Earning a living as a writer requires a realistic perspective on how the markets for writing services will continue to evolve. The ongoing transformation of the publishing business, marketing channels, journalism practices, and public relations have created disruptions while opening up opportunities that require cross-training and updated skills. Here are a few of the positive (and not-so-positive) developments that are covered on this blog.
Writers today can choose how, when, and where they want to publish their work. We can position ourselves as independent authors, freelance copywriters, brand journalists, transmedia experts, ghostwriters, data journalists, or online publishers.
Now that so much content is consumed on tablets and smartphones (and promoted through social media), it doesn’t really matter whether your article or book is published by a big-brand publisher or on your own as an independent author or blogger.
In a report on “The Future of Media” in Wired (Issue 23.01) and on Wired.com, Mat Honan writes that “The media has been so completely flattened and democratized that your little sister can use the same distribution methods as the world’s most powerful publishers. She has instant access to you—potentially to everyone—and doesn’t need to invest in broadcast towers, a printing press, satellites, or coaxial cables. Neither does anyone else.”
People consume content all day long. According to a report published by Pew Research Information Project, Americans will consume 1.7 trillion hours of traditional and digital media in 2015. This represents an average of 15.5 hours of media per person per day and takes into account that people can consume 30 different kinds of media in video, print, audio, and gaming formats. It also assumes that there’s a lot of multi-tasking at work (e.g. people use their mobile devices while watching TV).
Writers must compete for the finite time and attention of audiences. Instead of reading books or articles on their smartphones, people can choose to play games, socialize, shop, or watch TV, movies, online videos. Your challenge as a writer is to use the art of good storytelling, original insights, and a powerful vocabulary to fully engage the reader’s imagination.
As people get overwhelmed by content, many are seeking out shorter nuggets of information and more visuals. According to a 2014 trends report published by JWT Intelligence, “We’re shifting to a visual vocabulary that relies on photos, emojis, video snippets and other imagery — largely supplanting the need for text.”
On the other hand, people who seek a calming escape from the profusion of online content can still curl up with a printed book. According to a Pew Research Internet Project report published in January, 2014, the proportion of Americans who read e-books is growing, but few people have completely replaced print books with electronic versions.
The digital transformation of the publishing industry is still in progress. According to a Digital Book World white paper by Thad McIlroy on the 11 Topmost Digital Book Publishing Trends & Opportunities, the future of the industry is still ripe for innovators, change agents, and book-business entrepreneurs. He notes that Amazon was launched in the 1995 and started to change how printed books were sold. Amazon released their first generation Kindle in November 2007 and seven years later the publishing industry is still dealing with issues related to e-book pricing, formatting, and subscription models.
Journalists can resposition themselves as independent entrepreneurs or brand journalists. Writers with training or experience in newspaper or magazine journalism can adapt some of their research, interviewing, writing, and editing skills to become “brand journalists.” In this field, you will publish articles on behalf of a single company instead of an independent publishing company that aggregates and analyzes the perspectives of multiple sources. The content is often targeted at a very specific reader and devloped as part of very specific lead-generating or conversion strategies.
If you do write for an independent news organization, the publishers may ask you to write “native advertising” for one of their clients. Native advertising is a paid form of marketing content designed to to integrate with the look and tone of the website in which it appears. “Native ads” are not distinct from the rest of the content in terms of format, style, or placement.
Entrepreneurial journalists can build their own “brands” and online publishing platforms, and generate revenues from advertising, affiliate marketing, sponsorships, and e-book publishing.
Below are links to a few of my favorite sources for learning more about self-publishing, brand journalism, and changing career opportunities for writers.
BookBaby is a author-services company that helps independent authors publish and promote printed books and e-books and sell them on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and through other channel. The BookBaby blog includes hundreds of posts with excellent advice, such as the “Seven Deadly Sins of Book Promotion,” and “How to Write a Great Author Bio that Will Connect with Readers.” BookBaby also offers free self-publishing guides on topics such as “Unlock Your Amazon Keywords,” “Making Money with Your eBook,” and “eBook Fundraising.” One of their newest titles, “The End: Now What?” explains six steps to take your manuscript to marketplace in six weeks.
The Book Designer
Joel Friedlander has used his extensive background in book design, advertising, graphic design, and printing to create a collection of more than 700 articles that can help guide authors through the publishing process. He offers book-design templates for Word and InDesign, self-publishing roadmaps, and books and guides of topics such as copyright, ISBNs and Barcodes, and “10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing.”
If you want to learn the nuts-and-bolts of crafting novels, memoirs, short stories, non-fiction, and screenplays, Writer’s Digest is a rich source of advice. For more than 90 years, Writer’s Digest has helped authors write better and get published. Today, Writer’s Digest publishes print and digital magazines and books and produces conferences, webinars, and online workshops. They also maintain the Writer’s Market database of places to sell non-fiction articles, scripts, short stories, children’s books, poetry, and novels. You can also enter competitions and submit manuscript pages to their 2nd Draft Critique Services. Their free advice section, includes article such as “How to Publish a Book: An Overview of Traditional and Self-Publishing” and “Marketing a Book: A Quick Guide to Selling Your Novel.”
Content Marketing Institute
This organization teaches marketing professionals how to hire and guide “brand journalists” to help companies tell their stories in creative, non-promotional ways. If you want to market yourself as a freelance brand journalist, this Content Marketing Institute will give you insights into what types of skills marketers will expect you to have. For example, journalists who started out in print may need to expand their knowedge of SEO, blog publishing, photography, video, and social media. The Content Marketing Institute provides templates and tips that show how the old-school practices of running a publishing business have been adapted to meet the special requirements of managing an online publishing organization.
This platform connects publishers and companies with 2,000 experienced, vetted freelancers from 50 states and 72 countries to create content. Founded by veterans of the news industry, Ebyline screens journalists, writers, photographers, and video producers to make it easy for content publishers to find freelancers with the right experience and knowledge. When a publisher is interested in you, you will be invited to pitch on a specific one-time project or longer-term assignment. The pay rates are typically much more realistic than those offered on online writing sites for beginning freelance writers.
The built-in payment system relieves you from having to invoice and track payments and 1099s from multiple clients. Content publishers enjoy the same streamlined process of paying multiple freelancers through a single organization.
By reading the advice on the Ebyline’s “Content Hub” blog, you can keep up with “best practices” in content marketing. For example, in the post, “Shifting Content Trends to Embrace in 2015,” Ebyline predicts that “As brands realize the power behind content marketing, there will be an increased effort to find qualified writers to handle the additional workload that content creation requires.”
This online community helps media professionals advance their careers. Through online training courses, job fairs, the Freelance Marketplace, job listings, and “how-to-pitch” guidelines they can help you make the transition to the next phase of your career. Their job listings include full-time, part-time, and freelance positions in online news media, magazine publishing, PR/marketing, social media, advertising sales, television, design/art/photography, book publishing, corporate/technical writing, and web development. Their blogs cover news related to social media, advertising and PR, publishing, design, social gaming, and mobile apps. Online courses cover topics such as personal essay writing, nonfiction book proposals, nonfiction book writing, memoir writing, and young adult novel writing.
Since 2006, this organization has been teaching writers how to adapt to the changing realities of online publishing. As a writer, you will appreciate the fact that Copyblogger emphasizes that successful content marketing isn’t just about SEO, social media, or conversion. Writing “killer content” that provides valuable information to readers is vitally important.
The Creative Penn
Self-published author Joanna Penn presents a wealth of proven and practical advice and resources for entrepreneurial authors. .