Why I don’t Write for Free

Kavitha Yarlagadda
4 min readNov 26, 2020

A wannabe and aspiring writer is all excited on seeing her name against the short story she has written, the urge to see her name there on a website, publication or anthology alongside many writers has made her write for free. She like many new writers is equally excited and eager to see the content written by them out there available for many to read and enjoy. As aspiring writers it’s alright to write a few pieces for free to build their portfolio and create a name for themselves, but it’s also equally important that they do not de-value their own work by writing every article, story or poem for free.

When people write for free, it’s like they’re not only de-valuing their work but also causing harm and creating hurdles to other established writers. When someone is prepared to write the same content for free, then why will a publisher even pay you for writing the same content. Many times I have the habit of writing essays about something which is very close to me and something which I love doing or eating. One such instance was when I wrote about my love for porridge, and then I decided to send it to some publications, but most of them rejected, but one editor replied back asking if I would agree to publish it pro-bono. Now I was desperate to see this published, so I agreed to send it and was alright with not being paid.

But this was my first and last article which was published and not paid, I ensure that I write for only paid publications or anthologies. My time and energy are precious to me and I believe as a writer, writers are taken for granted and most of them are of the impression that we write for free.

Ensuring that we are paid

When you look for writing opportunities or either someone has offered you a writing assignment, be sure that it is a paying market, and if this is not mentioned in the submission guidelines, do ask questions. Write to the editor asking “How much they pay” for this writing opportunity, a straightforward question without beating around the bush. Most probably the editor will reply back with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, this is a quick fix and a no frills way to find out whether the publication pays.

Writing and other creative trades are the most underpaid fields and usually overlooked and many are of the feeling that it’s alright to default on payments to a writer. But no, it’s not OK and as writers it falls upon us to collectively refuse to work for free. An article of 500 or more words can take us anywhere between two to six hours to write and content mills in our country pay peanuts to writers who are doling out 1000 plus word articles for a meagre fee. Let’s stop under valuing our worth and aim for the big bucks in writing.

Apart from publications, I have seen a recent trend of writing for a book of anthologies which are unpaid, and some of them even charge a fee to publish the story of a writer, they’re just being unfair and looting writers. While most of them publish only an eBook which costs nothing for the publishers, and while they do make some money on the sale of the eBooks, why can’t they pay the writers a small honorarium, it need not be much, a small token amount of payment gives value to a writer’s work.

While it makes sense if the publisher is a popular publishing house and if a first time writer wants to see her work out there, then it is alright to write for free to enter anthologies. But the craze around anthologies is such that anyone and everyone are publishing anthologies and earning money by looting writers. Recently a person shared a call for submissions on behalf of a publisher in a group, and when I asked him if it pays, he mentioned that he had written for three anthologies and that they do not pay. When I pointed out that they earn money through sales and why can’t they pay, he had no answer to my question.

It’s up to us writers to support each other and collectively deal with the issues of being paid or not being paid, every work we do is worth a value, so let’s not under estimate and under value ourselves.