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New Challenges Faced by the Freelance Writer and How to Overcome Them
Navigating the Freelance Writing Waters
A lot of freelance writers using the Internet as their primary content platform have been frustrated over the last couple of years, primarily because they don't understand exactly what is happening in this particular field, as the rules continually change, resulting in many having a hard time keeping up with what companies like Google and others want.
This goes far beyond the assumed quality of content idea thrown around, as there is plenty of junk out there rewarded by a variety of Internet companies, so we have to look elsewhere for ideas on what is really happening.
If you substitute quality of content for content being published by traditional media outlets, it'll go a long way towards helping writers to see what they're up against.
Traditional media was of course disrupted years ago with the Internet, and has been battling to come back into relevance in that regard. A major tactic the industry uses is to pressure new media companies, i.e., Internet companies, to favor their content over its smaller and more versatile competitors.
If you're asking yourself the question of why it's happening now after all these years, it's because traditional media has finally understood and caught up with a number of its online competitors, and is able, to some degree, to produce the type of content people and companies are looking for.
The other thing is, in areas where the traditional media industry can't compete, it has now pressured Internet companies to put their content at the top of search engine results, or better yet, to punish content companies or individual writers with moving them out of the search engines altogether.
While that has been effective to some degree, the search engines are becoming less relevant, and there are numerous other ways to attract followers and to let people know about your writing.
The point is, don't underestimate the influence of traditional media in this assault on freelance writers and the content they produce. It is very real, and it's getting worse as we go forward. I'll give a current case study to give you an idea of how this is working out in real life.
So don't always assume when the reason asserted for punishing content for low quality is in because it is actually low quality. After all, look at the stuff produced by the entertainment industry to show how weak traditional media content can be.
So how does one combat this attack on content by giant Internet companies and their new best friends - mainstream, traditional media? You have to learn how to successfully brand yourself.
At this point this question is usually percolating in the mind: what if a person just wants to write and have people enjoy their writing while enjoying a community of like-minded people? Let me respond by saying even with that modest goal, you still have to brand.
Don't think of branding as the artificial, and many times dishonest portrayal of what you or your business might be. Branding is and should be nothing less than letting people know who you are what you stand for, and from there communicating or marketing that to others.
By marketing, I'm not talking about hiring professional agencies and other ways of letting people know about you. I mean using different free or inexpensive avenues to let people know you're out there, and from there building relationships and communities around your specific passions.
From a writing perspective, it's there that people will learn to read your work and interact with you concerning it.
In other words, don't think of the traditional way of branding used by media companies as the way to go, but instead, building relationships one person at a time. That's how you overcome gatekeepers attempting to divert people to traditional media outlets on the Internet.
Also, don't think of yourself as someone that is going to attract huge numbers of
followers. Very few people can do that. If you have that as your goal, most will be
very disappointed in the outcomes, and you may miss a terrific niche opportunity among a
smaller number of people.
Once you brand, from there you can produce content you can not only share, but sell to those who like you and/or your writing.
I know of some writers who say all they want to do is write and don't want to go through the trouble of branding themselves. My advise to you would be to write in your diary and read it to yourself every day, because very few, if any people will be reading your work.
That doesn't mean you have to spend hours a day figuring ways to connect. Just write decent stuff about interesting topics or what you're good at, and people will not only want to get to know you and your writing some, but also will share it with others they think would be interested. All of this of course takes time.
Making a Living Writing
So can a person make a living writing outside of traditional media outlets? Absolutely yes. I've been doing it for about a decade, and there's nothing I see that will ever change that, barring something happening to me that would limit my ability to write.
Now I'm not saying you can't make a living using traditional media outlets, it's just that they are a pain to work with. For example, I received an offer from the largest entertainment content company in the world to write for them. The pay offered per word was very high. I rejected the offer. Why? The strictures associated with writing for them was so stifling to me, it wasn't worth the pay to work with them.
The other reason is I am already making a living writing, so I don't have to put up with that type of pain in order to write. It gives me options.
I'm mentioning this to show you that it is possible to write for traditional media outlets, just that you have to be willing to put up with a lot headaches in order to do so.
As a freelance writer, one of the things that must be understood is the changing online marketplace. What worked 10 years ago, in many ways, no longer works today. Even what worked two or three years ago no longer works, unless you understand some of the basics that will never become irrelevant.
For example, if you build a nice little e-mail list, it's a way to brand that will never be irrelevant. You get to provide unique and interesting content to a group of people that want it. Even a list of under 500 people can be personally and professionally rewarding if they're a targeted demographic. There are a lot of other strategies that have stood the test of time as well.The bottom line is don't assume things that have worked in the past are now obsolete just because they've been around a while.
That's a huge mistake. While the social networking phenomenon is still raging, many times it isn't much good for anything as far as a writer goes. That said, each platform may be important to a certain type of person. Just be aware of that which continues to work in your niche, and what is a fad that has already been disrupted.
Google's decision to punish those it wants in the name of quality content is one of those disruptions that is real. Many individuals and businesses have decided to use different ways of attracting readers and those viewing video content in order to combat the arbitrary decisions of a few people from Google and similar businesses.
