The Seven Deadly Sins of Freelance Writing

Guest Post by Francesca StaAna

Wondering why your articles aren’t getting a lot of views or clicks? Stressing about the fact that you’re not getting enough repeat clients?  You might be committing these deadly freelance writing mistakes:

Silence (Not following up) – Contrary to what some might think, just because a prospect doesn’t immediately respond to your first call or email, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested. Yes, most of them probably don’t need your services, but there ARE some potential clients who are simply too busy to respond. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. People are bombarded with emails on a daily basis, so you can’t really blame them if they overlook yours.

Always follow up. Don’t let fear, pride, or laziness stop you from doing it. Whether you’re cold-emailing a potential customer or reaching out to blogs to see if they’re willing to publish your guest post, make it a point to reach out in about a  week or so after you’ve first made contact to see if they’re interested.

Ignorance (Not reading enough) – Reading should be a necessity for writers. Doing so on a regular basis allows you to appreciate the beauty of the written word, gives you inspiration, and more importantly, makes you a better writer. It opens you up to different styles of writing and helps you develop your own.

On a more pragmatic level, reading can give you new material to write about. Can’t think of anything new to jot down on your blog? Pick up a recent issue of an industry magazine and see what’s happening in the world. Check out the latest posts on your favorite websites and get different points of view on issues. I guarantee you’ll find something to write about.

Carelessness (Failing to catch typographical and grammatical errors) – Committing typos is unavoidable. Publishing them on the other hand, is a different story.

Typographical and grammatical errors are embarrassing at best, and misleading at worst. One misplaced letter or punctuation mark can shift the meaning of a statement, so make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing especially when it’s supposed to go out to the public.

Have a second set of eyes read through your work before sending it in. If you’re on your own, step out of the room for a few minutes or do something else for a while then go back and re-read what you’ve written. Personally, I’ve found that changing the font and color of the text, as well as reading aloud makes proofreading so much easier.

Self-Absorption (Focusing on yourself rather than the audience) – Whether you’re pitching to clients or writing a blog post, always remember one thing: It’s about THEM, not you. Think about it. When you’re out on a date, wouldn’t you be turned off by someone who only talks about himself or herself without bothering to ask you about your life?

Similarly, one of the quickest ways to get readers to lose interest is by failing to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (Trust me, they’re all asking that question.)

Unoriginality (Failing to use your own unique voice) One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer (and as a person in general) is trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s perfectly acceptable to admire and be inspired by other people’s writing styles, it’s another thing to try and copy them. Instead, study the writing styles of others to develop your own unique flavor. You’ll be a much better writer and have more fun while you’re at it.

Also avoid using words or phrases that are not “you” in an effort to sound smart and important. In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.

Close Mindedness (Refusing to try other things) – So you’re set in your ways. I get it. I can be the same way too. However, not going out there to try new things can seriously hinder your growth.

For instance, I know some writers who were reluctant to market using Pinterest because it was too “image based” and they assumed that it wouldn’t be an effective medium to promote their work. I paid no attention to those claims and tried it anyway. I used tools such as  PicMonkey and   Share As Image to make my words “pinnable”, and guess what? The Pinterest community took notice. My site got more clicks and I even got a few client calls because of it.

The takeaway? Don’t automatically turn your back on ideas or tools just because you’re not familiar with them. Keep an open mind at all times and try new things—even if you’re not used to them. After all, you never know how effective (or ineffective) something is until you try it out for yourself.

Social Aversion (Refusing to network or collaborate with others) Don’t treat all your fellow writers as the competition. Instead, see them as teachers, peers, or even friends. Similar to being closed minded, not opening up your professional circle can stop you from growing and learning new things.

You can pick up a lot of new ideas and connections by attending conferences and networking mixers, so try to be present at these events whenever you can. If you’re more of an introvert, start by networking online. Comment on blogs and connect with people via social media

Your Turn

Are you guilty of any of these sins? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

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Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and specializes in writing blog posts, web content and press releases for startups, Internet companies, and mobile app developers. She’s currently developing Copywriting 2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring copywriters the ins and outs of the biz. Sign up here and get notified when the course launches.

Submitomancy!

ETA: Submitomancy fell short of the funding goal, unfortunately, so isn’t going to happen. (Thank you, Zac, for your suggestion that we add a note about the project’s status.)

