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Writers: What Were Your Best 2010 Earning Strategies?

Measure Your Freelance Writing SuccessIn freelance writing, I think analysis is good for the soul. No, not the go-see-a-therapist type of analysis — the kind where you look back on the year and analyze what you earned.

Who were your best-paying clients by hourly rate? Who did you earn the most with? How did you meet your best new clients? So often, when I do this review I think I know who my best clients were, but when I do the numbers, it’s someone else. I actually recently dropped a client who represented a major monthly chunk of change, but on an hourly basis…blecch. They had to go.

I recently did an analysis of my earnings this year, and great new clients came from many places — my writer site getting found on natural search, through my LinkedIn profile, sending multi-idea queries, on niche job boards, and at in-person networking events. For me, having a multi-pronged marketing strategy has been key to making this my best earning year ever.

It was also my first year where I started to see meaningful income from my side business/passion for helping writers earn more — through mentoring and offering ebooks and Webinars. I’m excited about the potential there for next year. This was also the year I saw paid blogging for clients take off — along with related consulting work — and become a substantial part of my earnings.

One funny observation about this year: I did some weird projects! I got some unusual offers, and they contributed a decent amount of income. For instance, I wrote a white paper for an employees’ union. I blogged about surety bonds. I got a lot of nibbles about ghosting eBooks…maybe one will pay off next year.

I try to stay openminded when someone brings me something a little outside my normal wheelhouse. You never know when that offshoot will turn into a whole new, great-earning niche. I like to learn and grow and try new stuff, and that tendency seems to contribute to my bottom line, too.

What were your marketing wins and best earning strategies of 2010? Leave a comment and tell us what’s working out there.

Photo via stock.xchng user michaelaw

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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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How Freelance Writers Can Create a Killer Resume

Short Bios Are Great For Writer Websites

Resumes have been important to writers forever. Writing a strong one could really help you land better gigs.

I recently took a writer survey on my blog about what readers would like to learn, and I got a request from Catherine to talk about how to create a killer writer’s resume. So I’m going to answer that now:

I don’t think a resume is important for writers anymore.

Before you run around the room screaming and tearing your hair, let me explain why.
  • I don’t believe anyone actually reads resumes anymore. I’ll send my resume out on job ads that say a resume is an absolute requirement. Otherwise, I’d never think to include it in my pitches or marketing to prospective clients. I believe even the job-ad posters skip right over the resume and look at your pitch or your clips, anyway.
  • Resumes are boring. Seriously. “Joe freelanced for Modern Refrigeration Magazine from 2002-2009″…zzzzz. Is that really putting you in the best light?
  • Resumes don’t tell much about how good of a writer you are. You might have worked as a staff writer somewhere for years, where you were always considered the weak link in the writing team.
  • Increasingly, markets don’t care about your track record. If you’ve got a couple of solid clip links you can email, you’re good, especially with online markets. Many editors and marketing managers don’t have time to study your entire career — they read a couple clips and decide you’re good for it.
So if resumes are obsolete, what’s replacing them?

For now, a short bio. When I’m asked for a resume, unless it’s a job-ad robot Web site where I can’t progress without attaching my resume file, I direct the prospect to look at my short bio on my Writer site. I believe it is far more compelling and enlightening in describing my background. It’s less than a page long, despite my having been at this for about 20 years, so it mercifully sums up a lot, fast.

Consider that a good query or job pitch has a one-line bio at the bottom of the pitch page. That ought to do it.

The bio format allows you to simply tell the story of your writer’s journey — where you’ve written for, the type of work you do, the type of writing you enjoy.

People like to read stories way more than they like to read lists of jobs you’ve had previously. The bio format also makes it easier to throw any awards you’ve won up near the top. I find many prospects are easily impressed by awards, so getting them up high is a good move.

Also, the bio format allows you to top your story with the best credits you’ve got. There’s no compulsion to put things in chronological order.

For instance, I once wrote a couple articles for the college edition of the Wall Street Journal (before the Internet, darnit). I’m going to say it was about a decade ago. But in a bio, I could put that in the first line, since it’s such a smokin’ hot credit. On my resume, it’s so long ago it wouldn’t even make the second page — which as we all know is a page nobody reads.

