This blog isn’t about Kimye. Cue either relief or disappointment (but if you really need your Kardashian fix, check out Hollywood Life).
Here’s the thing about clickbait: You kind of need to do it, because otherwise even the best content won’t get as many clicks, as much exposure, or as many shares. That being said, there’s a big gray area when it comes to clickbait. There’s sensationalism, and then there’s marketing standard highlighting. Obviously if you choose a title like, “Kim Kardashian Releases New Sex Tape” and the content is jibberish, a sales pitch for a hair transplant company, or features a clip of Kim K. talking about her efforts to get pregnant again in her new season, you’re not just committing libel. You’re also seriously taking “clickbait” too far.
It’s a catch-22 because your clients (and your SEO rankings) want your headlines to draw people in. Unfortunately, in an era where news is reported in real-time and the idea of breaking a story has pretty much died, how can you come out on top? Yes, you need a catchy headline with SEO elements, but what else? Getting someone to click on a link is just part of the process. If you’re offering up offensive clickbait, you’re also going to get a slew of bouncebacks. Ultimately, your SEO won’t improve from such a shortcut.
Walking the Line
Writing great headlines and titles have a lot of “rules” or best practices. You want it short and sweet enough that it won’t get cropped in search results (both on major search engines and on whatever website the story is being hosted on). For awhile people loved lists, even dubbing them listicles. Now a lot of people hate them, so you have a 50/50 split. You also need to create or curate images that are high quality, have SEO elements themselves, and won’t get you into trouble (copyright infringement, anyone?).
Unfortunately for those looking for a shortcut, they simply don’t exist. You might experience short term gains with clickbait and other gray hat tricks (since some clickbait strategies aren’t quite blackhat), but it won’t last forever.
Plus, the average content consumer is getting savvier with clickbait, and they know how to identify it and what it’s called. If you get “caught” by one viewer, your credibility and reputation may get marred. Leave the hyperbole to your fiction pieces. It’s a world where news happens and is reported nearly simultaneously, so it’s not a race to be first or the most outlandish. It’s a competition to see who can offer the best, most thorough, fact checked, edited content with (legal) complementary images.
When I was in graduate school (for writing, of course), the department head shared a story of when he used to make big bucks ghost writing books. His anecdote went something like this: “Well before ‘vanity publishing’ was a household phrase, ghost writers were scraping in lofty incomes playing to egos. As a ghost writer, I would always ask the client to meet me in a public place like a small coffee shop. I got there early and set up at a window. My fees for ghost writing a book were the same as the cost of their car. Every time, clients would show up in something like a new 5-series BMW. If they’re willing to spend $50,000 on a car, they won’t think twice about spending $50,000 to immortalize themselves.”
Today, ghost writing isn’t just for books (although that’s still a huge market!). There are ghost writers for blogs, articles, white papers and even social media posts. The majority of my income comes from ghost writing. That’s why I have very few live links featuring my genuine byline—and that’s perfectly fine with me. However, what I find interesting is that, apparently, it’s not acceptable to a lot of writers.
When I’m first negotiating with a new client, the trepidation in their (written) voice is nearly palpable when it comes to bylines. They’re almost always apologetic that my real name won’t be used. Sometimes I’ve even been asked to create a fake bio for pseudonyms (“Larry” was my favorite) and I write as Larrys, Evelyns, Joes and Barbaras. Personally, I don’t care. I’m not getting paid or sought out for my name. I’m getting paid for what I deliver.
When a client pays me for a product or service, the end result is theirs to do with as they wish. This isn’t like writing or publishing poetry, which is what I consider my passion project. The work I get paid for on a daily basis isn’t “my baby” because, quite frankly, I’ve sold that baby to someone else. I was simply a surrogate.
Is Ghosting for You?
Unfortunately, not all writers are ready to “give up the ghost” and they prioritize having their name attached to their work. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and none of them are wrong. Maybe they’re attached to their work and can’t bear to let someone else take credit for it. Maybe they’re trying to build their reputation as an expert in search engine optimization, social media, or circus training. Maybe they just don’t think the fees they’re getting paid are worth the value of their words.
However, bear in mind that (much like contracting), you can probably get more money if you let a client use their name (or whatever name they like). What’s more important to you—the income or the credit? It could vary from piece to piece and client to client, but until you’re a thought leader in XYZ field, your worth is likely higher for your writing rather than your name.
I’ll admit it—up until a couple of years ago, I depended heavily on Craigslist for writing gigs. I dabbled in some other sites as well, but CL remained a staple in my writing bid diet. In fact, it’s where I found my very first freelance gig (which showed me you really can make a decent living as a writer!). However, the underbelly of CL is also well known, but don’t think it’s the only platform where you’ll get crazy clients, non-paying clients, and clients who think writers are automatically also graphic designers, website developers and basket weavers.
Luckily, I’m now at the point where I’m not accepting new clients (and the most recent ones all came from existing client referrals). However, I know that one day I’ll be back on CL bidding on projects and sending writing samples for new gigs and contracts. That’s the nature of writing for a living. I’ve learned a thing or two in my years of CL work and can spot a red flag like a pro now.
Here are some of the most common to watch out for as a writer looking for honest work:
“You’ll be the first batch of writers to get paid when the website starts making money!”
If you’re a professional writer, that means you get paid for your work. Period. It’s not contingent on whether your client makes money, their website makes money, or what their financial situation is. This is like agreeing to ghost write a book and hoping it’ll sell, making the author millions. That’s not how it’s done.
