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Planning Retirement Online

Writer's Block: Getting paid to write

There are regular debates on writing forums about payment for writing because there are two very different schools of thought on the subject

One says that, as professionals, you should always receive payment for the work you put in and you should never write for free. The other believes that, in some circumstances, it is no bad thing.

My view is definitely in the latter camp as there is no problem if you write for free, as long as you don't do it too often or for too long.

Here are my reasons for thinking that it can be advantageous:

  1. If you write something for a new website or small magazine or newspaper, they may be struggling to exist and will certainly not have the finances to pay for content. Very often, you may be part of their success and later can enjoy either normal payments or at least a share in their profits. (This is exactly what happened to me with LaterLife.) All you must watch is that you are not exploited and continue not to be paid even when they become established and can afford it.

  2. New writers need credibility, and often having something published is extremely valuable as this is something you can have in your portfolio. If the only way to get a travel review or opinion piece into print is to write for free, at least you can now show potential employers or editors that you have "published work."

  3. It is amazing how much you learn from writing for public consumption. The feedback you get, the research you need to do and the skills and techniques you develop are often invaluable. If you see writing as partly an apprenticeship, you may gain more from the experience than the money you feel you are owed.

  4. It is quite possible to use the experience of writing about particular topics to develop new careers. For example, if you write enough about hobbies, crafts, history or other topics that you become an expert, you may find you can make a career out of teaching it, writing guides on it or writing a book based on what you have learned.

Once you feel you have proved you have professional expertise, you can start refusing work that is unpaid.

What will you be paid?

Many new writers worry about negotiating a fee, so here are a few tips:

  1. For many magazine or newspaper columns, there is already a set fee and it is probably not a good idea to demand a larger amount at the outset. When the editor accepts your work, they will tell you what they normally pay, and unless you are sure it is too low, it is easiest if you simply accept.

  2. If you then have a similar piece accepted and the next editor suggests a lower payment, you are on stronger ground if you tell them what you were paid last time. The worst that will happen is that the new editor will stick to their proposed fee, or they may try to meet you at least half way.

  3. If you are asked to "name your fee", it is difficult if you are very inexperienced so it is worth looking at websites like London Freelance that list different rates for various categories of writing. An alternative is to work out how long it will take you to write the piece and decide on what you want to be paid per hour.

According to the Writers Bureau, typically you can expect:

  • national newspapers – anything from £50 for a tip off to £700 upwards for a front page feature.
  • regional newspapers – from £20 for a tip up to £150 for a commissioned feature in a bigger local paper.
  • magazines – from £230 per thousand words in the smaller magazines up to £1500 per thousand words for prestige US magazines.

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