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Best Articles for Writers 2011

When you do a monthly best-articles post for freelance writers, there’s only one place that can lead.

That’s right — I’ve rounded up all my monthly best picks and then culled through over 100 nominees, to find my picks for the very best articles on writing and blogging for the whole year.

In case you’re wondering, this was hard! I decided to suspend my usual rule of not allowing any one site to have more than one entry.

But no one writer was allowed more than one entry. As is my habit, I also went for a mix of writing and blogging topics for both beginners and more seasoned scribes.

Boiled it all down..and these are my must-reads.

Enjoy!

 

Have a wonderful New Year’s weekend, all. May better writing income be yours in 2012!

What were your favorite online articles this year, writers? Feel free to add to my list.

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Fix Your Writer Website With This Video Critique

Last week, I kicked off a fun contest — my webmaster David Robert Hogg offered to do a free writer website review for one lucky reader of this blog.

And we all got lucky — he actually chose two winners and provided 20 minutes of detailed critique of each. This video is packed with insights about design, usability, and how to set up your site to rank well on search engines.

Thanks to all the writers who entered and shared their questions about how to improve their writer websites.

Congrats to Heather Tucker of Cloggie Central and to Tom Bentley of TomBentley.com, who won the prize! Below you can check out David’s critique of their writer websites.

Enjoy all!

Can’t see that? Try clicking this link.

I had a few thoughts of my own, beyond what David goes into in the video:

Cloggie Central: Heather, I searched and searched but could not learn your last name from your site. That doesn’t present you professionally. I finally figured it out by clicking your email link (which was very difficult to find — it should be in your sidebar and visible at all times, on every page).

If your email address didn’t happen to have it, I would be unable to learn your whole name. I see David found your full name credited on photos in the blogroll…so why the mystery? I would imagine you’re sending quite a few possible clients away from the site due to this problem.

I totally agree with David that a tagline for your blog is essential, so people instantly know what the site is about.

This site has a dual nature in that it’s promoting your blog about Holland, but it’s also trying to sell your writing and photography services. I wonder if your tagline might help you swing it more toward getting hired with something like, “An expat travel writer/photographer in Holland”  — or something that puts the emphasis on the fact that you are a pro writer.

Tom Bentley: I’d just say I’m not a fan of the dual/left-hand column layout you have going on — see if you can get it down to one right-hand column, which is where most people expect to see the sidebar. As David says, simplifying will help here.

I think David didn’t mention it, but getting the .wordpress out of your URL would make you look more like a serious writer pro. It doesn’t cost much, and if you won’t invest that little, it makes prospects wonder how serious you are.

I’m really down on writers using a quote from a famous writer as their tagline. You’re the writer here! It feels like you can’t think of anything good to tell us about who you are.

Like Heather’s site, The Write Word has a dual nature — you’re trying to get hired, and you also seem to be trying to build a writer blog. If it were me I’d write a landing page for the home that’s about your writing services, instead of having the blog be the home page.

If you didn’t win, know that members of Freelance Writers Den can get feedback on their writer websites as part of their membership. The doors reopen soon — get on the waiting list to be first in the door.

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Do You Have Great Story Ideas Hiding in Your Own Life?

By Eric Summers

Coming up with ideas for a story or an article can be a struggle. Fortunately, there is a great font of story ideas that you can always tap. It’s called “your life.”

A good deal of non-fiction writing deals with solving problems. This is why niches like weight loss and getting out of debt are so lucrative for many writers – they deal with solving problems most people face at least once in their life.

Unfortunately, weight loss and money may not be the only problems that we face in our own lives. Although our problems can make life stressful, they also give writers plenty of material.

If you are struggling to come up with something to write about, then focus inward and look at the problems you are personally facing. See if there are any story ideas lurking in there. For instance, I recently realized there are three pretty good story ideas in my own life just waiting to be written:

  1. I had a close friend get sued by a debt collector. I spent weeks helping her handle this situation before I realized it was a great story idea. Debt collectors are an unfortunate part of many people’s lives, and those people need help knowing what their rights are and how to prevent unscrupulous collectors from taking advantage of them.
  2. I have been struggling for months trying to figure out how to buy a new home when I already own one. This is a critical problem for me because I need to buy a new house before I can get married. With the economy as it is and the housing market still in a slump, this turned out to be another great story idea. I hit the folks up at HARO for insight and got expert advice to use in both my article and my own life.
  3. I have a daughter who is 11, and I am always worried about whether or not she is ready to be left alone at home and if so, for how long. This is a big concern for a single parent and chronic worrier like myself. By talking to other parents, teachers, and safety experts, I have enough material for another story.

