How to Stop Your Freelance Writing Career from Slipping into the Twilight Zone

Have you picked up some new lingo recently?

Retweet. Blog. Hashtag. Friend. Like. New words, and old words with new meanings.

Freelance writers should pay close attention to these changes. Because words are powerful.

New words signal a shift in our culture. The way we communicate is changing — and I believe it’s going to transform how writers earn a living in the future.

What’s happening now reminds me a bit eerily of the old Twilight Zone TV series’ episode, “The Parallel,” in which an astronaut returns to find Earth is similar to — but not exactly like — the planet he left.

One notable change: He can’t read anymore, because the language has evolved in a different direction. His child has to teach him how to read again.

Otherwise, he’ll be left behind in a bewildering, familiar-yet-strange society.

This is where freelance writers who don’t know social media are right now.

There’s a new language that’s emerged, and a new way of connecting. If you don’t understand it, I believe you will soon find yourself in a parallel world — one where you will struggle to earn well.

Eventually, you may find yourself with a limited potential client pool, as social media spreads into every corner of media and business life.

A couple comments I’ve heard recently:

“What’s a hashtag, anyway?”

“My editor told me to send the related links with my story…what does that mean?”

When I see a blog-post headline like, “Another Day,” I know that blogger doesn’t understand Internet search and how important headlines are now.

What’s happening here?

Writers are getting left behind

These writers are slowly making themselves obsolete, because they don’t know how to communicate online.

I don’t tell you this because I want to scare you.

I want you to see this coming and get ahead of it.

Why you should learn about social media

Writers who aren’t on social media often tell me they don’t do it because they don’t get it. Where’s the payoff?

So here’s what social media has done for me lately:

  • One editor I found on Twitter last year assigned me ten $2,000 online articles.
  • I routinely locate hard-to-find sources I need by asking my network on LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • I connected with the founder of a major corporation (unreachable through ordinary corporate-PR channels) whom I urgently needed to speak to for a book gig by commenting on his blog.
  • I discovered business-finance sources I needed for one story no longer check email, and can only be contacted on Twitter.
  • A top blogger contacted me for a guest post after seeing one of my posts linked on Twitter, which led to several awesome writing opportunities.
  • I make $100 an hour training small business owners on how to socialize their blog posts.
  • I got lucrative blogging gigs for both magazines and businesses based on my social-media audience and knowledge of social-media promotion.

It’s already an advantage if you’re social-media savvy

But a year or two from now, you may be unable to develop queries and get the interviews you need for today’s online markets. Which are growing bigger and more lucrative all the time.

So if you haven’t already taken the plunge, get started and learn it. There’s plenty on this blog about Twitter and LinkedIn (even more here), and more all over the Internet.

Yes, it can seem intimidating when others have thousands of followers.

But I can promise you, it won’t be easier to start next year.

Are you active in social media? Leave a comment and tell us about how you use social media as a writer.

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35 comments on “How to Stop Your Freelance Writing Career from Slipping into the Twilight Zone
  1. LuAnn says:

    I was Twitter and Facebook a lot, and it has helped build readership. I’ve made a lot of valuable contacts on Twitter. One of my favorite things is in a crunch, I can tweet that I need to talk to an expert in fill-in-the-blank and suddenly I have five new resources at hand.

    I have a LinkedIn account and occasionally post work there, but now I see that I also need to amp up my efforts on this front! Thanks for the push!!

    Seems like a lot of writers I speak to are worried about the time factor and are afraid of getting sucked in to the Facebook/Twitter vortex and never returning. It happens, sure, but be disciplined and get the job done! Then you can afford some vortex time. 🙂

    Wonderful reminder!

  2. Anne Wayman says:

    (Revealing my age almost) I remember when we made the transition from typewriter to computer – and more than a few said they’d never give up the tactile feel of a typewriter or some such nonsense.

