As a professional writer, it’s important to get paid for your work.
Too often, freelancers and independent business owners get asked to work for free—friends and family (and sometimes random strangers on the street) find out what you do and ask you to do a project for them “just real quick.”
That adds up…all those quick little friendly projects start taking away from your real paying work, whether that’s writing magazine articles, producing online courses, writing a business book, or crafting novels.
So lots of sites designed for freelancers suggest that you never work for free—always charge what you’re worth, though you can give a friends and family discount to be nice.
Is that always the best policy, though?
Sometimes writing for free can actually work to your advantage.
Here’s four ways writing for free can help build your author career and lead to even more sales and income down the road.
1. Establish Your Credentials
When you’re getting established in your niche, you need to establish your credentials.
That means appearing in notable publications in your field, either in print or online.
If you’re a nonfiction author, you may want to find the best blogs and magazines in your particular area and offer to write guest posts for them. Guest posts are only rarely paid, but being able to point to a post on Entrepreneur.com or Fast Company goes a long way to establishing your credibility as an expert.
You can promote these appearances on your website with an “As Seen On” or “Media Mentions” section, helping to reassure new potential readers that you know what you’re doing and that they’re in safe hands with you.
Think about joining Help a Reporter Out (HARO) as well. You’ll get a series of emails every day with all kinds of requests from reporters who are looking for sources for their stories.
By responding to these requests, you can quickly spread the word that you’re an expert in your particular field and build up your presence around the web. The more readers encounter you giving advice about, say, the right time to plant your tulip bulbs, the more likely they’ll be to look you up and buy your gardening book.
Fiction writers can also benefit from establishing their credentials. The more you’re known as a writer in your genre, the more readers will trust you and want to check out your work.
There are lots of ways you can use free short stories to establish yourself as a serious, talented writer in your genre.
Many literary journals are very prestigious—getting published there is a huge feather in your cap—but many are also flat broke. You won’t get paid for publishing in venues like ZYZZYVA or Zoetrope All-Story, but you will get plenty of credibility. You’ll also become eligible for awards and could have your story selected to appear in any of a number of “Year’s Best” anthologies.
That’s the kind of exposure and credibility that could do wonders to boost sales of your books and other work!
Blogging is another great way to build your credentials as a fiction writer. Consider finding guest posting opportunities that you can use to share your expertise and some of the lessons you’ve learned on your journey as an indie writer. While you won’t be paid, you’ll be able to attract new readers and establish yourself as a solid fiction author worth checking out.
2. Find New Fans
The best way to increase your author income is to gain new readers—and the best way to do that is to always be producing new work for people to find and love.
It’s important to keep new books in your pipeline, but you can also find new fans by creating content that you don’t charge for.
Free Articles and Stories
Along with establishing your credentials, writing guest content for various sites and publishing your work in literary or genre fiction journals without limiting yourself to only paid opportunities opens the door to finding new fans.
It can be hard to expand your audience—where do you find new readers if you don’t have a big marketing budget to use for Facebook, Goodreads, or Google ads?
You find them where they’re already reading stuff!
By posting free content online on other people’s websites, you can “borrow” their fans and possibly get them hooked on your own work.
Writing a free how-to article, publishing free short fiction, and generally putting your work out there in every venue you can think of increases your chances of winning new fans who will then spend money on your paid offerings.
Just make sure that whenever you publish something without payment, you are credited with a bio and link to your website and your available books for sale. Make it easy for writers who like what you’ve done to give you money for more writing!
Making one or more of your full-length books free forever, a strategy called permafree, is another way that not charging for your work can increase your income in the long run.
Once you’ve established a book series, consider making the very first book in that series free forever. You can do this by enrolling the book in KDP Select, or else by lowering the price of the book to $0 everywhere else it’s for sale online, then requesting that Amazon price-match your book (which it may also do automatically).
By offering the first book for free, you’re giving readers a way to try your series without making a financial commitment.
Make it easy for readers to find and fall in love with your books—once they’re hooked, they’ll be much more likely to spend money on the other books in your series or even jump over to other series you’ve written just to get more of your work.
3. Hook Your Audience
When you’ve started attracting fans, you need to give them reasons to stick around.
One of the best ways to do this is to be continually releasing new work based on your market research of what your audience wants.
But writing a book takes time—you have to create the content, have it edited, get a cover designed, do the layout, and more. Even if you use our handy formatting tips to get your book ready to publish on Kindle in only 30 minutes, the whole process takes time!
In between book releases, you should be creating content to give to your audience for free, keeping yourself at the top of their minds and priming them to buy your next paid offering as soon as it’s available.
This content can take lots of forms: blog posts, free downloads, flash fiction shorts, exclusive short stories, how-to guides, and more. There is no “right” offering—just what’s right for your career and your audience.
Think about what your audience enjoys—what do reviewers always mention that they love? What are the most-searched terms that land people on your website? What problem are you trying to solve for your readers?
Turn those insights into a series of articles, stories, or other work that you give away for free. Some of it should be available with no barrier, like articles on your blog; more involved content can be a freebie that you give away with an email signup or other trigger action.
By regularly giving your readers free stuff to read, you’re adding value to them in between book launches and helping them remember how much they love your writing. That means more book sales later, and an overall bump in your author income!
4. Expand Your Scope
Another great reason to give your writing away for free is when you’re trying to expand into a new area.
You might be the best fantasy writer in the world, but no one knows that you can also write romance and self-help. To help your current readers transition to your new genre—or to attract readers who don’t know you at all—you might want to create free teaser content.
This can also help you do market research on what people in your new genre like. Which short stories and characters get the best response? Which self-help topic gets people most excited?
If you’re itching to try your hand at writing something new, do some free articles, guest posts, flash fiction, or other unpaid work to establish yourself in that area, ensuring that you already have an enthusiastic audience ready and waiting for your first full-length paid book.
Writing free marketing materials for your cousin’s best friend’s ex-roommate might not be a good use of your time and talent…but that doesn’t mean that writing for free is always a bad idea.
Your knack with words is both your product and the key to your marketing and sales success. By giving readers more ways to find you and interact with your work, adding value without demanding something in return, establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and gaining wider recognition, you make it easier for those readers to fall in love with your writing.
Once they know and trust you, they’ll be not just willing, but eager to buy your paid offerings.
Giving away some of your writing can help you earn more in the long run by attracting new readers and keeping them engaged and eager to buy your books.
For more on increasing your writing income, check out these articles:
- Clip It: How To Build a Professional Writing Portfolio
- 10 Ways to Increase Your Book Sales and Earn More Money as an Author
- The Secret to Earning Millions as an Author
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!