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.

SEO Writing

If  you’ve been writing, or trying to write, as a freelancer in the past two years, you’ve seen the term “SEO.” You probably saw it most often as something a potential client wants you to understand in order to apply for a job. From your client’s perspective, SEO — Search Engine Optimization — is writing web content in a way that drives search engines such as Google and Bing toward the site that contains the content. It’s fairly obvious why a business would want a web page that’s search engine optimized, and why they would be willing to pay somebody to do it.

From a writer’s perspective, SEO is gold mine. Writing advertising copy has long been a source or nearly limitless and lucrative assignments, and SEO is the new advertising copy. Old ad copy just had to get the attention of the reader. New ad copy needs to inform and inspire the reader, but before it can do that it also has to get the attention of the browsers potential readers use.

How Does SEO Work?

Search engine optimization works by taking advantage of the algorithms that drive a web search. Although some of these factors — such as page titles and linkbacks — are out of the control of a content writer, the appearance of keyphrases within the body of the page will drive traffic to your sight. Including three to five keyphrases, each appearing naturally in the text two to four times, helps search engines match a page with the search strings common to people who want to know about a product. This is a simplification of a complex topic, but it should give you a general idea.

As a writer, your job is to include keywords in the SEO content as naturally as possible. Random, arbitrary inclusion of keywords or key phrases feels unnatural, and can reduce the page’s performance in search engines. Some clients will also ask you to choose the best keywords for a piece of content, while others will hire you having already chosen the SEO content they want.

White Hat SEO

In SEO, “white hat” practices mean playing by the spirit as well as the letter of the search rules. White hat SEO includes practices like natural and organic use of keywords, including appropriate backlinks and receiving links to your page from service-oriented and related websites. The good news is that white hat SEO is easy to follow. If you write the best, most natural copy you can, it’s hard to accidentally stray from white hat practices.

Black Hat SEO

Every system is vulnerable to manipulation. “Black hat” SEO practices take advantage of those vulnerabilities with practices like link redirection, keyword stuffing and hiding text by marking it the same color as a page’s background. Although these tactics are sometimes effective, ongoing algorithm development makes them less and less viable. Worse, some of the major search engines will ban pages that use these practices. Freelance writers should avoid assignments that ask for black hat SEO. It undermines the system that provides us with work, and isn’t much fun to write anyway.

Finding SEO Work

You won’t find clients who need SEO work among the usual markets for nonfiction articles and works of fiction. Instead, look at job boards for writers including Craigslist, Online Writing Jobs, ELance, Journalism Jobs and Freelance Daily. You can also work with your local Chamber of Commerce to get started by helping a nearby business optimize their websites. Once you get some traction, you’ll be amazed at how much work is available. Consistent readers aware of my $20,000 in 9 week goal should know that it’s only possible because of how rich this writing market is.

Thanks for listening.


Writing Professionally: The New Pulp Era

Four score years ago, give or take a few, our country enjoyed one of the greatest gluts of fun fiction the world has ever seen. A combination of cheap printing, low entertainment budgets due to the depression and an escapist zeitgeist for the country as a whole created an enormous market for – and supply of – stories about adventure, crime, spaceships and simple human optimism. Even the dark detective stories were optimistic in that the protagonists remained themselves while immersed in the darkness surrounding them.

I believe we’re in the middle of a second pulp era. Economic downturn? Check. World problems creating a need to escape? Check. Ultra cheap means of distribution? Check and mate. There is enormous opportunity to make it as a writer these days, with low costs of entry and a potential audience in the hundreds of millions. Opportunities to write professionally abound: SEO writing, content mills, professional blogging, web content, podcasting and ad copy are just a few of the ways you can keep body and soul together while honing your ability to write quickly and clearly.

Not everything that gets put out is good, but neither was everything during the fist Pulp Era. There are also fewer ways to pull ahead of the pack – owing to the same factors that have opened up the market in the first place. Writers simply need to hope that our ability, imagination and branding efforts will carve out enough of a niche to support our needs. I am just beginning to explore this aspect, but I will share what I learn as I learn it. You all are welcome to do the same.

Thanks for listening.