Surviving as a Freelance Writer in an Era of Digital and Social Media ‘Overwhelm’
By Robin Elizabeth Margolis
Are you an overwhelmed freelance writer in the digital era? Baffled by the flood of advice on how to be a successful online writer flooding your email inbox? Feel like much of the incoming information reads something like this: “You Must Learn New Technology X! and New Social Media Y! Write for Online Writing Market Z! Or You’ll Never Sell an Article or Book in this Town Again! You’ll Starve If You Don’t Follow Our Advice! And Our Advice Changes Every Month!”
If you are a freelance writer suffering from digital and social media ‘overwhelm’, you have lots of company. I manage two writers groups on Linkedin.com – “Freelance Writers Working for Internet Content Mills” and the “Spirituality Writers Network” – and participate in several other Linkedin writers groups. Many writers and editors in those groups have been ejected from financially comfy journalism nests in the print media within the last five years and abruptly transported into a frightening new online writing future where they believe that they will have to fight for pennies per word for the rest of their lives.
In their laments they resemble the protagonists in science fiction stories who accidentally stumble into one of those ever-popular “gaps in the space-time continuum,” and are abruptly transported hundreds of years into the future only to find themselves lamentably ill-equipped to survive in the year 2315.
Here are some thoughts about how to survive and prosper in the new era, gleaned from listening to many writers who are slowly coming to grips with writing online and managing multiple social media outlets.
1. You don’t have to sign up for every single new online writing market, digital technology or social media program. Honest. It will do you more harm than good by exhausting you and splitting your attention among too many new learning curves.
2. Don’t be an early adopter of new technology and social media. Be a little skeptical. Let other writers try out new niches and ideas, and ask them about their experiences. Twitter, for example, is widely and deservedly praised, but it is used by only a tiny minority, according to Business Insider.
3. Find out which new digital writing markets and social media have worked for writers in your specialties. Rather than indiscriminately latching onto every new fad, ask other writers and editors which Great New Things work to make money in your fields. Publicity is not enough – are they getting actual article assignments and book sales out of their new Google+ circle?
4. Try selling to a different online writing market every few weeks. Learn one social media program and make it work for you before acquiring another one. If you want to make money writing in a blog, read books and websites about how to make money blogging, research other writers’ blogs and then set up your blog. Take one step at a time.
5. If an online writing market or social media program is not working for you, drop it. Facebook works great for some writers and drives other writers crazy. There is no law saying that you have to sign up for it.
6. You can write for both print media markets and the new online markets. Many writers appear to believe that there is an “either/or” choice that they must make, and have split into warring camps of traditionalist print writers and online or digital content writers. Remember, money for writing is money, no matter how you earn it.
7. Don’t let anyone make you ashamed of your choices. If you are now writing for content mills at lower rates than you were paid by the print media, ignore the catcalls of some traditionalist writers, who feel that you are lowering their payments and ruining the writing profession by accepting less money. You have to pay for your groceries, not them. Eventually, you’ll learn how to milk online writing markets in the same way you learned to get higher-paying print media payments: through careful study of your markets.
8. Review the examples of writers who have “made it” writing for the new online writing markets. These writers are not shy. They offer blogs, ebooks, webinars, and email newsletters. Take advantage of the wealth of material in a selective manner. Whose advice resonates with your particular writing career? Subscribe to those writers’ blogs and buy their ebooks.
9. You cannot be everything to everyone. The writers who advise adopting massive amounts of new digital technology and social media programs are like the statues of multi-armed Hindu gods. They sell their services by becoming experts in everything new. You only need to find a few ways of selling your services.
10. Be patient with your panic, but don’t let it rule you. Of course you are nostalgic for the days when you had a clear pathway. You bought a copy of “Writer’s Markets,” subscribed to “Writer’s Digest,” you sent editors your typed query letters, and, ideally, you got a steady flow of writing assignments. Remember waiting for editors’ replies by postal mail?
Now you turn to online writing venues, many of which have been in existence less than 15 minutes, and all the rules have changed. Some online writing markets want your resume and writing clips, and others simply add you to a stable of writers and let you compete against them. Payment methods vary from cash per article sent to you through Paypal to “pay per view” formulas more complicated than calculus equations.
It can be scary, but if you are patient, you’ll figure out how to get the maximum amount of money from the new online writing markets, just as you figured out how to extract money from the old print media markets.
You weren’t born knowing how to succeed in writing for the print media. You acquired your skills through a long process of studying writing techniques and writing markets. Treat your transition to online writing in the same way.
Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology, a master’s degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.