Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Exposing Myself

I know it’s a subject I’ve (ahem) touched on before:  The old ‘please work for free’  spiel.  But I thought I should share this latest request because it’s just so gosh-darn warm and polite.  Makes it sound like a really good gig, doesn’t it?

I can never tell whether these guys are just blithely ignorant, or actually know what a raw deal they are proposing and are just hoping I’m fresh off the turnip truck.

Though given that this particular dude found me via LinkedIn, you’d think he would have had ample opportunity to scan my background

I’ll be kind and remove the actual names here, but suffice to say the website/directory/publication in question is looking for equestrian travel content, for which they don’t want to pay.

Sure, I’ll not only contribute to your website and directory for free, but I’ll travel (on gossamer wings, presumably?) to come up with the content, and be delighted that in exchange you will:

* list me in a directory of other schmucks who work for free, so that no-one ever thinks I expect to be paid, ever again

* put links to your website all over my blog (a blog, btw, that doesn’t currently earn me a plugged nickel and, tragically, is likely not to magically monetize when it has a reciprocal link placed on yours)

* follow me on Twitter (be still, my palpitating heart!)

* give me a BYLINE!  Woot!

* allow me to enter your upcoming writing contest (see similar rant here). 

* oh, and my work will be read by equestrians.

Here it is, with names changed because I am far too impoverished to fight off a lawsuit (unless someone knows a nice Canadian lawyer who will work for exposure?):

Hi, Karen. 

You and I are connected through Linked In, and I’d like to briefly introduce myself. 

I’m the CEO of (an American company), and I’m contacting you because I’m seeking writers for short well-written articles on a variety of subjects. 

I can offer you additional national exposure in our newsletter.  You would have a by-line, a link to your website, and would be referenced in our archive’s index of writers with your professional bio. As we grow, your work would be read by an increasing number of equestrians. We are also planning writing contests and awards, and have many other ideas we hope will appeal to you in time. 

Our new service, http://www.insultingwriters.com , is the largest, most sophisticated equine travel directory in North America. This directory is free for everyone, both equine travelers and people who want to create their free travel-related business profile. 

The directory features hundreds of horse-friendly campgrounds, layover stables, guest ranches, and backcountry vacation facilities that provide equine lodging in the U.S.A. and Canada. Each profile has an executive summary of the facility, contact information, pictures, travel directions, and reviews, assisting horse owners with finding the ideal place to stay with their horse. 


1. If you are interested in writing short articles on equine-related travel (destinations, trails, trail gear, cowgirl apparel, campsite recipes…) please contact me! I’ll get you started… 

2. And, if you wish, we’d like you to place our website’s link on yours as a benefit to your clients and readers. In turn, we’d be happy to post your link on our website. 

3. In just a few weeks, we can also help you generate additional revenue with our link on your site. Please let me know if you’d be interested in knowing more about this. 

4. I’m also seeking special discounts or promotions I can offer our guests and subscribers, and if you or your organization has a product or service I can offer to a national audience, I’d love to promote your special offer. 

5. If you know anyone who has a horse-friendly campground, layover stable, guest ranch, or backcountry vacation facility, please let them know about us. They can create their free business profile on our site and increase their exposure. 

6. Our website has a Calendar of Events… You’re welcome to post your events (or any organization’s events to which you belong) on it, and there’s a blog (link removed) on which we’d enjoy your comments. 

7. Of course, if you’d visit and Like our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/XXX ), connect with us on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/XXX ), or Follow us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/XXX ), we would greatly appreciate your kindness. We would be happy to do the same for you! 

Please contact me for anything. I’m happy to help promote you and your interests in any way I can. 

Best wishes, MR. X.

And my response:

Dear Mr. X,

I know your message wasn’t intended to be rude or insulting. More and more businesses seem to think that “exposure” in exchange for well-written content is a fair trade … but the truth is, it never has been, is not now, and is in no way a viable business model.

If you have actually looked at my LinkedIn profile, you’ll have seen that I am a professional writer, and have been for more than 20 years.  By “professional”, I mean that this is what I do to pay the bills.  With over 5000 published articles and six books to my credit, frankly, I have “exposure” out the wazoo.  Alas, all it seems to get me these days is more requests (I won’t call them offers) to give away my work for free.  And that, I’m afraid, won’t do me much good in terms of paying my rent, my cel phone bill, or dealing with the guy who’s bringing 1200 bales of hay to my place next week.  He is not likely to hold onto his invoice until my newfound “exposure” begins to pay imaginary dividends for me.

I’m particularly concerned about your business model considering that you’re requesting travel pieces.  The investment on the part of the writer is considerable; press trips are close to non-existent these days and if one manages to travel on one’s own dime, there’s little chance of actually recouping that investment.  None at all, in the case of (your company).  How does that make sense?

If I was independently wealthy or had a huge inheritance coming my way, and was still tickled by the idea of a byline, I suppose I might be more receptive to your proposal.  But writers like that are a bit scarce on the ground.  Frankly, I hope you don’t find any, because even if they don’t need the money, it hurts everyone in my industry when writing, as a skill, is so devalued that companies just expect it will be given away.

Just for the record, my minimum fee for freelance work is 40 cents a word … please feel free to get in touch if that rate is agreeable to you at some point in the future.

Sorry to come off as harsh, but it’s becoming very, very difficult to survive as a freelancer these days, and business models like yours (sigh) are exactly why.



I’m thinking I need to just develop a boilerplate response to asshat proposals like these.  Anyone got a good one they’d like to share?