Again, for the freelance writer, gatekeepers are bypassed via connections with people of like mind who enjoy reading what you have to say.
One Technique That Works Well
Here I'll give you one of the secrets of successful online writers.
Did you know that a number of freelance writers have generated huge book sales without a website or from writing online content? They did it be frequenting targeted forums and community sites where they made comments about a variety of things surrounding mutual interests.
Consequently, these people developed communities that enjoyed that interaction, and when a book, website or article was finally written or built, they already had a built-in audience. There, I've given you one of the major secrets of success an online freelance writer can participate in. No business or Internet entity can stop you from doing this, and no matter what is changed in search engine algorithms, those people will continue to interact with you.
Even if your sole purpose is to share with others what you have to say for free, this is a must if you want people to find you. It's one of the best ways to bypass the gatekeepers.
Once you garner a following, you can do anything you want with it. That's the power of giving interesting input in online communities.
By the way, commenting is a form of writing itself, and gives people of taste of who you are and what you think and believe.
Some of the biggest Internet personalities I know of used, and still use this powerful technique to build a community that will want to read what they have to say. If you do nothing else, try this one strategy. It works. Just be sure to take part in the types of communities that would relate to and connect with your interests.
If you like knitting, commenting in a cat forum will do nothing to build your brand.
Remember, it takes a little time to accomplish this. The more time you take to engage like-minded people, the quicker you can reach your goals.
Forum commenting should be done with your real name or the same user-name, otherwise
there is no way you can brand yourself. People won't know who you are if you're always commenting or interacting using different profiles.
The Editing Question
One of my goals is to help you remove some of the excuses you may make for not attempting to put your content out there for the public to see.
When I first started writing for others on the Internet, my writing was atrocious. As a matter of fact, a few of the editor types were more than happy to point this out to me. They weren't that far off if the truth be told. But I kept up with it anyway, ignoring their general insults.
If you're a writer, keep this in mind: there are editors always looking for a job. If they can shame you into feeling incompetent, their obvious answer to your problem is the need to hire them to work for you.
In one way this isn't bad, but in another it's disempowering, because they've essentially hijacked your joy of writing by making you think it has to be perfect in order to publish it. Most people can't afford an editor, so if they believe it's a necessity to write, the obvious result is people quit writing because over the overly-aggressive negative feedback.
I know of a man that recently started a publishing house in a certain field. While he's smart and a good editor, there is no way he can see everything wrong in a book. We all know that's true, as we've read many books in the past that have a number of errors in them. This doesn't stop these authors from writing, and neither should it stop us from writing.
What this particular person does is crowd source the editing. By that I mean the publishing house starts off by releasing its books in e-book form, and from there solicit feedback from fans concerning any editing errors they may have found. From there they make the necessary changes and re-release the e-book. It works great.
If the business decides to release the book in physical form, it has about as error-free book as is humanly possible. I think we as writers and authors can take up the same practice. Do the best you can with your work and then release it. When people give you feedback, take the necessary steps to correct and improve it, and release again in its improved form.
One major problem many writers have is they are paralyzed by the need for perfection, and never release a work. They are forever "working" on it. That's another way of saying they don't want to have any negative feedback, so they rarely release their work to the public.
Don't allow lack of editing to stop you from writing and releasing e-books. Let your fans give you feedback and you'll eventually have a great work you can be proud of.
Editing types won't like this, but who cares. I don't write for editors, I write for those that want to hear what I have to say; whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Editing must be considered secondary, not primary if a writer is to ever going to get his or her work out there.
If you're familiar with writing e-books and Kindle, you'll know that many of the people that have published their works there and made a lot of sales, a lot of times are below atrocious in their writing skills, or at least in the editing department. That doesn't stop them from publishing, and neither should it stop us.
By all means improve your craft, but don't allow editing concerns destroy your dream by making you think you have to pay a bunch of money out in order to be published. You don't.
As I already mentioned, a great way to do that is with crowd-sourcing your editing, which will eventually result in a polished work.
Keep in mind that most people aren't going to sell thousands of e-books. Feedback from your work will come fairly quickly, and if you think it has potential to generate decent sales, you can always hold back on marketing it until your feel comfortable. Just don't define "comfortable" as perfect, or you'll never make the attempt.
Another option for editing which editors will appreciate, is offer an editor a portion of the sales of a book in return for editing your work. This is an option for those of you who are terrified to publish book or work with any possible error in it.
It may take a while to find the right editor, but when you do, and if you have potential to make a few sales, I believe editors would like to work with you. Again, keep in mind the strategy I mentioned earlier about building up a community that knows and recognizes you from commenting you've done in a variety of forums related to your niche and interests.
Just keep in mind that editors do have a self-interest in making you feel inadequate in order to persuade you to pay for their services. That's harmless if you don't allow it to stop you from publishing, but devastating if it takes away your desire and confidence in your work, paralyzing you into inaction.
The two methods I've listed here are a couple of ways to bypass that and focus on your writing rather on allowing another form of gatekeeper such as an editor discourage you from letting the public share in your work.