Beyond bios

In the future, both resumes and bios look to be headed for the scrap heap. New, cooler ways of acquainting people with what we do are emerging.

One I recently learned about is Labels.io. Still in beta, this site allows you to present your experience in a concise, nifty graphical package. You create a bunch of quick tabs labeled by past client. You give it a top paragraph to introduce the package, and you’re set. Load in some key words on jobs you’d like to be found for and presto — it’s easy for prospects to locate you and verify you have the experience they want with a couple of quick clicks.

I’m confident Labels won’t be the only graphical alternative-resume idea we’ll see in the next couple of years.

As someone who’s had to review resumes and hire writers myself (edited an alternative paper in San Pedro, Calif., for a year or so early in my career), I can say I look forward to the changes. Resumes are dull, and at this point the Internet ought to offer a better way for us to get hired.

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

Photo via Flickr user

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How to Spy on Your Blog Using Google In-Page Analytics: Video

Google Analytics For WritersWhen I had my free blog review event last week, one of the things I kept finding myself asking writers was, “Have you looked at your site with Google In-Page Analytics to see what your readers are clicking on?” I got the sense many bloggers hadn’t heard about this amazing tool.

So I put together a short video that shows you how I use Google In-Page Analytics — which is still in beta — to find out exactly how readers use my blog. You’re basically able to spy on your readers and find out what they do when they visit.

If you don’t know what readers are clicking on, you’re basically blogging in the dark. You may be annoying them with your ads, or they may be of interest to readers.

When I turned on In-Page Analytics and learned what visitors really wanted to read on my site, it was definitely an eye-opener. I made a lot of changes — deleting widgets in the sidebar, moving some things up and others down, and improving what’s on static pages readers clicked on most.

If you are not yet using Google Analytics at all, I strongly recommend getting started. Sign up with Google Analytics and submit your blog’s URL for tracking. In WordPress, installing a plug-in such as Google Analytics for WordPress will help keep your analytics flowing — otherwise, Google tends to want to disconnect them every time you make any changes to your stylesheet.

If you’re thinking, “This is too technical and hard for me!” or “Why should I care?” just take a look at what In-Page Analytics can do before you blow it off. This is a powerful tool for helping you connect with readers and better meet their needs.

 

What analytics do you use on your blog? Share your tools — or questions about tools — in the comments.

NOTE: Congratulations to Synolve Craft, who won yesterday’s contest and got a free copy of the ‘40 Ways to Market Your Writing’ audio recording. All other contestants — you’ll be receiving your discount code for my next Webinar on email shortly.

Photo via Flickr user Carlos Luna

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Contest for Writers: Win Free Copy of ’40 Ways to Market’ Audio

40 Ways To Market Your WritingAre you a writer who’s hoping to ramp up their marketing next year — but you missed my 40 Ways to Market Your Writing Webinar with Anne Wayman from About Freelance Writing?

Well, you’re in luck. Now, there are two ways you could get the 40 Ways information — free!

Way #1: If you sign up to get this blog on email, you’ll get a 14-page PDF report on the 40 Ways, free of charge. Just my thank-you for signing up and participating in the great community of writers that visit this blog. The PDF is packed with links to resources and lots of “power tips” on the best ways to use these marketing techniques to help grow your writing income.

If you’d like more than the PDF — you’d like to hear the complete audio recording of the Webinar, to get more details and hear the questions we answered live for participants — you can also purchase the one-hour audio recording and get the free PDF report thrown into the deal.

I have one more free offer to make. Anne and I are gathering feedback now to shape our next Webinar, How to Break In and Earn Big as a Freelance Writer. So:

Way #2: I’ll give away a free copy of the 40 Ways audio recording to the writer who leaves the best answer to the following question:

What is (or was) the most difficult thing for you about breaking into freelance writing? Leave your well-written comment below to win the free audio. Deadline is midnight PST tonight, and I’ll announce the winner on the blog tomorrow. Closing the comments for this post after that.

(Consolation prize: I’ll email everyone who leaves a comment on this post a special 25%-off discount code for the Webinar — regularly $36 — that’s good until Christmas. Give yourself a holiday gift and get your questions about freelance writing answered live.)

