Blogging Dilemma: Should You Write “For Exposure?”

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Bloggers write for free, of course. But do we really? Think of “priming the pump,” when you pour water into the pump so you can get waterflow started. When you start your blog, you fill it with content, offer valuable information. And then you work to promote that content so readers would find you. That’s when your revenue, from blogging itself or for your business, starts.

We prime the pump to get water in a bit. We’re not writing for free, per se. We work for rewards down the road. Those rewards can be money, becoming a voice of authority, or the thrill of having an active community. All of it, please! But money is great, isn’t it.

In this post, I talk about writing for exposure, what it does for you, what it doesn’t, how you can make money from it, AND paying markets where you can submit instead.


For Exposure = For Free, For Zilch, Nada, Air

In October last year, the issue of writing for exposure was exposed to the air again. The Oatmeal trolled Huffington Post when they published his comic without permission AND hotlinked to his host. I really wanted to write about it too, but I was busy. Now I was reminded of it when I saw comments/articles floating around discussing it. You, my readers, are probably also wondering about it!

This dilemma has been going on for years and decades. Sites like FundsForWriters and Duotrope emerged so that writers can make intelligent decisions on paying and non-paying markets.

When giants like the Huffington Post proudly declare in their Submissions page that they don’t pay writers, there was comprehension in the world of writing. They called it the Huffington Post Syndrome.

I know a writer who was published in a broadsheet when she was fifteen. It was for the paper’s opinion column “for twenty-somethings and below.” She was thrilled. Her byline was in a broadsheet!

Naturally, after the congratulations, I asked her, “How much are you getting paid? Are they sending it directly to your bank or by check?”

She paused. She hadn’t thought of that at all. In the first place, she didn’t receive an email, phone call or text message notifying her that she was on the paper. She only found out by looking out for it, so she doesn’t know how to proceed.

I showed her the many sizes of advertisements in that paper. I told her they can pay her.

Well, her mother went to the offices of the paper, showed them ID, showed them the published piece, and got money. The girl used it to get new prescription glasses.

That’s how it works. That’s ALWAYS how it should work. You write, you get paid.

There are publications who did like the HuffPo before the HuffPo did it. Those of you who also do fiction have surely seen startup presses do it. They won’t pay– but they’d get your writing in front of your audience. I wonder, “How?! Who’s your audience? You’re just starting out and the work of your writers is what will make you money.”


The “Good” the “Fair” and the “Unfair” in Writing for Exposure

BUT that startup press isn’t really able to pay writers, is it?

It would invest money in publication (printing, or digital, and all that entails, including cover art and layout, etc) and you’d be investing time and effort in your writing. To establish themselves, and since they’re not paying writers, they might set the anthology price low. IF they’re asking for payment at all. Most of the time, they publish online for free and shoulder all costs until they start getting traffic, and advertising revenue that comes with it. Only then do they earn back expenses.

If they do things right, they’d become a big name in the publishing world, and having been published by them is all the payment you’d need. Feather-in-your-cap, I-was-there, they-liked-me, we-have-history-and-am-proud-of-it-babe kind of payment.

(Think of guys and girls who become famous– all their exes suddenly need to proclaim to the world that once upon a time, they’d exchanged kisses with famous guy/girl)

This is how that startup press would do things right:

  • Highly-selective acceptance
  • Tasteful website design
  • Promotion in only the right places
  • Selective, relevant advertising
  • Eventually offering compensation to contributors

Even if you weren’t paid, you’d certainly be proud to have partnered with them.



Wonderful, right? It’s the essence of guest posting! It’s part of marketing, getting yourself out there regardless of compensation.

You’d be surprised about exactly when it’s unfair:


It’s On You

Writing for the Huffington Post is both good (great, sometimes!) and unfair.

Good: They tell you they don’t pay. Writers who submit know this and still submit for the payoff. The payoff? Tremendous audience reach that does translate into income, according to Steve Gillman’s report in The Write Life. And according to the how-it-happened posts I’m sharing below, they even work with you to publish and promote your piece.

Unfair: They’re able to pay, but don’t.

Here’s an article from 2014 detailing the benefits bloggers reaped from getting on HuffPo, and two from 2015. Sarah Jensen details what happens and updates on what she got from it and Erin details how she pitched to HuffPo.

