Social Networking and Community (Part I)

image by JD Hancock

I haven’t seen The Social Network movie….nothing against it, but I prefer my historical retrospectives to be about history. Not about current events. That’s not going to the movies. That’s watching the news — and I refuse to pay 10 bucks to watch the news.

Despite this, social networking is now part of a writer’s world. Fiction writers can use these utilities to build up a “platform” of fans to help make their work more attractive to publishers. Nonfiction writers can use it to keep in touch with potential clients, or to get their work out into the world. It’s a lot like marketing a small business: the more people you talk with, the better your chances of hooking into somebody who wants to read what you’re writing. Modern social network allows you to touch thousands of people every day — assuming to keep pushing to maintain contact and expand your base.

Here are some ways to use modern social networking and community resources to get your name and work out into the public eye.

  • Blog routinely — at least three times per week — on subjects related to your work. Any freelancer should have a blog like the one you’re reading now. Something that serves as a “living portfolio” where people can read about who you are and how you write. It can be about any subject you like, so long as it’s regularly updated and professional. Announce each post you write with an email announcement, Facebook notification or similar.
  • Join Forums on subjects about which you are passionate. As you become a respected member of that community, you’ll make friends who will be eager to read your work and share it with others. If the forums are tied to your writing, you can find some alpha readers to check your work — and who will then be engaged in the process and likely to share it with all of their friends.
  • Facebook friends are like ultrasubcribers to your blog or newsletter. These guys are reachable with one click, receive a high-profile announcement automatically, and often have a vested interest in what you’re up to. Ditto for many other networking websites.
  • Twitter is a way to generate buzz. You can tweet to announce blog posts or other events, or to “leak” short blurbs from your work. This can be a brilliant headline from a nonfiction article, or maybe a perfect piece of dialog from your latest book.
  • Professional network sites like LinkedIn and eLance are a must for freelancers who want to keep finding work. People who need what you sell search those, and the networking keeps you connected with people who may just want a writer some day.
  • Media sharing utilities including YouTube and the iTunes Store allow you to distribute video or audio to build excitement for your book. This can be a short lesson tied to your nonfiction project, an audiobook version of a chapter of your fiction, an interview, or anything else that builds your credibility and excitement about your project. You can record your own media, or find people who will have you on a show they host.

I don’t like going over 500 words for a single post, so I’m going to leave this as a list of types of social network sites. I’ll come back with some posts about how best to use them. Meanwhile, I’d love some comments about how other writers out there have successfully used these sites.

Thanks for listening.

 

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Getting Paid

Captain Mal of the oft-lamented, early-cancelled, just about perfect Firefly said “I do the job, and then I get paid.”

Freelancers need to take this attitude, although we should think a little longer than the Captain when it comes to the subject of shooting people who are slow to make good. I mention this today because I’ve come across a small hitch that’s all too common in the freelancing world: the gap between acceptance of work and payment for that work.

My accountability post on Sunday noted that I’m $130 behind — don’t worry, I’ve already caught up. But further troubles have reared their heads.

  • One client asked for revisions on $120 worth of articles, which I’ll need to do without further payment. Revisions are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • One client received $180 worth of work last week and still hasn’t gotten around to reading for approval. Lags like this are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • Another client has amassed a $470 bill for my work, but won’t be able to pay until May. This kind of payment cycle is part of the job for a freelance writer.
As another example, two weeks ago I got a check for an article that was originally accepted in 2007. You read that right. Accepted in 2007, paid in 2011.
I don’t post this to complain. The operative phrase from the above list is part of the job for a freelance writer. I post this to share a facet of your worklife if you think you want to take on this as a career. For the most part, money you earn this month should be earmarked for spending next quarter. If it comes in early, great — let it earn some interest until you need it. Budgeting, planning and strict personal discipline are absolute necessities if you’re going to go full time in this field.
That’s not to say I’m an expert at any of those three things, just that they’re important.
This payment lag presents a special problem for people who want to break in as freelance writers. You’re looking at a four to six month gap between the first month that you make your living expenses and the first month you can pay for them — and we’re not even talking yet about how long it will take you to land that much work. There are several different ways to make this work.
The way I did it was I worked a job I disliked, writing for extra money when I could. When I landed a long-term gig with a client who paid promptly and reliably, I pulled the trigger. That client won’t last forever — although they’re still going strong two years later — so I make it a priority to pursue other gigs as aggressively as possible.
Bottom line: expect to get paid late. Expect to get stiffed on occasion. Plan your finances so you’re always living off money already in the bank, not waiting for a payment to come in just so you can cover your mortgage.  Understand that this isn’t a special hardship — businesses face this payment cycle problem every day. It’s part of the price you pay for the privilege of owning your time.
Thanks for listening.