By Josi S. Kilpack
Part One: Writing for Free. Why?
I am a writer by trade, and craft, and determination and while there are other reasons for me to write, if I didn’t make money from my writing, I wouldn’t do it—or at least I wouldn’t do it the way that I do it now. As much as I appreciate and respect the idea of writing because I love it or that money should never be a writer’s motivation—I don’t necessarily agree. I write to pay the mortgage and orthodontist and to buy cute shoes from time to time. Before I was making decent money, I was writing so that one day I would.
And yet, I also write for free. Sometimes. But writing for “free” is actually a little mis-leading because the word “free” makes is sound as though it’s valueless. And that is certainly not the case and I recommend always, always, always writing for value. While I write some things without getting a direct monetary kick-back, I only write for free when I believe that the value, though not in dollars, is worthy of not only the time I put into the writing, but the time that free-writing takes away from my paycheck-writing.
There are two main reasons to write for free: Building a name for yourself and expanding your audience. I have done both and made a lot of important connections, while also honing my abilities, through blog posts, articles, and book reviews I wrote when I was a complete newbie. I first met Annette Lyon through an article I submitted to a magazine. It wasn’t very good and she told me how to fix it. It was the first article I’d ever done but led to many other opportunities (The most important opportunity was getting to know and becoming very close to Annette who has been a very important part of my journey since then--i.e. value in spades!) Back when I started, I needed people to recognize me, to know that I was here, I was relevant, and part of this community. It took a long time for me to get “inside” but it started with writing for free and making connections.
These days, I write for free chiefly to expand my audience. I want to capture new readers for my novels and getting my name out there, in multiple places and venues, helps me find people who will never find me on a bookstore shelf.
For example, I contribute to the Newport Ladies Book Club blog that is designed around the series I have done with Julie Wright, AnnetteLyon, and Heather Moore. We each try to post once a month. I don’t get paid for it, but it supports the series and I believe that the value both in marketing and networking is well worth the value of the time spent on the blog posts I contribute. I gauge its effectiveness through comments left on the posts I put up there and people who mention the posts later. Blogs are interesting because it takes time to build them up and it takes consistency to keep them in the forefront of the reader’s minds. I have backed off a great deal on my personal blog that I’ve had for years because of time and because I lost my focus and started talking more about me than I did my books. I haven’t quite determined what I want to do with it, which makes it ineffective, but I’m glad all the posts I’ve written are still there and available to people if they want to learn more about me. Maybe I’ll pick it back up again, but maybe I won’t. I’m struggling to see its ‘value’ whereas I feel like the Newport Ladie’s Book Club blog has value in it already.
I have written free-articles for my local paper, for online magazines, and for other people’s blogs for the exposure it gives me to their audience. I try to use a variety of formats (online vs. in print) in order to capture the readership that can be found in that location. I recently signed up for a large community of ‘free’ writing opportunities that pays nothing, but has a good reputation and often has articles picked up by larger venues. It’s my hope that writing for this company will perhaps help me break out of local-community type writing.
All that said, I am aware that every hour I spend writing for free, is an hour I’m taking away from my novels. I have to choose this carefully but I find when the balance is good, writing short stories or articles helps me to relax from the longer format works. I suppose it's the equivalent of taking a walk at lunch everyday for someone who works behind a desk. I get to explore different skills I’ve developed, learn new things, and challenge myself in new ways. I’ve found this to be a very important part of my writing and encourage other writers out there to look around themselves to see what “free” writing options might be available to them.
Next week I will talk about what to look for in “Free” opportunities and how to best plan your writing and make it work for you.