I am slightly upset. No…actually, I am furious. I routinely get emails asking me to contribute free content to a website (not a personal blog, which would be different), in exchange for ‘a link back’, which to me is like asking, ‘Hey, how about you spend your precious time writing quality content for our website which has few followers, so that we can get more readers, make money and then give you f*** all? We will put a link back to your website, but so few will click through (if we ever get to become successful, that is), that writing for us will have been a complete waste of time!’
I’m afraid I found myself venting my anger on the owner of a website, who, for the second time, had sent me the same copy-pasted email asking me to contribute for free to his new website. Let’s say that my answer was not pleasant, and he didn’t reply.
I also need to admit that my anger had come into being because of something which has happened to me recently. When I started travel blogging, I also dreamt of becoming a travel writer of sorts, and since I always read that one needs to initially built up one’s portfolio by working for free for online publications, I did my fair share of free work for an expat-related website. Through the months, I tried to enquire as to whether there were paid opportunities within this website, but while whoever is behind this was very happy to employ co-editors to write up information for expats about places they had never lived in, he was not, alas, able to pay what he called ‘external writers’. I accepted this and moved on, and discovered that just because I was a new writer it didn’t mean that I had to give my work away for free, and that websites like Bootsnall.com and Matador compensate their contributors, even if the sum involved is small.
Fast-forward to about a week ago, when I found myself incredibly bored and reflecting on the fact that my name/surname combination was very rare (last time I checked I was unique on facebook), so I decided, once again because I was bored out of my wits, to run a google search and see if there were any other Denise Pulises out there. My website popped up towards the beginning of the search, followed by links to some contributions I had made to other websites, but it was still me. Then suddenly, I came across a Denise Pulis who had published a book and was selling the kindle version on Amazon. Wow, I thought, there’s someone with my exact same name and surname who is a published author. So I clicked on the link…only to discover that the expat website which I had contributed to had taken all my articles, put them in a kindle book, mixed them with other articles I had not written, and slapped my name on the whole thing without ever asking me for my permission. I couldn’t believe it.
Needless to say, I was furious. I contacted the editor of the website who apologised and quickly removed the book from Amazon. When I asked him for some sort of compensation, he insisted that the book hadn’t been successful (I have only his word for it), and that he could not pay external writers. Whatever he claimed, the point is that this company took articles which I had never said could be sold for profit, and tried to make money out of my free contributions. If you are a new blogger, there’s a moral to this story…
Just because you’re new to the business doesn’t mean you have to give your work away for free. Shortly after stopping my contributions to said website, I contacted bootsnall.com with some well-thought ideas for articles which the editors liked. I have since then published a number of articles for which I have been paid. Other bloggers have had similar experiences with Matador. Plus, writing for little, almost unknown websites will not help you get that gig with Lonely Planet. I know because I’ve tried, and I even have a feature published on the Qatar in-flight magazine. If you’re interested in getting more clicks on your website, you can try feed syndication, which has worked for me with websites like Lonely Planet and Raveable. In this case, it’s simply a question of your feed being published on another website, sometimes as a whole, sometimes only as a snippet, and readers clicking through to view your posts. Through this system you’re only extending the reach of your blog, and not actually writing new, quality content for websites which won’t pay you a penny.
Websites and editors out there need to stop thinking that it’s ok to create a business out of copyright-free content which some writer desperate to break into the travel writing business spends hours writing, and make it sound like they’re doing you a favour. I have learnt the hard way, but new bloggers and writers shouldn’t have to.
-Text by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com. Photos via Flickr creative commons. Click on each photo for attribution.