    The new stuff can seem overwhelming even for folks like me who love tech. When I get that way I take a break. I’ve been known to swear I’m not learning anything new for two whole days! Or some such.

    I also know that when I’m talking to an expert sometimes I have to limit how many questions I’m willing to ask because I start to feel too dumb. But I always set it up so I can come back and ask more.

    Good article.

    • Carol Tice says:

      My favorite was the awkward in-between stage where we had electronic, programmable typewriters and you had to memorize a bunch of codes to make it format things. And of course to find out facts or research markets back when we had to trot down to the library.

      Which is why when people complain about their challenges now in getting started freelancing…you almost have to laugh. It’s so easy to find experts, and ideas, and markets now!

      I like your policy of ‘a few questions at a time’…our minds can only absorb and actually implement so much new stuff at a time anyway.

  3. Debbie Kane says:

    Carol — a suggestion for the Den: perhaps you can find someone to discuss how the “newer” social media platforms like Google+ and Pinterest benefit freelance writers (both in marketing ourselves and how these platforms can benefit our clients). Thanks!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m working on it! Chris Brogan has apparently written a new book on Google+…if I can’t lure him I’m in the market for another expert. But it’s so hard to identify ‘experts’ in something that’s brand new… 😉

    • Deb says:

      I posted this on your Six-Figure post page by mistake…the sentiment is the same!! I learn SO Much from all of your posts. I am a member of Freelance Writers Den, but do not visit as often as I should…Life gets in the way. I hope that you will teach a class in Social Media for Writers (I will buy, definitely!) I am so tired of these unenlightened local yokels in my area who teach at the Community Colleges. They think they are Social Media experts because they are young, can spell Facebook, think that Twitter is for coupons and foodtrucks, and haven’t a clue what LinkedIn can do for a professional. I appreciate your experience and success. Thanks for sharing with us “wannabes”!

      • Carol Tice says:

        Hi Deb –

        If you’re a Den member, you know we have a social media resource/training page now – check the Recordings page and scan down the index. We set that up during the Step by Step class with Laura Spencer…gotta a lotta links and 2 one-hour trainings too, in Google+ and LinkedIn.

  4. Esther says:

    As an editor, I’ve managed to use social media to find bloggers for our site, and of course it’s invaluable to driving traffic and connecting with readers.

    I’m surrounded by relatively digitally-savvy folks, so it’s always a bit of a reality check realising that we’re not as big of a group as we might think.

  5. Linda H says:

    I use Linked In a great deal and when I post blogs I use Twitter. I’m increasing my Facebook exposure and will be learning more about social media, it’s use and getting into it. FastCompany.com has been posting a multitude of articles on how fast our global business environment is changing, what consumers demand, and what is required now of all business people. This includes freelancers if we expect to move forward.

    Carol, your blog post is candid and filled with what matters. If it doesn’t drive writers to change, it should influence enough of us to follow our natural curiosity to see what you mean. Either way, marketing has changed and we all need to align with that change to stay afloat. Otherwise, we may end up like the Costa Concordia with holes in our hull and teetering on a ledge that drops to deep water from which recovery of our success will be much harder.

    Great post! Thanks for writing it.

  6. Cathie Ericson says:

    Loved this post. I have definitely seen the value of social media and am an avid user of FB and LinkedIn as well as a fun personal blog.

    I don’t do any of these specifically for networking (except LinkedIn of course) but have gotten jobs nonetheless from friends/readers who like my style.

    I will admit that while I have a Twitter handle, I have resisted diving in because I don’t want to be the newbie with only 5 followers. However, excellent point on it not ever getting any easier…Twitter is not going away (as I tell friends who have resisted FB, “If you want to know about my life, better friend me! I am not doing long emails as much as I used to”.)

    However, I think it was Dear Abby who once said to a reader who said expressed hesitation at going to medical school because they would be 50 in 5 years when they finished, “Well, how old will you be in 5 years if you don’t go?”

