Before getting into the meat of this Blog post, let it be known that I have been (and continue to be) a freelance writer (been at it since 1989).
Yes, I have a full-time job (as President of Twist Image where I am also one of the owners of the company), but writing and being a freelance journalist is in my blood. I love to write and I love everything that has to do with the publishing industry. I no longer rely on my freelance writing for my financial outcome in life, it’s more of a hobby for me (albeit a paying one), but I am passionate about it and enjoy helping/connecting with those who do freelance for a living. It’s one of the reasons why I could not turn down the opportunity to present at Mediaville Montreal today. Mediaville Montreal was an event organized by and for freelance media professionals. It was attended by independent writers, editors, publishers and translators.
Deal with writing for free.
With only 15 minutes to talk about Personal Branding, Digital Marketing and how to make money as a freelance writer, I started off with this quote from Clay Shirky: “So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this – the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.” The quote was taken from an article Shirky wrote for the Gothamist in April 2004.
That’s right, 2004.
Freelance writers – even those late to the Blogging game – have been told about it since late 2003. That’s six years ago. Shirky – who can be prophetic in his words – wrote this around the same time that Blogging was as popular as Twitter is today. The message is/was clear: if you don’t Blog because you think that you should be paid for every word that you create as a freelance writer, you are completely missing point (for more on this, please see the previous Blog post: Blogs Are Doing Very Well, Thank You Very Much).
Here are 6 ways that a Blog can change your freelance career:
- Blogs can supplement your current freelance writing. Sometimes you have a great idea for an article that editors just don’t understand. You don’t need their permission to publish anymore… write it and publish it on a Blog.
- Blogs can tell your unedited story. Most editors give freelance writers a specific word count. If you can work out a non-exclusive deal with the publication, you can use your full, unedited version and publish it on your Blog. Warts, unedited, and even over the word count.
- Blogs can help you sell more stories. Search engines love Blogs. People on Twitter and Facebook love Blogs. By Blogging and putting your stories "out there" you make yourself more findable, which – in turn – might catch the eyes of some editors and create newer business opportunities for you.
- Blogs establish you as a recognized authority. The good are good, the great get recognized. Yes, there are millions of Blogs and tons of content being published every minute. Still, those who are truly great do get recognized and do build community… fast. People who establish themselves as such, get noticed and grow their business. Period.
- Blogs will make you a better writer. Much like your muscles, in order for your writing to grow and get stronger it requires frequent and consistent exercise. Having a Blog should force (and encourage) you to write more. This is great if your freelance writing business has ups and downs (as most do). Blogging consistently will keep you sharp and keep your mind open to new story ideas.
- Blogs are free. Blogs set you free. One of the hardest parts of freelance writing is the constant rejection. For every story sold, there are handfuls of those that have been rejected. Setting up a Blog is free (it can cost you, if you want to make it more personalized) and Blogs can set you free. The freedom to have a story idea, write it and immediately publish it to the world is an amazing change in how we all communicate (see Shirky’s quote again above). This freedom will give you confidence and it will also help you remove that "whiff of desperation" that many freelance writers have when they deal with editors.
It’s not all about Blogs for freelancers.
Building up any semblance of a community or online social network is a smart idea for freelancers. It can be Twitter, creating a group on LinkedIn and more, just don’t forget that a great Blog is often better than any number of writing samples or portfolio.
The challenge is that you have to mentally get over the hump that you’re writing for free, because you’re not. You’re writing to free yourself.
“Blogs establish you as a recognized authority”
This is exactly why I began blogging. Even if potential clients have no clue what you are talking about in your blogs, if you write often, have a lot of subscribers and/or comments, it seems to give the impression you really don know what you’re talking about; and I’ve found this has helped lead to more sales.
Hello to Montreal from San Francisco. Thanks for your comments, Mitch.
As a print journalist and blogger, I understand writing for free on your own blog, as well as guest blogging.
What freaks me out is how many “freelance writers” are willing to write for free at places like the Huffington Post and Examiner dot com. In my opinion, writing for free is not building my credibility or my brand.
Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/Nancydbrown for all things travel related.
Maybe sometime in the very near future all forms will look to bloggers as there new staff writers.
Mainstream media could setup an iTunes kinda library of journalist/bloogers where they can simple by a story and the rest will be history.
Bloggers can create a back door post which only a select few with money can view and purchase. If there no offers by xtime you simply post on your own blog. It would help both sides and give everyone much more choices and freedom.
I feel a revolution coming.
great piece, im sending it to kevin!!
I think writing for places like Huffington Post is an excellent strategy. They have tons of traffic, it gives the writer great exposure and they work non-exclusively – meaning you can also post your writing on your own Blog and benefit from the reciprocated links. I think it’s on the writer to monetize that. Meaning: you can “sell” yourself as a Huffington Post contributor, etc… and make more money than if you were to simply do a minimal rev share with them for the advertising on your specific page. My two cents.