Editors have a place, but they aren't the most important part of the process of writing and publishing, and you don't have to have a perfect piece of content in order for it to be read.
Quality of Content
I want to get a little deeper into the quality of content question. First of all, quality of content, in many ways, is in the eyes of the beholder. Even the topic of the content itself will determine the quality in the view of many readers. What is sought after and desired by some, would be considered of little interest by many others. A writer shouldn't be concerned with what those outside of the targeted audience think. It's those the writer is attempting to reach that matter.
A lot of people attempt to point out the lack of quality in online writing, when in fact what they really mean is the writing isn't of interest to them.
For example, if a writer produces something a young mother would be interested in for her children, just because most adults wouldn't be interested in it doesn't mean it poor content. It's just that it's a very targeted audience, and those desiring more information on it will love it. Those that don't will have no interest whatsoever.
Quality of content, minus the obvious spelling and grammar errors, in most ways is totally subjective. Your quality isn't my quality, and it's where a lot of confusion sets in.
This is why I say a writer really needs to focus on a niche audience, rather than a general one. A general audience has the potential to be much larger of course, but it's also very difficult to make inroads into it. Stick with what you can intelligently write about, and the rest will work out.
So forget about quality being defined as the ability to write at a certain level. In the Internet world that isn't usually what is meant by quality. Quality is usually meant as relevance and not the skill level of the writer.
I'm not saying we shouldn't improve as writers, just that the term 'quality,' as it relates to writing, has been redefined in the Internet era. That's why many people writing on certain topics for e-books throw out a ton of content that people buy. Why? Quality is now relevance. You can write grammatically correct all day long and readers may not consider you a quality writer. The reason is it doesn't connect with their interests.
Probably the best way to understand this is to use political writing as an example. Whatever political perspective you many entertain, if it's the opposite of someone else's, you'll be called a terrible writer of low-quality content, no matter how good you are at your craft. It's just the nature of human beings to think this way.
While it's not as emotional with other topics or niches, the determination of quality in the Internet world is first of all determined by whether or not the person is interested in the subject matter or not, or in some case in agreement with it.
Case Study in Traditional Media Purge
Just recently (September 2014) an event happened where some content outlets were basically purged by a giant Internet company, as it wants to supply its own content in a specific niche, while supplementing that with content from traditional media outlets.
By purged I mean it was removed from the platform which had been supplying the content. It was a significant platform. Fortunately, management, at least at one of the businesses, has been aware of this trend for years, and had been preparing for it.
For example, Google only accounts for about 7% of Internet traffic the site receives, while other major traffic generators had been slowly declining for years. This was done on purpose so the company wouldn't be blindsided by the fickle nature of the industry.
Now I'm not talking about Google here, but only using it as an example of lowering reliance on industries that believe they need traditional media content to attract advertising dollars. Premium content isn't a bad idea, it's just that it has nothing to do with whether or not traditional media is supplying it. Yet, because traditional media has some content desired by large Internet companies, it gives them leverage which they use to bring favorable conditions to have their content used, rather than those outside of tradition media. That is the new game in town, and we as freelance writers need to take that into account when developing and executing our strategies.
The key there is continuing to use the existing companies like Google for search results, while developing alternative methods of generating traffic and participating in communities related to our niche. Taking Google as an example, how many times has it destroyed numerous online businesses because of decisions it has made?
Fortunately, there are a growing number of alternative routes a writer can take, and increasingly we're not reliant upon Google and others for our success. It we position ourselves accordingly, all that will happen is we get a temporary downturn if we already have alternative Internet outlets to work with.
A lot of blog networks in the past refused to do so, or didn't understand the threat of reliance upon Google and others meant, and were devastated when it changes the rules of the game. Many went out of business.
Next time you hear about quality of content being the issue, don't believe it. It's not the issue. The issue is major media companies are working together to eliminate or weaken the competition and make preemptive strikes against those that may threaten their entrenched way of doing business.
Bypassing and not needing to rely on gatekeepers is essential to freelance writing success, otherwise we'll be subject to the whims of whatever direction they decide to go at any given moment.
These are the basic principles of the new realities freelance writers face. The old way of doing business has disappeared, and we must adapt if we want to make a living writing.
Again, writing is all I do for a living, and while there are a lot more things to consider to be successful, writers need to know the things I mentioned in this article in order to take into account the parameters they're working under. Those parameters will continue to change, which is why branding and being part of a community is essential for writing success.
There are other ways to make significant money freelancing, such as finding a niche that pays a lot per word for your content, or a lot per article. The risk there is a person is subject to the ability of management to successfully navigate the Internet waters and keep their business model sustainable. That means there's a part of the process you have no control over. The more control you have over your publishing and community, the more successful you'll be, as measured by unexpected negative surprises.
The purpose of this article is to show you how you can take charge of your writing while eliminating some of the perceived road blocks which can keep people from publishing their work or endlessly procrastinate. It's also meant to encourage those freelance writers by knowing it can be done, as I've been doing it for years and make a good living writing. So can you by thinking outside of box.