As a mom of a toddler, let me say that I like Scary Mommy…a lot. The humor and brutal honesty are exactly what I need on those days when Mister’s behavior is bordering on psychotic. I’ve even been published there twice, first on losing my daughter at 18 weeks and second on postpartum plastic surgery. But something happened between these submissions: Scary Mommy stopped paying their contributors.
It’s a question all freelance writers face at some point: Am I willing to write for free?
For all its wit and wisdom, contributing unpaid content is a big ask, so why do writers keep coming back? In my case, I didn’t realize that Scary Mommy had changed their payment policy until after my second article was published. It was definitely a bummer and I was faced with a decision: Do I keep submitting articles, or do I take my work elsewhere?
If you’re wondering whether you should write for Scary Mommy or any other outlet that doesn’t pay contributors, ask yourself three simple questions:
1. What’s in it for me?
If you’re not being paid, there needs to be something immediately valuable about submitting free work. Put simply, what’s in it for you? In Scary Mommy’s case, it’s hard to argue with their numbers:
- 20 million monthly unique visitors
- 4.5 million combined Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest followers
- 12x social lift (i.e., exposure) for all Facebook posts
If you’re a new writer trying to build your portfolio, getting published on a platform like Scary Mommy can be a game-changer. Your article will reach millions of readers and serve as a strong sample for your portfolio. On the other hand, the time and effort you spent crafting your content shouldn’t be diminished, which brings us to the next question:
2. Will it lead to paid work?
Unless you’re writing for fun and personal satisfaction, any free content you submit should lead to paid work. For example, when I pitched a few ideas to The Today Show’s Parenting section, I had plenty of samples related to investing, retirement, and personal finance, but it was my work for Scary Mommy that illustrated my voice in another context.
Did it pay off? Well, not only does The Today Show pay well, their website boasts 113.7 MILLION unique visitors per month. Those unpaid pieces helped me secure bylines (here and here) in an even bigger (paying) market. Yes, it was absolutely worth my time. Which brings us to the last point:
3. Is it worth my time?
Money isn’t the only consideration when it comes to writing. To pursue freelancing as a full-time career, it’s important that you value your own time. If the immediate and long-term payoffs aren’t adding up, or if you just don’t love the project, you probably won’t feel good about seeing an unpaid piece in print. In my case, I didn’t regret my work for Scary Mommy for a few reasons:
- As I mentioned, my primary niche is finance, and writing for Scary Mommy allowed me to break into the (paid) parenting niche more easily.
- I wrote both pieces in less than an hour, time I would have otherwise wasted binge-watching The Blacklist.
- I connected with other writers in my niche and grew my network of fellow mom writers.
The Bottom Line
Every writer has paid their dues at some point, and the decision to write for free should always be the first step of a larger strategic plan. Think about how to parlay that unpaid piece into opportunities that could grow your career, and put those plans in motion before writing a single unpaid word.
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