Writing for Fun and Not-for-Profit

Dear LDS Publisher, Your request for book reviewers started a huge debate in my writers group. I mentioned it in our last meeting because I thought it was a fun idea and a way to maybe get some exposure because I'm not yet published. But when I told them I'd be writing for free, one of the group members got really mad. She said we should never, ever, ever write for free. That writing for free is not only demeaning to ourselves, but also dilutes the earning capacity for writers everywhere. Another member then said that this might be a good way to earn writing creds. Then everyone else jumped in with opinions and suddenly we were all involved in a heated argument. How do you respond to that?

First off, everyone in your group needs take a deep breath and calm down.


Writing online book reviews is not a way to get legitimate publishing credits. Unless you're applying for a job as a professional book reviewer, you wouldn't mention this in a query. It would be a useless fact, akin to mentioning that you do underwater basket weaving as a hobby. Even if you are going into the reviewing profession (and I use the term "profession" loosely), it's not much to brag about since anyone can publish anything online. So forget the creds angle.

As to writing for free, yes, as a general idea I discourage it. If your writing is good, you deserve to be compensated. Look for paying markets.

However, IMHO, there are conditions under which you can (and should) write for free. (Notice that none of the ones listed below say, "Write for free because you're a new or inexperienced writer.")

  1. Do it for fun. Sometimes you come across a publishing opportunity that just looks fun, but they don't pay. If it floats your boat and you want to do it for love, not money, then go ahead. This could include many online magazines, contests, and articles or short stories that wouldn't sell in traditional markets (for example, an article on choosing the best dye for your underwater basket weaving designs).

  2. Do it to support a cause or an organization you believe in. Many writers do freebies for various charitable organizations—with or without a byline. You might choose to write for a church newsletter, your child's s school, or a political cause. This is not demeaning your writing—it's you, being a good citizen and a charitable person.

  3. Do it to help or inform others. This is what you do out of the goodness of your heart. For example, do you think I've gotten paid for the past three years of writing this blog?* Not one red cent, until I started running ads a few months ago (and I only did that because I'm in semi-retirement and I've become accustomed to some of the luxuries in life, like food and shelter). I do this blog for the warm fuzzies it gives me every time I read your comments. Many writers offer free mentoring in subjects they're familiar with, just for the sake of being a good and generous person.

  4. Do it to build your career. This type of free writing includes your personal blog, your website, guest blogging to generate interest and visits to your website, articles in professional journals and other places that highlight your career as a writer. This is part of a marketing plan, a conscious decision on your part, and should include references to your website, blog, book, or whatever it is you're promoting. This is not an attempt to see your name in print, no matter what, or to polish up your skills until you're "good enough" for a paying job.

Doing free book reviews for me would fall under the first three categories: it would be fun, you would be supporting a cause you believe in (namely, LDS fiction) (and me), and you would be helping to inform others.

*I just passed the three year anniversary for this blog on April 7th. I intended to make a huge deal of it, but I forgot. Maybe I'll do something tomorrow.


Annette Lyon said...

Congratulations on the 3-year mark! Woot!

The write for free debate has raged for ages, and it won't go away any time soon. The way I see it, if a writer wants to be paid, there are plenty of paying markets to be found. The few freebies aren't going to hurt anyone--and they might help land a clip or two to use for launching yourself to a paying market.

Kent Larsen said...

How about:
* Do it for literary exercise. Writers need to write, and, in general, all other things being equal, the more you write, the better your writing is.

Also, I have to disagree a little with the idea that writing for free is such a bad thing. Yes you should be paid for your writing, but it is also possible to build respect and interest in your writing by putting out free samples and by blogging. Online reviews are probably not the best way to do this, but other, more creative and more original writing can help you build a following.

If your plan is to only earn money from writing by selling to editors, then perhaps writing for free is a bad idea. BUT, if you want a following among readers in the general public, I'm afraid you have to give away enough for readers to get hooked.

After all, that's what happens in the bookstore. Attracted by the cover of your book, they read a page or two (for free), and either get hooked and buy your book, or they don't and you've given away whatever page or two they've read.

And don't kid yourself. The bookstore hasn't completely purchased your book. Under most return policies in the U.S., the bookstore can return your book to the publisher for full credit, even if 100 people have read a couple pages in it.

Th. said...


Welcome to the future people. You have to write for free or you'll never get paid. That's the reality.

Gamila said...

I think writing book reviews has it's advantages. One of the hardest things for writers is to summarize their own books in query letters. Why not practice a lot summarizing other peoples books for a while, so when you send out your query letter you've practiced the summarizing art for a while. I'm pretty sure all it can do is help.

Rebecca Talley said...

I think Gamila makes a valid point because when you send in a query letter you are, in effect, writing a book review of your own work.

While there are paying gigs, many require that you have some experience writing in that format. It can be a catch-22. But, you can gain experience by writing for free.

Kent also makes a good point of writing for the sake of writing. Every time we write something, it helps us flex our writing muscles.

And, LDSP, big congrats on the 3 year mark.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Wow, the commenter's critique group must get frisky at times!

I can't say enough for the power of name recognition. The more places you can get your name, the more your potential readers will recognize it when they see it on a book cover. Spread the love, people. It will come back in a good way.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I agree all around. Name recognition is a good, good thing. Wish I could add something more, but it's already been said so well!

Also, congrats on the three years, LDSP!