How to Market Yourself as a Writer

hello postcard

As a writer it is a comforting delusion that if you write well, people will simply flock to you, and fame and fortune will eventually find you.

Reality is a little more brutal, especially since we are competing with over 150 million blogs plus the many hundreds of thousands of journalists around the world.

The simple truth, is that as writers we must market ourselves if we want to get our names – and our words – known by those who will read us, and those who will pay us.

This year, I have pushed myself to the limits in the ways I am brazenly marketing myself and my work as a writer.

These are some of the ways I have been marketing myself this year:

  • Emailing businesses directly: in seeking advertisers for my new fundraising site (Fundraising Mums) I have been emailing companies directly and introducing myself. The primary purpose is to get my name out there, while also directly mentioning that I am offering advertising on the site.
  • I printed postcards with all my blog details, making them relevant to both readers and advertisers, and am in the process of posting them out – the old fashioned way. So much correspondence comes through the inbox these days, my postcards are sure to be noticed simply because they are competing with a smaller amount of mail. There is a considerable cost associated with snail-mail these days, especially if you want to send hundreds of post-cards, but if you design your cards well and send them to the right people, it might be an effective use of your advertising budget.
  • I also carry postcards with me and place them on community boards at local shopping centres. I always attach at least four or five (space allowing) as they are very visually effective when placed en masse, and it also means that people can take one home with them.
  • Contact local and state newspapers – many newspapers have direct emails where you can send story ideas. If you think you could be a useful source on a particular topic, or might be seen as an ‘expert’ in the field, contact them and give them your details. They may not reply straight away, but if a story in the area comes up, there is a chance they will remember your name.
  • Join Source Bottle – I receive daily emails from Source Bottle from other writers looking for sources and stories, and where I think I have something to contribute, I make contact. Even if it means I am a participant in someone else’s story (for example, I will be quoted in the January 2016 edition of the Coles Mother and Baby magazine about something completely unrelated to blogging or fundraising) it is still a way to get your name out there.
  • Creating links with other people on Facebook: using my Fundraising Mums page I have ‘liked’ other businesses and people who are either in the same field as me, or are possible customers and readers. I have also made sure I am following media outlets and big-name bloggers so if they post something about fundraising or ask a question I can answer, I will be ready to respond quickly. Don’t limit yourself to what you naturally see as your own community. Look for business groups, local groups, women’s groups (if applicable) and other communities who might benefit from your work, as well as groups who see as potential customers/readers/sources. Think outside the box.
  • For Fundraising Mums I have been writing articles about businesses and products I think are interesting and unusual. Sometimes I contact the business in advance, sometimes not. Either way, I have realised that I shouldn’t be backward in sending them an email with the article link and asking them to share it on their social media. I have also been doing this for reviews I have written on WeekendNotes – considering the time I take to write articles, it isn’t much more to send off a quick email alerting them to the fact it exists. Some businesses have put my articles and reviews directly on their website others mention them on their Facebook pages.
  • I have been experimenting with paid advertising on Facebook – always with a pre-set budget of around $15-20. I have found that I have gotten the best response for articles/adverts which advertise the site generally, rather than promote a particular article or post.
  • In my email signature (for my personal and business-related email addresses) I have links to all of my blogs. I even mention that I have a book available for sale on Amazon.
  • My next plan is to update my CV and send letters of introduction to all the local and national publications I would like to write for.

 

What are some of the ways you market your work as a writer?

What’s it Like Receiving Free Stuff?

I had been writing for WeekendNotes for quite a while before I received my first freebie. I was offered a free lunch at a café in West Perth in return for a review. I was absolutely terrified, so I took my Mum as support. As you do.

But you remember that saying… there’s no such thing as a free lunch… well, this free lunch certainly changed the way I viewed reviewing.

Simply put, the café didn’t like my review. I had been ambivalent about the food and I said as much. In truth, I was kinder than I would have been in a normal review. Still, the owners read between the lines and they were disappointed. As I had been in their food. Not long afterwards, they asked another writer to do a review and the result was a sickeningly sweet love-fest, that undoubtedly made the owners happy, but was painful to read.

