The first rule of establishing a writing career is to stop working for free. As long as you’re willing to write for credit or exposure, you’ll never find reputable companies that will pay you a fair price for your work. It may take a little longer to get that paying gig, but it’s better than spending a lifetime gathering up credits from nonpaying gigs. Here are a few more tips to help you develop a consistent income stream as a working writer.

Avoid Exclusive Submission Terms

If you’re looking for a home for a piece you have already written, you’ll find yourself combing through the writing guidelines for a long list of publishers. One term that you’ll come across frequently is “exclusive submissions only.” This means the publisher expects you to refrain from submitting that work to other publishers until they decide whether they want to publish it. Essentially, you agree to sit on your piece for six months or longer only to get a form rejection letter in return.

Avoid Paychecks

When a publisher pays you, they may offer a choice of payment method. Whenever possible, decline the option of receiving a paper check. This results in a delay of payment, and it means your bank will likely charge extra fees for cashing a check that an out-of-state party issued. The fees will be higher if there’s a foreign currency exchange. Whenever possible, use an online payment processor to receive your payments.

Don’t Accept Complimentary Materials

Before you agree to any offer to publish your work, make sure you’ll be getting paid a fair rate. This means declining an offer to publish your work in exchange for complimentary copies of the issue in which your story will appear. Other similar bargains include offering a complimentary magazine subscription or paying you in coupons. Your goal should focus on publishers that will pay you cash at a fair rate for your work.

Some paid writing gigs involve signing a standard contract, but you should take the time to look over the contract. If the legal terminology is confusing to you, ask an attorney to review it with you. Before signing it, you should fully understand the terms of the contract. You’ll want to know in advance what rights you’ll retain and how you’ll be compensated. Only sign a contract after you have reviewed the terms and found them to be fair or acceptable.