Writing for “Exposure” Is Not Payment

I’m still surprised at the number of writers who will write for the promise of exposure by websites, blogs, magazines, and newspapers. I was offered that a lot when I was a budding writer. It was fine when I was first starting out, but after a year, I didn’t want exposure, I wanted money.

That’s what any writer wants.

Flasher teddy bear flashes a squirrerl

Not that kind of exposure

We don’t write for fame, we don’t write for glory, we don’t write because it’s a cool thing to do. We write because it’s our job, and it’s how we feed our family.

Our families can’t eat exposure, and our mortgage holders don’t accept, “but my article was seen by 2,000 people last month.” Our grocery stores and our banks want money, not readers.

Dorm Room Logic

Back in the 90s and early 2000s, when Napster was all the rage, you had plenty of people engaging in late-night dorm room logic, thinking the only thing musicians ever really wanted was fame. By downloading and stealing their music, they were giving the musicians exactly what they had wanted all along: to be recognized and revered for making good music.

What the downloaders failed to realize was that the only reason the musicians were able to feed themselves and pay for shelter to keep themselves healthy so they could play music was because people were buying their albums, and not ripping them off.

So it goes with the editors who want writers to write for the “exposure.”

“Exposure” is publisher talk for “we want to put you in front of all of our readers who will be so impressed by your work that they will soon become your slobbering fans and put their hard-earned money into your pocket in a desperate grab for anything you produce and sell.”

Oftentimes, what it really means is “we don’t have very much money.

I hear the “exposure” excuse now that I’ve moved most of my written content online. Sometimes it’s a money thing.

I respect when the editor says they don’t have the money. I understand the problem, and appreciate the honesty. I’m more likely to say yes when they’re honest with me, even if it’s a one-off project for them.

But when the magazine has fewer readers than I have Facebook friends, and they’re promising me exposure? I’m not interested. I can get that level of exposure in 30 minutes. In cases like that, I think the better deal is that they pay me money, and I’ll tell my social networks about them.

If you’re still at the stage in your writing career where you need more readers, use some of the social profile building techniques I’ve discussed on this blog and PersonalBrandBlog.com. Build your readership up to the point that you don’t need the exposure, but rather that you’re doing the publication a favor by telling people that your stuff is available there.

I Write for Free When I Choose

There are times I will write for free, because I know that I am getting in front of a brand new audience. And these are people I would have a hard time reaching on my own. At the same time, the editor or publisher actually knows how to help me convert those readers into my own readers and fans, and will share that with me. A lot of editors aren’t able to do that.

At the same time, guest blogging is one of those things you should be willing to do for free. It does give you traffic, and it introduces you to another, hopefully more successful, blogger’s audience. They’re not only willing to share their limelight with you, but they’re going to tell their audience all about you. If they’re a successful blogger, they’ll have a readership of least a few thousand people.

But more importantly, that person you guest wrote for will do the same for you. So while money doesn’t change hands, there is a quid pro quo agreement between you both — you’re exchanging a post for a post. If they paid you, then you need to turn around and pay them the same amount.

So while you shouldn’t have to take any and every freebie offer that comes your way, check out the publication’s target audience and market size and see if that’s a group you want to reach. If it is, see if you have the time to do a good job. If it isn’t, ask for money. If they say no, you say no.

What Harlan Ellison Has to Say About Writing for Exposure

Photo credit: kthypryn (Flickr)

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. This is great! I am looking forward to a day when writing for exposer and writing for money are the same thing.

    2. Dewey Chaffee says

      I LOVE this article! And I ESPECIALLY love the angry passion in which Harlen Ellison states his case. This whole topic speaks volumes to me as a performer. All you gotta do is replace the word “writer” in this article with the word “actor” and you have an article about the very same experience I’ve had over the years.

      This is an especially rampant problem in my hometown of Orlando, Florida. I noticed this expectation that artists work for free in Orlando very ealy on. That’s why, when I started my comedy company back in 2007, I only worked with those who were willing to pay me, as well as willing to sign a binding contract. I can’t tell you how many people in Orlando are pissed off at me now because of this. I actually had one PEER performer say to me once, “The feeling around town is that you run your company too much like a business.”


      Pay me. That’s it. End of story.

    3. Yup.

    4. That’s a great post! I totally agree, although I choose to write guest posts for exposure sometimes.


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