Should Writers Work for “Exposure”?

Short answer: Yes. And also, Absolutely Not.

The honest answer is: it depends.

For those who might not follow: “working for exposure” means writing for free, and allowing your work to be published in one or more places without pay.

There are good reasons to write for exposure–and also very bad ones. Ultimately, writing “for free” is a business decision authors must evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Let’s look at some factors authors should consider when evaluating an opportunity to write “for exposure” (without pay):

1. Always keep your copyrights, and the right to re-publish and re-use the work. This is a deal breaker. If you’re going to write for free, you need the ability to re-publish and profit from the work in the future–something you can’t do if the person you write for owns the copyright. 

2. Do you get a byline, a bio, an author photo, and a link to your website and/or work? If not, this probably isn’t a great opportunity. If you’re going to write for exposure, make sure the exposure is worth the time and energy you’ll invest. At a minimum, that means ensuring your name, photo, and information about your other work is displayed where readers will see it.

3. What business goal does the writing opportunity meet for your career? Generally, don’t work for free unless the specific job in question furthers a valid part of your writing business plan. Writers benefit from exposure that helps them gain recognition and build a platform. Sometimes, guest blogs and other “free” work can help your friends, or create business contacts that will benefit you down the line. As long as you can identify a valid, business-related reason for doing free work, that’s worth considering (but it’s not the only factor involved).

4. Are the deadlines reasonable, or flexible, and can you perform without costing yourself money or better opportunities? Working for free shouldn’t cost you money, and shouldn’t prevent you from taking on other, better opportunities.

5. Is the audience who will see your work the same as the audience for your fiction (or other paid writing work)? The goal of working for “exposure” is … exposure–but it needs to be the right exposure or you’re just swinging in the wind.

5. Do you want to do this? Sometimes an opportunity comes along that doesn’t “pencil” on business terms, but you feel an overwhelming desire to “go for it” anyway. As long as you’re not being foolish, and you’ve evaluated the business terms carefully and without an emotional cloud to skew your logic, it’s okay to listen to your heart. When you do, however, be aware that this is now a “labor of love” and you have to accept whatever results may come.


And now, some factors an author should NOT consider when evaluating an offer to work for free:

1. Pressure from the publisher or person making the offer. Obviously, they want you to do this–they get the benefit of your work without paying. The more pressure that’s put on you, the more you should be wary of taking the job.

2. Peer pressure/”what other writers say.” No other writer is living your life or walking your path. You–and only you–have the power (and obligation) to make the decisions for your career. Also? The same applies to your parents/children/friends who are not writers. You make the decisions. Not them. End of story.

3. What everyone else is doing (or not doing). Remember the old expression…”if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you follow them over?” Don’t be a lemming. Make your own decisions.

After evaluating these, and any other relevant issues, the decision whether or not to write for exposure is yours alone. Sometimes “writing for free” makes a lot of sense — for example, guest blogs to build platform or when your books release. Sometimes, it’s just a chance for someone else to take advantage of your talent. 

Evaluate each opportunity as it comes, and accept–or reject–it based on whether, and how, it fits in your writing career.

Have you ever worked for “exposure”? How did the experience work out for you?

One thought on “Should Writers Work for “Exposure”?

  • July 3, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Excellent post!

    And I think you can say the same for low-paying opportunities. I have stories in several anthologies this year which pay very little — BUT one is a charity fundraiser, so I can feel good about that, and one is good exposure and I get my rights back in just a few months, and so on. Most importantly, it’s all professional work, which lends me credibility and leverage for future work. 🙂

    Just remember, don’t devalue your work or the work of others!

    Sharing this post!

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