A few days ago, I posted a tweet asking for volunteer writers for the magazine, as some of you might have seen. I do this every couple of months, and I always say the same thing: no previous experience needed, all views welcomed. However, this time I got a response that made me raise an eyebrow:
“Don’t work for free, kids!”
Now, this person was not following the magazine, nor were they aware of who we are, what we do, or what we stand for. So I took no offence to it, really, because people tend to react in impulsive and judgmental ways on Twitter all the time.
Nevertheless, this tweet got me thinking about the whole concept of writing for free (I have personally done it before, and I’m sure you have too), and today I wanted to sit down and have a chat with all of you about it.
As some of you may know, I’m the Founder and Editor-in-chief of this (may I say quite cool) online publication focused on fashion sustainability. I’ve been proudly working non-stop on this magazine for almost a year now, and the question of “Is this paid work?” has been asked to me a handful of times. And rightfully so! So let me answer that question for you very briefly: no, we don’t offer paid work at the moment . Why?
With ELOQUĒNTIA, I wanted to create a space for aspiring writers and fashion sustainability enthusiasts (mainly students) to publish their work without taking anything else into consideration but the final product.
I don’t care about your college degree or lack thereof. I don’t care how many languages you speak, if you have any previous experience in the editorial world at all. Does it matter that you don’t have +10 years of experience in the sustainability field? That you’re not a published writer? Absolutely not! If your work meets our standards, we will publish it.
I know first hand that collaborating with us has gotten some freelance writers their first clients—others their first internships in the field. And this happened because they believed in our project, and because they were willing to write for free.
A few days back, I had the opportunity to interview lovely freelance writer Tena, from Thinking Threads, about her experience in the job. When discussing writing for free, she argued: “If you’re looking to start, writing for free can be an option. But in that case, write for nonprofits, small organisations, friend’s business, your own blog or volunteer-based publications like ELOQUĒNTIA is. [...] But don’t write for ethical fashion businesses for free.”
I couldn’t agree more. Writing is a skill, and your time and efforts should be properly compensated. As a writer myself, I would advise you to start off by writing for free (because you need a portfolio, and realistically not many publications will give you a chance when you’re starting out), but don't do it for long. Writing three or four free articles should be enough.
But let’s go back to the tweet, shall we?
I do agree that “Don’t work for free, kids” is a wise statement to make, but we need to look at the context. And this is exactly what this first Editor’s Letter is all about: context.
As of today, ELOQUĒNTIA is a volunteer-led magazine that makes no profit whatsoever. Zero. A group of 5 volunteers runs the magazine, putting in a lot of time and effort to help promote education in the sustainability movement. And because we don’t get paid for it, we have no means to pay anyone else, either.
As I pointed out before, we were born to help students and aspiring writers with no previous experience take their first steps in the industry and build their CV. We understand that some people might not want to work for free, though, and that’s completely understandable! This isn’t the place for you then.
Right now, we don’t have the means to pay anybody, not even ourselves. My job includes managing and creating content for social media, researching marketing and SEO strategies, replying to emails, proofreading submissions and managing the webpage, among other less time-consuming tasks. All that while being a full-time student and a part-time worker. Believe me—I would want nothing more than to make profit from this! But right now it isn’t an option, and that’s okay. In the future, who knows?
I know that “working for exposure” may almost feel like exploitation, but hear me out: it depends. Who’s asking you to work for free? Is it a multi-million dollar publication that has the means to pay you, but they just don’t want to? Or is it an independent nonprofit organisation that genuinely doesn’t have the funds? Think about that.
And I know what some people may argue here: “If you can’t afford a writer, don’t work with one”. Or even: “You can’t call yourself sustainable because not paying your contributors isn’t ethical.” You’re not entirely wrong here—however, we need to (again) look at the context.
Sadly, unpaid work opportunities, collaborations and internships coming from entities that do have the money to pay their contributors exist everywhere, and it’s up to us to call them out. But remember that the norm doesn’t apply to absolutely every organisation you come across—we ought to make a crucial distinction between those who want to take advantage of your work, and those who don’t.
If you’re not willing to work for free nonetheless, that’s completely respectable. Your boundaries are valid.
All things considered, I want to make something 100% clear—if they’re going to make profit off of your work, don’t work for free. If a business reaches out to you for a collaboration, beware of their intentions. Don’t be afraid to ask to be properly compensated for your efforts. Why should they economically benefit from your job while you’re simply working “for exposure”? It isn’t right and it isn’t ethical.
Let’s say a publication or brand that has the means to pay you reaches out for a collaboration, but asks you to do it for free. How can you decline their offer in a polite way? I’ve compiled a short list of ways to say no to unpaid work in a professional way, so please feel free to use them:
ELOQUĒNTIA will be a volunteer-led magazine until we have the means to start paying our contributors and get a salary ourselves. Once we can build an ethical business out of it, don’t even doubt for a second that our writers, models, translators, photographers and general contributors will be the first ones to see a paycheck. Why? Because we exist thanks to them. Simple as that.
Please, remember to appreciate the hard (and more often than not unpaid) work of the teams behind your favourite independent publications, small businesses, nonprofits and blogs. I know I can speak for all of us when I say we are incredibly thankful for your support.
I hope you have a fantastic week ahead and that you've learned another point of view today.