Copywriting for FREE? Some on craigslist think so…

Every day, there are more and more craigslist posts seeking ‘writers’ for everything from book collaborations to editorials to online articles. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of writing service.

But what they’re not doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are seeking writers, let me ask you; how many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the writing services you need? A dozen…five…one…none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are ‘professional’ copywriters. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are seventy times as many people in the IT field.

So tell me…why do you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy of getting something for nothing (or next to nothing) when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Given that they are less rare, and therefore individually less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the ‘opportunity’ to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him a few bucks for materials. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even consider offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re obviously crazy. If you answered no, then kudos for living in the real world.

Copywriters, freelance writers, editors, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect (and money) is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a great opportunity for a writer to have his work seen on your web’zine, website, sales letter, marketing flyers, etc. It is a great opportunity for you to have their work there.

2. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their resume. They get to do those things anyway, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

3. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

4. New writers in the business do need experience. But they do not need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the ‘experience’ they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?

If you, your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of shrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

5. ‘Creative’ writers, this one’s for you so please pay attention. Some will ask you to submit work for consideration. They may even be posing as some sort of ‘contest’. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by lots of writers each trying to win the contest, or be chosen for the gig. The organizers of these ‘contests’ take the best that’s submitted and use it themselves. Usually they’ll have someone reproduce that work or make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will not be paid, you will not win the contest. The only people who win here are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This can be considered speculative, or ‘spec’, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely.

6. Speaking of Spec work, don’t ever accept it. When someone asks you to write some copy or draw up an ad ‘to show them what you can do’ without an agreed upon price, that’s spec. And it should not be in your vocabulary. Spec work may seem necessary at the beginning of your career, but it’s better to do ‘free’ work for charitable organizations to build up a portfolio, then to waste time and effort on spec work.

So to writers of all persuasions looking for work, do everyone a favor, especially yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are ‘spec’ jobs, or just some guy who wants a free article in his magazine. They need you. You do not need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to work for free…how dare you.

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5 Responses to Copywriting for FREE? Some on craigslist think so…

  1. Cheers to you for this post!!! I’d add elance.com to that list. I had someone contact me for the “opportunity” to research & write thirty 500 word articles for $2 a piece. Seeing as how I’d make more money in a sweatshop – I turned it down.

    You’re absolutely right. Someone who understands the nuances of a language is rare – and it’s interesting (and a shame) how some people think this service should be given away for free.

  2. TheScrivener says:

    Yeah, it happens way too often. And it’s a shame that there are writers, good writers, that will prostitute themselves and accept anything they can get.

    It cheapens the profession and makes it harder for us to justify our fees.

    And then there’s Pro Bono work. Work that’s done for free to give something back to the community. Writing for a ‘non-profit’ or a charity; or perhaps a church. That’s legitimate ‘free work’ that a writer might feel compelled to accept. And I have no problem with that. I do some occasionally myself. But, of course, that’s not what we’re discussing here.

    I guess it’s the same in any profession. There are always those who will undercut someone else to make a buck. Or in our profession, there are always new writers who will look to expand their portfolio by accepting ‘free’ work. They don’t realize that by doing so, they will have trouble asking for the ‘right’ money when the time comes for them to become a ‘fee-based‘ entity, instead of a ‘free-based‘ one.

    And that’s complete BS for the rest of us.

  3. […] August 9, 2007 at 2:04 pm · Barry Gluck wrote a magnificent post about companies who try to solicit writing services for free or next to nothing. I highly suggest reading his post in its entirety by clicking here. […]

  4. TheScrivener says:

    Thanks for the kudos, Andrea, but I can’t take all the credit for that post. Received something similar to it in an email quite some time ago. I rewrote it a bit so that it became relevant to the writing profession.

    It amazes me how many ads on Craigslist demean our profession by asking for gratis work. Or the many postings by legitimate businesses offering to pay the Princely sum of $5.00 per article, or even the Kingly sum of 2 cents per word…or, are you ready for this…payment in copies of your work.

    Makes me want to give back (rather violently) the breakfast I ate this morning.

  5. […] copywriters in this country? Barry Gluck does. And he does a good job of explaining just why copywriters should be paid and paid […]

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