How One Writer’s Blog Hit the Top 10

Some of you may have heard that this blog was chosen as one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers yesterday. Here is the crazy, unlikely story of all the people who helped me get there.

The short version: I think it all happened because I love to learn. I was a mad sponge for blogging knowledge. I soaked it all up and kept trying harder. Eventually, key people noticed, and that made all the difference.

I’ll never understand why so many amazing people were so willing to help me, but I’m wildly grateful.

It all began in 2008, when the economy tanked, and I got mad.

I was going along, marketing the daylights out of my freelance writing business, earning more each year, working hard. Life was basically good for me. Living happily-ever-after in freelance-land.

But I was heartsick from hearing writers talk about how they were earning $10 an article, or just plain not earning at all.

I thought maybe I could help.

I started to blog about how to make it in today’s freelance-writing world. On my writer site, initially. But soon I wanted the blog to have its own personality, and in February, the Make a Living Writing blog grew up and moved here. At first, I posted maybe once a week. Then regularly once a week. Then twice. I learned about social media and started promoting my posts.

Along the way, I fell in love with blogging, and with helping people earn more from their writing. Man, it’s way more fun than any other type of writing I do! I started to write my blog posts like they were $1-a-word assignments. I wanted each to be a little masterpiece of usefulness. I was hooked. I tried to give people real-world, practical tips on how to earn more. I told readers exactly how I earn a good living as a freelance writer. They told me they took my tips and found clients. I was ecstatic.

Meanwhile, I used my blog as an audition piece to get a paying blogging gig with Entrepreneur back in summer ’09. That led to more blogging gigs. I don’t even think there was a way to subscribe to this blog yet, but now I saw blogging could generate some income. I also started a regular guest-posting gig on WM Freelance Writers Connection, and got a lot of extra blogging practice in, offering tips for earning more.

All this learning and blogging laid the groundwork so that when influential people checked me out, I was ready for prime time.

Phase I: The Copyblogger connection

One day last May, all that Twitter time paid off when Jon Morrow from Copyblogger noticed my blog. Then he invited me to guest on Copyblogger. Just like that.

I call it my social-media Cinderella story.

For every experienced writer who bristles at being edited by someone younger than them, let me say: Some of those twenty-something editors are freakin’ geniuses. Be open to what they tell you.

I got 900 retweets. My head was spinning. Next post, he handed me off to Sonia Simone. It was like I was a mortal and suddenly, I was hanging out with superheroes of social media. I felt like I came up to their knees.

I did a one-hour consult with Jon and learned a lot about how to make my blog better. I started changing things on my blog to make it more inviting for subscribers.

I just put my head down, kept changing my site, and tried to make less of an ass of myself as a blogger. (Me: “So you should ask people to subscribe? You should have a free report for subscribers? Oh…kay.”) I started working an 8-midnight shift on my blog — it was more fun than any TV show. I put in umpty-million hours. It was crazy…and yet exciting, because I was starting to see my blog had real potential.

Phase II: A-List Blogger Club whips me into shape

Around the time my first Copyblogger post was getting scheduled, I realized I needed to learn so much more about blogging. And I needed to learn it quick.

I mean, I’ve been writing professionally for a long time, but the blogging-and-social-media thing? Kind of a newbie. The dim thought was starting to roll around in my brain that if I really worked on my blog, maybe it could start to earn. And then I could spend more and more time helping other writers, and less time on client work. I loved that idea.

To find out how, I turned to two experts I’d been reading ever since about my first blog post: Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen and Write to Done (which hosted the Top 10 Blogs contest this year). Their A-List Blogger Club is only $20 a month and you can quit anytime, which is the kind of pricetag that fits my budget.

I thought I’d go in, zoom through all the courses in a month, and leave. Ha! Now my goal is to never leave. The course material is deep and wide in there, they keep adding more, and I’ll be swimming like mad trying to catch up with blogging best practices probably forever.

Before A-List, I really couldn’t figure out what the secret sauce was of monetizing a blog. I knew I wasn’t going to slap up ads everywhere, that seemed awful…so how could it work? If you look at my Tools & Products I Love tab, you can see what I learned about that. I’d never sold anything to anyone before, but A-List taught me a way to sell with integrity. I also learned a ton about design and usability and started improving my blog.