“No ridiculously high bids!”
Trust me, the definition of low, high, mediocre, fair, and any other word to describe your project rate is highly subjective. It depends on your experience, speed and going rate. If a poster already seems angry about potentially paying a “high price” for a writer, don’t even bother. They might as well say, “I’d prefer a volunteer writer, but will pay you half a penny per word if I really have to.”
“Get in on the ground floor!”
No, thank you. See number one for this blazing red flag.
“Send me a free writing sample and I might contact you.”
In some instances, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a sample. However, 99 percent of the time, this should be a paid sample (perhaps not at your going rate, but at least to prove the gig is legitimate). There have been times when I’ve drafted a quick sample for free, but it’s always an intro paragraph or other content that can’t really be used for anything besides a sample. Otherwise, you’re providing free labor.
There’s a picture/logo
I’m sure there are exceptions, but every time there’s a photo/logo on a job ad, the pay has been subpar. I’ve often found these are either really young startups that don’t have the budget to pay professional rates or an enterprise that wants to pay hourly rates (always charge per word/project). In my experience, these posts are always a waste of time.
“Mah grammers bad so i gotta hire a writer asap!!!!”
This isn’t what the ad usually says, of course, but if it’s not professionally written, don’t expect a professional experience. On a related note, if an exclamation is used in the job posting, get ready to deal with a rollercoaster of a client. The red flag should start waving even stronger if they offer a strangely high rate that just doesn’t mesh with the lack of professional presentation.
“Go fill out this online application that’s 20 pages long.”
This can be one of two things: A “test” to see how serious you are or just a means of collecting applications for data usage, reporting, and the like. As a full-time writer, I don’t have the time to jump through those hoops. I’m sure sometimes this approach could work out, but you’d better be pretty certain you’ll get the gig (a perfectly alignment of their demand and your supply) and you should know for a fact that the pay is high before you waste your time.
“Call Billy Bob at…”
You don’t want Billy Bob to have your number. Plus, if someone’s hiring a writer, don’t they want to see their writing chops first (like with an intro email)? I’m all for phone or video “meetings”, but not from the get-go.
“Let me tell you about this horrible experience with another writer…”
You’re not a therapist. If someone’s been burned by another contractor or professional, they shouldn’t be airing their dirty laundry for all to see. This is the same as getting into a relationship with someone who just broke up with their cheating spouse last weekend. You’ll be the one dealing with the fallout.
“I need a writer for something. I’m not really sure what. Let’s collaborate!”
Unless you’re also a consultant, steer clear of these. A client should know exactly what they want from a writer (ahem, it’s writing). Your time is worth money, not just you’re writing. Clients who want to talk, scheme, plan and dream don’t realize that every minute of yours they’re using is your money wasted. They don’t mean any harm, but they’re a leech you can’t afford.
These are just a few to avoid if you want to streamline your writing career and business. Most importantly, trust your gut. It’s always right.
I’ll admit it—there was a time (cough, early 20s) when I felt like I needed to be “inspired” to write my best pieces. This certainly put a kink in homework for my poetry classes. After all, if I wasn’t “feeling” alliteration or the urge to write my own version of a Robert Frost poem, what was the point? Of course, as a Type-A, I always got it done (and there were some real loser pieces that I hope never see the light of day), but that wasn’t the big issue. The big issue was this: A “real” writer, one who makes a living at it, can’t wait for inspiration or motivation.
On average, I write between 20-50 pieces per day for a variety of clients. I really aim for a five-day work week, so that’s up to 250 unique pieces every single week. With those kinds of numbers, you certainly can’t wait around waiting for the mood to strike. That’s like a prostitute in Nevada (let’s keep it legal) waiting to be in the mood before taking on the next client. They’re not going to be very successful. You need to suck it up, fake it at times, and get it done.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some “tricks” (pun a happy accident). Here are my favorite ways to up the motivation:
Do a quick Google News search
Does your client want a piece about mobile readiness with a link to a site about eco-friendliness? Have you written seemingly thousands of mobile readiness blogs or articles in your career? The best way to get a fresh perspective or cutting edge information is to peruse your favorite news source. Mine is Google for starters. Even seeing a headline can give you inspiration for a fresh new angle.
Some of my best ideas have come mid-cardio—which means I always have a means of taking notes when I’m working out. Usually, this is most helpful mid-day right before that staple afternoon slump. The pumping blood, endorphins, change of scenery and adrenaline are a great cocktail for motivation. Plus, it counteracts that poor writer’s posture.
Work as soon as you wake up
Studies have shown that most people are most productive within the first few hours of waking up. It doesn’t matter if you wake up at 4am sometimes to work (guilty) or noon. Take advantage of your most rested, alert and motivated time of day. This is where procrastinators can get in trouble—so make sure a reward (like breakfast) is waiting after a certain number of pieces are done.
Track your daily income
Once you know how much you’d like to make per year, break it down by month, week and day. If you need a kick in the pants to power through, track how much you’ve made so far for the day. Suddenly busting out a few more pieces to make that mark is a little easier.
Do a chore as your “mini break”
I’m a big supporter of mini breaks throughout the day. It helps to rejuvenate your eyes, ensures you’re moving on a regular basis, and basically keeps you from going writer crazy a la Jack Torrance. However, if you work at home and your “break” is something like putting away the laundry, it’s a two-part win. 1) You’re getting a chore done and 2) Suddenly writing one more blog doesn’t seem that bad compared to hanging up your t-shirts.