Writing without pay is a touchy subject that has been discussed on numerous mailing lists to which I belong. More than once I have entered into a confrontation over this subject and been told by one author she would question the credibility of a writer who was writing for free. I'd like to address some of the issues that have been brought up on this subject.
In early November of 2003 I attended a seminar conducted by a local author by the name of John Riddle, and he discussed many different ways we could accomplish the difficult task of becoming published, including the oh, so degrading task of writing without getting paid! Oh, God Forbid! In fact, when I questioned Mr. Riddle about this and how many writers degrade those of us who do this, his reply was that they are egotistical zealots who dont remember what they had to do to get started. When I questioned them about how they got started, not a one of them will admit to having had their first article, story, or essay published by a non-paying publication, but in my opinion, they are just too hung up on their current way of thinking to admit they ever wrote for free.
Published Australian authorm Cheryl Wright and I share membership in several groups together, and I have approached this subject with Cheryl. What she says is that she will not post non-paying jobs on her site, but she WILL even today write for free for the right price such as the furthering of her own talents through public relations. In other words, something she writes will benefit her in the long run by promoting her books and stories. Now, that makes perfect sense to me. After all, if I write an article for a publication that is going to have the capability to get my career furthered, what do I have to lose? Certainly, I may not be receiving pay for that particular article, but I am exposing myself to another market. In addition, the readership of that publication is going to make comments to others about how good the piece is. Thats how the public relations comes in, because of word of mouth and because someone is willing to post a link onto their homepage to promote that author and their published works.
On the other hand, there are the publications that take advantage of writers by offering low or no pay when they indeed have the funds to pay their writers and editors for the work they do. I am by no means referring to publications such as The Cheers who are non-paying because the funds are not available to pay writers and editors. I am referring to publications that do it because they are too cheap to pay and are out there exploiting new writers who are desperate to become published and add those credits to their portfolio. These publishers lurk in the background of the email lists and on the various websites, looking for desperate unpublished writers to pounce upon. They will promise you that they only publish the best writing without telling you that they tell the same thing to everyone. Unlike The Cheers, these unreliable operations dont have the professional stuff of editors to review what is published for appropriate content and editing in general. They dont care about their writers in the least; they care only about content, no matter how poorly it is written.
Is there a way to know which publications are truly not exploiting their writers? You can begin by checking it out in more detail before signing on. That is one reason when I receive a request to set up a new writer or editor for The Cheers, I ask them to first browse the site to see what kind of articles we publish. I did just that before I joined The Cheers there were many sites I came across that were non-paying as The Cheers, but you were able to tell from the amount of advertising on the sites that they were getting money from various sources such as pay-per-click and paid advertising that they could afford to pay their writers and editors. Those are the ones to avoid; they are preying on unpublished writers who are so desperate to become published that they fail to check out the publication in detail.
In conclusion, just remember to check out anyone before submitting your hard work no matter what the price. Dont submit to the very first person who accepts your work just because you want to see your name in print.