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When Writers Set Goals…And Don’t Meet Them

Failure is a Part Of the Freelance Writing JourneyLike many of you, I set some goals for my writing business for 2010. With one-quarter of the year gone, it’s time to review those goals and consider adjustments.

Personally, I already have that sinking feeling of behinder-ness I get when I see myself not meeting all my goals. I want to be steering the direction of my writing career, not floating along like a leaf on a stream, staying in a rut of familiar clients.

If you’re like me, your to-do list tends to be pretty ambitious. I don’t take things into account like spring break, and kids underfoot, and power outages…which all happened around here last week. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get a bad night’s sleep or be too tired to write. I forget I’ll need to hem my kids’ pants, help them get a science fair project ready…in a word, life will keep happening.

But all those things happen, and the goals start to slide. I also saw my list sort of upended this year by one major goal that I unexpectedly met very early in January…but that dreamed-of new account, while thrilling and lucrative, turned out to need WAY more ramp-up time than I imagined.

So here I am well into the year and I haven’t sent anything like the queries to my targeted new national magazine markets that I thought I would…one of my big goals for this year. And my ebook is STILL NOT READY…and probably won’t be until next month at the earliest.

But a lot got done. Great new clients were signed up. I paid a lot of bills, and this month is set to be my biggest of ’10. The groundwork is starting to pay off.

Now’s the time to forgive ourselves for what we haven’t gotten done. The goal list may need a little judicious pruning — but that’s OK. Breathe and let go of the feeling that we’re behind, that we’re failing. Instead, let’s celebrate the progress.  Every day we can keep freelancing and make enough that we don’t have to look for a job is a day of precious freedom. As I struggle to steer this writing ship where I want it to go, I’m going to try to remember to enjoy the trip, setbacks, bumps and all.

Photo via Flickr user fireflythegreat

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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, and use that as your portfolio until you can get your writer website built.

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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