    So true! I willl still only have 5 followers the day I join…whether it’s today or next year. So, it might as well be today!

    • Cathie Ericson says:

      I’m in! Now I just have to figure out how to balance robust FB, LinkedIn and Twitter platforms. I am not a fan of content across sites; believe that they have different purposes. Already anticipating information overload but I am sure I will manage the juggle before long.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I personally don’t do a ton on Facebook to get clients…though I do use it to get out word about this blog. Sort of depends on what you’re promoting, but I don’t know a lot of writers who say Facebook is a big channel for getting clients for them.

        Yes, the info-overload is kind of crushing…but we all just need to suck it up and learn this stuff.

        • Debbie Kane says:

          Call me crazy but I find the social media stuff fun, even if I don’t understand how to use it all.

        • cathie ericson says:

          Right…for me Facebook is all fun and personal. I have some frients (friends/clients) but I still tell them to find me on linked in. I am quite irreverent on fb and just think it is best to have that line.

  7. Ronda Swaney says:

    I a tweet/retweet virgin, but I just tweeted your article. 🙂 I’m behind the curve on some social media, but I’m getting there as fast as I can. I love Google+ but not enough people seem to be playing along yet. I have been on board with LinkedIn for years. I haven’t gotten any work yet directly from my social media activity. So far, it’s mostly been a tool I use to convince prospects that I am who I say I am and that I’ve done the work that I told them I’ve done. I know I can use it better and make more conversions from it. That’s one goal for this year.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yay!

      Stuff your LinkedIn profile with key words about what you do…helps people find you. Businesses do a lot of searches on LI for writers, I’ve found.

  8. jaebi says:

    Social media has been integral to my fiction and business writing. It’s a great place to bounce ideas off of the crowd, find inspiration and of course, promote.

    I actually ran a cohort of workshops to help other writers and authors make the most of social media and networking last year. It was fun and I didn’t reach nearly enough writers but so many of them don’t get why it matters or place much value on the entire process. After all, it isn’t selling. Reading your article gave me some more insight into this group and why my client list isn’t spilling over with more writers 🙂

    Guess I’ll settle for doing social media storytelling for businesses!

    • Debbie Kane says:

      Jaebi — I belong to a writers’ group and most of my cohorts are fairly serious journalists (former AP, Boston Globe reporters and a former journalism professor). NONE of them use social media to the degree that I do (and I don’t consider myself a whiz yet) and two are working on books. After listening to me drone on about it for a year — hey guys, I have a blog, hey guys, I’m on Twitter, hey guys you should tune into LinkedIn — they’re slowing getting it.

      BTW — that’s why I joined Carol’s Writers’ Den. Wanted to be around other writers who “get it.”

      • Carol Tice says:

        No kidding. That’s what I LOVE about paid membership community — you suddenly have a group of all the serious writers, instead of the annoying mix of qualified and total wannabes you see on LinkedIn groups (if you’ll excuse me). I still belong to A-List for blog monetizing learning, and I love it in there, too.

  9. Debbie Kane says:

    Thanks, Carol, for another timely reminder about how important it is to keep up with technology. I haven’t gotten any writing assignments yet through social media but I’m actively trying to market what limited social media skills I have. Now I have a topic for my next blog post!

  10. jean says:

    Hey Carol! I do a bit of all of it–although not so much on Linkedin. I’ve also been getting into Pinterest a lot lately. Enjoy your posts!
    Jean

    • jean says:

      Here’s a great article about Pinterest…
      [CH] How to Promote Your Products with Pinterest – http://eepurl.com/ixvU2

      • Carol Tice says:

        I’ll see your article on Pinterest and raise you one, from my fellow Entrepreneur blogger Mikal Belicove, who is the site’s social-media expert: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/222634

        I’m not a very visual person so I don’t know if this one is for me — Instagram is the other one I see cool people using a lot lately — but I do keep hearing about Pinterest…so something to keep an eye on.

