How One Writer’s Blog Hit the Top 10

Top 10 Blogs For WritersSome 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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