A Rocketing Business Plan Will Launch Your Blog

Lift Off! Rocket Launch Your Blog With A PlanA number of people I know are launching, re-designing, abandoning, or selling their blog right now. An equal number are starting new blogs. One fellow writer mentioned how hard it is to keep a high level of enthusiasm after blogging for a while — more than a few months, but not quite a year.

I liken it to writing the middle of a novel. You may know where your story is going, you may have goals and some idea of how to achieve them, but getting there is another story. In the case of novel-writing — and blogging — you just need to plow through. And a support system of fellow writers can help.

Another way to avoid the middle-of-the-blog doldrums is to enter blogging with a clear business plan. If you are blogging to make money, approach it as you would any other business. If you started selling Mary Kay, opened a corner deli, started a day care center in your home or launched any other kind of business, would you give up within the first year just because you were bored? Since most of these businesses require an investment of time and money — and a certain level of commitment to other people — you’d keep it going. When you launch a blog, you have a commitment to your readers. If you plan to stay the course, start with a solid plan.

Identify your target market.

The first step in your blogging business plan is to identify your target market. The target market should be easy, but you might be surprised by who you think your blog is targeting versus the potential readers you actually attract. That audience may be much larger than you imagine.

For instance, my new blog, targets parents who intend to raise their children following the principles and beliefs of the Law of Attraction. But I may also attract life and business coaches, people who love shopping for baby and household products, and fellow writers. I may even gain a following from other blogs — people who just enjoy my writing. Knowing who you’re targeting will help you when you reach out to potential readers on social media sites — and may also give you new ideas for posts.

[Editor’s Note:
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Market Samurai: Niche Market Research and Search Engine Optimization Tool

Identify and evaluate your competition.

When I say “evaluate your competition”, I don’t mean to look over your shoulder at other blogs you fear are better than yours. In fact, the blogging world is so friendly, once you find your competitors you may forge relationships with them. Trade links. Share guest posts. Inspire each other. Like wealth, readers are abundant in the Universe and there are plenty to go around.

Set goals.

When one blog owner I work with set goals that were tremendously high compared to where readership was at that time, I chalked it up to the old adage, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” But in the first month of tracking results, we came incredibly close to reaching those goals. Dream big — you’ll never know what you can accomplish until you work at it, but if you aim too low, you’re limiting yourself.

Make a promotions and marketing plan.

Once you have your goals written down (don’t forget that important step!) make a plan to reach them. Does it involve increasing your social media following on Twitter and Facebook? Growing your mailing list? Guest blogging on high-traffic sites? Landing radio or TV appearances? All of these things can help you grow your blog readership — and keep you inspired when the going gets rough. If you intend to monetize your blog, research the best ways to do so and put those programs into place.

Track your results.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Many professional bloggers use Google Analytics for tracking their traffic but there are plenty of ways to measure your hits and, of course, income from your blog. Whatever you use, follow it closely, tracking results weekly.

Blog, blog, blog.

Regular, high-quality content and community interaction keeps readers coming back and attracts new fans. This is the hard part when you’re in those middle stages, where it feels like you’re almost there but you’re not getting much feedback. Keep going. Keep your goals in sight (literally and figuratively!) And remember that you’re not alone.

Of course, there are other elements to running a successful blog, but getting back to basics can keep you going when the going gets tough.

Have you launched a blog? What did you learn in the process?

Image Credit: 06-29-06 © Stephen Sweet

How (and Why) to Create a Portfolio of Clips

A writing friend of mine recently turned down a relatively low-paying assignment for a well-known print publication widely distributed on newsstands. Until now, she’s only written for the Web, and it stung a bit to say “no” to an actual “printed-on-paper” clip.

But the topic just didn’t appeal to her and she realized it would be a lot of work for a very small amount of money. Since she really doesn’t want to write for print in the future, a clip holds very little value for her.

Since the majority of my writing experience has been in print publications, she asked my opinion about the concept of “clips.” What are clips? And do you need them?

