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Should you write for free?

POSTED BY stephanie ON August 12, 2011

Your publicist asks you to write an 600-word article on how to teach your children about budgeting for a popular women’s interest website. It’s not a paying gig, but it is a fantastic opportunity to get your name out there and promote your book, she says.

“But I’m a professional writer. Why should I write for free?”

We get it. You’ve spent your career being paid per word and now it just doesn’t add up why you should contribute articles pro bono.

If you need convincing, there are so many reasons why you should be the one providing the media with guest posts, tips lists and op-eds. For starters — if you don’t, someone else will.

And consider the state of journalism today. Staff cutbacks at mean there are fewer reporters to write book reviews and stories. And the ones who are still employed are busy covering multiple beats and more responsibilities than ever.

What sounds like a rather bleak picture for authors looking for media attention really isn’t. You stand to benefit because the media has a 24/7 need for content that they simply can’t meet. So instead of waiting for your phone to ring and reporters to come to you, be proactive and collaborate with your publicist on articles that will meet the needs of the current media cycle.

Take advantage of the opportunity to submit the articles that are used as guest posts, slideshows, lead stories on major news networks’ homepages, and so on. Being a content producer means you get to say what you want, how you want, and make a name for yourself in the process. You might even get requests for additional pieces, or be interviewed by other media who read your most recent piece. No more wishing for a single quote in a larger story. You can tell the story in your own words. Win-win.

Yes, promoting a book in 2011 requires a wee bit more of your time and energy than say, five years ago, but the publicity payoff is so worth it.

If you aren’t on board yet, here’s what a few other PR by the Book staffers have to say about importance of providing original content:

Elaine: The tide has turned and most people are getting their news and entertainment info online. If you are holding out for “traditional” coverage by a print journalist only, you’ll miss the boat. The most successful authors today are the ones who are fully involved in social media, blogging, and writing content for various outlets (that they can then link to), most of which is for free. The internet is going to give you more visibility than a traditional print book review ever could, so it’s well worth it. Websites need new content coming in 24/7, so they look to outside contributors. Be one of them!

Tolly: As soon as my author Steve McSwain became a blogger on the Huffington Post (our doing!), that is truly when he started noticing a difference in audience growth.  He has received book reviews before, but the HP blog gave — still gives — him a place for fans to check in regularly.  This is the difference between contributing to outlets online and getting a book review: The book review is a one-hit thing, and if people don’t read the review, they … don’t read the review.  But if you write online regularly, and people miss one of your posts, no big deal.  They can read your next one.  They’ll “like” it on Facebook, they’ll Tweet it, share it with their friends.  And your circle of readers grows.

I think most authors want book reviews in newspapers for this reason: Because it credentials them. Proves to the world: “See?  I’m a real author.”  Which I totally get.  We publicists want to get your book reviewed in The New York Times and O Magazine, too.  But the simple fact is that readers are paying a lot less attention to book review sections.  One of my past authors got reviewed in The Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, TWICE in the New York Times, and somehow, it didn’t make the bestseller list.  It’s a wonderful book, too.  But in terms of both sales and our job as publicists — expanding your media platform — book reviews in traditional outlets don’t do what they did in 1980, or even 1990.

Megan: The LA Review of Books recently noted: “The disappearance of the newspaper book review supplement (papers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and elsewhere have shuttered or radically shrunk theirs) has been accompanied by an explosion of titles in the book market. The net result: twenty times as many titles are published each year than were in 1980, and we have one twentieth of the serious book reviews.”

Dr. Tracey Marks started blogging for Huffington Post’s Healthy Living Section, and saw a surge of interest in her website and book. She loves blogging for them because she reaches such a wide, diverse audience, and gets to share her expertise with them.

For authors, this means that you have serious competition! Not just for reviews but for published articles. Look at it as a wonderful opportunity for you to get your name, writing & expertise out there. It’s more than a wonderful opportunity: it’s invaluable. Pursue it.

Marika: One of the ways publicists nail really solid media hits is by collaborating with the author as “content producers.” With the current state of the media landscape, gone are the days of getting paid big money for media content. Our new reality is that the more you can funnel “pre-made” content to the media, the more buzz you build.

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