Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nine Reasons Why Professional Writers Should Write for Free—Part One

by Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

When I pictured my life as a professional writer, I imagined bylines in prestigious magazines, interviews with celebrities, and a big fat salary. I assumed I’d start out small (like volunteering on my high school newspaper), move up to a paying position (like maybe the editor-in-chief of our local newspaper), and then agonize over which plumb job offer to accept—the one at World Magazine or the one at Christianity Today.

My real life as a professional non-fiction writer is currently hovering somewhere between Step 2 and Step 3 and has included something I didn’t envision—writing for free. Although donating my writing seems contradictory to the goals of a professional writer, I’d like to share nine reasons why I think it’s a good idea to give our writing away.

Reason #1: Writing for free opens doors.
Early in my writing career, I wrote articles of encouragement for our homeschool support group e-newsletter. After 10 years, I’d accumulated quite a stack of parenting pieces. I realized if I tweaked the articles to apply to all Christian parents, they’d be appropriate for a wider audience. I repurposed one of the articles and submitted it to a local Christian magazine.

They accepted it, which opened the door for me to submit other devotional pieces. After printing three or four of my unsolicited, unpaid articles, the editor asked me if I’d be interested in writing a feature story. “We don’t have a large budget,” she said, “but this is a paid piece.” Those free articles I shared began a long, happy association with Reach Out, Columbia magazine, the publication that hired me three years ago to serve as its editor.

As another example, Edie Melson approached me at a writer’s conference last year and asked if I’d be interested in an article based on her book, Fighting Fear - Winning the War at Home for ReachOut, Columbia magazine. She’d done her homework and discovered that our magazine targets the Midlands of South Carolina, home to one of the largest military communities in the country. She knew her topic, how to support the families of deployed service men and women, would be timely and useful to our readership.

While ROC is not a paying market, we do provide several copies of the magazine to each contributor. Later that year, when Edie applied to Guideposts to serve as their military blogger, she not only referred them to her well-written blog, she also submitted a print copy of her ROC article. “I’m convinced this article helped me get the job,” she told me later with a grin, and we did the happy dance together.

Reason #2: Writing for free gives you the opportunity to be professionally edited.
Whenever I write, I ask for the red line, edited version of my article. While I don’t always agree with all the edits, it is helpful to receive feedback from a professional. While some edits are usually related to the particular style of the publication, others are universal and very useful. No writer is so professional they can’t benefit from another pair of eyes reviewing their work.

Sometimes an editor will make a major structural change or ask for clarification or elaboration. All these suggestions make the final piece better. An added bonus, because I retain the copyright on a donated piece, I now have a professionally edited article I can offer elsewhere, perhaps for pay.

Reason #3: Writing for free helps establish you as an expert.
If you have a non-fiction book in your future, you should begin to establish yourself as an expert in your field NOW. Waiting until the book is out is about three years too late. Oftentimes a well-established platform and following is the deciding factor for whether you’re a publisher accepts or rejects your book proposal.

By writing articles in your area of interest and expertise, you’ll begin to grow your fan base, build your credibility, and demonstrate your ability to produce substantive, print-worthy content. My articles of encouragement to homeschooling parents caught the attention of a small publisher, who asked me to submit a book proposal. The resulting book, Joy in the Journey – Encouragement forHomeschooling Moms, gave me further credibility with my readers, opening up opportunities to speak at support group meetings, conferences, and conventions. All this came about because I gave away my writing for free in a local newsletter.

Reason #4: Writing for free grows your writing resume.
Most paying publications are interested in a writer’s resume. For whom have you written? Where have your articles appeared? How experienced are you? Like the old adage, “To get a job you must have a job,” publishers like to know this isn’t your first pony ride. When you can list various places your writing has appeared, you demonstrate that someone, somewhere, feels your work is print worthy.

Reason #5: Writing for free expands your reach.
Sometimes a publication, website, or organization will find one of my articles or blog posts through a web search. If they like what I’ve written, they ask for permission to reprint. This happened recently when a Texas support group asked to include one of my blog posts in their statewide newsletter. 

Be sure to drop back by tomorrow for the rest of the post.
And don't forget to join the conversation!

Should professional writers write for free? @LoriHatcher2 shares 9 reasons why they should on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

9 reasons why professional writers SHOULD write for free from @LoriHatcher2 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lori Hatcher is the editor of South Carolina’s ReachOut, Columbia magazine, and the author of two devotional books. A Yankee transplant and a Christian Communicators Graduate, she uses her speaking and writing ministry to encourage and empower women. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter


  1. This was a good reminder. It's about the "call" vs the $. I agree, once you help out, write about and write for un-paying publications, the work soon flows...Thanks for the reminder.

    1. God definitely takes care of us when we trust him enough to give things away. It's one of the beautiful mysteries of the faith life. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Good information, Lori and oh so true! :)

    1. Thanks, Andrea, I know you've done your share of this during your illustrious career :)