12 December 2012

Why I will write for free.

You may have seen Mia Freedman's column following a heated debate about the non payment of the contributors on Mamamia.

I write for Mamamia. You can read my articles here. I am fiercely proud of writing for Mamamia - that I have had the opportunity to share my voice on a large mainstream website that reaches a huge readership. I'm a contributor who writes for free for Mia. And I am ok with that (for my own situation). I'm not saying everyone should write for free and I am not saying that editors shouldn't pay writers. I'm not sure if I have the proper knowledge of new media business models to debate that in a balanced way. But I can speak for why I am willing to write for free on some occasions.

Most of my pieces that have been published on Mamamia have already been on my blog. I figure, I've already written them and think they may apply to a wider audience, plus the tweaking they get when edited for Mamamia is good for me. I want to get paid for the new articles I pitch and write. Publication on Mamamia is excellent exposure that, along with my blog, has led to paid work. But I write for more than money.

I'm thankful for the opportunities they've given me. There is an element of creative control that I keep - I love that my stories have been kept in my own voice. I can't afford to leave my day job and house in Melbourne to do an internship. But having my stuff published on Mamamia is a bit like a flexible internship - I don't have to stop my full time paid work, I can get mentored by talented writers and editors, and put something on my CV.

I'm thankful for the people I've connected and made friends with - the Kiki and Tea team, Bern Morley, Bec Sparrow, Jamila Rizvi, Rick Morton, Kirsty Rice, Kate Hunter, plus all the other great bloggers and writers that I've had exposure to here.

And then there is this reason, the clincher: There is not much diversity in the media (I come at this from a disability/visual difference angle). It is often all about superficial celebrities, airbrushing and non issues. But Mia Freedman supports and promotes disability and appearance diversity in the media through my writing (and others such as Stella Young and Joanne Hutchins, plus includes articles about wider diversity issues) on her rather mainstream site. When I was young, I thought I would never get seen or heard in the media, and now look! This exposure does mean more to me than money can.

I remember the day I was asked if my piece could be published on Mamamia. I had been in contact with Mia for an article about body image that I was researching for DiVine. I emailed Mia the finished piece and then a few days later I received an email from Mamamia's then managing editor Lana, asking if she could publish MY article!! I was so excited I called my parents at work, explaining who Mia was, and then sought permission from DiVine to republish. It felt like my big break into mainstream media. And then earlier this year, I was asked to feature in Wardrobe Week where I showcased some of my favourite clothes. I felt like the team really valued diversity. They got it. And the piece on Rick Guidotti that I edited from my blog is one that I am most proud of this year. (And I was recognised in London by a Mamamia reader!) I have been able to play a small part in raising awareness of disability issues and appearance diversity in Australian mainstream media.

I recognise that some of the comments on Mamamia can be very scathing. I've been lucky - and I don't know whether it's because of the topics I've written about - that the comments I've received have been gentler than comments on other articles on Mamamia and on other websites. I was asked to write something passionate about disability for a news site, notorious for its nasty commenters, and without payment. I said no, I'm not wanting to be abused for free.

I guess I come from a place of privilege by being able to afford to be able to write for free in some instances. I do have a day job which means writing is not my main source of income. This past year and a half I've been taking my writing more seriously. I do get paid to write - I get advertising income from my blog, and a few freebies too (always disclosed), I wrote a few paid pieces for online publications and magazines, and I also do public speaking. Payment has not been enough to quit my day job, but it's something. It is definitely nice to be valued through exposure and money. Though it's funny, I received a cheque and some theatre tickets in the mail last night (pictured above). These were because of blogging. Though they made me smile, there was not the same rush I get seeing my words published.

So what's my answer to whether writers should write for free? Overall, no. If there is advertising revenue, some of that should go to a website's writers.

I have been blogging on and off for 12 years now, three years solidly on this blog. I have put myself out there to various publications and in some cases have received payment, but in most cases I haven't. It has been good exposure, for my own profile and for Ichthyosis and appearance diversity. But I am becoming more aware of my worth.