Guest Post by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I first experienced the magical power of recent responses on Absolute Write. I had just started sending out my first novel (now wrapped in lavender-scented tissue paper and trunked) and I discovered the treasure trove of agent information here on the forums. It was like I’d gained entry into a secret club. Suddenly I knew that this agent was a quick responder and that one often gave personal responses and how long the previous person had been waiting for a response. I got great insight on what specific agents were looking for and the type of novels that were getting full requests. And most importantly, I didn’t feel so alone.

When I shifted to short stories, I looked for similar resources. I discovered tracking short stories was a bit more complicated than novel submissions. I ended up with a combination solution: I had a spreadsheet, a website and a piece of software called Sonar3 in order to try to track all of the information that was important to me. When the admins of that website changed their system, I suddenly realised, you know what? I can do better than this.

I started a list of everything I wanted: manuscript data, submission history, market listings, recent responses, contract and payment information for every sale, exclusivity clauses, reprint options… it was a long list. And before I knew it, I was writing a detailed design specification for my perfect system: Submitomancy.

The project needed two things: development funds and a critical mass of users. And yet, I wanted to keep it free. It was an easy decision to start with the crowd-funding model, which would defray development costs and also gain a commitment from a starter group who wanted the service.

If the campaign succeeds, then the core development is out of the way before we start. The free services will encourage users to enter their data in return for a basic tracking service. This will include a basic search of the market listings, submission tracking and average response times per market.

But if you subscribe, you get access to the fun stuff! Lots of reports and data, of course: expanded manuscript tracking, power search, recent responses, market alerts and personalised notifications. But you also get access to social options like profile pages, status updates and badges! Badges might not seem an obvious feature for a submission tracker, I know.  But having been a part of such a powerful community, I wanted to make it easy to share the our successes and struggles with each other.

If there’s enough interest in Submitomancy then I’ll be refining the details with the Early Access subscribers. But the reports and the support can only be as good as the people who take part. That’s why I’m exploring this with you as a no-risk project right now. If you think you’d enjoy being a part of Submitomancy, then please support the campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

Writing Web Copy

Copywriting for the Web for a wide audience

by James Guill

More and more freelance writing opportunities occur in the digital realm, as more print publications seem to be closing their doors every year.

Providing copy for an online resource is obviously not as simple as it seems. If it were, there would be many more writers on the Web making a living. Many writers tend to be very focused in the specific topics they cover, and as such tend to have difficulty finding and retaining work. So let’s talk a bit about writing Web copy for a wide audience.

When writing Web copy, your writing needs to reflect that you have in-depth knowledge of the subject and you understand current trends in the area you are covering. For example, up until around 2007 anyone that wrote copy for poker sites could get away with just being knowledgeable in Texas Hold’em and the popular players of that game.

However, trends changed around that time and other poker games began to make a comeback. It was no longer enough for a Hold’em specialist to write content on Hold’em. Readers would begin to go elsewhere and look for content on Stud, Omaha, and other games. As such, those that have a broad range of knowledge and kept on top of the pulse of the industry were the ones that prospered.

Web copywriters need to get away from the notion that frequent posting and quantity is what matters. Going back again to the poker industry, several sites have proven that quality reporting and informative articles will draw just as well as regular updates.

Subject: Poker was a website that gained a large following after the events of April 15th of last year when the major online sites were indicted. Their objective was to bring hard hitting and informative reporting regarding the issues surrounding what was known as the Black Friday poker indictments.

There were periods of time where the site did not update for days or even weeks at a time. However, when they did update, their content was among the best in the industry and they quickly became the main source of news and legal information surrounding online poker in the United States.

While I don’t recommend going for a week or more at a time without posting, there is no need to update numerous times a day with every little piece of fluff news or information. After a while, viewers get tired of having to sort through the fluff and will go elsewhere. Remember: quality over quantity.

Every Website has its own approach when it comes to web content writing. Some Websites do things better than others. However, those that keep their fingers on the pulse of their industry and provide quality content are the ones that tend to survive over the long term.

James Guill is an online content writer who writes almost everything under the sun. He publishes numerous articles for travel, food and gaming sites as a freelance writer. As a freelance reporter, James has covered the poker world for the past five years.

