Asking to Be Paid When You’ve Been Writing for Free

I talked about exposure in another post, and I got several comments and questions about that.

One of them was, “How do you turn a gig that isn’t paying into something that pays.” Well then, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Here are my thoughts.

Going From Unpaid to Paid

Quite simply, you either think of yourself as a paid writer, or you don’t. Don’t be shy about asking to be compensated for your time. There are times when writing for free is okay. We talked about virtual tours and guest posts, and charity also falls into that.

But if you’ve been working consistently for a magazine, newspaper, company, or organization, and you’ve been writing for free and they are continuing to ask you to do more articles, then it’s time to change tactics.

First step: Ask to be paid. Here’s how you do it.

“I’ve enjoying working with you, and hope I can continue to do it. From this point on, I am searching for paid assignments, so if you have something like that in the future, please feel free to contact me.”

Then you leave it as is. They know where to find you. If they say they can’t pay, you tell them again that you’ve enjoyed working with them in the past, and hope you’ll get the chance to do it again one day. Your point is made, there’s no need to apologize for it or beg. If they can’t pay you, move on to someone that can.

Don’t Believe Sob Stories

I used to be a sucker for sob stories with magazines, “we’re small,” “we’re new,” “we’re hoping to be able to pay one day,” and then I realized that these places did have money to pay others. They have to pay people to do layout, printing, editing… so why not writing?

When someone says they can’t pay what they are really saying is that they won’t. That doesn’t mean they won’t pay others on their staff, however. Don’t get sucked into a sob story, because unless you’re independently wealthy, you need money to pay your bills, too.

Counteract the Exposure Claim

Listen, sometimes writing opportunities really are that good that they will automatically give you a boost in your exposure. There are reasons for writing for free, but you really need to be careful about this, because when you establish yourself as someone that writes for free, it’s very hard to make the transition to get paid.

If someone says they are giving you exposure, do your homework. Things you can do to help you decide if it’s worth it:

See if they can give you a Google Analytics report on their traffic. Understand the difference between hits and unique visitors.

Find out their Alexa ranking.

Get their subscriber numbers.

See how many Facebook likes they have.

See how they use Twitter (not just the Twitter numbers they have.) You can have someone with a lot of followers, but if they don’t use Twitter often enough they won’t have the same influence as someone that uses Twitter the right way but has less followers.

Ask if others on the staff are being paid. (That’s bold. I know. But you’ll surprised at what you hear. One site told a friend of mine that they did pay “certain writers.” If they can pay some writers, they can pay them all.)

If someone is really paying in exposure, they can do it in more ways than just giving you a link with your article. They can help promote the article and you. See if they regularly retweet their writers links, if they help promote in other ways, etc.


Be Ready With a Price

If you do ask to be paid for articles, you might be surprised when they agree. It happens. So before you even ask, have a reasonable idea in mind what you think you should earn, because they may ask you, “What would you like to be paid?” or “What do you think would be a reasonable fee?”

Do your homework and confidently give them a price. Don’t be shy or uncertain about it.

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