Hello, intrepid readers. We are going to shift gears a bit in this post and address an issue that is always near and dear to my heart: money. This is not to say that I am obsessed with wealth, but I certainly enjoy being able to live comfortably and enjoy my hobbies, which as a geek can include expensive gadgets, video games, and lots of media. So how does a writer in the modern era get paid?
Copywriting (also known as business writing) is the art and science of creating text that informs, attracts, and sells, all at the same time. To write good copy, you not only have to be a good writer, but you have to understand your audiences and what will drive their purchasing. Your goal is to sell something, and in order to do that you have to understand how your readers will react not just to the content of your words, but their appearance and tone.
- Write in many tones and voices, from warm and friendly to cold and technical. You must get over the notion that you are selling your art and thus must maintain your own authentic voice. While this is true for fiction, poetry, and other creative writing, copywriters must be able to catch the tone and voice that will most effectively represent their client’s interests. Read, listen to, and watch advertisements of all kinds and you will hear many different voices; practice writing in all of them.
- Understand visual cues. Words are visual, and by purposefully arranging how they meet the eyes you can make certain impressions without changing a bit of your content. By creating symmetry and asymmetry in your copy (lining up your text and formatting it such that the lines “lead” the eyes of the reader to each important phrase) you can emphasize certain points over others, line up “question and answer” blocks around explanatory copy, and create a general impression of casualness, formality, friendliness, or whatever impression is needed.
- Be a good researcher. Clients will vary, and you will often need to be able to learn a great deal about a given industry, company, product, or service with very little notice. Make sure you have resources bookmarked and ready to do research on just about anything. This includes niche sites, academic sites, and government sites; Wikipedia, for all its glory, just won’t cut it.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Writing in the online world requires at least a basic understanding of the principles of SEO, including keyword research, competition evaluation, and link-building. Understand, it will seldom be your job to define and entire SEO strategy for a client, but in order to create good online content you have to know how to make sure it can be found and will compete against other similar content.
- Understand the principles of search. Search is a weird field, in concept and in practice. In theory, it’s just math; search engines index content and use various algorithms to return that content in reply to corresponding searches. And if language, meaning, and knowledge were a simple affair, that would be enough, but they aren’t. We categorize things, use synonyms and conditionals, come up with neologisms (new words), and generally make things very complicated (and very interesting). We teach the search engines what words mean, and in turn the search engines teach us how to ask for what we are looking for. I can’t even begin to cover the necessary knowledge to really understand search, but I will list several resources for learning the basics of search and SEO theory at the end of this post.
- Learn how to use keywords and keyword phrases without sounding forced. Learn how to research commonly searched keywords and phrases and pepper your writing with them appropriately. Don’t stuff them, don’t use keywords unrelated to the content, and don’t just reuse the same one over and over; use synonyms and related terms.
- Produce quality content. Realize that keyword use is just part of the battle, what we call a “necessary but insufficient condition”. You have to use well-chosen keywords, but quality content that will attract links and traffic is the rest of the equation.
- Be generous. Link out often to other blogs and sources, and always make sure your anchor text (the text that you make the link) is actually associated with the content you link to. Try to go for deep links (links to pages inside a website rather than to the frontpage) and when you reference ideas or content from other sources, make sure to credit them.
Blogging is big business…for a few. This money comes from advertising, direct sales, and the attraction of jobs. The decision of how to monetize your blog comes down to how much traffic you get and what your niche is. thePuckWrites is monetized by being a sort of virtual resume…I blog about how I do things so that others can learn how to do them, which showcases my knowledge and writing, while making sure a few select pieces of writing are avaliable to show my range, plus a resume and a contact form. Since my blog is set up this way, I attract both writers who want to learn and employers who want to hire. You might also consider blogging for hire…companies may pay you to blog regularly for them, or you could join a blog network or multi-user blog that pays per post like BrightHub. These kinds of jobs can vary a great deal in price, so make sure you are getting paid what you are worth.
- Picking a good niche. I know a lot of bloggers, and some of them blog about things that no one would ever want to read about regularly. Some industries and subjects, no matter how necessary for society and life, will not draw an audience. Pick a niche you know about, but pick an interesting niche you know about; you might sell toilet paper, but no one wants to read about toilet paper, whether it is making, selling, or using it.
- Writing for a wide audience. Don’t be a snob. Use language that everyone will understand and if you must use special jargon, explain what you mean without being condescending. Remember, most people do not write for a living and thus it is not their job to know all the $0.50 words; you are not special, better, or smarter because you know what deontological means or can use gerund properly in a sentence.
- Discipline. You need to update regularly, research new posts, and promote your work. Quite frankly, it can be a huge pain. Depending on your revenue model, you might need to update as often as several times a day. Good scheduling and productivity is a must.
These are my skills that pay the bills, what are yours?