Just how dangerous is spec work?

Spec work, or speculative work, is work done at the creator’s own expense, in hopes of getting a paid job. For writers, this means writing an article on a topic and carrying the risk of not getting paid.

There’s been a lot of talk in the design community about the dangers of doing work on spec. Groups like AIGA have put out letters and warnings to prevent designers from doing work on spec, arguing that it brings down rates for the entire design community. Spec work can be a real waste of time for designers – a person could spend significant hours on a project and get no pay.

But is spec work as dangerous for writers?

Say you find a nice high paying market that you have the perfect story for. But they only take completed articles – no queries. Technically, any article you write for them is on spec. But, I recommend going ahead and doing it. And just a thought: if you’re a fiction writer you’re almost always writing purely on spec. Gives new meaning to speculative fiction, huh?

Why should you write for spec markets?

Unlike designers, it isn’t hard for writers to adapt their projects to new clients. If your article is rejected by one market, chances are you can find another market willing to buy it. It may not be the highest priced market, but you’ll still profit. You may need to rewrite it just a bit, but it’s doable.

Now, all of this doesn’t hold true for copywriters. Copy written for a specific project can be very difficult to adapt to a new project. Press releases are not all the same and neither are product descriptions.

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