A guest post by Julie Van Rosendaal
I’m not being paid to write this. It’s a guest post, a format whose popularity has slipped in recent years as the concept of writing for exposure began to lose its luster. It seemed more popular back when no one was making any money at this blogging thing.
So why am I writing it, if I’m not being paid? Because I like and admire Dianne, I read her blog and want to give back for all the knowledge she’s shared with me, and because I’m part of this online community and find it an interesting conversation. Because I do what I do for plenty of reasons, and only one of them is monetary.
Derek Thompson made a good point in The Atlantic, that most of us write for free all the time anyway. We share our thoughts and ideas –often at length – on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, in the comments section of other websites and on our own blogs. If all those words were arranged and paid for by someone, the Internet would be a far quieter place.
Yet it’s a common war cry among writers and bloggers: Don’t write for free! Your time is valuable! Writing for free undervalues us all! And I get that they won’t buy the cow if you’re giving the milk away. Or they won’t pay you, as a well-established and talented cow, for your high quality cream if half the herd is offering up free access to their udders.
But that way of thinking also levels the playing field. Writing is a skill, and the words and voices of some writers are more valuable, something many editors recognize. We can’t all participate at the same level. Add influence and reach into the equation, and it can be difficult to gauge compensation.
When you’re trying to make a living at writing, as Seth Godin mentioned, it also depends on what you mean by “work” and “free.” I’ve done lots of work for free to establish myself in the food writing and blogging community. There are advantages to providing your time, energy, creativity, resources, food – and yes, words – even if the benefits don’t pay the bills. There is value to building relationships, supporting your community, or doing things that may lead to paying gigs down the road.
I broke into food writing back in the 1990s, before blogs existed and the Internet was much of a thing. I offered free food columns to small town rural newspapers just to get my foot in the door of an industry there was no clear path to besides news-focused journalism school. I saw it as a hobby. It was fun to answer reader letters, and didn’t cost me anything. Soon a few free cooking spots on CBC Radio One led to an initially unpaid column, which led to a paid weekly column and an invaluable position with Canada’s most iconic media brand, the part of my job I value most.
I’ve also written cookbooks, and they don’t always make economic sense. Lots of people work hard to land a deal and then spend their entire advances on ingredients, food styling and photography. They don’t earn out. And although writing a cookbook can be a crazy amount of work for next to no pay, to others it’s seen as the ultimate accomplishment. When I self-published my first cookbook I lost money, but it got the attention of a major book publisher and it opened plenty of doors.
Regarding food blogging and sponsored posts, I say if it’s worth it to you to photograph and post about your dinner in exchange for a $100 prime rib roast to feed your family, go for it. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, don’t. It’s true that everyone’s time is valuable, that it can take hours to shop, prep, photograph, edit and write, but remember that the client is interested in your reach, not your time.
So if working for free helps you to:
- Connect or build a relationship with someone you admire
- Gain valuable insight or experience
- Position yourself as more of an expert or authority in your field
- Get a paid gig
- Market your books or services or products
- Or move forward somehow…
… just do it. I found the experiences and opportunities that came along invaluable.
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Julie Van Rosendaal is the author of six best-selling cookbooks. Her seventh, Gatherings, has just been released, and an eighth is due in fall 2015. She’s a food columnist on CBC Radio One, food editor of Parents Canada magazine, a contributing editor for Western Living magazine, a food columnist for publications across Canada and the voice behind her award-winning blog, Dinner with Julie.
I heard her speak at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference about working for free and asked her to write about it. (Disclosure: I was compensated to attend the conference, as was Julie.)