It was a great lesson and I decided at that point never to accept another freebie because I felt compromised.

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A knife through the centre of your free lunch isn’t terrifying at all!

Over time as I felt more confident as a writer, and my ability to write candidly and fairly, I began to accept other items in return for a review. Usually they were tickets to a new movie, occasionally a book or DVD. I found it easier to be completely honest about a massive Hollywood production than a husband and wife team, whose livelihood was being discussed. The value was never more than thirty dollars and WeekendNotes had a policy of putting a clear disclaimer on the published articles in red that the write had been a guest of the company. Readers were always aware of who got their goodies for free and who paid full price.

As I became a more senior writer, the freebies got bigger. An opening night to the summer outdoor cinema. A new exhibit at the state zoo. A $200 chef’s table dinner with wine matching. I wasn’t earning much money from my writing, so receiving these free tickets and items felt like a justifiable reward. I also felt that since they were contained within the mantle of my WeekendNotes writing, that it never impacted on my personal writing (my blog), and I had always been very strict about not doing any reviews or sponsored posts on Relentless.

Apart from the conflict that I inevitably felt when trying to write an honest and fair review by balancing my integrity with the needs of the business, one of the main reasons why I never did sponsored posts on Relentless was that my readers didn’t want to read them. Every time I even remotely hinted at some sort of commercial enterprise – mentioning a book written by a friend for example – my readers stayed away in droves. When they read Relentless they wanted a warts and all, farts in the bathtub description of parenting. They did not care whether I had tried a new dairy product or what my favourite washing powder was. My stats made that very clear to me.

And I respect that. I personally hate it when my favourite bloggers interrupt their normally hilarious or thoughtful posts to do reviews. I don’t read them. And even though I know blogging is a poorly paid (if at all) career, and writers need to earn their money somehow, if I see [review] or [sponsored] in the subject line of a post, I don’t tend to read it.

And all of this is made even more cringe-worthy because now I am working for a great online shopping company. I write posts on their blog about general parenting topics, often including links to their products, and yes, receiving the occasional freebie. But because I am asked to do shout outs on Relentless, I am asking my readers to read them.

Let’s be clear, I don’t have a problem with people (including myself) doing reviews. When I am researching a product or place I would much rather hear what a consumer has to say than whatever guff the marketing agency comes up with. This is why I not only write for WeekendNotes, but I also read other people’s articles when they’re relevant to me. I also google forums and even glance occasionally at sites like Urbanspoon because people tend to let loose when they’re writing anonymously. I have more readers over at WeekendNotes than at Relentless, precisely because they want to know what I think about a place and they know I am going to tell them.

What I am trying to do now, is balance the needs of readers who just want straight stories and no sponsored posts, with my own need to earn an income, with the needs of readers who would be interested in reviews and other articles if they deem it relevant, with the needs of the businesses who employ me. The key is transparency. I’m going to do it anyway, but I need to be able to flag to readers what I am writing about. Some other bloggers like to use hashtags in their post titles, but I would just feel silly doing that since I’m not on Twitter and I don’t really know what a hashtag is.

So I decided Relentless needed a disclaimer policy. Any post for which I received a product for free and have chosen to review it, I will now add [review] in the title, and if it is an article I wrote for Mamadoo (whether it contains product mentions or not) it will now include [Mamadoo] in the title. It’s messy, but it’s a lot fairer than waiting until the end of the post before mentioning that money exchanged hands. Awkward!

But I still haven’t answered the question have I? How does it feel receiving free stuff? The excitement is pretty similar to when you get a big package you paid for (or a small package, they’re cool too) but with the freebie comes a price. Perhaps some writers don’t experience this, but I admit I do. I want to like the product. I want to write positively about it, but I want it to be natural and genuine. Readers can tell when you’re lying through your teeth, and some of my readers are good at reading between the lines at what I am not saying.