What is a “Clip?”

A writing “clip” carries the broad definition of any writing sample that has been published anywhere (including on the Web.)

The word “clip” comes from the days when writers would use scissors to cut (“clip”) their article from a newspaper or magazine, glue it on a sheet of white paper (for uniformity), make a clean photocopy and send it to their favorite magazine along with a winning query in the hopes of getting an assignment.

Nowadays, most writers scan in their clips and attach a PDF to their e-mailed query. (Am I showing my age?)

Do You Need Clips?

Some prospective clients today actually request “samples” rather than clips. There’s a big difference. A writing sample is simply something you wrote. It doesn’t have to have been published. A clip, however, has been published and implies experience. It can give you the leg up over the competition when you apply for a job or submit a query.

Ideally, you will accrue a variety of the clips in the fields you want to work in. A well-rounded magazine writer, for instance, wants to have clips of:

  • Q & A interviews
  • News items
  • Feature stories
  • Personality profiles
  • How-to articles

Many beginning writers ask me, “I don’t have any clips, and they ask for clips. What do I do?” Easy — send a sample. Don’t let a lack of clips hold you back from applying for your dream job or submitting to your dream publication. If they say yes, Voila! You have your first honest-to-goodness clip. Now what do you do with it?

What Should You Do with a Clip?

Scan it in to your computer and save it in a folder titled “Clips.” If it’s already electronic, then do a screen capture and, again, save it on your hard drive. Just because your article is on the Web now, don’t assume it will be there forever. Whether it started life digitally or on paper, also put it on some sort of back-up source, too… an external hard drive, flash drive or CD.

To easily find your clips on the Web, set up Google Alerts for your name. If your name is frequently misspelled, set up Google alerts for alternate spellings, too.

Then, when you need a particular type of article to showcase your writing skills, you can go to that folder on your hard drive and pull out an appropriate story. You can choose to sort your clips by date, publication/industry or style of story. You might even want to cross-reference them so you can find what you need easily.

Remember, only include an attachment if the client/editor says it’s okay. Otherwise, copy and paste the text in the body of the email, including the name of the publication where it originally appeared, and the date (if it’s less than one year old).

It’s totally okay to use older clips if they’re relevant, especially if you can’t see the date on the clip. It’s also okay to use a clip with no byline, or a clip with a pseudonym. (Although you may want to point it out in your query or cover letter.)

For my friend, who really has no aspirations to write for print magazine markets in the future, it was smart to turn down the assignment. Clips are worthless if they can’t help you achieve your writing goals.

Learn from My Mistakes

The answer to the question, “What should you do with clips?” is very different from the answer I gave when my friend asked me: “What do YOU do with clips?” I have clips dated from 1990 and on piled in Rubbermaid containers in my attic. They are, essentially, acting as home insulation.

No one told me back when I got my first clip to start scanning them in so I’d have a digital archive forever. But then I guess I’d have to buy fiberglass insulation to keep the upstairs offices warm all winter, so maybe I’m ahead of the game?

What do YOU do with clips?

How NOT To Generate Controversy With A Blog Post

Controversial blog posts are one way to get your readers talking, commenting and sharing the links to your blog which — of course — generates traffic.

But there’s a fine line between encouraging controversial discussion and going completely over the top.

Here are six ways to generate controversy with a blog post that you should avoid.

  1. Insulting your readers. Using words you’d hear on a playground (“stupid-head” … and worse) doesn’t support your argument, and it doesn’t paint you in the best light as a human being. And why would anyone want to visit the blog of someone they don’t respect?

    Liking you is a completely different thing; take Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who calls these right-wing talk show hosts like-able, but plenty of people respect their opinions, or at least care enough about what they say to keep tuning in.

    In short, your readers don’t have to LIKE you, but they should respect you. And calling people names won’t earn you respect from anyone.

