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10 Killer Interview Tips for Amazing Articles

Use Interviews to Supplement Your WritingIn this bloggy, Web-based, insta-posting age, interviewing sometimes seems to be a lost art. But if you want to move up and get better-paying writing assignments,  you’ll need to conduct interviews with people. You’ll need to not just do them, but to utterly rock at interviewing.

The difference between ho-hum and great writing is often in getting wonderful quotes from sources rather than blah ones.

A lot of new writers are getting started at content sites writing quick articles that don’t require any interviews. Then suddenly, an editor or business client will call wanting to assign you a great article or project — but it requires talking to actual live humans to gather information.

Don’t let interviewing be a roadblock to growing your writing business. Here are ten tips to get you started interviewing:

1.   Research your topic and your interview subject, and prepare a question list prior to your interview time.

2.   Shut up. People hate silence, and if you’re quiet, they will likely say more.

3.   Take copious notes, and consider bringing a digital tape recorder so you can go back over the interview.

4.   Take a little time to make small talk and put the source at ease.

5.   Remember your fact basics, and find out the who, what, when, where and why. Then, go beyond these to capture a few more details that bring the story to life.

6.   Consider your written list only a starting point. As sources talk, what they say will bring up more questions.

7.   If you have questions that may upset your subject, ask them at the end of the interview, so that you get as much info as you can before they shut you down.

8.   Ask, “Who else should I talk to about this?” “Where can I learn more about this?” and/or “Who disagrees with you on this?”

9.        Ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to say on this topic that I haven’t asked about?”

10.      Always conclude with, “Where can I contact you later to check facts or ask followup questions?”

Photo via Flickr user tuppus

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Your Writer Website – Where Are the Clips?

Show Your Writing on Your WebsiteBy Carol Tice

I’ve got a bone to pick today with writer Web sites. I look at a lot of them for my mentees, and over time I’ve found many of them have the same problem.

No clips.

That’s right. You go to a writer’s Web site and they’ve got a bio, and maybe a photo…and then there’s either a vague list of places they’ve written for, or there’s a bibliography-type list of the titles and markets of previous published articles, like for a college paper or something. Or just a list of places they’ve been published.

And no links I can click on to read the stories.

So I have a question for new writers: Why do you think people are coming to your writer Web site? Hint: It’s not to read about how you were staffer for three years at the Podunk Daily News five years ago.

Visitors want to read your clips so they can decide whether to hire you.

I’ve heard every excuse for why writers don’t have clips on their site.

1. “None of my clips are currently available online.” Then get a few of them turned into PDFs and linked to your site. Yes, I do mean pay a pro to do it if you don’t know how to format and code that yourself. Your site is a complete waste without clips.

2. “I ended on a bad note with that editor, so I’m afraid to post my stuff with them.” Get over it. Nobody’s going to quiz you about how it worked out with that rag. They just want see if your writing is compelling and/or shows familiarity with the topic they want you to write about.

3. “I can’t decide which ones to put up.” Pick a dozen of your favorites on a variety of topics you’d like to get additional gigs writing about, and start there.

4. “I don’t have my site up yet.” Then put links to clips in your LinkedIn profile, or take control of your ZoomInfo profile and put them there as a way to get started with an online portfolio.

5. “Well, once I start doing that I’ll have to keep updating it when I have new articles published.” Yes, indeed, you will. I try to update my “favorites” area of my site daily, or at least weekly, with something new to keep its rankings up and to make the clips prospects see as fresh as possible when they visit.

6. “I’m too shy to brag about myself by putting clips on my site.” Aw, honey. Let me send you a hug…and then buck up and put your clips on there. You want to make a living at this, right?

7. “I just can’t seem to get around to it.” In this Internet age, there is simply nothing more important you can do to market your writing than to get a decent set of your clips linked and organized in a single spot. It just says, “This writer is a pro.” No links says you’re not.

Calls I got from prospects tripled when I did it. So get busy and organize your portfolio on your writer site. Not only does it impress prospects, but it’ll make you feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user Franklin Park Library

How to Get Paid More for SEO Writing

SEO Writing Helps you Stay on Target

As promised, I have one more question to answer this week from MALW reader Gina, who asked earlier about niche blogging vs general blogging. Today, we discuss SEO and high-paid writing. Her question:

Carol, I’m curious what you think of SEO writing. There are many SEO companies that charge big dollars to provide readable SEO articles and content to clients. How many upscale online writers do or don’t write with keywords in mind? I know search engines are becoming less keyword driven, but they are still a reality. Just wondering what your thoughts are on copywriters and SEO.

Let’s start by saying there’s SEO writing, and then there’s “SEO writing,” as in all the ads you see that are looking for an “SEO writer.” In my experience, this latter title in an ad usually means “I’m looking for someone who will quickly cobble together something from a few other similar topic pages they find online and use a lot of key words to help our rankings. We don’t care if the writing’s very good.” A threat that all content will be run through Copyscape to make sure you’re not plagiarizing is the hallmark of this genre.