And what happens when you have an issue or problem with the product? Do you go back to the supplier privately or do you fulfil your end of the contract and do a public review, warts and all. As a reader I want to say ‘write the review’, as a writer, I sometimes feel the area is more grey.

How well I manage this balance will become clear in time. My stats will tell me, my readers will tell me. It is a shift for me, a change in something I have always been clear about. No monetisation of my personal writing. If I had put AdSense on Relentless before I published ‘The Brutal Truth About the Third Child’… well, I don’t think I would be able to retire quite yet, but it does make we wonder…

 

How do you deal with sponsored posts? Do you find a difference in your readership when you publish a normal post versus a sponsored post? Do you think it puts some readers off?

What I Have Learned from Writing for an Online Website

Recently I published my 250th article on WeekendNotes. It’s quite a milestone for me, so today I thought I would write about what I have learned and achieved from writing for an online review website.

Some statistics:

–          WeekendNotes has articles published for 48 different countries with the majority of articles and writers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States

–          It’s difficult to tell how many writers there are but most of the major cities have at least fifty current writers. Only thirteen other WeekendNotes writers have published over 250 articles.

–          There are over 1 million Australian readers every month

–          Writers are paid a proportion of the money earned from advertising, which is around 1 cent per click. They also have the opportunity to win various ‘medals’ which range from $5 to $20 based on the editorial quality of the story.

–          All articles are vetted and scored by a small team of editors. Only articles with a certain score will be sent to subscribers in the newsletters

–          The most popular WeekendNotes article of all time was How to Meet and Greet One Direction with (currently) over 92,000 readers

–          Of the top ten articles (worldwide) for Weekend Notes, the word ‘nude’ appears three times

–          I am currently ranked Number Two in Perth (Australia) and Number 23 worldwide with just shy of 200,000 readers

 

What have I learned:

1. It’s all about the title.

An intriguing title makes people want to know more. Maybe it’s ambiguous. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it’s controversial. Because of the restrictions placed on us with regard to the main titles (to fit in with SEO conventions) we have had to be quite clever with our article titles.

My most popular article is Perth Charities That Don’t Need Your Money.  People were intrigued: what sort of charity doesn’t need money? Is it a scam? What do they need? I was then compelled to write three more articles, each focussing on a major Australian city, and it turned out people across Australia were interested to know what sort of charities don’t ask for money.

People also like to be told that something is the ‘best’ or ‘the coolest’ or the ‘top ten’. We are time poor these days, so if a reader thinks they will be able to digest a lot of information from a single article, they tend to be more popular. Some examples from my most successful articles:

The A-Z of Breakfasts in Perth

The Coolest Places to Volunteer in Perth

Top Places to be a Big Kid in Perth  

 

2. It’s not about the money

If I sat down and calculated my hourly rate from my work at WeekendNotes I would be mortified, my husband would be disgusted, my accountant would laugh, and other writers would shake their head in sympathy. When I answered the advert calling for writers WeekendNotes claimed you could earn upwards of $20 an hour. But what they didn’t say was that you would only earn that $20 after an undisclosed period of time. In my opinion, you also would have to be a very quick typist with little regard for research.

I probably spend between one and two hours on a normal review article, and around two to three (or more) hours on one of my Secret List or other more comprehensive stories.  

At roughly one cent per click, I need 1,000 readers before I earn $10. My most successful article has so far earned me about $65 plus a $20 Gold medal. For what was probably three or four hours work. That computes to be the $20 an hour I was offered. It is quite sobering, and I won’t pretend for a minute that my less successful articles are earning anywhere near that.

That being said, time will tell. Articles that I published two years ago are still earning me money today, because people are still reading them. I will continue to earn money from the majority of my articles potentially forever. I will update this blog in about twenty years to let you know whether I ever ended up impressing my accountant.

