Can you benefit from historic changes in the writing business?
Published: July 13, 2010
It’s easy to draw parallels between changes in the writing business today and changes brought about by Gutenberg’s printing press. Johannes Gutenberg awakened Europe with his invention, capitalizing and expanding on tools and techniques being used in other parts of the world. As publishing became a formal industry in the centuries that followed, market share opened for several reasons. For instance, more people were able to learn to read. Talk to a group of writers today and it’s likely you’ll hear sharply diverse opinions on whether writers will benefit from the changes we’re experiencing, depending on what sector of the industry they work in.
Kay B. Day
Newspapers are having a hard time of things, so hard that the Federal Trade Commission recently held a public workshop, ‘How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?’
But even as some traditional outlets are challenged, others prosper. Google and Facebook come to mind, and so do specialty magazines.
Many independent writers, as opposed to writers under contract to large publishers, are seeing fees decline or stay stagnant, however. And it’s not uncommon to see startups fold after a few issues. So what’s a writer to do?
Many opt to self-publish, and the first thing writers think about may be a book. But there are other self-publishing options on the Web with virtually no startup costs. It’s simple to establish a free blog and place third party advertising from companies like Google or Amazon. It’s not so simple to make meaningful money by this means, however, without a great deal of hard work. The goal is to attract as many readers as possible, but the bigger goal is to attract as many backlinks as possible. Because those backlinks earn you a higher spot in search engine rankings, and that is key to bringing new readers to your door.
Attracting the backlinks will take more time and come harder than attracting the readers. In my opinion, a blogger must stick with the program for at least two years, posting quality content at least once a day. Meanwhile, that blogger will also need to promote her site by any means possible. That will bring in some third party revenue, but more importantly, it will help build a platform.
That platform will be useful when you query an editor in your subject
area. If you can say, “I have 200,000 unique visitors reading at my
site every month,” that is going to have an impact on most editors. And
a successful blog is one of the most useful sales tools you can create.
There’s also the option of blogging for commercial sites; corporations
often hire experienced bloggers at substantial rates.
The Electro Department at the New York Herald c. 1902. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, US Library of Congress.
freelance sales and ad revenue, that successful blog can also open
doors to interviews with celebrities or experts in a field.
of the most useful commodities a writer can sell today is information,
and the more unique the information, the higher the value.
this at play if I write about a topic that is both newsworthy and
unique. Recently within a 30-minute span, 2,000 new readers showed up
on my website simply because I had a hot story with an angle no one
else had thought of.
Traditional freelance work is as much in
demand as it ever has been. It’s become a little more technical in some
ways, particularly if you’re writing for a web client rather than a
print publication. But the old tried and true methods still work.
thing that has resulted in sales for me is the letter to the editor.
Several times I’ve written an editor to round out information in an
article I read or simply to correct information. That begins a dialog
and before you know it, you’ll be pitching that editor who will
recognize you and that is a definite plus.
Other tried and true
methods for finding work are market listings such as those here at The
Writer. I’ve sold work in that manner and I’ve also won a few contests.
It’s easy to dismiss what we might call a cold lead, but plenty of work
still gets sold that way.
In-person networking is also still
useful—select writers’ conferences, trade association meetings within
the industry, and even general social functions can lead to work. I’ve
mentioned the story in a past column about the editor I sold a contract
to as we rode together on an elevator.
It’s also important to
note the emerging power of non-profit organizations in the business.
I’ve had a number of non-profit clients over the years and they tend to
be very stable. There’s such an organization for every interest area,
so check those in your own city to see if they need writing services.
industry is changing, but in truth, nothing remains static. There has
never been as much opportunity as there is now for a writer to publish
and be paid. The amount you publish depends on the amount of time and
effort you invest.
It’s easy to imagine the wonder on faces
centuries ago as technology enabled the printing of a book in a
radically new manner. Here we are facing the same sort of wonders with
new technology becoming available at every turn. And it’s useful to
remind ourselves that all phenomena have such a cycle—the veritable
reinvention of a faster, smoother wheel. There are benefits to be had
if we are willing to explore and develop the opportunities.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.||