And the pay is crap. And established, professional copywriters have names for what this is — names like “retyping” and “article spinning.” When you say it’s “readable,” in my experience that doesn’t mean it’s usually something anyone would ever actually want to read. These are articles created primarily for search engines to read. Whether people ever read them seems to be a sort of secondary consideration.

I know what you want to tell me, Gina — you’re different and special. Your SEO writing is great copy. If so…you’re being ripped off and underpaid for what you’re delivering. Stop writing for SEO houses if you want to earn more.

Well-paid copywriters sell themselves as capable of delivering knockout information in compelling ways, so that customers of their client Web sites will be excited by what they offer, come back often, and buy products and services. These articles are written for people first, and search engines second. That’s the difference. Not everybody can write something people want to read…the pool of possible writers is smaller…and pay is better.

Do top-flight copywriters care about SEO and use keywords in online content they create? Absolutely. We try to work them into our headlines and first paragraphs, for sure. But we’re not looking to use them at some crazy ratio where they’re every third word of an article. I’m often given keywords to use by clients. The key word there is “use,” not overuse. As you note, search engines are getting smarter about keyword-dense text. Keyword density isn’t most important to most good-paying clients — their top priority is to have mind-blowingly helpful information on their site and compelling sales materials that establish them as the authority in their sector and helps them sell.

As far as the “many SEO companies that charge big dollars,” I’m not sure that’s a reality. It’s a very cutthroat industry and I think their markup isn’t that different from that of any other type of copywriting agency or middleman. Stop worrying about how much profit SEO companies are making off you, and find your own clients to earn well.

Photo via Flickr user smemon87

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How to Get Paid More Than $50 an Article

Earn More From WritingBy Carol Tice

This week I’m answering a question from new writer Gina Alianiello — she writes:

Carol, you mentioned ads for copywriting jobs that are higher
paying, but I never see them. Where do I look for ads that
pay $50 and above for article writing?

The quick answer, Gina, is that the vast majority of good-paying article assignments aren’t found in an ad online. Whether it’s an article for a publication or a copywriting project for a business, most of the lucrative jobs are found either by querying or otherwise connecting with an editor, or in the case of copywriting, through networking and prospecting to find business clients.

I think a lot of writers are worshipping at the shrine of the online ads as if that’s the only way or place to find a writing assignment. Instead, think of the online ads just like you do the traditional newspaper classifieds — as the last refuge of the dysfunctional and desperate publications and companies.

So the most important strategy for finding good-paying article assignents is to work your virtual and in-person networks, meet new people, and find great new clients. You won’t be in a mass bidding war when you do this, so rates tend to be higher.

That said…there are some better-paying article jobs online. In Move-Up Markets, I wrote about the increasing number of gigs I’m spotting that pay at the next rung up, $75 or $100 a post. Personally, I’ve gotten online article projects off ads I responded to cold that paid $.50-$1 a word. More than once. And ongoing clients worth more than $1,000 a month, also off job ads.

My tips:

• Troll widely. Like dating, you’ve kind of got to browse a lot of losers to find your prince. Skim ads and move on quickly if you don’t get a good feeling or the posted rate is low.

• Think niche expertise. One of my best new clients this year I got off a cold cover letter I sent through a niche job board for financial publications. That’s right, I now blog for CBS off a cold ad, at pay that started above $50 a post and is moving up steadily. So it can happen. If you have any type of niche expertise in a field not everyone understands — foreign exchange, reiki therapy, whatever — that is where you will earn more. Seek out the lesser known job boards to strike this kind of gold.

• Only respond to job ads that smell great. Solid clients are up-front about paying real wages — their ad will say “pays $50 an hour” or $.50 a word or whatever, or will say something like “is competitive with our (specialized) industry.” They tell you their Web site URL so you can look it over before you respond. Ideally, they’re a publication that’s been in business a long time, or a business that’s a known name or at least long-established. The exception here would be venture-capital-funded startups, which can also pay well.

Before you ask, yes, these listings are out there — I usually find at least 3-5 that fit these criteria each week.

Gina asks good questions! I answered another of Gina’s questions on my Make a Living Writing blog this week.

Got a question? Send us an email and we’ll answer it here on WM.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user tenaciousme

Why Your Blog Needs a Niche

20k Writers' Blogs a Day and How Will You Stand Out?

Can a successful blog be general? Writer and MALW blog reader Gina Alianiello recently emailed me about this issue:


I’m trying to start a blog. I feel like an anomaly–I am a generalist. I am interested in writing about a range of things from health, social issues, women’s issues, holistic agriculture and more.

I wonder if you subscribe, like so many people do, to the idea that a successful blog must necessarily be focused on a narrow niche. I keep thinking a blog can be general, but with many narrower tags or categories.