 

3. It’s about the exposure

Just like the popular WN articles about nude beaches, what is most important for me about writing for WeekendNotes is the exposure. Every time I publish an article my name goes out attached to it. Google ‘share food etiquette’ or ‘Perth Zoo carousel’ and one of my articles will be somewhere near the top. Combined with two blogs, a google+ profile and a number of stories in print, I am working towards getting my name out there.

 

4. People love to hide behind the anonymity of the web

I put my name to everything I write. I have to because my name is now my brand, and there is little point using a pseudonym if I want potential employers to say ‘I want Shannon Meyerkort to write for us’. Not everyone agrees with this. I have found, both through my blogs and my articles on WeekendNotes that people are happy to make unfair, racist, and judgemental comments and then hide behind the relative anonymity of the web.

This year I wrote a tongue in cheek article about things to do instead of watching the Melbourne Cup. Let’s face it, not everyone likes to watch horses run in a big circle so I offered a number of fun alternatives. The subtitle I used was ‘It’s ok to be un-Australian.’ It was clearly a joke, yet one of the comments I received was ‘go back where you came from’ which I found hilarious as I am a born and bred Aussie.

There isn’t much I can do to prevent trolls making nasty comments, but it has made me think twice about what I write, and what I am putting my name to, because…

6. When you use your own name, people can find you

I wrote a review this year about a local pub and the service was pretty appalling, and I said as much in the review. A couple of days later I received an email from the service manager saying she had read the review and would I mind providing more information.

I had to applaud this restaurant for two reasons: firstly they obviously take their business seriously and keep an eye out for reviews and articles which mention them, and secondly, they approached me politely and with intent to improve their services.

As I wrote to her: I do not make comments about receiving sub-standard service lightly. We all have off days (I certainly do) and I usually give people benefit of the doubt. In most instances where I am not sure, I just don’t mention it.

Because all six of us at the dinner had the same unpleasant experience I felt it fair to mention.’ I also had a quick glance at reviews on Urbanspoon, because as I mentioned in #4, people hide behind anonymity and reviewers on that site are happy to say pretty much anything. There were dozens of unhappy customers who all thought the service had been a major let down. It wasn’t just me, and it obviously wasn’t an isolated occurrence.

Yet because I put my name to my writing I was sought out. In this case it wasn’t a problem, but I have been verbally attacked in the past by someone who was not happy with what I wrote (funnily enough, I had written they were aggressive and rude) and their response merely confirmed that.

It has made me think carefully about what I write. The internet is forever, words are powerful and reputations (including mine) are at stake.

7. Photographs are almost as important as words

One of the skills I have fine-tuned over the past couple of years, along with my writing is my photography, especially of food. In the early days I would sneak my old digital camera out of my bag to surreptitiously take rushed photos of my food. These days I take the time to artfully arrange the table and have learned about appealing angles.

Luckily, most people I regularly eat out with have accepted this rather annoying habit of mine. ‘I’m working,’ I tell them, and they know not to dig into their food the minute it arrives. They know I will want to photograph it, and many already know to turn the plate around to face me, and wait patiently while I take my images.

8. The art of self-editing

When I first started writing for WeekendNotes I would type my article and hit the ‘submit’ button with little thought, all the while congratulating myself on how fast I was. It is something that writing and journalism students probably learn in their first class, but

I have had to teach myself the essential and subtle art of self-editing.

When I write a review my first draft is usually full of personal anecdotes and too much background. Then I remind myself I am not writing a blog and no one actually cares whether or not I was late for dinner because I couldn’t find a car park.

Admittedly, it’s been said that part of the charm of my articles are the personal anecdotes and background stories* it is certainly part of my style, but I have learned to keep a slightly tighter reign on it. And when I can’t keep it under control, I use bold type to highlight the important bits for people.

 

 

*I have absolutely no data to back this statement up

The Brutal Truth About Making Money as a Writer?

Most people are too polite to ask, but it’s pretty clear after I mention to people I am a writer the second question they want to ask is “how much money do you make?” The first is usually ‘have I read anything you have written?’ which is difficult to answer because they are a complete stranger and I am not a stalker.

