My Stance on Writing for Free

There have been a lot of discussions about “free” lately, so I’d like to weigh in with some thoughts on the subject.

Most publishers within the book publishing industry are currently based on a business model that does not pay authors an annual salary to write an unlimited number of books. Typically, authors sign a contract that spells out how much they’ll make and what their rights (in terms of copyrights) are. Translation? Authors make a living based on the contract with the publisher, and the publisher stays in business by selling their books. The more books the publisher sells? The more likely the author will get picked up for another book or a series.

Now, ask me again what I think about writing for free.

To me, writing for free only works if it is part of an author’s business model. Free samples or offering free stories to get that lucrative publishing deal are great ways to leverage “free” writing — but let me be clear: I do not believe those techniques can be equated to “writing for free.” Why? When you turn your work into an advertisement or a promotional tool, you are doing so with a very, savvy business strategy behind it. You are offering your free writing (e.g. your advertising) with the hope that someone will hire you, promote you or buy your existing work.

Eddy Webb, who works for White Wolf Publishing, had this to say on the subject: “Free is a great way to build up an audience for sales. But at some point, money has to come in if you’re not a hobbyist.”

The word that stands out to me from Eddy’s quote is “hobbyist.” Much of what I do online personally and professionally are part of my career goals; there are reasons why I blog, why I write for free through Flamesrising.com and why I offered my first draft of “Argentum” for a limited time through Violetwar.com. That body of work has allowed me to not only build my portfolio, but it’s also led to paid work. If you enjoy writing, and you don’t expect (or want) to ever sell your work that’s one thing. If you write for free and post it online — not expecting anything in return professionally — then you are a hobbyist. There are differences between hobbyists and professionals in any career, and writing is no different.

What I sincerely hope I’m expressing in this post, is that there are reasons why you might want to write for free. I am not — in any way, shape or form — saying that writing for free is wrong, bad or a mistake. Instead, I’m suggesting that you think before you post or submit your work online. There is a time and place to write for free, but you need to think about “why” you’re doing it. Writing just for the sake of writing won’t guarantee that you move closer to your goals as an author.

5 Responses to My Stance on Writing for Free
  1. Jamie D.

    Great post – came over from twitter. I totally agree, and while I consider myself a hobbyist “for now” (ie, until I get published), I still have very specific reasons for offering free work on my blog, and I choose what I offer there with a lot of thought towards my end goal of someday (getting closer, I think) being published.

    I looked around a bit – you have a wonderful, informative blog here, and I’ll be back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Kristan

    Here via the Bibliophile blog, and I think you’ve hit it spot-on: there’s free-because-it’s-fun, and there’s free-because-it’s-strategic. Neither one is bad, as long as you’re clear on what you’re doing, I think.

  3. Freelance Writing

    As a writer, i personally do believe that writing free samples boost the potential of getting a project. I think its the most probable way of getting a project easily.

    nice post anyways.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Pamela K. Kinney/Sapphire Phelan

    I agree. Offering free stories to attract others to buy your other works, etc.. is a strategic thing for a pro writer to do. I’ve done this as my pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan and discovered helped me under that name to sell my published works. As Pamela, I have done a couple things like that.

  5. Jim Ryan

    As someone who’s just starting to find some of his work beginning to creep slowly towards the first whispers of the possibility of professional publication, I’m now faced quite often with the question of how much of my stuff to put out there as a free sample and how much to keep hidden. It looks to be quite a balancing act! I just hope I don’t end up trying to keep too many plates spinning at once. ๐Ÿ™‚



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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