Why blog, when you can shoot yourself in the foot?

laptop and cell phone
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Velasquez
A writer friend who’s been blogging for as long as I have—almost eight years—wonders about recent claims that blogs are old hat. In view of the popularity of Pinterest, Tumblr, and sites like Facebook that facilitate simple sharing, is creating new content actually necessary?

It depends on the user. Is the user a writer?

Our blogs and websites are becoming our professional portfolios. They’re our marketing collateral. We can make them into whatever works for our particular professions. For example, a photographer could post thousands of words and still never convey to her prospective clients what one sample portrait or piece of photojournalism on her website could demonstrate about her talent. Likewise a fashion designer. Or a dog groomer. Creative writers, on the other hand, need to show that they can write. Words. Not shared videos or Instagram snapshots.

The person who holds a factory job on an assembly line or drives a truck or teaches school doesn’t need to use a blog or another form of social media to attract business or establish professional credibility. A bartender isn’t required to know how to take a great photo or write a poignant essay or design a kickass steampunk wedding gown. Most people need social media only to connect and communicate with other people socially. Sharing a 140-word tweet or a bad selfie or a book review written by a critic is more than sufficient to make those human connections and stimulate the type of small talk that would happen in real life.

A creative writer’s objectives include attracting readers, something a blog is designed to enable. Beyond blogging, in order to be seen as a professional in what amounts to the entertainment industry, a creative writer needs to reach the largest possible audience and should communicate in a variety of the media his or her audience uses. Every ambitious online literary journal now links to the journal’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter stream, Instagram, Tumblr, and sometimes a Pinterest board or other social media. Book publishers aren’t far behind. Each professional writer these days has the ability to do the same amount of outreach that publishers are doing.

Competitors are using the best available resources to make themselves discoverable. A creative writer who chooses not to is at a completely voluntary disadvantage. Would anyone who’s been blogging for eight years care to listen to someone complain about shortcomings… that are self-imposed? Please, don’t get me started.

Practical business strategies for freelance writers

home office
Photo courtesy of Louis J. Hall

If you want to make a living as a freelance writer, then you’ll need a realistic perspective of the writing endeavors that pay best in relation to the amounts of time they require. Having recently faced financial reality when filing your income tax return, you ought to know exactly how much money it takes to support your household for 365 days.

I’m in the midst of reading Chris Higgins’ $2.99 ebook, The Blogger Abides: A Practical Guide to Writing Well & Not Starving, but it’s not too soon to recommend it as a primer for anyone who wants to make a profession of freelance writing. Based on the author’s experience as a paid blogger, the book is filled with succinct advice that’s logical and easy to understand.

The markets for different types of writing will fluctuate, but the laws of supply and demand remain predictable. Lower barriers to entry (digital publishing and online distribution) enable and increase suppliers (writers). If the demand (from readers) for the product (written work) remains steady (it has!) and does not increase along with the supply, then prices for the product (written work) will decrease. Whimpering and wallowing in self-pity will not change this.

In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky makes the point, “If everyone can do something, it is no longer rare enough to pay for, even if it is vital.”

Advances in free or inexpensive web editing, blogging, or content management software have all but removed the technological barriers that existed when the Web was new. Now that virtually everyone can publish their written work, publishing per se gradually is shifting from a professional to an amateur endeavor. Some say the transformation already has occurred.

Web-based content is distributed globally and is more easily retrievable than printed materials, which means the best and the most widely discussed writing on the Web can be reproduced and shared with few obstacles. If “published” no longer distinguishes the professional from the amateur writer, then perhaps “widely read” and “paid” have become the new criteria. How to find readers and get paid are the problems a freelance writer needs to solve now. It should be some consolation that being a good writer matters as much as it ever did.

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