If you look for opportunities on Craigslist, I’m sure you’ve waded through gig after gig for brand new magazines. All of these publications seem to be started with no capital whatsoever — all of them offer money ‘eventually’, ‘when we get paid’, ‘after the first issue’, or flat out not at all. Some even have the temerity to offer writers exposure — leaving out any arguments about the value of writing for exposure, consider this: if no one’s ever heard of a magazine, exposure in their pages is worth absolutely nothing. Ninety percent of these new magazines will never see a second issue. Their owners don’t understand a thing about the magazine business and will fail miserably. It’s only good sense to avoid them entirely.
But what happens when a friend comes to you — someone you trust to do right by you — and asks you to help out on his new magazine. It’s relevant to your interests, there seems to be a good probability of success, but there just isn’t enough money up front to pay you. What do you do?
Admittedly, it depends on the situation, but there is often a way to make the arrangement more equitable. After all, it is the rare writer who can afford to work for free, although many seem to anyhow. Consider the options:
- Can you resell the article to another market, if this magazine falls through?
- Can you offer up reprints of older work, rather than investing a lot of time in this publication?
- Can you get a trade, rather than payment, such as an ad space in the publication?
- Can you take on another role in the publication that is more likely to pay? (Editing, ad sales, design — there are a plethora of potential positions.)
If you can’t come up with a way to make the proposition beneficial, you have only two options. You can either tell your friend no, or you can treat the article as a gift, given without any expectation of payment. If you really want to help a friend out, there’s nothing wrong with doing so, but you cannot expect the situation to turn into a paying gig down the line.