What is your opinion on the viability of a blog that informs, educates and entertains on general topics?

I’ll start by saying that whether a general blog is “viable” depends on your goal. Is your goal with your blog to set your creativity free by having a place to instantly publish your daily musings? If so, a general blog is just fine.

But if you want your blog to help you earn money, either by showing prospective clients you understand blogging and could blog for them, or by creating a large audience you could sell products to or line up advertisers based upon — then you need a niche blog.

Why? Let’s take those two monetizing aspects one at a time and discuss.

If you’re using your blog as a showplace for your skill in hopes of landing a good paid blogging gig, your niche blog makes a good audition piece because virtually all paid blogging is niche-oriented. On Entrepreneur.com right now, for instance, I blog about issues of concern to small business owners. Over at BNET, my blogs offer pointed analysis of goings-on at large public retail and restaurant companies. For one of my current small-business clients, SuretyBonds.com, I research and write about new laws requiring business owners in various industries to buy surety bonds.

See what I mean? These blogs are not general. Businesses and publications are looking for bloggers who understand how to work a niche.

If you want your blog to be a moneymaker in itself, this involves drawing a large audience, whom you and your advertisers can sell products and services. The problem with a general niche here is that you can’t catalyze a big, loyal fan base if one week you’re writing about agriculture, and the next week you’re writing about women in the military.

Imagine I’m your reader. I do some Web browsing on a topic of interest, and I find your blog. I read your post and I love it! I subscribe. But the next post is about something totally different, and the next one has yet another topic. Now I’m annoyed! And I stop visiting.

Whereas if all your blogs are about tattoos, or Formula One racing, or geocaching, or business productivity…people who care about your topic can more easily find you, fall in love with you, and become rabid fans. Because your blogs will frequently mention similar terms (such as “freelance writing” here at MALW), your search rankings for that topic will rise as you post more.

More people will come. And then you can sell to your audience. Which all likes the same stuff, and that makes it easy to figure out what to sell them.

If there’s a general blog out there succeeding in doing this, I have yet to see it. So if you have multiple topics you want to blog on, Gina, the answer is: multiple blogs. They can even start off just as separate tabs on the same Web site, and then spin off to their own sites if they take off. But each topic blog needs a separate place to live, a place for fans of that topic to come where they can count on learning more on the subject they love.

I’d say you are not a generalist, Gina. You are a writer with several possible niche topics.

Thanks to Gina for emailing me with this question. Got a question about how to earn more from your writing? Leave a comment and if I like your question, I will answer it here at MALW.

Photo via Flickr user Annie Mole

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7 Ways Out of Writer’s Block

By Carol Tice

I haven’t written much about writer’s block in my year of blogging about writing, because it’s not a big problem in my life. But I’ve read complaints from so many other writers about it, I feel I should help here.

When the rare occasion comes when I do find myself stuck, I use one of these techniques to snap out of it:

1. Use your lifeline. That’s right, phone a friend, just like on the TV game shows. Then, tell them about the article you need to write. You’ll find that as you chat, your story will naturally organize itself. When you hang up, jot down a few notes and you’ve got your outline.

2. Write about something else. If this article is stumping you, write your blog entry for the week or a letter to your mom. Just something that starts you writing. You’ll probably find at the end of that writing task, it’s fairly easy to switch to the one that was causing you problems.

3. Read old clips. Sometimes, when I’m intimidated by a complex article I need to organize, I crack open my clip book and leaf through it. I realize I wrote those difficult pieces, and I can write this one, too.

4. Dummy outline. This is the one I use most. If the structure of your article is boggling you and keeping you from writing, just write the name of each source down. Then go through your notes and write succinctly next to their name the most important points they make. You now have a road map of all the most interesting stuff for your story. A good starting point will likely jump right off the outline at you, and you’re off and writing..

5. Write without notes, quotes or attribution. I learned this technique at a Reynolds seminar at the Seattle Times a few years back: Put all your notes aside and just write the story. Don’t worry about name spellings, exact quotes, figures, who said what, nothing. Don’t break your concentration by flipping around in your notes looking for factoids. Just pour it onto the page.
The important stuff will naturally rise to the top of your mind. Once you have a draft, go back and clean it up by reading through your notes for accuracy and plugging in the quotes.

6. Take a hike. I believe most writers don’t move around enough. Get out and oxygenate for a half-hour and then return to your task. Almost never fails me that on the walk I start writing the article in my head, and can’t wait to get back to the keyboard where I can put it down.

7. Talk to the mirror. Have a serious talk with yourself about this problem if it becomes a habit, because it’s just unprofessional. You cannot earn a good living from writing if you’re going to be one of those fussy-butt writers who needs all the planets in alignment before you can write. If you need to, get therapy – it’ll be worth it. Missed deadlines lead to fewer good-paying writing gigs. Take your career seriously and figure out how to write your pieces on time.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user Rennett Stowe
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