I have been thinking more and more about how to make my writing a more serious venture. Of course I can't cut back or quit my day job if editors won't pay, so I am wanting to spread my wings and sprinkle my words over the publications that do pay. I am being more discerning in my submissions now - I value my words and where they are published. And I'll still be submitting to Mamamia. For while I don't agree with all of Mia's opinions (I recall writing an emotional email to her the day after my dog died, in response to a column she wrote), and I don't enjoy every article on Mamamia, I do think the site contains quality writing about issues that make me think, laugh and cry, and I am so grateful for Mia and her team giving me an opportunity to have a voice in the media.


In similar news, pick up a copy of Frankie magazine from today - I am in it :)



  1. Carly! I just wrote a long comment then got a "this page doesn't exist" message when I tried to post!

    Great piece for thought, Carly.

    Writing for Mamamia looks like a good way for budding writers to get "online mentorship". And as with all quality experienced mentors who offer their time and tweaks, there needs to be something in it for them as well...This all reminds me of when Huffington Post sold for squillions which the founder kept rather than monetarily recognising the contributors who built the site with their work. There's a fine line between saying that Arianna Huffington was a smart woman who used her skills and resources to build HuffPo (as the French spinoff is called!) and the other side that questions the reasonableness of her business ethics to not monetarily recognise her contributors. An interesting debate

  2. Not only do I follow your blog religiously, but through you I have been reading various other blogs that are linked here, as well. I've even joined Blogher so I could read even more articles. If I had to pay for the online content of all of these, it would be prohibitive, and I'd have to be much more selective.

    Of course there has to be a way to make online content available to readers and financially lucrative for writers. Many of the well-known news outlets, like the New York Times, have put up a paywall, so content is now a little less accessible. But I'm glad I'm able to read your postings and look forward to the day when you are able to move into the "paid writer" column -- but hope there will continue to be a way for you to write for everyone who finds their way to your blog.

    1. Hi Cheryl
      I see you're coming at it from a consumer perspective - yes I do write for sites that you don't have to pay to access. I'm moreso addressing the issue of editors not paying their writers.
      I'm glad that you found my blog and have found others through it. Thanks for your support!

    2. I understand that the issue is for the writer. I often wondered if you could separate your articles into different categories, for example, film reviews, which you might submit for paid publication. Those wouldn't be as personal or revealing as some of the pieces here on your blog. Of course they are all connected in some way, even a book, concert, or restaurant review might have some kind of personal connection in it, but those kinds of reviews are something that you might want to reach to a large, paying audience.(For example, becoming a magazine or even a website's primary reviewer.)

  3. I write for free. I not only write for free but I run a website for free. KiKi & Tea costs me money, it doesn't make me money, but it's mine. That's a cost I bare. From day one it's been my priority to get it to a point where I am in a position to pay my writers (and ideally I'd like to live off it too). Sure, it may purely be a token amount, but it's where I'm aiming, and I've made that clear from the start.

    I think that's why people will write for us for free. Because they know I'm not hiding anything. My stats are out there, right on the "Collaborate" page. When I'm asked if we pay I just tell the truth - we don't because we don't make any money. But any achievements we have are shared. And if we start making lots of money, that will be shared too.

    Mia is right that the exposure gained from writing for MM is valuable, though, and that counts for something too, as you have said.

    I don't know where I stand on whether or not she pays contributors. I guess I just figure if you want to be paid, you won't submit to her site. And that's fine. There are others that do pay. But I do see how much they are expanding their revenue streams so I feel a little upset that there appears to be no intention in the future to pay for contributions. But it's not my business. It's not my site.

  4. I've been trying to get here all day!

    Lovely and well considered response Carly. Like you I am in the privileged position of being able to write for free. That influences the decisions I make with giving my words away in exchange for exposure (ie I am happy to do it).

  5. Great piece Carly. I too have been happy to write for Mamamia for free.

    Personally I'd prefer a small freelance token of appreciation for occasional writers for any form of writing. Even $100 would acknowledge that the piece is contributing to a business and takes some effort.

    I suspect that wouldn't tame the Mia critics though and I don't know enough about the business model either. But I do know that mainstream media - that did once make money - often doesn't pay for op eds. (The Australian always has in my experience - they paid me $400 for a piece in 1993 when I was a student and I thought it was a fortune!)

    But since many of them don't - and never have - it's hard not to see a lot of the criticism on Twitter as just Mia Bashing - where they all seem so angry that she (like you and lots of other women bloggers) produced a site that thousands of women adore.

  6. Sorry meant to sign that 'Kirsten' - commenting from the blog account was easiest :-)


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