I have been at this for a few months now, and picked up some tips that make life for a freelance writer much easier. When I went into this I thought it would just be writing, submitting, editing, writing. I was wrong. There are all of those things, but there is also this looming issue of social media hanging over you. As a 47 year old woman, social media is still somewhat a mystery to me. I am maybe more savvy than some, but def not an expert. There is so much controversy over whether a platform is important to getting publishing deals, and if you blog like me, you want readers and followers, so unless you have a teenager in the house willing to teach you, you need to learn how to navigate the waters of self-promotion.
The paradox I have encountered in this world so far is to get an entry level writing job, you must provide links to published pieces. But to get published pieces, you must have an entry writing job. It really is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I think this is why so many writers take on work as unpaid interns, or agree to contracts where they are paid through social promotion, and portfolio building.
Add to this we are currently in a moment where publishing houses, magazines, and writing gigs in general are cutting way back. Which means the market is flooded with writers looking for work. It is interesting to be starting this career during a pandemic.
Here are a few sites and apps I have found really useful:
For those without graphic design software, this is a game changer. Back in my teaching days I had the whole Adobe Creative Suite, but since going solo I am getting creative about finding free alternatives. Canva can be used on your phone or computer and it makes creating a post for any social media easy. There are thousands of free templates that you can customize to your needs. It is more limited than InDesign, but it is also free. Once I started using it to create beautiful posts, I noticed how many other influencers were using it as well. It will up your social media presence, just make sure you customize it so you don’t start looking like everybody else.
One part of my recent intern job has been author interviews. Temi is a godsend! The first interview I transcribed, I did by ear. It took me three days of listening, typing, going back and listening again, editing, and on and on. It was excruciating. And that was with an author who spoke loudly, clearly, and without accent. My editor turned me on to Temi. Sign up is easy, and they offer a free trial for the first transcription. After that it is….per minute. Even though it is not free, it is indispensable for transcription. The quality is excellent and the in document editing options are very approachable. I finished an interview transcription with an author who spoke at very low volume with a strong accent in just a couple hours. the interview itself was one hour.
This seems like a low-jack solution to record, and it is, but I came to it after various apps failed me. Obviously, if you are doing an in-person interview, use your voice memo option on your phone. But, as we shelter in place, interviews are happening more frequently over the phone. I tried NoNotes first, and was sorely disappointed. The sound quality is poor, and I did not realize there were only 30 minutes of free trial. It cut me off in the midst of an interview- really embarrassing. The transcription of that portion of the call was also poor. I probably should have researched the app more, but my editor told me to use it, so I did. After the cut-off, I called the author back, apologized profusely, and recorded the rest of the convo with my phone on speaker and my computer voice recording on. The quality was really good- much louder and clearer than NoNotes. It also easily downloaded to a file I could feed into Temi. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.
I got some good advice about how to use Insta from some other writer friends. It is a great venue to introduce yourself, your life, what you care about, what you are reading & writing to a large audience through image-driven content. I try to do this- though I am still learning. I create posts through Canva or on my own and try to post daily. Sometimes it is not as often, but I at least repost other’s content daily through IG Stories. Also, make sure you get a business account. This allows you to see analytics. Many people in my writing community are bookstagrammers. They read and review books and post about them on IG. They also post challenges, stack shots, and other windows into their reading world. My writing centers mostly on food as a lens for social & political commentary so I post lots of food pics, and links to my food blogs. I also follow chefs, restaurants, and other food writers to stay active in the community I write in. With Insta, image is the king. Make sure you have beautiful photos, a pithy caption, and hashtags that don’t look spammy. I always search “Best Hashtags” for whatever I am posting and add my hashtags in the comment section so they do not crowd up my post.
I use Twitter to post about my daily writing, connect with authors and publishers, and participate in writing/publishing challenges. I follow writers I admire. I comment on their posts, even if they do not comment back. I engage with those who comment on my posts. I try to use it as a platform to build my writing community. I have found other online writing groups through Twitter that I will discuss in my next post. For me, Twitter is all about the writing and connecting to other writers.
I have to say I came late to this one. I eschewed FB for years because of the rampant bias in ads and the unrestrained running commentary about everything from politics to going to the bathroom. I started being more active since freelancing. There are some great groups for writers that offer supportive feedback and a community when face-to-face is not an option. Also, my blog following has grown the most through FB. If you are trying to grow platform, I don’t think you can ignore FB, especially if you are a middle-aged writer like me.
Let me start by saying, I love Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop. If money was no object, I would certainly use them. But, as a mostly unpaid, entry-level writer, money counts. Snapseed was suggested to me by a photographer friend who uses it regularly with phone pics. I love it. The “looks” edit is pretty straightforward- lighting and colorwash. The “tools” are less approachable. The app gives you the ability to do many of the edits you do in LR or PS like white balance adjustment, curves, perspective correction etc. But, like in Adobe there is a learning curve. There are lots of great tutorials here. Once you become comfortable with Snapseed’s robust capabilities, photo editing will be fun and seamless. I have had many comments on photos I edited with Snapseed, and it made my blog posts much more attractive.
Sometimes you don’t have a fantastic image to go with your blog post or social media. It happens. I have found Pexels library of free photos a lifesaver on those occasions. There is an easy search bar that leads to hundreds of high quality images within the topic you are searching. If you have some great content you want to get out, but no images to go with it, do yourself a favor and give Pexel a look. Images are really important no matter what your are posting. In fact, the image at the top of this post is from Pexels just as an example.
Here are ways to get those coveted ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies, digital and physical), if book reviews are part of your repertoire:
Let me first say, I prefer print books. I have tried for years to make the jump to digital reading, and my brain just doesn’t like it. But, sometimes you cannot get a physical ARC of that book you really want to read and review. Enter Net Galley. I have received ARCs through Goodreads, from publicity agents directly, but Net Galley makes it easy to request titles you genuinely want to read. You must sign up for an account, create a profile, and agree to review the books you receive. I have gotten all the books I requested thus far, but I am picky and only request books I know will be hard to get physical copies of. If you enjoy digital reading, this is a treasure trove of great titles in all genres.
You have to do a little research to find the publishing house and imprint the book you want is being published under. Then you need to locate their publicity contact. You also need to be attractive to the publisher which entails a following on social media and your blog. I was really lucky; I established a good relationship with my local independent bookstore, Sundog Books, and not only have they given me ARCs they received, but when a book I want is not being released for a while, they give me the contact to request an ARC. Moral of the story is that relationships matter. Build your following through organic conversation online, and develop those in-person ties to people who love books as much as you.
Novel Knight lays everything out about requesting ARCs very clearly, including an email template on this blog post.
These have all been helpful for me as I work to establish my voice in the writing world, but it is also important for writers to find their people. Next post I will write about establishing a community, and finding ways to hold yourself accountable to writing every day.