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40 Simple Writing Tweaks for Better Blog Posts

During the blog-review day last week, I talked a lot about site usability and ways to make your site more visually inviting and easy to use. But the writing itself is the core of it all, the reason people come to your blog. Without strong writing, your site can be clean, beautiful…and devoid of visitors.

40 Tweaks For Improved Writing Blogs

If at first you don’t get blog subscribers, rewrite, rewrite again.

Some basic changes to both how you write and the content you choose for your blog can help draw readers and keep them coming back.

Here are some simple tips to improve your blog posts:

  1. Work harder on headlines. I saw a lot of lazy headline writing in the blog review last week, with nothing compelling to make me click and read it. If you’re not getting the traffic you want, spend time learning how to write great headlines readers will find irresistible. I recommend reading Psychotactics’ free report: Why Some Headlines Fail.
  2. Get SEO words into your headlines. I see no-SEO headlines everywhere — blog posts titled something like “A bad decision” or “Ignore the red flags.” I have no idea what these posts are about, and I’m not going to read them. Understand that your headlines are floating around the Internet, disconnected from the context of your blog. Each headline needs to be able to stand alone and communicate what your blog’s about.
  3. Fulfill your headline’s promise. Often, I find myself reading a blog post, glancing back up at the headline, and then reading it again in hopes of finding the information promised in the headline. Once you’ve written your headline, make sure you deliver that topic.
  4. Get SEO words into your first lines. I learned this from Darren Rowse in an A-List Bloggers Club training video. It should be obvious, yet I still didn’t get it until recently. We’ve all done Google searches and seen how often, the first line or two of a post appears in the search result along with the headline. That means getting key words into those lines could help lure readers to click on your post. It’ll also help readers feel reassured right away that you are writing about their interests.
  5. Use a word instead of a phrase. Don’t say “he thought about possibly making a decision on whether or not to” when you could say “he decided.”
  6. Shorten paragraphs. On the Internet, a two-sentence paragraph is good. A one-sentence paragraph is often even better. A five-sentence paragraph is frequently not going to get read. Online readers want short blocks, or it’s too intimidating.
  7. Shorten sentences. Just as paragraphs should shrink, sentences shouldn’t ramble along for five lines, either. Overlong sentences send a message that you’re an academic, or in any case lofty and far above us all. Break long sentences into two or three sentences. Know that sentences on blogs can be quite short and work well. Like this one.
  8. Vary paragraph openings. Scan down your post and read the openings of your paragraphs. If they all start with “However” or “Then” or any identical word or phrase, that gets dull for the reader. Make sure you vary your opening lines.
  9. Make paragraph openings scannable. Don’t start paragraphs with elaborate windups. Reading the opening phrase of each paragraph should be a workable way to quickly scan the post and find out what it’s about.
  10. Hunt down repetitive words or phrases. I recently read a blog post that used the phrase “over and over”…well, over and over. At least four times. That’s a real reader turnoff. Say “repeatedly” the next time.
  11. Say it once. Don’t belabor a point in a short blog post. Reread and trim out additional references to the same point.
  12. Strengthen your transitions. A good article or blog post should be knit like a sweater. Each paragraph should follow logically from the one before it, so that readers simply can’t look away until the end. Read your post again just for the transitions, to make sure there are no dropped stitches where you abruptly switch onto a new track and might lose the reader.
  13. Kill your opening. If you’re one of those writers who takes four paragraphs or more to get to the gist of your post’s topic, you’re probably losing a lot of readers along that winding path to your initial point. Hack the big windup off the top and start with the strong paragraph with key words on your topic that gives us the lowdown.
  14. Exterminate extraneous paragraphs. Sometimes, a paragraph you’ve written simply doesn’t add much to the post. It’s going back over ground you’ve already covered, or it’s a point you’re adding that simply doesn’t contribute much. Out it goes.
  15. Trim tangents. I’m of the opinion that there is no room for tangents in a typical short blog post. If you have a side issue you’d like to address, do another post on it.
  16. Review word choices. Your word choices tell your audience about your persona. Are you using five-dollar words that might alienate some readers? Read back through your post to look at your descriptive words. Make sure they convey the tone you want.