  2. Failing to support your arguments. “Because I said so,” may work (for a little while) when your toddler asks you why she can’t have another cookie before dinner or soda pop before bed, but don’t expect your readers to take your word as the truth if you don’t have strong supporting arguments. As a parent, I typically believe in giving reasons for telling children “No.” As a blogger, I give my readers the same respect and support every incendiary post with facts, statistics and/or anecdotes to back up my beliefs.

  3. Disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. If you truly believe in a viewpoint, it’s fine to voice your opinions. But don’t take the side opposite of popular opinion just for the sake of controversy. You won’t be able to argue it well if you don’t really believe it. And when the argument escalates, you won’t feel good about yourself, defending a point you don’t really believe. Remember, everything you say on the Internet is there, forever, for people to read. Consider how you’re representing yourself and what you’re telling the world about your beliefs.

  4. Alienating your readers. There’s a huge difference between discussing relevant, controversial topics and putting up a post purely for shock value. Profanity and posts that cross the line over what most people would deem “appropriate in mixed company” can alienate your readers. Know your audience. You can be respectful and controversial.

  5. Permitting trolls. Everything I’ve said about how you should act in controversial posts applies to your readers, as well. It’s your blog — don’t permit behavior from others that you wouldn’t allow from yourself.

  6. Letting the argument drone on incessantly. Even the best controversies get old after a while. People begin repeating themselves. Arguments become circular. You can end any controversy politely with a statement along the lines of, “Let’s agree to disagree.” If you absolutely have to, close the comment thread before things get nasty.

Controversial posts are fun to read — and to write. If you follow the “golden rule” and keep it friendly, there’s a good chance that the next time people stop to talk around the water cooler (or, more likely, on Twitter), they’ll be talking about your blog.

What do you think makes a successful, or unsuccessful, controversial post?

Adapt Your Voice to Expand Your Writing Opportunities

Adapt your Writer's VoiceMany beginning writers hear the term “voice,” as in, “finding your writer’s voice” but aren’t sure what it means. “Voice” is the words we choose, as well as our sentence structure, the cadence of how the words fit together.

When people speak, we may have an accent or speak in a particular dialect of our native language. We also have speech patterns, slang phrases we use, and favorite expressions. These are often influenced by the area we live, our age/generation, our socioeconomic status, and possibly even what we do for a living. (Language directly influenced by our industry is sometimes called “jargon.”)

In writing, all of these things together form a “writer’s voice.” Many of us write the way we talk. But some writers are adept at adopting different voices. If you can write in a variety of voices, you can expand your writing opportunities to include:

  • Writing in a variety of fields and industries
  • Writing for the web, print, television or radio
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making $1/word or more writing for glossy national publications or trade journal

How to Recognize Other Voices

The first step to learning how to write in different voices, is learning how to recognize different voices — and what creates them — when you read. For instance, corporate writing adopts a more formal style. Blogs can be casual, fun or newsy, depending on the audience. Sales and marketing copy has a conversational style designed to draw in — and convince — readers.

To begin to pick up the cadence of different writing voices, read widely. Read everything. (Where have you heard that writing advice before? Everywhere, I’m guessing!) After you read something in a unique, distinctive voice, sit down and write something using that voice.

“Finding Someone Else’s Voice”

Writing in a different voice often requires more extensive rewriting. The first words that come out of our minds and onto our computer screen are usually our “natural” writing voice. In many cases, this is also the way we speak. (If you ever hear me give a webinar, you’ll recognize that I write these blog posts in my “teaching voice,” and I speak pretty much the same way when I’m teaching someone about writing.)

To write in a different voice, consider all the different ways you can say the same thing. Use words not in your normal lexicon. Vary your techniques and your sentence structure.

If you are ghostwriting, the best thing to do is to read everything you can that person has written. The same goes for submitting queries or articles to major magazines. You want to make that “voice” part of your mind, so you can hear it in your own thought patterns. You should begin thinking like your client, or like the writers of the magazine you want to write for. When you start to think like your client or your magazine’s market, you’ll start to write in a way they can relate to, naturally.

