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Writing for Exposure: How To Just Say No

Recently I received an email from a gentleman who owns a website presumably about "man caves." He wanted to know if I was interested in contributing to his site. He referred to my involvement in the tiny house community as his reason for reaching out.

At first I told him that I didn't have any experience with man caves and that I might not be the best resource.

But he asked again. He said that he was envisioning a piece that shared what I had learned about living in a small space that someone could use when designing their back yard retreat. So I said certainly, and I gave him a quote.

His response?

"I'm sorry, I should have been more clear. I'm not able to pay but this blog post should get you lots of exposure."


Yes, that is a word that professional writers hear a lot. Many companies look for writers to contribute content to their own blogs or websites for 100% free and only the promise of "exposure."

These sites tend to prey upon inexperienced writers who might be willing to get their work out there to build up a portfolio. And, in some cases, there could be a strategy to this. But after a while a professional writer really needs to make the decision to value their work or no one else will value it either.

These opportunities can be difficult to refuse. The website owners act as though they are doing the writers a favor by offering to publish their piece. But I have learned that it is critical to my success. And here's why.

This particular blog post about man caves would require extensive work on my part. The same amount of work that it would usually take me to produce a product for one of my paying clients. It would involve research and editing just like any other piece I produce. I needed to weigh the value of that time against the clients that I work for or other important tasks that come along with running a freelance writing business including additional marketing (for more paid jobs) and accounting (so I can get paid).

So how do you tell someone "No" without burning bridges? Well, sometimes bridges will be burned no matter what you try but I find that honesty is the best solution in general.

What did I say to Mr. Man Cave?

"Thank you so much for thinking of me and offering this opportunity. As a professional writer I'm not in a position to volunteer my time right now. Best of luck to you moving forward and please let me know if you need anything in the future." 

How do you know when you should do something for exposure? For professional bloggers the best way to get exposure is to partner with other blogs in the same theme as yours for "Guest Posts." You won't get paid for these but it will promote and link back to your personal blog.

So, what is the difference?

While some guest post offers come directly from the blog owners most often they are solicited by the writer themselves. For example, I have a new book coming soon (stay tuned!) and I might reach out to blogs I know who write on a similar subject and ask if I can create a new piece exclusively for them. In this case, it would be marketing for my own business.

Exposure, on the other hand, tends to be what markets offers when they reach out to writers but don't feel as though they can or need to pay them for their  professional services.

Our job, as professional writers, is to discern when either scenario will be valuable to us. I generally feel that if a website is popular enough to get me "exposure" they can probably pay their writers. For the most part, organizations that solicit pieces from writers without any compensation are just trying to get something for nothing. Enough writers are willing to give away their work for free that this is still a thing.

Freelance writing isn't easy. It takes a lot of effort and there are no set-in-stone rules when it comes to pay scale. This is the approach I've taken:
  • Create a range of prices for my work. A certain amount for blog posts between 350-500 words and double that for any blog posts closer to 1000 words. 
  • I will, sometimes, take less than this amount depending on the company what they're offering and, if I can find out, why. 
  • Never take less than half the rate I have set for blog posts up to 500 words. 
This has served me well and has provided me the opportunity to build an excellent portfolio while also running a successful business.

How do you handle rates for your work or requests to write for "exposure?"

We have to value ourselves before anyone else will value us. 


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