February 18, 2016

Working for “Exposure”? Get the Most Out of It

A deep starry field with text: Making "Exposure" Earn Its Pay

Last time, we discussed some of the circumstances when we might be willing to work for free. Or to put it another way, when we might be willing to be paid in exposure.

Maybe we’re new and trying to prove ourselves, so we make our first book a freebie to expose ourselves to readers. Maybe there’s no money to be shared, so we say yes to expose ourselves to supporters of the cause. Or maybe we’ve simply decided an opportunity fits with our long-term plans if we get more exposure from it.

I want to focus on that last reason today. In other words, I want to focus on situations where exposure is our primary goal.

Have we decided to say yes to an opportunity because we want the exposure? Great! Let’s make sure that exposure actually materializes in a helpful way and works hard for us. *smile*

What’s Our Goal?

Whether we’re talking about writing craft or our publishing path, being purposeful with our choices is important. But we often can’t know the best choice for us until we’re clear on our goals.

  • Before we can craft the best scenario for a scene, we often have to know our goal for the scene:
    Get the heroine to see the hero as a potential significant other.
    Which scenario will do that job better?
  • Before we can craft the best wording for a paragraph, we often have to know our goal for the reader’s impression:
    Feel sympathy for the heroine and think her boss is being unfair.
    How can we best make her boss look mean?
  • Before we can decide on a publishing path, we have to know our goal for publishing:
    I want to entertain readers.
    Will a traditional-publishing contract or moving forward with self-publishing better enable us to write entertaining stories?

Likewise, before we agree to work for exposure, we have to know our goal for that exposure. Do we want to…:

  • increase blog readers?
  • attract new readers for our books?
  • gather leads for paid work?
  • be seen as an authority on a topic?
  • increase name recognition?
  • feel validated?
  • get the word out about our services or a promotion?
  • be seen as helpful or interesting?
  • convince people on the fence about our work quality?
  • get newsletter signups?
  • Etc., etc.

How Well Does Our Goal Match the Opportunity?

Each of those goals would be a good match with some opportunities but not others. Depending on our goals, the potential exposure won’t be equally helpful:

  • If our goal is to get newsletter signups, an opportunity that limits us to a one-line bio won’t be worth as much as an opportunity to include a whole paragraph where we can promote why someone should sign up with us.
  • If our goal is to increase interest in our books, an opportunity that just mentions our book in the bio won’t be worth as much as an opportunity to talk about our books in some way or at least include a cover and back-cover blurb.
  • If our goal is to get our name out there as an authority on a topic (such as for non-fiction or workshop offerings), an opportunity that doesn’t make it clear that we’re the author of the content won’t be worth as much as an opportunity that talks up our expertise.

That’s why we have to think about our goal for the exposure: What are we trying to accomplish? Only then will we be able to judge whether an opportunity will help us accomplish our goals.

As I mentioned in a comment last time, if we look at an opportunity to guest post as a chance for advertising (like a billboard), we might be thrilled to advertise for free and not worry about the lack of pay. But if it turned out the billboard company shrunk the advertisement so it wasn’t readable, installed it upside-down or backwards to look unprofessional, or cut off our name, it wouldn’t seem like such a good deal anymore. *smile*

The Different Aspects of Exposure

So what should we take into consideration when analyzing whether something is a good match?

Depending on our goals, we might want to look for opportunities that will allow us to:

  • emphasize who we are, such as our name, our experience, or the names/covers of our books
  • share a promotional message about our paid work (buy links, book blurbs, workshops, services, etc.)
  • include links for people to connect with us (website, social media, newsletter signup, etc.)
  • talk about a topic central to our brand
  • allow readers to relate to us (include an author photo or a longer bio, etc.)
  • reach a huge platform (strong SEO, frequent viral content, the host shares with their social media platform, etc.)
  • reach a targeted platform (a niche of our target audience or those who can help us spread the word to that target audience)
  • share a sample of our work
  • offer bonuses to the audience
  • Etc., etc.

If someone wants to reach a niche target audience, an opportunity on a huge, un-targeted platform might not be appealing. Another person might salivate at the thought of that huge audience but also need an opportunity where they can discuss a certain topic.

In other words, it’s hard to judge whether an opportunity is a good match for us unless we know our priorities and goals for the exposure. Every goal can be valid for someone.

How Do We Plan to Exploit that Exposure?

Okay, so we know our specific goals for exposure, and we’ve said yes to an opportunity that’s a good match for those goals. Now we need to make sure that we’re making that exposure work hard.

Drive People to Our Message

Sure, maybe we signed on to work for exposure because the opportunity gave us a bigger platform, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore our platform. Even if the information isn’t new to our current readers, they might still share our special appearance with others.

If we’re on social media, we should tweet or post about our appearance and tag the host. They might retweet or share our update with their platform an additional time to increase our visibility.