Take the Writing Voice Challenge

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a recent article or blog post you have written and rewrite it:

  • In the voice of your favorite author
  • As sales copy
  • As a corporate communication
  • As an email to a friend

After you do this a few times, you’ll be close to an expert at adopting other voices, and then you don’t have to worry if you land an assignment that forces you to write in a voice different from your own writer’s voice. You can do it!

Feel free to share your examples below in the comments or tell us other ways you experiment with “voice” when you’re writing.

7 Secrets to Writing “On Demand”

After 19 months of caring for my daughter while also handling a full-time freelance writing workload, I did the smart thing and hired a babysitter. It’s true what people say: “It’s easy when they’re very young.”

I didn’t plop the baby in her swing in front of Baby Einstein all day, either. I practiced my own form of attachment parenting, and became adept at typing one-handed while I nursed a baby. I remember one night cradling the baby, about 6 months old, in my lap while I typed furiously to make a morning magazine deadline. Today if I did that same balancing act, my daughter would want to type, as well. I realized that the best thing for me, my career, and my daughter was to get some help.

For the first time since 2006 when I left Paintball Sports Magazine as the Editor-in-Chief, I am keeping “regular writing hours.” I write when the babysitter is here, from 10 AM until two or three, and then at night after my daughter’s asleep.

As a freelancer, I’ve always believed in schedules, but mine were very loose, falling prey to the weather, (“It’s a nice day for a bike ride!”), my husband’s ideas (“Let’s go for a bike ride!”) and whims: (“I think I’ll go work off that vanilla milkshake with a walk around the mall!”) In my pre-parenthood life, when I wasn’t writing I was eating, shopping or cycling. Days off meant a lot of late nights, but I was able to write whenever I wanted to, and, more importantly, not write when I didn’t want to.

Can I Write On Demand?

After surviving my first week “on the clock,” I can say that yes, I can keep to a writing schedule and WRITE during that time. Better yet, I’m poised to offer tips for those of you who want to create a more structured writing schedule rather than waiting for the muse. Or, as Stephen King puts it, “It’s a lot easier for the Muse to strike you if she knows where to look.”

  1. Work with your natural writing rhythms. The owner of this blog, Rebecca Laffar-Smith, recognizes that she writes best from 10 AM till noon and from 8 PM to 10 PM. So she schedules this as her “writing time.” For me, I write best from about 3 in the afternoon, onward. Unfortunately, my writing times coincide with things like dinner and bedtime for my daughter. But, years of editing magazines where I did a lot of writing have helped me “train” myself to write during office hours, so I can manage a 10 AM to 3 PM writing schedule. I still expect I’ll get more done at night, during my 10 PM to 2 AM writing spurts.
  2. Avoid distractions. Schedule set times to check your email and do social networking, and then turn off the internet and the phone if you have to. Michele L. Tune wrote an excellent article on avoiding internet distractions.
  3. Find a motivational writing partner for accountability. Sometimes it helps to have company. One writing colleague of mine plays a “game” called “1, 2, 3.” She connects with another writer through a chat program, and they set a time to write for a half hour straight. At the end of that half-hour, they report on their progress and decide if they want to continue for another 30 minutes.
  4. Have your ideas in place. It’s easier for me to write “on demand” when I know exactly what I’m writing about. Setting an editorial calendar for each day you write helps you get started. No more staring at a blank page thinking of ideas, because you’ve already brainstormed the topics in advance. You can also use writing prompts for this purpose.
  5. Have a ritual that sends your brain the signal it’s time to write. A writing ritual shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out process. I like to brew a cup of tea or coffee, check my e-mail quickly, and then settle in to write.
  6. Establish a writing place. One benefit of having a babysitter is I get to work in my home office again. I’ve used Feng Shui color schemes to encourage creativity, and adorned the walls with inspirational posters. Like writing rituals and set times, having your own little corner to write in, separate from the rest of the family, minimizes distractions and can inspire you.
  7. Treat it as a job — which it is. Money has always been my primary motivation to write. When you put yourself into the mindset that your writing is your work and set expectations for yourself, you can obliterate writer’s block.