SOPA on hold, PROTECT IP still pending – An Open Letter

I’m a registered Democrat. I vote, I canvass, I caucus. As a Website owner and as an American, I’m dismayed by Congressional attempts to censor the internet. I’m appalled and chilled that we have a former Senator who publicly asserts that the U.S. should take a lesson from China to establish internet censorship and stifle the free exchange of information.

censorship graphicThe House just acknowledged “legitimate concerns” about SOPA — its version of the PROTECT IP Act (pdf link) — and backed away from a vote that looked certain to occur. The Senate needs to do the same: PROTECT IP will kill jobs and innovation, undermine cyber security, censor the Internet, and provide ready justification to foreign regimes that want to crack down on dissent and political reform.

PROTECT IP won’t catch or punish internet pirates. They’ll simply move shop, work on darknets, or code workarounds. Online piracy won’t even slow as a result of this legislation. Legitimate sites, however, DO have a great deal of reason to worry.

It should be instructive that Universal Music incorrectly and abusively used the DMCA take-down process to stifle and censor content they did not own, just recently.

As flawed as the DMCA is, there IS recourse built into the process for site-owners who are improperly censored and/or interrupted by competitors who abuse the legal process.

I direct your attention to a December 8th, 2011 article in Techdirt:

The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

PROTECT IP and SOPA would both make these sorts of abuses devastatingly likely, remove the fragile existing protections for independent Websites and small Internet businesses, while doing nothing to effectively prevent piracy.

Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy: Don’t bring this bill up for a floor vote.

To my Senators: Please vote NO if the bill reaches the floor.

(Some text remixed from original letter here.)

Please feel free to remix and reuse this post to contact your own Senators. No attribution necessary.

Interview at Writer Unboxed

If you’ve ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes workings at Absolute Write and the Absolute Write forums, Jan O’Hara over at Writer Unboxed has just posted a two-part interview with me about AW, the community, the mods, and writing. Jan does a heckuva fun interview, and I’m not just saying that because she interviewed me—she’s got some terrific interviews on her own blog, Tartitude. And as a Web destination for writers, Writer Unboxed offers a lot of terrific information, insight, and conversation.

Part I
Part II

You can also find Jan O’Hara on Twitter @Jan_OHara.

Spam for Breakfast!

Happy first Monday of 2010, AWers.

We talked about SEO and keywords, last time. I’ve got a post I’ve been working on about agents blogging, but in the meantime I’ve been deleting a fair amount of spam from the comments threads since we went live with comments here. (Thank you to HistorySleuth for the heads-up on this morning’s fresh batch.) So I’m looking at turning on more of the anti-spam tools. If you guys get comments hung up in moderation, please feel free to drop me a note and I’ll go and unscreen your post. Real comments make me grin the rest of the day, so I don’t want to miss any.Spam!

But I’ll confess to being already a bit grumpy about spam in general, so I got just plain mad when I got to the AW forums to discover that an agent (and a legitimate agent at that) is apparently running a contest on her blog, and one of the rules for entry is to post a link to the contest site on your own blog or site, and two other venues. That means that a half-dozen comment-spam links had been posted all over the forums, already.

So I wrote the agent in question with my objections, and she blew me off with a cheerful but dismissive statement that this is just how it’s done, and “Obviously, I didn’t send them directly to you nor do I have control over where they choose to post.”

No, actually – requiring that people invade other sites with comment spam is NOT how it’s done. It’s a fairly astonishing breach of netiquette, in fact. There’s a good article about comment spam, what it is, and how to deal with it, here.

Requiring that people spam message boards and other people’s blogs? That’s a far cry from asking people to tweet a link, retweet the link, or post on their own blogs/sites. Dealing with spam takes up an awful lot of everyone’s time. Most bloggers, community members, and board moderators are actively hostile—and with good reason.

Why don’t we just ignore spam? Because it interrupts the conversation. When you have to scroll past post after post of links that have nothing to do with what people are actually talking about, it’s disruptive and distracting. It’s also a cheesy attempt to try and cash in on other people’s hard work maintaining a community.

So how does anyone get the word out about a promotion (or a contest) without making site-owners and bloggers actively hostile? That’s actually dead simple. You build a reputation with your participation, then you spend that reputation carefully. Participation. Real conversation. Posting good links in relevant places will actually enhance your credibility, in fact.

Message boards and blogs are usually equipped to let people link back to their own sites in their signatures and/or profiles. Often, there’s even an appropriate place to post a direct link if you have an announcement or are promoting something. If you’re participating in real conversations, saying interesting things, interacting and engaging with an online community, then people are going to be a good deal more attentive and curious about what you’re doing elsewhere, as well.