Don’t Write for Free

By Laura Snyder
Nationally Syndicated Columnist

Laura Snyder     Our new Vice President, Ben Pollock, was the brains and momentum behind our membership poll this winter.  The results that came in from 183 respondents were actually very surprising to the board and served as a wake-up call.  As it turns out, we had been operating on false information.  We learned that our membership has changed over the years and we needed to change some things to serve you better.
     The most startling fact was the definition of the makeup of our membership.  More than 50% of our membership defined themselves as freelance or self-syndicated humor columnists that write a weekly column that is published both in print (overwhelmingly in newspapers) and online.  When at first I read the results of the survey, I was shocked.  That demographic was me, exactly! 
I joined NSNC nearly four years ago for the same reasons many of you did:  I wanted support, answers, ideas, and the camaraderie of people who were in the trenches with me.  NSNC has never failed to provide that.  However, I had always thought that, as a self-syndicated humor columnist, I didn’t have much in common with what I thought was the majority of members who either had a 9-5 with an actual newspaper or were syndicated by a third party.  I was somewhere in-between.
     I have come to realize that though this may have been true ten or fifteen years ago, it is clear now that as the newspaper industry is changing, so are its columnists.  We are a scrappy crowd; doing everything we can to get out work and our message out there and into the hands of readers.
     If the newspapers aren’t hiring, we write anyway.  They may not hire, but maybe they would buy our work.  If they don’t buy it, maybe a magazine or syndication house would.  Until that time, we know there is an audience for our column, so we can always blog.  
     Sometimes we may feel that since our blogging doesn’t produce any compensation except our own satisfaction, we might as well offer it to papers for free. This is a trap many of us can easily fall into.  Many columnists will write for the “exposure” with the hope that with enough exposure, the value of their column will be increased and they can eventually ask for compensation.  I can’t fault someone for that.  I have done the same in the past.  However, at some point you have to value your work enough to put a price on it.  If you don’t, nobody else will.
I have had many editors write to me and tell me they’d like to use my column, but they have no budget to pay me.  I used to readily accept that well-used line and write for them anyway.  Now, I tell them that I will write for cheap, but not for free.  Most will magically cough up a pittance to pay me.  Some will say Sayonara.
     The more columnists write for free, the less our profession is valued.  If newspapers don’t have to pay you, they won’t.  If there were no columns that were available for free, then the newspapers would not have a choice but to pay for their content.  Nobody would read a newspaper full of advertisements.  We are the reason a newspaper exists.
     Be proud of your work, my fellow freelancers, and don’t accept the old “we have no budget.”  If they have no budget, they have no newspaper.

Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and speaker from Southern Pines, N.C. As NSNC Treasurer, she is a member of the Board of Directors. You can reach Laura at Or visit her website

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