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I’ve just finished an analysis of the 93 articles I’ve had accepted for publication, and I found something very interesting. I noticed that a total of 64 (or 69%) are paid articles, while the remaining 29 are gratis.

At first glance, the high number of freebies may look dismal. In fact, they’ve paid off in more ways than I’d have thought possible when I started out as a freelance writer in September 2007.

The biggest advantage to writing the occasional article for free is that it gets your foot in the door of the travel writing community.

For example, Classic Military Vehicle, a UK magazine, just picked up one of my articles about a tank museum in Parola, Finland.

They’re paying me 220 British pounds (about $436) for a four-page spread. But, I’d never have had this feature piece accepted had I not started out by offering them a free series of four museum reviews. Now the editor has accepted three more feature articles, which will bring in over $1,400.

Another of my successes with free articles is with Military Magazine. The magazine liked my series of free military museum articles so much that it brought me on board as a monthly military museum columnist. (Now I can boast that I write a magazine column.) And, since I’ve already compiled a bunch of museum reviews for a book I’d like to publish, it doesn’t eat into any more of my time.

I’ll publish the review piecemeal in the magazine and then put them all together in the book. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

So, my point is: don’t hesitate to give some of your work away. You’ll find your confidence grows with every piece that is accepted for publication, and, eventually, you’ll be in a position to stop donating your work and start making money every time.

Plus, writing articles for free generally means you are free to sell them elsewhere. I’ve also found that every editor who’s taken my free work does not retain any rights at all. And, believe me, I’m pursuing selling these free articles full-force.

[Editor’s Note: Check the Writer’s Guidelines for details about which rights the publication buys or expects for free.]

And, never underestimate the value of the practice you get from writing free pieces. The extra experience helps you hone your writing skills and query letters to editors. My writing has improved so much over seven months that, when I go back to review old pieces, I easily spot ways to improve my earlier writing.

Spreading a single article around to two or three magazines, newspapers or e-zines has boosted my portfolio tremendously.
Being able to say I’ve been published in 40 magazines, newspapers or e-zines sounds so much more impressive than 28 (the articles I’ve been paid for) when I’m pitching an editor. And if I hadn’t written free articles, I’d only be able to boast 64 articles accepted for publication instead of 93.

How about being paid a small amount for an article? I recently sold a 2,000-word article, titled “Artillery at the Battle of Waterloo,” to The Artilleryman magazine for just $50. In truth, I would have done it for free. This was a piece I loved writing — it was like drinking a fine champagne every time I sat down to work on it. So, to me, that small fee was a bonus.

Finally, don’t forget these two pieces of absolutely crucial advice on writing articles for free:

** First, never ever tell an editor in a query letter that you’ll write a piece for free. Wait for her to get back to you with her “we’d like your article, but don’t have a very big budget for freelancers” story, before you offer to donate your piece.

** Second, always write your best article, even when it’s gratis. The idea is to impress the editor, show her that you write well, and that she would be missing out on good articles if she doesn’t take your work.

Will I continue giving away articles in the future? Perhaps…if it supports my goals — for example, breaking into a magazine I really want to be published in. But, as my volume of articles increases and I’m swept up into higher paying magazines and newspapers, the number of giveaways I write will decrease significantly.

[About the Author: Roy Stevenson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington. He writes on Travel and Culture, Military History, History, Fitness and Health, and Film Festival Reviews. He first started travel writing in September 2007, after taking the AWAI Travel Writer’s course last July in Portland, Oregon, and since then he’s had 93 articles accepted for publication.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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