The money question is interesting and one that I wish I could ask of every writer I meet. Except I am too polite.

Because my earnings thus far are less than stellar (I’ll get to that later) I often find myself giving excuses like: ‘I just had a baby’ or ‘I only just started.’ Those reasons may have been valid for 2012, but now they are just excuses. The simple truth is that I have not written much that people are willing to pay for. It doesn’t mean I cannot write and it doesn’t mean I haven’t been published. It just means that the majority of work I have done thus far, has been unpaid.

It turns out I am not alone, and in fact, I am in stellar company.

If you are a parent, and even if you’re not, you may have heard of Amber Dusik.

No? Try Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. This is one of the funniest blogs about being a parent that exists. It’s funny even if you don’t have kids. It is probably the best parenting blog. Even better than mine.

When Amber Dusik posts a story it immediately goes stratospheric.

Each post will received hundreds of comments. She has over 77,000 likers on Facebook. Every single post Amber puts on Facebook will be shared across the globe.

So it was with deep concern that I read a postscript to a post she wrote in early April imploring readers to buy her new book. I wasn’t concerned that she was asking people to buy her book, I have a copy and it’s awesome. What concerned me was this:

I’ve started getting a lot of emails, congratulating me about having “made it” and people assuming I’m making truckloads of money. … Contrary to popular belief I still haven’t gotten rich from it. … after paying my hosting costs, I managed to pull a profit in 2012. I made $131. For an entire year’s worth of work.

One of the world’s most well-known and successful bloggers only made a profit of $131 last year.

Then I attended a booked-out seminar by the Australian writer Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys. He told his audience that in the early days after his best-selling book was released in 1997 – (before they realised it was going to be a best-seller) – he told his sons that every time a book was sold, a twenty cent piece would roll toward the house.

Twenty cents for a book that took a year to write.

Talented Perth author Natasha Lester mentioned at the recent Perth Writer’s Festival that she receives about $3 per copy sold of her latest novel. This is an improvement on twenty cents, but still.

What chance do the rest of us mere (writing) mortals have?

Writers write because they need to. No one walks out of school and says ‘I am going to be a writer and spend my life in abject poverty to pursue my craft’. Writing is a tough gig, and for 99% of us we can expect an income that resembles a postcode from New South Wales.

According to The Australian:

The average annual income of Australian writers has declined in the past decade from $23,000 to a character-building $11,000.

Personally, I would be thrilled with an income of $11,000 from my writing.

In the spirit of complete openness I can divulge that my income since ‘becoming a writer’ in 2011 is around $3,000, and every cent of this has come from my articles and reviews written for WeekendNotes.

My blogs have not earned me a cent.

Writing articles for various online websites have not earned me a cent.

Even my articles published in national glossy magazines have not earned me a cent.

I came close though. When my ‘Dads and Miscarriage’ article was accepted by My Child Magazine I was told that their rate of pay was 50 cents per word, which for a brand-new freelancer, was a very substantial price. I had originally submitted 2,600 words to them and I could already hear the cha-ching of a decent pay-packet.

However, it was decided that they could only afford space for 800-900 words, and in return for their editors working on the article to bring it down to the necessary word-count I would not receive a writers fee.

Perhaps if I was an established writer with a bigger CV I would have been in a position to argue with this decision. But the simple truth was that I needed them more than they needed me. I needed this run on the board, and if it was going to cost me $400 then so be it. I got to see my name in print but I did not get paid for it.

Bloggers can put advertising on their websites, and earn anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars per month. Sponsorship and paid reviews is another way to earn money, but again, it is personal choice of the blog owner and some – like myself – don’t do it.

I write this not for pity, just candour. Like most writers, I write because I love it. I don’t plan on staying below the breadline with my craft forever. I just think it is an interesting issue, and explains why so many of our top writers (and actors and artists and playwrights) have ‘day jobs’ to support themselves while they pursue the craft they love in their ‘spare time’.

What is your true love and what do you do to earn a living while you pursue it?