The really unexpected part of A-List Blogger Club was the forums. Rather than hanging out on any old writer forum where many of the writers aren’t that serious, now I was hanging with more than 2,000 other bloggers who really cared about making their blogs work.

Lots of members turned out to be great resources, and Leo and Mary are active as well, so it was a chance to ask them questions directly. I found great new friendships, and learned even more. A-List started retweeting some of my blog posts. I also gained subscribers, as people got to know me on the forums and then came over to visit my blog.

Phase III: Mary Jaksch, Write to Done, Darren Rowse, DIYThemes, and more…

Between my Copyblogger exposure and being in A-List, more and more influential people started to contact me. Mary Jaksch started commenting on my blog, emailing me personally now and then, and then she subscribed (!). I started attracting more students for my mentoring program, and I learned a ton from them, too, about what freelance writers need to know to succeed.

Derek Halpern from DIYThemes (home of the Thesis theme) got in touch and asked me to guest there. Derek is seriously young enough to be my kid…but he taught me a ton about conversion strategy. He said he just wanted to call me and talk to me for an hour about my site…I was sure there would be a secret agenda to sell me a timeshare or something…but there wasn’t. He just loved my content and wanted to help me succeed.

Using what I’d learned from my many mentors, I started targeting thought leaders on Twitter and sending them my posts. Darren Rowse of Problogger retweeted one. My site crashed…and I got a private server. And more subscribers. My baby blog was growing up.

I kept sort of pinching myself…but I apparently wasn’t dreaming.

One day, Mary sent me an email about the Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest. She thought I should enter. She thought I should guest on Write to Done. The rest of the story I think you know — I asked for nominations, you nominated, it was a finalist, and then it won.

I say “it” won because this blog isn’t me — it’s me plus all of you, and your comments and suggestions. Here’s hoping the spotlight that’s shining over here now will help us go more great places and help more writers go out and earn a good income. That’s what it’s all about.

What I learned along the way:

  • Strive for constant improvement.
  • Be supremely helpful to readers.
  • Give away a lot of free stuff.
  • Learn from many teachers.
  • Believe you have something unique and valuable to offer the world.
  • Persist.
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25 comments on “How One Writer’s Blog Hit the Top 10
  1. Ahlam says:

    Carol! I'm very excited for you. This is an accomplishment for all aspiring bloggers/successful freelance writers. When I stumbled upon your website last month, I was struggling to find direction. While I was writing and working very hard, I was not earning the amount of money it takes to survive. You've given me several motivational tools. As a result, I'm in the learner's phase (still here, and think I'll be here for a while)….and turn back to your site often when I need a push forward. I've been struggling with launching a blog for a while, but finally have … now it's about finding a niche after being away from my personal interests for several years. Until I figure out the definite direction for my blog, I'll keep writing and trying to navigate through these murky waters of a freelance writer's path to success. Thanks for the inspiration, and once again, congratulations! :)
    My recent post How to Reach a Place of Focus and Determination for the New Year

  2. James says:

    Congrats, Carol. It's a well-deserved honor. I owe a lot of my success to you, your direction and your frank advice. Enjoy this big win, and here's hoping this is only the beginning…

    • TiceWrites says:

      Thanks James! I can't even imagine what's going to happen next. This was so unlikely to me. Next, Martians may land, or maybe my dad will turn out to be one…there's just no telling at this point.

  3. janmhill says:

    Good job Carol, and well deserved!! I've learned so much from both you and Anne Wayman, and I know I've still got a long ways to go! Congrats :)
    My recent post Real Legal Writers Have Blogs

  4. admin says:

    Wow, congratulations Carol! You do a really good job encouraging people and I'm so happy to have you as an example. It's really nice to have you as a go-to person for information. Give yourself a pat on the back!

    Lindsay

  5. Kim Murray says:

    Carol, you deserve the win. As an aspiring freelancer, I'm learning so much from you and appreciate all that you have to offer. I need to do some serious work on my blog! Thank you!
    My recent post The Year of Forgetting Things

  6. Oh, you just wait Carol. The time share sales pitch is coming next year. :-D
    My recent post Free Ebook- Nonverbal Website Intelligence

  7. laurieboris says:

    Congratulations, Carol! I look forward to learning even more from you in the future. Have a great holiday, and don't burn any more teapots!

