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 Started: Try This

The first step in becoming a professional writer is deciding you want to be a professional writer. The second step is developing a small body of work. If you want to write fiction, you need some short stories to sell to print and online magazines. If you want to write nonfiction or ad copy, you need a few articles or blurbs to show what you can do.

I’m going to assume that, if you want to become a professional writer, you aren’t one yet. This likely means you have a regular job. Maybe a wife, kids, commute and house to take care of. You can’t devote all your time to making this happen. That’s life…but it doesn’t mean you can’t make your portfolio happen.

Try this.

On Monday of next week, sketch a simple outline of a story or article. For fiction, write a sentence or two about each character and each major part of the tale. For nonfiction, write a note describing each paragraph in your essay or copy structure, and some lines about where you’ll go for further research.

On Tuesday, write the  “sketch draft.” This is the simplest written form of the story. Any time you get stuck, write in parenthesis a note about what you want to have happen and move on. “John looked into Stella’s eyes and said (something eloquent about loving her).” or “(Put actual statistic here) out of 100 Americans say they fear a terrorist strike in their local area within the next 10 years.” Get it all down.

On Wednesday, focus your efforts on filling in those parts you skipped the day before. Look up the the statistics, scan through scenes in books and movies you liked for inspiration about how to handle those tricky scenes. At the end of the day, you’ll have a working rough draft.

On Thursday, rewrite the whole thing by looking at the printed rough draft and retyping from scratch. This process lets you look at each sentence, tweaking and repolishing as you go. When you’re finished, read the story out loud to yourself. Take notes about spots that were jarring, repetitive or weak. Sleep on it.

On Friday, fix the things you noticed when you read it aloud the night before. Once you’re finished, run a spell check and have somebody else proofread it.

On Saturday, walk away. You’re done. If you want, have a friend critique it…but no more fiddling until somebody else suggests something concrete.

Each day should take no more than an hour or two — time you can give yourself if you really want it. If you do this each week for a month, or every other week for two, you’ll have a body of four respectable pieces. Most writing clients want just two samples when considering you for a job. Fiction magazines want you to send just one.

Presto…instant portfolio.

Thanks for listening.

Ideas for Nonfiction (Part Two)

Continuing our list of ways to come up with topics for nonfiction articles, which you can then pitch to magazines and turn into fees and a portfolio…

Springboarding

I touched on this in detail in an earlier post. Keep a note pad handy while researching and writing your assignments. A fact might grab your attention, but be inappropriate for your current assignment. A small section of an article might have enough juice to warrant a full-size piece of its own. Maybe your article for a regional magazine could be recast to suit the needs of a local, or national, publication. If you jot down a reminder, you can come back to these ideas later and pitch them as unique stories.

Library Time

If all else fails, go to your local library or friendly neighborhood bookstore. Spend an hour or so skimming through magazines and reading what kinds of articles they’ve published lately. Think of related, but unique, ideas that will suit them. If you want to write for magazines, you should be reading them anyway. You can combine this idea with your personal expertise and a mind map for ferocious onslaught of idea generation.

The Shower

From what I’ve been told, I’m not the only person who does his best thinking in the shower. I don’t know why, but it seems like humans do their best thinking wet. Your omnipresent, ever-ready notebook will get ruined in the shower. A grease pencil or kids’ shower crayon won’t. I keep one in the little caddy, between my razor and the shampoo. If I’m struck by inspiration, I scrawl it on the shower wall and jot it into my notebook when I’m finished.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m certain others have their own methods, and I’d love to see some in the comments.

Thanks for listening.

Freelance Writing

For folks who want to write for a living, everything I’ve learned boils down to one piece of advice:

Write nonfiction.

The market is bigger. The pool of competition is smaller. The assignments are easier, since we all wrote a fair-sized heap of nonfiction while in school. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write fiction if that’s what calls you. But eating and staying dry takes money. Writing nonfiction lets you practice writing while you pay the bills, and you can still keep submitting your fiction projects until you write that breakout novel.

Another thing about writing nonfiction is that there’s an amazing array of kinds of nonfiction to write. You can specialize in one to build a top-shelf reputation, or you can diversify to keep from getting bored. Some of the better options today include…

  • SEO writing…discussed in another post, this is writing short articles with strategically placed words that draw hits from the search engines.
  • Article Writing…classic nonfiction pieces you sell to print and/or online publications.
  • Copy Writing…not to be confused with copyright, this is writing advertising copy for brochures, sales scripts, websites, audio, video, direct mail and others. It’s a huge market, and often short on qualified producers.
  • Ghost Writing…writing work somebody else will present as his own. Celebrities and experts are the two best clients here, but some folks hire out ghostwritten blogs because they don’t have the time to make it happen.
  • Content Writing…providing informational or opinion copy for websites. This ranges from working for the “content mills” through doing large articles for major URLs. This is another enormous market.
  • Business Writing…somebody has to produce the reams of business manuals, employee forms and marketing plans. It may as well be you.
  • Technical Writing…understanding, and helping others understand, how to use technical equipment and software. This includes business-to-business and consumer-oriented writing.
  • Academic Writing…textbooks need experts to write them, and tests need somebody to write the questions. There’s also a growing “grey market” for people to “edit” or fully ghostwrite academic term papers.
  • Travel Writing…visiting places and telling people about it. This is a surprisingly easy market to break in to, but it can be hard to make more than you spend on the trip. My upcoming book is an example of this kind of opportunity.

There are other opportunities, but these are what I see popping up in the job sites most frequently. When you consider that each type will have a dozen or more subjects attached to it, you’ll see that just about anybody has the expertise to write one kind of nonfiction or another.

Thanks for listening.