Posts Tagged ‘working for free’
For the counterpoint to yesterday’s post telling people to not take solicitations of free work from friends, here’s what you need to do if you offer to do free work: Be Professional.
That means do things like ask & be aware of a schedule, notify people if you’re going to slip or bail on the commitment, understand that your work may need revision or just end up not being right for the project, put honest effort into it, and, most importantly, communicate the limits of what you’ll do for free.
Treat free jobs like they’re job applications for future gigs you don’t know about, either from people you’re doing the work for, folks they know who ask for someone like you, or folks who see the end result with your name on it.
Finally, know what you’re getting out of it. Are you getting a future favor? Networking opportunities? Exposure? Traffic & SEO? Social capital? A warm, fuzzy feeling of helping someone out? This might be uncomfortable to talk about, so it’s on you on whether you will (and with some like social capital, talking about it can potentially lower it, so it’s all messy & weird), but even just knowing what you’re personally getting out of something can help you deliver what you need to.
(Actually, let’s tackle that dirtiest one: exposure. That’s what people tell you in order to get you for free or cheap. So if someone’s trying to justify getting you on the cheap with “exposure”, walk away. More than likely, that’s someone looking to exploit you and are overselling the exposure you’ll get. If it seems like too good an opportunity to walk away from, research; find out who is has worked for this person for exposure, and see how true that rings.)
P.S. Since I was asked by some people yesterday: no, these posts aren’t passive-aggressive notes to people I’m working with or have worked with. Just thoughts on the realities of working for free, as I have done many times. (Including Mythender, which is why it’s on my mind more, I suppose.)
Inspired by a conversation I had with a friend recently, I have some advice for all new writer-publishers:
Friends will offer help when you’re in need. They’ll offer to do some writing for free, or editing for free, or art for free, whatever.
When they do, politely decline or offer to pay. Never take free.
People are well-meaning, but the problem with free work for friends is that is has the lowest priority. Lower that work that keeps you in rent, food & Internet. Lower that paying work that’s interesting. Lower that relaxing after a stressful day. And often lower than sleeping. This causes one of two problems:
- You can’t depend on them for a schedule. Sure, they’ll say you can depend on them, and I hope you can, but expect them to slip.
- Because you’re getting work they’s done whenever they could get around to it, expect it to be sloppy or rougher than what they would otherwise turn it for a paying client.
Sometimes, you get both problems simultaneously.
Now, your friends aren’t bad people. Quite the contrary! But there’s often a vast valley between our intentions and our bandwidth. And people offering tend to not take that into account. But it still leaves you in an awkward place. When you receive said work, you can:
- Accept it begrudgingly, and spend a little time working on it to fit what you’re doing.
- Accept it begrudgingly, and spend a lot of time working with it your vision. Likely as much time as you would have spent writing or whatnot in the first place.
- Send back notes, asking for revision, and expecting the same sort of issues with scheduling & quality.
- Reject it, and cause hurt feelings because this was a favor done for you.
Again, your friends aren’t bad people! But now you’re in a hell of a situation, where you have more trouble than you had before. There’s guilt on their part for offering, guilt on yours for having to deal with this situation, and frustration all around. This is the sort of thing that can strain friendships and break up romantic relationships.
(And yes, you may luck out. But the smart money doesn’t plan for success, but for struggle.)
All that said, there are people you can rely upon if you outline what you need, when you need it, and know that they aren’t critical to the project going live. Like what I did with Finis, and what we did when Jonathan Walton & I proposed Magic Missile. But if people volunteer to do something critical for your project (which happens often when you’re doing a charity project and people can’t volunteer money, so they want to volunteer time), know that you’re walking into a suboptimal situation that, weeks down the road, will cause strife.
(Yes, I realize there are entire sites that run off the “work for free” model. They have more discipline and possibly less financial hardship than I do. I do a little bit of free work, knowing that I’m actually being paid in social capital, and always for something short, quick & interesting.)
P.S. I’ve been spending all my time lately packing up my place to move this coming week to Denver, and spending time with friends who want to see me off. So that’s why I’ve been radio-silent. Expect that more-or-less through the next 10 days.
 “Writer-publisher” sounds like this century’s “warrior-poet”.
 I speak from personal experience.
 Which a few months later, I realize that I was the friend who was going to do shitty, late free work, and turned the project over to Jonathan.