As a freelance writer, you spend a lot of time writing. You can make that freedom work for you — use your reporting skills to not only help others solve their problems, but solve a few in your own life as well.

Have you written a story that came from your own life recently? Tell us how you turned your life experience into a salable story.

Eric Summers is a freelance writer from Southern Indiana. He can be found over at Professional Writing Services.

7 Stress-Busting Interview Secrets from a Successful Freelance Writer

I’ve been talking to writers a lot lately about interviews.

Many writers are trying to move away from content mills right now, and they haven’t written reported stories before. They’re grappling with all the fine points of finding sources and getting them to not just talk, but say something fascinating.

Most good-paying assignments involve talking to experts, not just conducting a few minutes of Internet research. And the difference between getting lukewarm quotes and sparkling, wonderful quotes is often also the difference between $100 articles and $2,000 articles.

I’ve written many of the latter in the past year, and I can tell you interviewing is a skill you want to master if you need to grow your income.

I’ve shared some interview tips before, but I’ve learned there are some fine points of interviewing that new writers often don’t know. Here’s what I’ve learned doing hundreds of interviews over the course of 12 years of staff-writing jobs:

1. Emails are not interviews. To begin at the beginning, emails are emails, and interviews involve speaking to people either on the phone or in person. The idea that emails are equivalent to interviews seems to be spreading like a virus lately, as writers come into the field from routes that don’t pass through journalism school or a newspaper staff job. But you shouldn’t email sources your questions and then use their email responses as your quotes unless you absolutely must — like, because the source is in the wilds of Borneo for a month.

If you do quote from an email, you must cite it appropriately, as in: “That sucks,” said Joe Shmoe in an email response. Better-paying markets will expect real interviews and may be teed off if they discover you’ve tried to pass off email transcribing as interviewing. In any case, you want to talk to people live — you’ll have a chance to ask more followup questions and tease out the really good stuff.

2. What matters is establishing rapport. In the first weeks of my first staff-writing job, I went on a road trip with my editor to Vancouver, B.C. Our publication covered home improvement retail, and we went to visit the owner of a large lumberyard chain at his company headquarters. My New York-based editor conducted the interview, and I was astonished to find that he didn’t really ask him much! We had traveled all this way, and they basically just shot the breeze for a half-hour. Afterwards, I asked him why he hadn’t tried to learn more about the man’s business or asked him any tough questions.

“Oh, I just came here to build my relationship with him,” my editor replied. “Now, any time I need to know something what’s going on in this market, I can always call and ask him, because I took the time to come out here and meet him in person, and get to know him.”

Don’t be the sort of reporter who vacuums facts from a sources’ head and then leaves them a spent husk, and never returns again. Instead, build a relationship and cultivate sources you can use again. See if you can find a personal level on which to connect — a hobby, your kids, where you went to college. The more relationships you build with sources, the easier your work gets over time. And you never know when you’ll be writing on a similar topic again.

3. The source is as nervous as you are. Often, new writers tell me they’re petrified about picking up the phone and making that interview call. Later, they often report back that the source seemed as nervous as they were! Remember that interview subjects may be worried about how they’ll appear in print. So breathe, and relax. Your calm manner will help your source relax, too.

4. Be prepared. I used to want to crawl under my desk in shame at one staff job, when one reporter who sat right near me would loudly begin nearly every interview with, “So, tell me about your business! What do you do exactly? I haven’t had a chance to look at your website yet.” Really? There’s just no excuse for that. Learn about your source and your topic, and come prepared to ask some informed questions. That way you won’t waste sources’ time, and you might be able to work with them again. Speaking of which…

5. Be brief. The amount of time you spend with a source should be proportional to how much space they will get in your story. Unless you’re writing a 3,000-word feature profile of someone, you shouldn’t take more than a half-hour or 45 minutes, in my view. If you just need a few quick quotes from someone, take 15 minutes and be done with it. I used to know a reporter who’d do every interview in person and spend multiple hours with each subject. Many would later call the paper to complain about how he had wasted their time, after seeing that large time investment translated into one quote in the story! Be respectful of people’s time and don’t give them unrealistic expectations of how much you’ll quote them.

