01 October 2009

Unpaid Writing Jobs

by Morgan Barnhart

As a freelance writer, sometimes we get a little desperate just to get our writing noticed. We want to get paid for every word that we write on the screen or on paper, but sometimes exposure is more important. Sometimes taking a writing internship or taking an unpaid assignment can lead to paying work in the future, sometimes it won't. If we're working for free, it can feel like we're selling our souls to whoever we're just giving our writing away to, so we have to be picky when choosing who to write for for free.

So when should you take on/not take on unpaid work?

1. If they have a website. Do they have a website that looks professional and already has a following? Maybe they're a start-up, but their website at least looks fantastic and they have a lot of ideas to bring in views.

2. If they're organized. Sometimes in the posting you can just tell if they're well organized or not. Organization can be a key indication that they're serious about whatever it is they want you to do for them.

3. If their topic sounds legit. If they want you to write about writing or the environment or health and fitness or something that you're familiar with, then chances are it's a legit deal. If they want you to write about how orange juice fell from the sky...then, well, I wouldn't trust them, at least.

4. If they want you to pay them first. This is obviously a no-go sign for anything in life (except school). If they want you to pay to get into their website just to set up a profile, run away! No legit employer will ever ask you to pay them. They pay you.

5. If they leave a name. More often than not, legit employers will leave a name within the posting or at least a visible email address. They're not afraid to let you know their name or their email address. This can be tricky sometimes since some employers like to keep their company private to respect their work or their clients, so sometimes this rule can be broken if the post looks legit.

Even when following these guidelines, it can be tough to distinguish who to write for when it comes to unpaid employment. If worse comes to worse, follow your gut instincts.


  1. I think the idea of paying someone else or not knowing who you are working with is scam territory.

    There's plenty of good people to work with. Actually, we should do an article about that someday. Best places to publish for new writers.

  2. How do you know when it's legit?

  3. Do research on the company. Look at their website, their articles, what they do. Search the web for any information on them. It should be pretty obvious if it's legit or not.

  4. I agree with Morgan and I would also add that if you harbor any qualms about working with someone, ask to speak to someone who has worked with them before.

    I've taken a lot of jobs where after two weeks my coworkers' flood gates of negativity open about the organization. Sometimes they're just venting, but other times it was information that would have encouraged me to look elsewhere.

    But whatever research turns up--go with your gut reaction.