So Tim Kreider published this great piece in the New York Times about writing for free (short version: Don’t). But, oh, it’s tempting, isn’t it? You want to break in, you want exposure, you want the excitement of seeing your stuff in print. Maybe you need clips to get the freelance gig. Or maybe you’re doing what all the experts tell you to do these days: Build a platform!
And it’s not just writing. Sites like Elance supply not only writers and editors, but also designers, marketers, and even programmers. The model is effectively auction-style, where the lowest bidder usually wins. The result is often crappy work done for crappier pay.
Just as bad are the SEO content farms, which prey on desperate writers who just want to make something, anything, for practicing their art (yeah, I’m looking at you, Demand Media and Suite101). There’s a place in the world for good copywriters — and they get paid good money. Don’t sell yourself short.
So where does that leave you if you’re writing commercial fiction? Remember that money always flows to the writer. If someone’s asking for a lot of cash to publish your novel, there’s a good possibility it’s a scam. Make that any cash. If you’re not sure, one good place to check is Preditors & Editors.
The only possible exception might be a self-publishing service that you are actually paying to produce a tangible product (your book), or a publisher that takes a calculated risk on your novel in return for a percentage of sales. In this publishing model, you are giving up an advance for easier access to the marketplace. The upside is that you may also get a bigger chunk of the profits, especially for e-books.
So why’s this particular hypocrite blogging for free, you ask? That’s a really good question — for another post.