This is the best rationale of blogging I’ve read yet. Many freelance writers , esp those who worked primarily in traditional media (I’m a 28-year veteran, mainly in magazines &, to a lesser extent, newspapers), mainly worry about how to earn a living as more & more people work for free & traditional media either self-destruct or reform in a way that relies much less on paying a decent rate to freelance writers. The Huffington model is often stated by Huffington herself as based on a premise that the content is almost entirely free. It’s my belief that in the future, whatever the platform (even in newspapers & magazines cease to exist), there will be a demand for excellent writers who can think. How this will play out, though, isn’t clear.
Some very good points. After all, breaking into the writing game can be difficult with so few publishers accepting articles from not-established writers. Whether it’s fiction or journalism, being found by a publisher is a big deal.
After all, you’re not much of a “Freelance Writer” if you’re not getting paid to write at all, are you? Even established freelancers can easily fall victim to becoming old hat if they don’t keep up with new mediums for their words.
Very true. Web2.0 leaves freelance writers no choice. You have to give a lot for free.
If you are among the best freelancers, this will be a huge gain for you: freedom, recognition, financial rewards…
If not, expect diminishing returns
Art, I think you are on to something. There must be a relatively simple way for freelancers to operate that way… offer first refusal to a some paid publications before self-publishing.
One potential problem that comes to mind… an editor likes your piece, but instead of paying for it, waits until you post it, then just quotes you or links? On the other hand, that would probably wouldn’t work for long: too many burned bridges.
The problem with writers blogging is that there is no editor. For established writers who know what they are doing, it’s fine. For new writers coming up, they don’t have those years of feedback and editorial help to hone their thinking and streamline their copy. I think it is a serious quality issue that is going to show up more and more.
While I continue to toy with the idea of starting a blogâ€”so thanks for your words of encouragementâ€”your contention that having one can be even better than a portfolio of writing samples just strikes me as shortsighted and smacks a bit too much of boosterism. To suggest that a body of published freelance work in a variety of genres is somehow less valuable than what amounts to a diary of au courant personal jottings is to dismiss what differentiates me: my years of experience as a professional writer and editor.
I was one of the attendees at Mediaville Montreal. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your presentation. Well delivered; well received.
I’m a freelance writer and editor, and know I should do a web site and blog, but am often so busy I’m not sure when I’d write content. How often do you really need to blog? I don’t like blogs that people fill with a personal diary of what they’re doing unless it relates to the blogâ€™s purpose.
Love the non-exclusive article idea! Couldn’t you also post copyrighted, published work either bylined under your name or without anyone’s byline as long as it credits the publication or blog? Obviously not sites where you ghost blog under the owner’s name. Great chance to showcase some polished writing.
Freelance writers still need to spend time promoting themselves and a blog is one way to do this. However, it takes time to research and write anything worth reading and I would always be suspicious of someone who calles themselves a “freelance writer” who churns out long blog posts every couple of days and maybe writes (for free) on other blogs. I would suggest “unemployed writer” would be a more accurate job description.
Also, while other bloggers can get away with poor grammar and typos, anyone who relies on writing for their living needs to be more careful, considering they have no editor to watch their back – which also takes time. A short blog with brief snippets and useful links, plus links to recent work is the way to go for me. And if there’s time to produce a long piece that maybe showcases a style of writing you want to do more of, then all the better – so long as it’s relevant to your readers and not just showing off.
I am just getting into freelance writing and sometimes was worried that I should stop wasting my time writing m blog and focus on “real articles”. But these are “real” articles and my blogging is already helping me to be noticed.
It’s also a great way to cross share and help mutually promote. Being in PR, I can use my blog to help my clients and mutually so.
Thanks! Re affirmed my confidence in the blogging space!
I blog for free, and it’s the best marketing and advertising I do. Potential clients ask for links to my work, and my writing samples page on my personal web site links to two of my blogs. I have landed unbelievable gigs from both. Why? One is an irreverent and humorous site. The other is a hobby that I’m passionate about. My posts are a lot less formal than typical commercial freelance projects and apparently clients like that.
Another way blogs can change your freelance career is when you start writing blogs for other people. I call it ghost blogging. As business begins to understand the power of the blog, there is more demand for people to develop them. I’ve got several clients that don’t feel comfortable with their writing skills or don’t have the time to dedicate to the blog. They’re happy to give the work to a freelance writer, especially one that has demonstrated sound writing and journalistic practices in their own blog.
I view my blog as an investment in marketing. Frankly, I’d rather spend time developing my own message than paying for advertising.
As for the concern about civlian journalism killing the market for professional freelancers – I don’t buy it. If anything, the hacks are making the real writers stand out and demonstrating that quality writing is not easy to achieve.
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