Exposure. Links. Traffic.
To "adapt" a line from Jeff Foxworthy, "you might be a food blogger" if those three words sound familiar.
As a blogger, how many times have you heard, "We can't pay you, but the exposure you'll receive will be worth so much more." I don't know about you, but I've yet to find a landlord or grocery store that accepts exposure as a form of currency. I also have my doubts as to how impressive it is to pay with a bunch of links on a first date. I suppose if the date isn't going well, that's my guarantee there will not be a second one! But really, if the offer of exposure, links or traffic doesn't work in the "real" world, why should it be permitted in your world?
Now let me contradict myself. You can and should work for free. Absolutely, 100%. However, it should be on your terms. And let's clear something up right now, you're not writing for free because you think you should. You're writing because you know you should. I think the problem with many bloggers is that nobody went to school for this. It's the School of Hard Blogging Knocks out there. There is no foundation, there are no textbooks and nothing to quickly rely on when it comes time to valuing yourself. It's all about experience, knowing your worth and most importantly, believing in yourself. Write for free for a cause you believe in, but don't write for free because you feel pressured to do so with the allure of exposure. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but don't make it the norm!
Belief in oneself goes a long way. The beauty in that is that anything is possible. You can improve yourself in any number of ways! There is no curriculum, no prerequisite course like in high school. If calculus wasn't your thing in high school, maybe Google Analytics isn't your thing either. But you know what? No one is going to force you by withholding your blogging degree! Investing in yourself is believing in yourself. And there's so many ways you can do that. Continuing to push yourself, taking time off to re-focus, putting your money where your blog is are all ways of investing in yourself!
However, in the spirit of giving and some things are actually free, I leave you with wise words from Tim Kreider. He wrote a spirited opinion piece in the New York Times last year called Slaves of the Internet, Unite! His plea is to fight the good fight and "don’t give it away." His message is to stand up, but not just for yourself but for your everyone else just like you. If everyone says no often enough, the perception that our time and work have no monetary value will change.
And yes, he even offered something for free in his piece. This is the template he uses when he is asked to write in exchange for nothing. Short, sweet and very much to the point.
Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.
Know your worth and believe in yourself. You'll sleep well.