Should Freelance Writers EVER Work For Free? You Might Be Surprised At The Answer

should freelance writers submit free samples or ever work for free

I’ve previously covered misconceptions about what it means to be a freelance writer. Well, one of the more popular ones seems to have to do with the “free” part of freelance.

One of the best examples of what I mean comes by way of a Toronto-based artist named Emmie Tsumura. Tsumara drew a series of images based on (rather obnoxious) things said to artists by people who expected them to work for free.

You can see a couple of examples below:

Their words are absolutely atrocious. Obnoxious to the nth degree. But perhaps the worst part for me is that I’ve dealt with this kind of behavior firsthand. I’ve heard everything from “this will look good in your portfolio” to “we’d hope to start paying writers eventually.”



The truth is that if you’re any kind of a creative, it’s hard not to have encountered at least one person hoping to get free work out of you. As irritating as that is, I’d still like to pose a question:

freelance writers write for free

The answer to this question will no doubt differ from freelance writer to freelance writer. I’ll admit it’s not my instinct to go out and seek job opportunities for which I won’t be paid. However, if I were asked the question above, my answer would have to be, “It depends.”

Sure, there are some writers — who are absolutely entitled to believe this, by the way — who will tell you, “you should NEVER write anything for which you aren’t being paid!”

The problem is that money isn’t the sole form means by which items are paid for. So says the millennia-old barter system. Quite a few writers will forego cash if they believe they’re getting something else of significant value.


Let’s take, for example, the many guest writers who’ve published articles for the Huffington Post over the years. Huff Po is certainly one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) names in all of blogging. Yet despite a noted left-leaning slant, Huff Po has come under fire time repeatedly for not paying for content. While the in-house crowd will readily admit they are indeed compensated, some continue to believe the Huffington Post is a hypocritical organization.

Still, this controversy has done nothing eliminate the long line freelancers who’d love to get linked with the Huff Po brand. As James Parsons wrote for,

“You have millions of people visiting HuffPo, which means hundreds of thousands of people reading you post. If even one percent of those people clicked the link [to your blog], it’s still probably a huge boost to your traffic. The numbers are just overwhelming.”

Long story short: As long as there are writers who feel they have something to gain from a connection to the Huffington Post, the political blog will have no shortage of guest posters.

should freelance writers submit free samples or ever work for free


Controversies aside, there are situations where it might make sense for freelance writers work “pro bono.”

Writing For Charities

Despite what you may think, there are charities and non-profits that pay writers. I actually worked as a ghostwriter for a non-profit animal rights blog a couple of years ago.

But maybe there’s a charitable organization or cause you’re very passionate about. If you decide that you want to write messages, slogans, etc. at no charge, it could be because you’re getting something out of helping that money can’t buy — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.



This is great if you’re like me and totally new to blogging. Let’s say a graphic artist is in need of guest posts and you are in need of awesome graphics for your blog. The two of you agree to a swap. Now you have awesome visuals and they have awesome content. Everyone’s happy! Sure there isn’t any money changing hands, but both parties agreed to a fair exchange that was mutually beneficial.

One caveat: Before agreeing to do a collab, make sure that the agreement is fair for both parties! No writing a dozen free articles in exchange for a simple facebook banner that takes 10 minutes to create in Canva!


The One “Freebie” I DON’T Recommend

Freelance Writers Give Away?

freelance writers free work or free writing samples


Unpaid full-length writing samples.

Now, have I ever written a free writing sample? Yes. Has it led to a well-paying job opportunity? Also yes. However, I feel it’s downright DECEITFUL to call a completed article a “writing sample.” That’s like calling a three-course meal at a quality restaurant “a sample.” Doesn’t make sense, does it?

It’s also a slap in the face to writers to do this AFTER requesting they send you links to their portfolio or links to published work. It’s true that both sides want to be protected from wasting their time on something that won’t work out. However, freelance writers tend to experience the shorter end of the stick in these situations.

A freelancer risks:

  • Having their content stolen by someone who never intended to pay ad responders
  • Wasting time on unpaid work that could have gone towards completing paid assignments
  • An emotional drain brought on by virtually working for free and not seeing a dime.

There’s no justification for a full-length free sample! A good writer can demonstrate in 100 words whatever you’re hoping to see in 1,000 words.

Unless you are 90 to 100 percent sure that sample will lead to a paying gig — and a good one at that! — it’s probably not worth it. I probably wouldn’t agree to send samples longer than about 150 words. In situations where long-form articles are the standard (greater than 1,500 words), samples should be no greater than 50 percent.

The idea of freelance writers out there typing  2,000-word unpaid writing samples kills me inside. Of course, this is all very much my opinion.

And now it’s time for YOURS!

Should freelance writers EVER write for free?

  • It really depends. (67%, 2 Votes)
  • Yes, but only if it's benefiting them in other ways (33%, 1 Votes)
  • No way! Show me the money! (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Bacon and cheese. (A.K.A. I have no idea!) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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In addition to this poll, I’ll also be looking for feedback from writers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also share your thoughts on unpaid freelance work in the comment section below.



About the Author

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Defend The Pen
Defend The Pen is a website dedicated to reporting the latest writing news and blogging about ongoing trends that impact writers. It also hopes to be of help to writers and bloggers who find themselves at the ends of their collective ropes!

2 Comments on "Should Freelance Writers EVER Work For Free? You Might Be Surprised At The Answer"

  1. You make some super interesting points here. I’m not a freelance writer but I can’t imagine offering my services for free (I’m a non practicing lawyer). Seems unfair that some industries expect free work… I do agree that money isn’t everything and if you get a huge amount of exposure (or something else that you value) it is worth it.
    Nicole | The Professional Mom Project recently posted…Secrets to Blogging Success: A Review of Traffic TransformationMy Profile

    • Hi, Nicole!

      Tour feedback is definitely appreciated, especially as a non-practicing lawyer, as “pro bono” work is fairly common among lawyers.

      Yes, it is unfair that the “free” in freelance gets purposely misunderstood by some folks. But some of us are working hard to break that particular stereotype.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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