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 know things have been quiet on the blog front for awhile. I’m in India until February 16 for a formal engagement ceremony (and the Wi-Fi, at best, is ornery!). However, I’m happy to announce that my first bid request for a new project just rolled in on the MehtaFor site! I’ll be hitting the computer clacking when I’m back in the US thanks to my current and potential projects.
Some of you know that MehtaFor transitioned from my “old” website that, quite frankly, was a holding place until some behind the scenes paperwork/deals/etc. were made.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the soft launch of MehtaFor successful. I plan to roll out the “official” launch by the end of February!
As a writer, I find it much more challenging when a client requests “evergreen” content rather than news-related, trending, seasonal or anything other type of content with a short shelf life. However, the term “evergreen” is a bit of a misnomer—kind of like the namesake. Even evergreen trees will eventually fall, whether from disease, natural disasters, logging or lack of nourishment. Nothing lasts forever while remaining relevant, and the written word is no exception. But that doesn’t mean writing evergreen content is pointless.
As a rule, evergreen content should last as long as possible while remaining helpful, entertaining or both. For example, one of my clients that especially likes the evergreen approach is an endodontist (dental surgical specialist). When it comes down to it, the approaches, tools and strategies for dental surgery are “rooted” (couldn’t help it!) in tried and tested approaches. A root canal is a root canal, even if the latest YAG lasers make the process faster and more efficient.
There will always be demand for evergreen content because basic 101, proven best strategies, and “best of” pieces will always have a place in content marketing.
Make it Easier on Yourself
What helps make content “evergreen” in the digital era is the fact that “forever” isn’t quite as long as you think. The odds of a website today holding true for over ten years with largely the same content and layout is slim to none. Businesses close, they get sold, they get re-branded and the owners want an overhaul of the website. This means that evergreen content you’re writing likely has an intended lifespan of one to five years. That’s a much more feasible goal than forever.
However, you never really know when a website could stick. When writing evergreen content, avoid citations that will date the content. If there is a bunch of links or mentions of 2015 throughout the article, how’s that going to look in 2016—or 2018? The only time dates should be included is when they’re already settled in the past, such as the year the first porcelain veneer was created (it was 1928 for those gearing up for trivia night).
If you’re a writer asked to pen evergreen content, steer clear of breaking news, trending items, or just about anything that will date your piece. This is a time to cover the basics, provide a refresher course on the subject, or delve a little into history. Get as much information as you can from the client, because they might have a very different idea of “basic” pruning, home staging, re-upholstering, or whatever other niche they may be in than you do. Your best source of information with evergreen content is, well, the source. Make use of it so you and the client will be happy with the results.
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.
Some people have really strong opinions about New Year’s resolutions—kind of like the Oxford comma, Valentine’s Day, or the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s with that really cheap, sliced, fake American cheese in case you’re wondering). For me, the New Year can be used as a reminder for getting back on track, re-approaching goals that haven’t been achieved yet, or simply an excuse to reflect (after all, you’re probably not able to do much else in that holiday food-induced coma). Call them reminders, resolutions, or anything else you like. As writers, I think there are a few things we should commit to focusing on year-round.
Obviously, these “reminder-lutions” are very specific to me as a writer, but I hope you can use some of them, too. Modify them, advance them, use them as a springboard or count yourself lucky if you’ve already achieved them. Here’s to a fruitful, word-filled year!
The more eyes, the better
Our brains are so incredibly savvy that we self-correct, fill in the blanks, and do anything else possible to “fix” a typo in our heads—without actually doing it on paper. In my experience, writers and editors are complementary professionals, but from very different camps. You’re probably a better writer than editor, or vice versa. However, when it’s your piece on the chopping block, there’s no such thing as too many eyes on the paper (or too many editors).
Publishing isn’t validation
Getting published doesn’t actually validate your worth as a writer. Neither does winning a Pulitzer, or having more bylines than anyone else. You’ve heard it before—a lot of the world’s “great writers” were turned down numerous times. Consider this: In the world of literature (or blogging, or anything else writing-centric), exposure, publishing, re-posts and the like are what many people think makes someone a “real writer”.
The opposite is true in music. An artist who’s in the Top 40 or a pop (ahem, popular) artist is often seen as a sellout who doesn’t make “real music”. The “real music” is in the underground. If that same perspective was embraced for writers, think of all those underdog, unpublished, struggling, broke “real writers” we’d be celebrating!
If validation is your driving force as a writer, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Write because you have to, you want to, you have something to say and written words are your medium of choice.
SEO isn’t going anywhere, so learn to love it
If your writing appears online, SEO matters. Learn to follow the best practices, love them, and use them as a tool for getting your pieces seen. The purpose of SEO is to connect readers with the best, most relevant content they’re searching for. SEO isn’t out to get you. If that means proper keyword placement and density, so be it. A good writer will be able to create organic, SEO-rich content without losing any of their style or value. Rise to the challenge.
Accept that some people won’t like your writing (or you)
There’s no such thing as writing (or a person) that appeals to everyone. You’ll get rejected (sometimes numerous times) and have some harsh criticism tossed your way. Writers need to have thick skin for self-preservation, but unfortunately many sensitive types are attracted to writing. Don’t get me wrong, sensitivity is a highly desirable trait that has many upsides, but it can also make you vulnerable to some severe self-esteem blows.
I have two experiences to share with you. I published my first book of poems in 2014, “The Last Exotic Petting Zoo”, via a traditional print press. One of the poems included was previously published in a poetry journal. However, it was rejected by another journal first—complete with a lengthy “criticism” (around 1,000 words in length) that wasn’t criticism at all, but rather an attack. The piece was called “clichéd”, “weak”, “disappointing” and other unhelpful things with no direction on bettering it. This particular poem was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and included in the book. Not everyone will love what you write, but know the difference between constructive criticism and someone taking things out on you.
The other example was with a past client. Each writer had an editor (although we never “mixed” and none of us even knew the names of our editors—the projects all passed through an internal system). By mistake, my editor accidentally emailed me as well as the managers/owners of the company with a long list of why she didn’t like me as a person (not my writing). It started out, “Jessica just isn’t likable”.
The reminder-lution? Stay professional. Work on thickening your skin while preserving the good stuff about being sensitive. And remember that if a remark is more attack than constructive, it’s about them—not you or your writing.
You don’t have to be a stereotype
All great writers are drunks. Depressed. Suicidal or self-harming. Self-involved to a narcissistic level. Sex starved or unable to be in a healthy, committed relationship. The stereotypes about writers run rampant—and everyone has their demons or struggles. I’ve had friends tell me “You should try writing drunk.” Luckily (for my liver and life in general), I’m a terrible writer when I drink. You don’t have to be self-destructive, have a torrid past, or have dangerous vices in order to be a fantastic writer. Material is all around you, so there’s no need to create a surplus.
These are my reminder-lutions for 2015 and beyond. How are you going to be a better writer in the next year?