Writers, don’t get suckered into working for free

Writers want to be read. That is why you write. You write to express yourself or to earn a living, yes — for me writing is as much a job as it is a joy — but it begins with a desire to say, “Look at this. These are my words.”

That’s why it’s very easy for aspiring writers to get suckered into doing free work they should be getting paid for, or worse yet, for established writers to get tricked into doing the same.

In the world of freelance writing especially, there are plenty of people out there ready and willing to prey on your eagerness, naivety, or desperation to get some writing work. Here’s one trick I see a lot when prowling freelance listings:

A person or organization needs a writer. Usually they need a blogger of some sort, or someone to write brief features for them, or some variation on that theme. It looks promising enough, so you contact them, sending along your resume and writing samples when you do. And sure enough, this person or organization expresses an interest in you. But there is a catch. They’d like you to write a “test” article for them first — without pay, of course.

This is a scam. Do not fall for it.

The trick here is that with one simple job posting to Craigslist, they can get dozens of blog posts, features, and other content from writers who jump in without looking. So you write them a “test” article and then … nothing. You and dozens of others have written some free content for them. You’re not going to get paid for that work. Chances are they’re really not even interested in you. They’re just trolling for free content.

Think about it. Isn’t this why you sent them samples in the first place? If you have a background in writing, don’t your existing clips serve┬áthe purpose of showing them you can write? Of course they do. That is why legitimate editors/publishers ask for samples. So they can evaluate your work.

Don’t give scammers like this free work. If you are a professional, you get paid for your work. Period. End of story.

A paid trial or probationary period is quite different, of course. During my time as editor for a chain of papers in New Jersey, I sometimes asked potential freelancers to first do a trial article for me, usually when their clips showed potential but were not quite right for our publications. In all cases, those writers were PAID for their time. They were paid our standard rate, and they were paid whether or not I used their material. They got paid for their time and for producing the content I asked them to produce, period. End of story. (I’m glad to say that a number of them have gone on to successful careers in journalism.)

Naturally, there are exceptions. Sometimes you might take a free writing gig for love of the material. You might do it for the right kind or exposure (but tread carefully with this reasoning). There are legitimate reasons to write for free, especially if you’re an up-and-comer trying to get a foothold in the world of freelance writing. Think carefully on it, weigh the pros and cons of working for free, and take on the work if it’s something that is right for you.

But these job scammers? Watch out for them. Whether you’re already a professional or hope to be one day, remember: Writing is a vocation. It’s a job.

And people who do a job get PAID for doing that job.