There’s a peculiar stigma attached to doing work for free. The world we live in tells us that any time-consuming activity should earn us recompense in the form of small metal disks and green paper slips. Which is fine, but it does have at least one unfortunate consequence – it gets people accustomed to thinking they should get payment for any and ever bit of work they undertake, even if they treat it as more of a hobby than a profession.
The rule holds in the writing industry. Don’t get me wrong, I wish all authors big and small could get payed all of the monies all of the time. But that’s not how the system works. Even the big presses only offer comparative tuppence to first-time authors. Indy publishers frequently offer nothing. And remember that for those that do, there’ll always be other authors willing to undercut you.
Don’t be afraid to work for free to start off with. Such a seemingly-depressing path is mirrored beyond publishing – how many graduates take unpaid internships and voluntary work immediately after finish University? I was volunteering myself at Culloden Battlefield Visitor’s Centre last summer – luckily it was immense fun, but that can’t always be guaranteed. Writing is no different.
Of my ten published works to date, four have been unpaid (though admittedly one was a charity anthology). That’s just the way things are when you’re starting out. You can’t expect to rake in any sort of big figure right away. Writing certainly isn’t a gravy train, nor is it an easy path to success. But there is method behind the madness of writing for free. Firstly, it reaffirms the primary reason for becoming a writer in the first place, the fact that you love the craft. Without this core, you’ll never have the strength and conviction to keep going when things get tough (and they will). Secondly, it spreads your name, showcases your talent and puts your voice up on the stage, whether that stage is big or small. Everyone’s got to start somewhere. If your writing shows the signs of solid quality control and just a little dash of talent, you’ll find more and more people hunting your name down and picking up your works. Nurture that fledgling fan base with a creative online platform and before you know it you’ll be living the dream – getting paid for doing something you love!