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25 thoughts on “Exposing Myself

  1. Nancy Ambrosiano on said:

    You go, girl. Perfect response. Pointing out that exposure doesn’t pay for rent, hay, etc. gets to the essential point. Now if he’d just write you a check in his embarrassment at being caught out. . .


  2. I usually just ignore them, I never respond. But I loved your email reply! I got a really nasty invitation this morning “to have the honor of working for them” where, in the description of the project, they threatened legal action if I “insulted” them by offering them plagiarized content and I would have to sign an agreement that I would never hold the rights to my own writing. And the fee they were offering was pathetic.

    People who want ghostwriters (for whole books!) are particularly asshatty, if you ask me. They don’t even use the fake “this is a great opportunity!” tone that you dealt with. They’re just rude. “I’ll pay you $200 to write a whole book on ____, which I’ll sell to a publisher under my own name and you’ll never get the royalties to.” I swear, if some poor writer really falls for those (sadly) frequent job postings, I’ll be sick.


  3. lovely ,and thank you so much for sharing your experience


  4. I volunteer after hours at charities of my choosing. If you would like me to consider your organization as one of my charities, please provide an information packet that I can evaluate to determine if you meet my standards.

    Paid to Work


  5. Between these insulting “offers”, egregious rights-grabbing contracts, and on-line theft of photographic images, being a content creator is no longer even remotely viable as a way of earning a living. There is no respect for our entire industry.

    Then there’s the joy of dealing with editors who can’t decide what the ‘h’ they want; unclear assignment letters and then rejecting work that doesn’t reach their ever-changing target.

    Yep – I’m most definitely cynical, frsutrated and looking for a viable business model too.


  6. Nicolas on said:

    Well, the only thing I could recall is that I received something in mail asking for directory listing, with an option to upgrade to a pro package. Those mails were in my trash cans.


  7. Did you notice the “as we grow” tucked in there? As in, I’m running it on my office computer during my lunch hour, but my mom thinks it’s a great idea and I predict we will be bought out my Google by the end of the month.


  8. Funnily enough a had a similar request via LinkedIn too these days to help someone find a high paid position using my professional network. I replied asking how they’d consider to balance the effort . . . never heard again from them 🙂


  9. I would research what the company requesting free services does and write a response turning the tables – you need the company to provide free services to you for similar considerations as you were offered. It reminds me of the lawyer at a party complaining about people asking for free legal advice and then asking the doctor about his medical problem…


  10. hail, hail! The only suggestion I would like to make is to NEVER apologize for not wanting to work for free. In the mean time the best alternative suggestion I could make is to just start your own webazine about your industry. You may just have enough contacts to pull it off and blow that fr….ng @#$%$#$ out of the water!
    And you know what: for this greater cause I’d be happy to supply you with a free article and a link on my blog! That then would be my chosen charity 🙂
    Good luck!


  11. That seems to be the new norm. I’m a musician and independent recording artist …as well as a writer. One thing I’ve noticed lately are these requests coming into my inbox to submit material to online radio. Generally I’m happy to do that. However, after I respond with permission, I’m now being requested to pay to get the music played on some internet server. …Let me get this straight: You want me to write the music, go and pay to have it recorded to professional standards, and then pay the website to provide it with content to attract its audience… As much as I find that flattering, I’ll have to pass. …So yes… I can completely relate to your own indignation. Enjoyed the read. Take care.


  12. good way of defecting! Thanks!


  13. Donna Morrison on said:

    It is a shame that new writers may not know any better. It is a marvel to me that folks have the wild balls to make pretentious offers like this. Thanks for voicing these issues.


  14. I think you have your boilerplate response right there! Well done!


  15. hey at least is not the “pay to play” model which is twice as devastating.


  16. You’ve gotten a little upset it seems to me, after all this guy probably thought that you were some sort of government office, in which case he really was offering you a great deal. Most of their government contracts pay them some mighty nice sums in order to accept such work. You’re actually quite lucky that he didn’t solicit a couple million dollars from you for your pleasure of laboring for his corporation.


  17. Sadly, every word of your reply needs to be said – again and again and again!


  18. vperriello on said:

    Sounds like the Huffington Horsie Happenings… you’re fighting the good fight for the readers too! Thank you!


  19. Could be a fun project to have different kinds of rejection letters to send back. Some being a soft let down and others being the kind of verbal jousting that could be downright scary to see how ticked the other person would get.

    Not everything will fit into one neat box, so it may be worth having a template that gets tweaked for each letter you do send.


  20. by taking time to write such a reply you get to make yourself feel better, which to my mind might not justify the amount of time you spent writing but goes a long way to making one feel like they have righted a wrong,helped other people to avoid a trap and best of all for us that follow your blog and the musings within an excellent way to pass a few minutes at least of watching someone squirm as you imagine them reading your reply…
    there is only one other way to deal with these types of people and that is as i have found the new sweep button on Hotmail which allows you to delete and block people all in one go.. not nearly so satisfying but when the weight of rubbish mail gets you down its the quickest although not so satisfying way to deal with unwanted mail


  21. myfurryfriends on said:

    Love it, as a real estate broker I often work for free as we only get paid if the transaction closes. I have learned that sometimes I just have to fire a client that is wasting my time and move on to someone that actually wants to buy a house and not just kick the tires.


  22. amyshojai on said:

    Excellent blog and response. I think that same guy contacted me–or maybe there’s a “how stupid do I look” resource that offers template language for such folks to send out thither and yon to entice writers. That said, there ARE venues for which I’ve donated work but those are specific exceptions. I’ve shared your post on Facebook with my other writer-ly colleagues. *s*


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