Please Work for Free – And Other Crazy Things People Ask of Authors

I realize this applies to other types of artists and freelancers, so apply this to yourself if it fits.

But, first, let’s talk about  YOUR job.  If you are employed, paid in cash or otherwise, you have an idea in your head of what you and that work is worth.  Would you do this work for free?  If you love your job, why wouldn’t you work for free? I mean, it gets you respect and name recognition, right?  It makes you feel good to do it and be admired for it.

I work at Amazon three months out of the year and I am fortunate enough to love the job.  But, inevitably when I come home and my husband asks me, “How was work?” my standard reply is “They still have to pay me to do it.”  It’s kind of an inside joke for me though.  Because most of the time I work as an artist either writing or doing video and marketing.  And often I’m asked to work for $2.00 or less an hour.  Would YOU work for $2.00 an hour?  No, I thought not.  But when people ask me to work for less it does not mean I do less work.  I just get paid less for my time.  Occasionally I will get a client who wants to pay for a single-wide, but get the Taj Mahal.   And believe me when I say, it is that client who will be the most demanding and least appreciative.  Luckily, I am at a point in my career that I can turn those projects down.


I also feel a bit unappreciated as an author at times.  I spend hours, days, weeks, months writing a novel.  Then, I spend weeks, maybe months, editing the novel so people can enjoy it.   I release my work, knowing it will be judged.  Then, I get told by “marketing gurus” posting blogs and articles, that I really need to make the first book free.  And there’s some wisdom to what they say I guess, under certain circumstances.  But, honestly, would they work for free for a few months to prove themselves? Probably not.

I get it.  Some people write at the speed of light, edit at the speed of not-really-editing-it, and try to make money through volume.  Readers get those cheaper or free books and become jaded because the editing is terrible (and sometimes the writing itself) and they don’t want to give an unknown author a chance.  So readers want to try something for free first.

Part of the issue is a question: Have authors caused mistrust with readers?

Do we owe readers free books because other authors didn’t take care in the writing and editing of a book before putting it up for sale?

Though I understand the plight of the reader, of which I am one, I don’t think we owe free books to anyone.  But, I will say that we, as authors, need to be more honest with our contemporaries who ask our opinion of their work and we would rather show support by giving kind feedback than by telling them they need to edit their work or re-write a thread or chapter.  We are so worried about being kind that we compromise being honest.  Give constructive feedback.  Suggest resources so the person can better their craft.


Is there ever a time to give away a free book?

Yes.  But, know what you are going to get out of it.  For example,  I co-wrote a marketing book with Barbara Vey and we both agreed the book would do three things:

  1. Reflect our beliefs and ideas of best practices
  2. Help authors to be successful and to not make common mistakes we both saw happen regularly
  3. Inspire people to ask us to be speakers on those topics we wrote about.


We weren’t looking to make a lot of money from the book.  We wanted people to know what we believed in, what we support and ask us to lecture or do workshops.  So, the book was like a business card on steroids.  If people liked the book and found it useful, they might be inspired to have us as speakers.  So, we made the book free in order to facilitate our ultimate goal.

If you don’t have a lot of marketing dollars you might use your first book as your own “calling card” for readers to give you a try.  But, you need to realize how much that marketing idea will cost you.  Calculate how much you are willing to give up in order to market yourself.  But, have a clear goal in mind before you give away your hard work.

Authors are asked to do workshops for free, speaking engagements for free, donate short stories, etc.  It’s become so ordinary to expect this of authors that people are more surprised when an author asks to be paid for his/her time.  Again, don’t do anything for free unless you have a goal that makes it all worth it, other than “I want them to like me.”   And to those who ask authors to fly and do a workshop or lecture for free, or worse, expect them to pay their own way to do that favor for you, you’re being unfair and perpetuating the devaluing of an author’s time and worth.    At the very least the author should be compensated for travel, meals and hotel.  If the event is in alignment with the author’s overall goal and he/she feels it is an investment to pay their own way and do the event, that’s fine, but the host of the event should make extra efforts to acknowledge the author and help them with their goal either by advertising that they will be there or offering some trade of service.

This is not going to be a popular opinion and I realize that.  But stop and think for a moment about the last time you felt someone did not value you.  Maybe it had to do with work.  Maybe home.  Maybe you did a favor and didn’t get thanked.  That feeling sucks.  There’s no argument you can have inside your own head that makes it okay to make someone else feel that way by asking them to do or offer something for free without compensation of any kind.  There’s always something that can be done to show appreciation.  Always.


And to authors who think they must give away their time, talent or resources on the off-chance it will net them something in the future please stop and check out this funny video.  It’s more for freelancers, but that’s pretty similar –  the point being, people will try interesting ways to make you think you should give more for less.  Don’t do anything for free.  You don’t have to charge for it, but you need to get something for your time, effort and talent.

Do you ever feel under-appreciated?   Do you feel doing something for “free” without any compensation is an investment or devalues?



About Sheila Clover English

International speaker, business woman, author, mother, wife and owner of seven dogs. I love people, am an advocate for animals and stay up too late at night reading books.
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4 Responses to Please Work for Free – And Other Crazy Things People Ask of Authors

  1. Mary Hughes says:

    Hi, Sheila,

    Being both an author and a musician, this post really resonated for me. The problem with the arts is readers and listeners base payment or worth on hours of enjoyment and the time and effort it takes for them to consume the product. So they perceive a 2 hour movie in the theater is worth more than a half hour TV show.

    That having been said, I stopped enjoying playing free gigs years ago and rarely do them. Our quartet get less exposure and fewer gigs, but I’m a happier person. Plus, it frees time for activities that do put bread on the table.

    • Exactly. I don’t do “free” stuff for my reel or portfolio anymore though I get asked to do it all the time. Instead, IF I have time to do something for free I donate my time to what I consider worthy causes.
      Not only do I do animal rescue and fostering, but I volunteer for the Red Cross.
      In addition, I will do free work for fellow authors in need. Someone who is ill or something along those lines. Then I OFFER something to them. Seldom do they ask.
      Free is never really free.

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    Sheila, I love this post. I do think that if you have 3 or more books in a series, then putting the first book for free is basically a loss leader and not a bad idea to help people find your series. I’ve done that for two series, but I’ve decided not to go free on my new series. I think doing it for two series is enough.

  3. Interesting post. I think that people don’t realize the work that authors put into books, and I’ve had folks tell me that they don’t want to pay more than $1 or $2 for an e-book. I think it’s sad that books don’t seem to be as valued as other forms of entertainment.
    Jennifer Estep`s last blog was …The work of self-publishing …

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