If we’re putting our work on sale, we could look into advertising or getting on the radar of sale listings to broaden our reach. The point is that we shouldn’t just sit back and wait for traffic to come to us. *smile*

Ensure Our Message Is High-Quality

If we’re getting the opportunity to expose our work to new people, we want to make sure that work is the best we can make it. A freebie book should be edited to our usual standards (or else readers will assume all our work is the same level of crap).

Obviously, a guest post should be well-written, keep the readers of the host blog engaged (different blogs have different styles and expectations), and share valuable or interesting information. If we’re participating in a free Q&A seminar to expose people to our workshops or services, we’d want to make sure the seminar was well-run to give visitors a good impression.

Get the Audience to Take the Next Step

As I’ve mentioned before, if we give away a freebie, we want to put our backmatter of the book to work. We should include links to our other stories with some sort of promotional messaging to get readers excited to read more from us.

We could let them know how the next book continues the journey, include a cover and blurb, and/or provide an excerpt. The point is to keep the reader engaged with our work.

If we want newsletter subscribers or leads for paid work, we’d want any exposure opportunities to include a reason for readers to sign up. Maybe we talk up the type of exclusive information they’ll receive, or maybe we offer a freebie, a bonus scene, or exclusive content to our subscribers.

Above All, Have a Plan

As I mentioned last time, exposure can be good. But not everything that people claim will give us exposure will actually do so, especially in a way that will help us get paid for work down the line.

Before we agree to an opportunity, we want to make sure that we know:

  • Why might we be willing work for exposure? What will we get out of it?
  • What are we trying to accomplish with that exposure? What are our goals?
  • How do we plan to accomplish it? How can we lead the audience to the “next step”?

Before we say yes, we should have a plan for how to use the exposure to accomplish our goals. If we don’t have a plan for how to take advantage of the exposure, we’re not likely to get much out of the experience. However, if we have a plan—a direct way to exploit the exposure to get what we want—working for exposure can be a great idea. *smile*

If you’ve worked for exposure before, did you have a goal for what you wanted to get out of it? If yes, did you accomplish that? If no, would a plan have helped? Do you disagree with my approach on how to evaluate exposure opportunities? Can you think of additional aspects to consider?

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Serena Yung
Serena Yung

First of all, I have a few not-so-relevant comments, haha: For including buy links to our other books, that’s all good if it’s e.g. an Amazon eBook and we’re linking to an Amazon page of our other book. But the Smashwords site pointed out that if we are distributing to many online retailers, we should not include buy links to other sites, e.g. having an Amazon buy link on the back of an ebook on the Kobo site. First of all, this might be taking customers away from the Kobo store to Amazon, lol, and if the customer only has one kind of ereader, it can make it a bit inconvenient for them. So that would be if they only have a Kobo ereader and we direct them to an Amazon site that is mainly for Kindles. I heard that with a special conversion app, even non-kindle ereaders can read eBooks bought from Amazon, but why make it annoying and inconvenient for the reader, right? So if we’re putting our work out via a mass distributor like Smashwords instead of directly uploading to each retailer, we would have to keep this in mind. Smashwords recommends that we can link to books on Smashwords or to our Smashwords author page, though, since we can generate a wide range of different reading files on SW that I believe all or most ereaders can use. I’ll need to remember this when I publish my novels too! The other thing is, I think some…  — Read More »


Don’t advertise that you’ll work for free.

Quietly offer it to specific folks you’re willing to do it for, ideally as exchanges, and make sure that you also clearly show the person what your rate *would* be, so they can spread the word. If you announce it in general, you’ll attract “taker” types, and that’ll be a horrible experience all around. Personal experience.

It can help to have a particular genre, type of book, and/or type of line editing that you specialize in. (Something to also consider: Some editors assume what’s on the page is necessarily what the author meant, which can cause problems for some types of writers; others double-check and ask, which can cause problems for other types of writers. So knowing which type you are will be useful and can be leveraged as part of your sales copy.)

Re: “buy” links, I have a few different files, and it includes ones that either don’t have live links or that link to Ganxy showcases—but I aim to set up those links via redirects through my website, so I can always go through and have all the links go to the page on my site without touching a single book file. (.htaccess files are useful.)


[…] There’s been a debate raging over when or if writers should work for free (see Chuck Wendig’s opinion—in regards to the Huffington Post—in “Pay the F*****g Writers”), but Jami Gold shows how to, if you do work for free, get the most out of it. […]


As a general note about working for exposure…

If someone’s trying to sell you on how great it is that you’re getting paid on exposure, you’re probably better off skipping that one.

If it actually were a good situation for such exposure, they wouldn’t need to sell it to you—you’d already know, or in the very least they would already have plenty of folks angling for the spot.

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