In case you didn’t go to those links or simply want the juiciest tidbit of a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version NOW: Some of them got huge returns in followers and subscribers, some did not. But from my understanding, Sarah Jensen says it’s from her own fault– she didn’t utilize her bio to the fullest.

Should you submit gratis to these big sites? For business owners, it’s a great opportunity. For writers building their clips, it’s great, too.

So, should you go for it? Here’s more things to consider, in addition to the Good and Fair I already mentioned above:


Reddit thread on writing for exposure:

How to Make Money Writing For Free

Guest posting– it’s being part of the community and contributing something truly valuable to your shared audience, with site/blog/service/product promotion and brand establishment as a bonus.

Maximize your bio with the most pertinent, valuable links. Don’t link to your blog– link to your book or online course. If you provide services, link to your opt-in page. Monetize your bio!

Aim for the Featured or front page of a section. HuffPo and other sites have sections and categories, and each of them have front pages or featured headlines. What sorts get posted there? Study the titles, the style, the word count.

Check sections where the competition won’t be stiff. If you have to compete against big names, you might not land the coveted featured spot at all. So go for other sections. You don’t have to deviate much from your expertise but a unique angle in a different section with more exposure would pay more than a guest post published in the second or third page of YOUR section.

Give it all the potential to go viral. The secret of viral posts is not really a secret so much as a tried-and-tested formula of tricks and techniques. Make the most of your guest post and upsize it with all the essentials of a post that would stick and snowball into lots of views and shares.

Promote it. Make sure everyone and their mom knows you landed a spot in that magazine. Add their logo in your website (oooh, “As seen in…”!) Include the article in your signature and newsletters. Post about them in social media, ride their hashtags, tag their accounts, share your experience! People will want to know how you did it– and link from that post to your published post.


Where to Submit, Get Published, and Get Paid

Remember to follow the rules and etiquette of guest posting. Sometimes you don’t need them at all and you can simply pitch or submit, concentrating on crafting a well-crafted, well-researched and irresistible piece, but it sure sweetens the deal and maybe gives you extra points, you never know!

All these sites accept links for your bio, too.

  • Upworthy – fair base rate PLUS traffic and distribution bonuses, uplifting stories
  • Vice – pay rate varies, WIDE variety of niches, from fashion to sports to tech to NSFW
  • WOW Women on Writing – $50-$150 for various columns and word counts
  • ScaryMommy – $100 on parenting articles
  • Dame – $200, pitch pieces “For women who know better”
  • Listverse – $100 for a 1,500-word list post, minimum 10 items, WIDE variety of niches
  • Buzzfeed – Pay rates according to how many hits you get. Check out Community for the usual listform in a variety of topics, and Big Stories for longform, 2000-word personal essays.
  • Ecommerce Insiders – $75 to $150 for 400 to 600+word articles on online retailing
  • Daily Worth – $150 for articles about women and money (Notice that HuffPo is not in their “As seen in…”)
  • Penny Hoarder – $75 for 700-900 words on anything about personal finance, saving, investing, etc
  • Modern Farmer – $150 about food, farming
  • The Toast – negotiate your rate during the pitch
  • The New York Times Modern Love and Lives columns- $300
  • Salon – $100-$200 for personal essays and contributions to their categories
  • Oh wow, this post from Make A Living Writing has 79 Sites That Offer $50 and Up!

Now, aiming for paying markets may take more effort, and you might rack up rejection letters, but it’s not like you’re not already working hard, right? And hey, you’d be paid! Some writers and freelancers for HuffPo spend out of pocket toing and froing to do interviews and such. But they signed up for that.

  • Don’t be discouraged.
  • Explore paying markets first before the “exposure-markets.”
  • Keep in mind that your skills, time and effort have value.
  • Follow guidelines to the letter (they’re fussy about that, haha).
  • Keep pitching, be patient, keep honing your craft.

As a blogger and service provider, I have tons of free stuff, but they’re all contributions for my readers’ benefit. As a writer, I used to provide free work samples in the hope of signing up for paid work with that client– but that was during my beginner days of utter naivete.

When in doubt, consult this chart, Should I Work For Free? And this rather vehement post about it from Chuck Wendig, Scream It Until Their Ears Bleed: Pay the F*cking Writers!

Writing for free has its benefits and cons. Reap the benefits! But remember you can get those same benefits from sites that pay, too!

What do you think? Have you done work gratis? Did it pay off?

Let me know in the comments!


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