Soapbox alert

Before I saddle up my high horse, I’d just like to say this:  a good writer is a skilled professional, and deserves to be respected as such.  The ability to create well-written, relevant, engaging text is something that should be – and usually is – valued by most business people who wish to appeal directly to their target audience.

Why, therefore, do I see so many appeals for writers in the ‘jobs’ section of various websites, offering work that doesn’t pay?   Do they assume that the flattery of being selected is more than sufficient?   Or do they undervalue the role of a writer to the extent that paying for their services wouldn’t even cross their minds?

As a writer and editor, I’m quite often casting a glance through the latest freelance jobs offered on employment websites.  This can be an eye-opener, and not always in a good way.   Many employers need a proofreader or editor far more urgently than they realise.

I’m shocked at how many adverts appeal for writers to submit their work for free, in exchange for the dubious compliment of being published on some nondescript website.  The skill and creativity involved in writing good copy, appropriately edited and tailored to a specific purpose, seems to be lost on many would-be ‘employers’.  And as long as there are writers who consider their abilities to be worth nothing, this state of affairs will continue.

Then we have the scenario of being asked to submit sample text to a prospective employer, usually because they wish to narrow down their shortlist.  These tasks vary in purpose and detail, but they always involve a good few hours of intensive writing or editing, sometimes to a set deadline.  The result is a piece of professionally-finished copy which you are now submitting free of charge, and which the employer can do what he wants with to promote his own business.

Let’s compare this with the art world.  If, for instance, you wanted to commission a painting from Colin, would you approach him and say, “I’d really like to buy an original, but I’m not sure about the quality of your work.  Will you do me a pencil drawing for free, and I’ll get back to you?”  (If you know me or Colin, please don’t get any ideas right now.  My sense of humour has gone walkabout.)

But this morning, my indignation has just leapt to a whole new level.  Take a look at this extract from an advert urging writers and journalists to submit their work for publication on a news website:

“The best part is that we do not charge you a penny for our service. It is entirely FREE. You write for us, and we will make your content look professional, market it to a HUGE worldwide audience…”


So we’re supposed to be pleased that we don’t have to pay to have our work published?

And, apparently, the in-house editors are willing “to personally edit your article fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation and general English to help make your work look more professional.

If you expect the text to require that much work, why the heck are you asking for professional writers and journalists?

There are further horrors in this advert, but I’ve now quit the site to save myself from the consequences of my own outrage.

Let me get a sense of proportion here:  there’s so much injustice in the world, and so much suffering, that I’m already out of order for getting cross about this.  Some writers may feel that the joy of seeing their words published online is payment enough.  That’s their prerogative.  But if you value your skills highly enough, for goodness sake don’t respond to requests like these.  The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword – don’t swap yours for a blunt instrument.

I’ve got down from my soapbox of morality now.  If you’re a writer – amateur, professional or aspiring – or even if you’re not, I’d be interested to hear your views.

Pebbles on an Iona beach. I feel better already...


  1. I completely agree, writing, like photography is an art form and should be respected as such. If a website is beautifully designed and catches peoples eye, and then the text makes no sense it would have no relevance whatsoever.
    Reading your blogs and posts is enough of an example of what pride and passion you put into your writing and you should never be discouraged by corporate people looking to get ahead in the world. Your writing brings stories alive and captures peoples imagaination, and I love reading everything you write.

  2. I’ve seen ads like that Stateside and they leave me shaking my head. Anyone who places an ad that solicits others to provide services for free is not a professional employer to begin with, but merely an opportunist and thief who wishes to take advantage of helpless would-be newcomers to the field. The same way that a tourist takes care to avoid pickpockets, an aspiring writer should steer clear of ads like this one. You are an excellent writer with a professional blog and you deserve far better.

    ps—the lovely pebbles of Iona are a treasure in themselves, to those who value beauty.

  3. I share your sentiments and thank you for posting this! As a art director for an advertising design studio, as well as a writer, I have seen a marked change in the last decade in how my clients perceive the value of my design services. I believe it is because of the multitude of software packages available, allowing them the opportunity to create their own documents in-house. That being said, I have lost count of the number of times a client has asked me to “fix” what they have created…to make it look professional so they can get the response they need. Keyword here is “professional”. While my goal is to help my clients be successful in their endeavors, and it is a task I enjoy, I don’t run a charity studio. Thank you again, for bringing this topic to light.