6. Get more story ideas. The end of an interview is a great time to learn more about your topic, and find additional ideas for future stories. End your conversation with one or two questions like these: “What else is going on in your industry right now? Who are the interesting new thought leaders? What will happen next year? What was the big topic of discussion at the last conference you attended?” Forget your question list at the end, and find out what’s on their mind. You’ll often leave with your next query letter ready to write.

7. Expect to follow up. Some writers I’ve mentored are terrified they’ll forget to ask something, and then have to endure the mortal embarrassment of calling the source back again. They worry they’ll never be able to get another response. But unless you’re interviewing a reclusive billionaire who’s giving his only interview in decades or some such, this fear is really unfounded. No source is going to yell at you for asking a followup question. In fact, callbacks are routine. Often, your editor might ask for a new fact that would require a callback, anyway.

My normal final comment to sources is, “What is the best way to reach you, for when I’m writing this up and I remember what I forgot to ask you?”

Get the FREE E-BOOK: 100+ Freelance Writing Questions Answered!

 

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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #4: How to Get Great Clients in 60 Seconds

Ever been tongue-tied at a networking event?

Somebody asked, “And what do you do?”

And you said, “I’m a freelance writer.”

So far so good.

But then they followed up with… “So, what kind of writing do you do? Who have you written for?”

And everything fell apart.

You didn’t know what to say.

How can you prevent this problem?

You need a “me” speech

I was introduced to this concept by IJ Schecter, author of 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less.

What’s a “me” speech?

It’s a short script about yourself. It tells what type of writing you do — white papers? blog posts? — and what types of clients you do it for. National magazines? Trade publications? Small businesses? The Fortune 500?

If you have a specialized industry you cover, it talks about that too.

I had developed a “me” speech over the years. I just never thought of it as that. But that’s what it is.

If you don’t have one, you should write one.

Why?

Networking happens everywhere

Even if you think you will never go to an official networking event, you should write a “me” speech.

You never know when an opportunity to find a client will appear — at a family dinner, in an elevator, at a professional conference. Be ready to take advantage of that moment.

Also, writing the speech helps you clarify what you’re doing, and the types of clients you’re looking for.

What are you looking for?

I remember being flummoxed the first time a networker asked me who my ideal client is. The question made me realize they weren’t small businesses anymore. Which is what that particular room was full of.

I needed to find new networking groups where my ideal clients were hanging out.

Once I did, I was able to get much better-paying gigs.

When you crystallize what you’re looking for, that helps people in your network find it for you. It also helps you ask for it with confidence.

What’s my “me” speech?

Right now, I’d say “I’m a freelance writer specializing in business. I write articles for national magazines and websites, blog for Entrepreneur, and write for big companies in Seattle and around the world.”

My “me” speech has changed a lot over the years. Remember to review and update your speech now and then, as your career progresses.

Final tip: Practice saying your “me” speech out loud, to make sure it’s conversational. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading your resume.

What’s your “me” speech? Write one and leave it in the comments below.

Need more marketing help? Here’s a place where you can get a bunch…

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Win a Free, Video Review of Your Writer Website

If you want to earn well as a freelance writer today, you need a writer website.

Seriously. If you have no site, it’s like you are nobody. You don’t exist.

More than just having a writer website, you need that site to impress prospects and make them want to pick up the phone and hire you.

If you’re like most writers, you also need to get that website done on a budget.

What makes a strong writer website that helps you get hired?

We’re going to find out next week.

My webmaster David Robert Hogg has generously offered to do a free video website review for one lucky reader from this blog.

David’s video reviews are great — I actually connected with him after he did a video review of this blog, giving me dozens of tips for how to make it better. His video reviews usually run 45 minutes and costs $199, so this is a great opportunity to get some high-quality advice for free!

Everybody really wins in this contest.

How? We’re going to post the winner’s video here on the site next week. So we’ll all get to learn along with the winner about how to make a great writer website.

Contest rules:

Easy!

Leave us your writer site URL in the comments.

 

Tell us the biggest question you have about your writer site.

David and I will pick the most intriguing site and set of questions for the review. We’ll let the winner know by Monday, and the winning video will be up here later in next week.

What would you like to know about your writer website? Leave that comment and URL.

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