What you gain by doing stuff free

Lest you think my title is wrong, the grammar nerd in me simply would not allow me to write for Free, even though it’s such a common mistake it’s almost not even a rule anymore. “Free” is short for “free of charge”, so putting “for” before it is unnecessary. BUT ANYWAY.

I’m not here to talk about grammar. That lesson was completely free. And speaking of free, that is what I’m here to talk about.

Everyone knows that most writers don’t make a lot of money. There are the lucky few — the Kings, the Rowlings, the Pattersons — but most of us, even if we do get paid for our writing, don’t make enough to live off of. And one of the things I’ve been taught over and over by successful freelance writers is to keep your rates up, turn down low-paying work, and stand up for yourself and your business.

Because writing is a business. If you’re working freelance, you are in business for yourself. You control your hours, your rates, your projects. Sounds great, but it also means that you control all of your own marketing, administration, accounting, and a lot of other boring-sounding words.

But one thing I’ve learned recently is that, while it’s important to charge for your work and make sure your rates are respectable, it’s also really valuable to do things for no charge.

Doing stuff for no money doesn’t mean you’re doing it for nothing.

I’ve found if you put yourself out there and become the kind of person who sticks her hand up, there’s a lot of reward waiting for you. While the following is mostly for emerging writers, I think it’s also great advice for life in general, so bear with me.

Since I finished the revision of my novel, I’ve been really focused on building up my social media platform. This has involved several hours on Tweetdeck and my Facebook page, chatting with people, asking questions, building relationships, sharing my own work and others’, wrangling hashtags, and just generally putting myself out there.

Image credit: Simone, 2010
Image credit: Simone, 2010

A few days ago, I asked an author I’ve become friends with on Twitter whether she had any advice for how to get more sign-ups on my newsletter. (I have since begun putting together a free ebook of my published short stories, which will be ready to give away soon! If you’re interested, feel free to sign up now and I’ll make sure you get a copy when it’s ready).

Anyway, this author responded quickly and offered to let me write a book review for her online book club, and she would share links to my website and social media. She gets the review she needs and I get my name and info on the site of an established, respected author. A win for both of us, and no money involved.

Then, just today, an agent I follow on Twitter mentioned that she needed something proofread last minute. I put my hand up, expecting her to say it was private, just volunteering in case it would help. And it did. I proofread the article for her, and in exchange got a meaningful thank you (which would have been enough) and then a very sweet tweet about how I helped her edit — sent to her 12k+ followers.

If you’re trying to break into writing, chances are you’ve been told how important an “online platform” is. In a world where everyone and their mother (and probably grandmother) is on Facebook and writes a blog, it can be really tricky to get your name out there. It can be even harder to get people to read your stuff.

That’s why I do things free. Not only does it make me feel good to edit stories at Storgy and provide critiques of my former MFA friends’ manuscripts, but it keeps me sharp as a writer and editor, gets my name out there and drives people to my pages, and lets people who might not otherwise hear about me know that I do what I do.

It’s important to charge for your services, but it’s also really smart to know when to volunteer. If it helps build relationships, promotes your brand, drives traffic to your website/social media, increases your network, or gives you the chance to do something you love and enjoy that will help another person, why not think about giving away your time now and then?

Every once in a while, you might get taken advantage of, but for me, so far those rare scenarios have been far outweighed by the many benefits. What will you gain by doing stuff free? Why not give it a shot and find out?

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