  8. pricewrite says:

    Congratulations on this well-deserved honor. I hope it catapults you to even greater heights. Thanks for all the great advice and writerly camaraderie.

    Jack
    My recent post Can We Really Trust Wonder Woman

  9. Oh, so that's how it happened! I've learned so much from you in the past month, I also feel like I'm barely staying afloat of everything I need to make my blog better than ever. Thank you for your down-to-earth frankness, generosity, and inspiration.
    My recent post How Your Family Can Support Your Writing

    • TiceWrites says:

      My pleasure. I think in blogging, we're all like the White Queen in Alice, racing and racing just to stay in the same place, and having to go even faster to get anywhere!

  10. Congratulations Carol!

    What an inspiration you are. Just set a goal and keep on going until you reach it. Way to go! Thanks for sharing all of your lessons learned with us. It is extremely helpful to hear from someone who has had similar experiences.

    Best,
    Natalie L. Komitsky, Wordsmith
    providing text-based solutions
    My recent post CYA 101

    • TiceWrites says:

      Thanks Natalie —

      You remind me there's one other great piece of advice I got along the way, from Nathan Hangen, the author of Beyond Blogging, which I put in the eBook. His advice: "Don't give up before it pays off."

  11. TiceWrites says:

    All — early on, Jon Morrow gave me one piece of advice. He said, "Great bloggers aren't made — they're appointed" — by the current big, influential bloggers. I think from my story you can see how true that is.

    Yes, your content needs to be amazing, and you need to really be serving your readers and engaging them. But the fairy dust that gets sprinkled on your blog from someone with pull in the blogosphere seems like it's a critical element. It's sort of like the old star system in Hollywood, where you could be a great actor, but you needed a studio head to notice you and sign you to a contract for your career to start to HAPPEN.

    My experience makes me wonder about all the other great blogs out there that might just be waiting for the moment when someone with a big following notices them and points them out to their fans…and then they get discovered.

    So don't forget to send your blog posts to influential people who you think might like them…you never know where that might lead.

  12. ollinmorales says:

    Great story. I'm actually very lucky to have found you through winning this contest. I want to start a freelance career while I write my novel. I'm not sure how I will do it, but I'm hoping to learn from your site. I'm already enjoying it very much!
    My recent post Much Love-

  13. @FicAnalyst says:

    Carol – What a great story! I just stumbled upon your blog today and I'm already a little hooked. Excited to page through your archives over the coming weeks. Hope your 2011 is even better than your somewhat awe-inspiring 2010 has been. – Kate

    • TiceWrites says:

      Hi Kate —

      Well I'm glad you found me! Welcome aboard. Stick around, we have a lot of fun in here while we learn how to earn more.

      PS – I recommend you join IntenseDebate or WordPress so you can post directly on my site without waiting for moderation.

  14. maryawrites says:

    Hi Carol, this is fantastic. I am so happy for you. Its fantastic to hear about real life success stories.

    My post 'What I learnt from Blogging Heroes ; Top Blogging Tips' recently hit the front page of Word press and stayed there for four days. And what happened next was unbelievable. It gave me hope that I can so do it. And all this when my blog is not even 3 months old yet.

    I am so obsessive about it … its on my mind all the time. If I existed in a vacuum, I would read, research, learn and blog 24/7.

    I am definitely going to join A List blogger club. And I will be following you very closely. I am a very fast learner, extremely hard working and beyond persistent. You think I have got what it takes to make it?

    If you have time, could have a look at my most recent blog posts and let me know what you think? Many thanks.

    • TiceWrites says:

      Hi Marya —

      That's fantastic! Wish I could keep reviewing blogs free forever…but all good things must come to an end, and some of my paying clients would like me to pay attention to them now. That free blog-review day was so popular though, maybe I'll do it again in 2011.

      If you're serious about blogging, I hope you do join A-List – I know you would learn LOTS.

  15. @krenee76 says:

    Congratulations!!! What a fantastic success story you have here! You've really got a killer mix here: a thirst for more knowledge, awesome writing talent and networking with the right people! Awesome!
    May even greater success come to you in 2011 :D
    My recent post How to Persist When you’re Ready to Quit Please Vote

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