Last week I talked about why a writer would want to write for free. I talked about the value, other than money, of getting your name out there. It basically comes back to the old adage “Being in the right place at the right time” but I am a big believer in the fact that those people have actually been in many places at many times which increased their odds until things came together. Writing for free is one way to do that.
Now that you’re convinced that writing for free has value beyond the dollar signs, how do you do it?
Step #1 is to remember what your goal is that you should only write for free if you're building your name or building your audience. Both goals require that your writing be “seen.” If you have publishing credentials, you have a better chance of getting exposure through larger venues such as newspapers. If you haven’t published yet, you will likely need to start smaller.
Step #2 is to ask yourself is what you read. Do you have an online magazine you read? Do you have a blog you follow? Do you read the newspaper, an in-print magazine, or follow a particular publication of any kind? Make a list of these things with the understanding that starting with what you know is a writer’s bread and butter. Note that I said STARTING WITH :-)
Step #3 is to ask yourself what you are an expert at, and I use the term ‘expert’ very loosely. Are you a parent? Did you go to college? Do you play a sport? What are your hobbies? What are your families interests? What’s your favorite sports team? Where do you vacation? Again, make a list of these things which are essentially topics you already know stuff about. It goes back to step two, starting with what you know.
Step #4 is to compare your two lists. Where do the lines overlap? Does your local paper that you read each week have a recipe section you can share your favorite sugar cookie through? Does the online writer’s magazine you read once a month accept submissions for articles about writing craft? Find one or two of these things and then brainstorm some topics. Find out how to submit and make sure you follow the submission guidelines. If you’re a blogger, see if another blogger would trade a guest post with you—this expands both of your audiences. There are a lot of free options out there so do a little digging and see what feels like a good fit.
Step #5 is to make sure you get a byline. A byline is a sentence that gives you credit for having written whatever words are being put out there. It's how someone finds you later and it's where you get the value of your free writing. Make certain that anything you write for free, you get credit for. Some places will only let you list your name—only you can decide if that’s still of value for you—but most places will let you include a website or a sentence about your credentials. BEWARE OF SUBMITTING WITHOUT A BYLINE. Not only do you want to use your time wisely, but if you don’t attach your name, someone else could take the credit.
Free-writing to avoid:
- Blogs without comments.
- Blogs/websites that are poorly designed and therefore don't reflect well on you.
- Anywhere that you read articles without a byline for the writer.
- Non-reputable papers, blogs, websites, etc.
- Anywhere that wants you to pay for the opportunity.
Next week we’ll discuss “Nearly-free Writing” and how that works and if it’s worth your time.