  17. That. This word is often just excess flab. “He decided that it was time to go” means the same as “He decided it was time to go.”
  18. Just. Here’s one I’m guilty of — another extraneous word you can trim.
  19. Very and really. Here’s a couple of words to use sparingly. They rarely add anything. “It was exciting” will do just as well as “It was really very exciting.”
  20. Your/You’re. Can’t tell these apart? Try saying “you are” in its place. If it makes sense, it’s you’re (contraction). If it doesn’t, it’s your (possessive, or belonging to).
  21. Its/It’s. Repeat the exercise above — if saying “it is” makes sense, you want “it’s.” If not, use the possessive (its).
  22. Whose/Who’s. Repeat the exercise in #20.
  23. Their/They’re/There. It’s possessive, it’s they are, or it’s a place.
  24. Being verbs. Passive being verbs (writing, saying, learning) bore readers. Switch to active, present-tense verbs whenever possible — I write, say, learn.
  25. Past perfect verbs. The problem in #24 only worse. Try to avoid saying “has been going” or “have been seeing.” Say “they went” or “he saw.”
  26. Know your expressions. If you’re going to use a proverb, saying, or piece of slang, make sure you’re using it right. I pointed out to one writer that she had put “chunk change” in her post when she likely meant “chump change.” She insisted chunk change was actually correct. There’s really no excuse for this sort of thing when a quick Google search can fact-check it.
  27. Spellcheck. You think you know how to spell words like dependent or advisor…but it’s possible you don’t. Check and make sure.
  28. Web site vs website, e-mail vs email. When new words emerge in our culture, I turn to the AP Stylebook for help on the correct way to write them. Earlier this year, AP changed its standard from Web site to website. Many are still hoping the standard will become email rather than the current e-mail. Knowing these small details helps you look like a pro.
  29. Cannot. It’s one word — apparently, one many people think is two words.
  30. Know where punctuation marks go. Commas and periods go inside quotes, not outside them, for instance. If you’re ever glazed and can’t remember, look at a newspaper.
  31. Eliminate dangling participles. I was cured of this one forever by my 9th grade English teacher, but in case you didn’t have Mr. Matheson (RIP), let me give you a couple graphic examples: “Running down the hall, my jacket caught on a locker.” (Spooky jacket running by itself!) “Creamed and boiled I like my onions.” (Ouch, I don’t like to be boiled!) After an initial participle, the subject must directly follow…or embarrassment may ensue.
  32. Use quotes. Even if you’re not interviewing people and it’s a personal blog, you can always draw readers in by quoting conversations you’ve had in your life. Here’s a post I did using quotes that gives you a sense of the spice quotes can add.
  33. Add useful links. Many personal blogs don’t do any linking. While there’s a theory that links distract the reader, I’m of the opinion a blog post should be like a lunchbox. It’s handy by itself — but you should be able to open it up and get more nourishment out of it, too. Your post is a starting point that allows the reader to learn more, which gives you more credibility and makes your posts more useful to readers. Plus, linking to busy sites will help you get found.
  34. Be creative. Posts can be screenshares, poems, cartoon strips, or an analysis of someone else’s song lyrics. They can open with a famous saying. Feel free to blow readers’ minds with something different now and then.
  35. Take a risk. Your blog posts are a chance to stretch yourself as a writer and get immediate feedback. Write something daring, wild and beautiful, and see what happens.
  36. Go naked. Stop hiding your true self from your audience, and tell them what’s really going on in your life. Unvarnished honesty is much appreciated in the blogosphere.
  37. Ask questions. Don’t be a know-it-all — your readers want to feel their opinions matter, too. Write posts that ask readers to share what they know.
  38. Answer questions. If your readers write to you, answer them on your blog. It’s a great way to engage readers and show you care.
  39. Make it about the reader. So many bloggers are simply musing about their life. Unless you use those life experiences to deliver something useful to readers, they may well be bored. Think about how you could help readers with your experience.
  40. Proofread it…again. Many writers just don’t seem to do that final read-through. But error-free posts convey more authority and tell readers you really care about their experience. (I sure hope there aren’t any typos in this story, or boy am I going to look dumb!)

Got any more simple writing tips for bloggers? Leave them in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to this blog — then you won’t miss a fun contest that’s coming up soon.

Photo via stock.xchng user julosstock

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