounds like she’s interested in what you can contribute, so the worst she can say is “no pay,” right?
- How busy are you right now? Could the time be better spent cold calling for new clients or extending your marketing efforts with existing ones?
Really, it comes down to writing down an old fashioned Ben Franklin pros and cons list, and deciding which way it tips. I’m curious to know what decision you make and how it turns out, so please share anonymously in the comments when you get the chance!