Do non-paying gigs have value for new writers?

By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, December 20, 2005 At 1:23 PM


Today, as I was browsing the job ads on Craigslist.org (a great place to find writing gigs, by the way) I came across yet another gig that advertised that they did not pay, but that the gig offered valuable exposure and published clips. I see this pretty frequently - there are so many publishers out there who don't pay their writers. And why should they want to, when they can scam writers into doing it for free? (And it is a scam, because even free publications make money on advertising space.)

When it comes down to it, simply getting published is not a good return for all the time and energy you'll put into writing for these publications. Why not? Because there are scores of low paying - yet paying - writing gigs out there. You can make five or ten bucks per article writing for internet databases (where I started out) - which isn't much, but it sure beats doing it for free.

That being said, there are exceptions. If you have other paying gigs, and you want to accept a non-paying gig for a personal reason, go for it. I write book reviews for Altar Magazine, with free books as my only compensation. (That actually works out pretty well for me, since a good portion of my income goes toward buying books anyway.) I also have reviewed a couple of plays (The Dead Guy and Bug) for Splash Magazine; I considered a couple of free theatre tickets a decent exchange for a short review, and the copy of Adobe Photoshop that they gave me (for preparing the photos that accompany each review) was a nice bonus. I also volunteered to help work on the newletters and other written materials distributed by my local library (but unfortunately they didn't need any extra help right now), and I've considered volunteering my services to various charity efforts.

These types of non-paying jobs are different, however. First of all, I do have actual paying jobs, so it's not like I'm working totally for free. And second, I still get something I value out of each of these. For writing the reviews, I get free books and theatre tickets and software. For writing for the library, I would have enjoyed the pleasure of promoting more reading in my community, as well as experience working on newsletter and pamphlets. And if I volunteer my services for charity purposes, I'll have the satisfaction of helping a cause I choose... And charity volunteer work will actually add to a resume.

I guess when it comes down to it, you have to use your own judgment to decide whether to take a non-paying gig or not. You probably shouldn't do it just for the experience, especially if there are paid gigs out there to offer you the same experience. However, if you have personal reasons that justify working for no pay, go for it. Just make sure that you can still pay the bills with your other income. :o)

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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