    Postscript: your image of pebbles is a real charmer!

    • Thank you – I really appreciate your time in sharing this. We see this situation happening a lot here, too – the value of any creative professional is questioned simply because people have got a digital camera and a computer with InDesign or PhotoShop. And amateur photographers offer their images for free, in the same way that writers offer their work. It’s just plain wrong!

  4. If they are smart, they have other ads askiing for people who want to edit for free. Then they pass the free text to the free editors. In the end, the free website designer people put it up on the free hosting service.

    I imagine it is just appealing to the apparent huge mass of people who are writers working on that first novel. They are in the real difficult part – naming the character, who is an aspiring writer…

    • That is a chilling thought! The ‘everything for free’ scenario probably does go on, and I hope they’re proud of themselves. As for your second idea, I think this would apply to quite a few people, but they wouldn’t care to admit it.

  5. Unfortunately, I know several professional, well-respected artists, who are paid for the paints and supplies only, and the client decides if they like the work or not afterward — then having the option to pay for it or not. All those hours the artists put into the work can sometimes be for naught. They are then left with pieces they’d not have painted otherwise. The problem, I think, is that there are so many flooding the market and so few with the money, that those with the money are yanking the artists around.

    I’ve also seen this happen with friends who are writers and poets. I haven’t had this experiences, becuase as a former technical business writer, I was paid in salary for my work. However, for the creative or free-lance writer, my heart aches for them.

    When I had a small stained glass studio (architectural and historical) the market dictated creating samples and extensive drawings for free. Those materials cost a fortune and the time that went into researching the piece for a specific building, specific wall, the way the light fell at the time the client was in the room to enjoy it…could be for naught. I usually got the commission, but the practice grated on my nerves so much I quit doing it for money.

    The practice is so disrespectful and dis-values the artist and writer. I see it as turning them into a machine where talent and expertise are invalidated and their work is “on tap” to the one with the money. While I love to write and paint, it is the practice you describe that keeps me from being anything more than a creative writer for fun and an art hobbyist. I share your frustrations and hope the zeitgeist changes to raise the artist and writer out of scullery-maid status to the professional, talented people they are.

    • Very well said, and I share your sentiments completely. I’m not surprised that you got disheartened with the architectural research and gave up the stained glass work – but what a shame, because this was a talent that should have been widely appreciated. It’s encouraging to hear so many people echoing my views, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. I guess since day one, there have been con artists. This just happens to be one of the latest venues. I agree with everything you have said Jo, and apparently many others do also. It is a shame that art and writing is not appreciated and treated properly.

    • Thanks David – it’s really good to see how many people feel the same. I felt better after writing it, and I felt a lot better after reading everyone’s comments!

  7. ordinarygood says:

    I have a friend and colleague who would agree with you whole-heartedly Jo. She is a writer and editor with excellent skills. No joy selling her two e-books despite great content and dirt cheap prices. There is so much out there for “free” on the internet and full of errors :-)

    She often gets asked to meet about a job that is needed and she puts the effort in, works out a quote (which is often ridiculously cheap from my point of view – undervaluing herself) and then either hears nothing back despite the meeting needing to be ASAP or she gets a response that “oh we will do it ourselves”. It leaves her totally bewildered. The strangest response she got was “Oh I’ve found someone who will feng-shui the material, but thanks anyway”….what the????

    Professional speakers here are expected to speak for free unless they are “celebrities” and I would have been able to charge much more as a trainer if I had been teaching something other than the “soft skills”.

    We all need to be able to earn a living and it is a tragedy when people cannot do that in their chosen skill/talent base. There are plenty of quotes out there about “work your passion and the money will follow” but I’m not sure how realistic that is in today’s uncertain world with such different perspectives abounding and cheap options apparently available.

    Keep writing and doing what you do so well Jo….and Colin.

    • That’s very true, Lyn, and it’s a shameful state of affairs – discouraging to say the least. I can’t believe professional speakers are expected to speak free of charge. Freedom of speech re-interpreted! And feng shui-ing text? Really?

      The only thing to remember is that good quality writing will still be appreciated by those who are capable of doing so. Don’t compromise your standards and don’t lose sight of the real value of your skill.

      Thank you for your comment and kind words!

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