        I liked the explanation of social media we got from Brandie Kajino from SOHOSolutionist in the social-media Webinar I did for my How to Make Good Money Writing Online Webinar. It’s all like a big pinwheel, all the different flavors of social media. The more of them you’re active in, the faster the pinwheel spins…the more traction you get out of it.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think of LinkedIn as THE social media platform you want to be on. Everyone on there is ALL business and looking to make new connections. Plus its style is undemanding — you can go on there once or twice a week for 5 minutes, update your status, comment in a couple of groups or answer questions, and you’re good.

      I’ve gotten several very top-rank clients through my LinkedIn profile…it’s probably my top social-media method in terms of results. Though that one Twitter connection that brought in $20K is hard to beat.

  11. Sion Dayson says:

    I recently got my first gig from Twitter. What a thrill to get an assignment that started with one little tweet! I also find that asking a question on Twitter reaps great rewards. Within minutes I usually have several helpful responses.

    My blog isn’t focused on writing, but being involved in social media has certainly helped grow it. And since I’ve gotten a few gigs from the blog (writing about Paris), I’d say it definitely helps!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Isn’t a kick? There’s something so casual and fun about it. I love how you can connect with new people all over the world who might be good sources or prospects for you.

      I also get great results asking questions or looking for sources on social media. People love to help you with those requests, and it builds connections.

  12. Dorothy says:

    I am a social butterfly…I am on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Tagged.
    I also have several blog accounts. I like WordPress and Google+.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know I’ve got to learn more about Google+ — I’m trying to recruit an expert to come to a Den meeting training call about it so we can all learn the fine points. I gather with this new “Google plus your world” search result option that includes your Google+ activity, we all need to get on there.

      • Kimberly Rotter says:

        Opinion on Google Plus your world is mixed. Carol (or anyone else reading this comment who might be interested), are you a member of a Facebook group called Dirty Little Social Media Questions? I sent you a friend request in case you want me to add you to the group, but I can see from your number of friends that you probably keep your Facebook personal, for your actual friends only. If you are connected with Jennifer Mitchell she can add you to the group. I believe she is the admin. Anyway, I ask because I’ve seen some interesting commentary on that page about Google Plus your world. And Google Plus, for that matter. It seems that many businesses are setting it up because they want to be present on all major sites, but it’s not really being adopted yet, so engagement is low. I have yet to come across anyone who is really into it or who predicts total integration into online life in the manner of Facebook and Twitter.

        (Now that I think about it, I guess anyone can search for that group on FB and submit a request to join. I don’t think you actually have to be added by a member of the group.)

        This was a great post. I enjoyed reading it.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Ha! Jennifer Mitchell I think was one of my Tree.com editors…I will ask her about it.

          I know people are in a snit about Google+ Your World, as it seems to fly in the face of the idea that Google will give you the most relevant results..but I bet it’s not going away.

          Google+’s adoption rate is 3x that of the other really fast-growing platforms…it’s definitely not to be counted out.

  13. Thanks for another great post, Carol! I use social media voraciously–that is how I get a majority of my leads that are not referrals from current/past clients!

    I tweet a “Word of the Day” every day; my blog posts go out on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn; and I (try) to keep my website/blog updated so that it stays at the top of search engines.

    It is time-consuming, but isn’t all necessary marketing?

    Pam

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yep. And with social media you don’t have to leave your desk, which I know a lot of writers really like.

      I love that you’ve developed a ‘thing’ you do every day that is just fun and inspiring and not self-promotional. I always think the woman who created the #amwriting thread is the coolest. Great way to get known around the Twittersphere.

  14. Amy Gutman says:

    Another great, inspiring piece, Carol. Social media has been key to everything I’ve done on the freelance front, as well as to launching (& getting traction for) my blog–which in turn has brought in more paying freelance work.

    Would love to hear more on how you go about connecting with editors (& paying gigs) via social media (Twitter, etc.)

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