I always liked this quote from W. Somerset Maugham: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Now, I find myself living it.

How do you “summon the muse” when you have to write “on demand?”

Why I Don’t Write from Outlines

I Don't Write From Outlines, Do You?Although I carefully map out my blog topics each month, whether I’m writing a full-length feature story or a quick SEO writing tip, I never write from an outline. I have my reasons — and they might surprise you.

Why I Don’t Write from Outlines

Although I carefully map out my blog topics each month, I never write from an outline. This doesn’t change, whether I’m writing a full-length feature story or a quick SEO writing tip: no outline. I have my reasons — and they might surprise you.

Like the best poetry or even a song, an article or a blog post has a rhythm – a melody, a flowing cascade of words down the page. This is different from the “voice” of the writer; it is, for lack of a better term, the “life energy” of the article. A good article should transition smoothly between ideas, leading readers down the path the author wants them to follow.

Full-length feature writing, to me, is like a quiet, spontaneous Sunday drive. I often don’t know where I’m going until I get there. As I scan through pages of notes and quotes, the facts and figures jump out at me, taking their places in line, so that each paragraph leads into the next. Who needs an outline when I have the muse?

The words for a blog post or other Web content, on the other hand, fall fast and furious from my mind in a frenzy. If I took time to outline, I’d lose the idea. Often, blog posts are written before I even have time to think about where they’re going. I type and type — and then I’m done. With my sources in different tabs on my screen and the ideas forming a cloud in my mind, I just write until it’s done and then edit for clarity and conciseness.

Benefits of Outlining

Many writing books say you should outline because it helps a writer to see an article’s overall form and ensures you won’t forget an important fact. In most cases, until I do interviews and/or extensive research, I don’t know where the piece is going. Once I have finished my research and have my notes in front of me, an outline seems redundant.

Some new writers may be scared at staring at the blank page, unsure where their story is going or how they will get there. To me, this is the fun of writing. It’s all up to me – no constraints, no order until I make sense of it all. If I forget a fact because I didn’t have an outline, it probably didn’t belong in the story anyway. (It’s the literary equivalent of the philosophy that everything happens for a reason.)

It’s not exactly a blank page I’m working from either; I have my notes, my quotes. And in my head, there exists the faintest skeleton of an idea, ready to be fleshed out. It’s all up to me to put it together.

In that sense, I guess I do write from an outline. It’s just that the outline exists in my head.

Cast Your Writing Process Vote: Outline or Not?

What about you? What’s your writing process? Do you write detailed outlines? Rough notes? Draw a mindmap? Or do you prefer to wing it, like I do?

Photo Credit: 09-19-06 © OlgaLIS

10 Types of Blog Posts That Draw Traffic to Your Site (Part Two, 5 – 10)

The more I think about it, the longer my list of “types of blog posts” could be. Looking over Part One of my list of “Top 10 Types of Blog Posts” I wonder how I ever run out of ideas for my blogs. If you’re having trouble writing, simply pick one of these types of posts and go for it.

Rather than keeping  this series continuing forever, I’ve narrowed down the list to the 10 best posts designed to generate traffic, and, I admit, many of these are my personal favorites to write.

6. Motivational posts – Most people need a little kick in the pants sometimes. Motivational blog posts are designed to spark your readers into action, remind them why they love their industry or hobby, or just make them feel good.

7. Fun stuff –
A cartoon. A funny photo. A quick joke, quote or one-liner. These are the fun things you can put up in a hurry, when you don’t have time to write a full-length post. It gives your readers something new to see when they visit your blog and takes you only a few minutes to find and share. These posts, usually culled from other sources, have a great chance of going viral. (Who doesn’t love to share a good joke or funny picture?) You’ll also get the benefits of spreading the link love when you share the original source (which you should, of course).

8. Controversial posts – My post “Is Ghostwriting Ethical?” was designed to spark debate. It did, but perhaps not as much as I would have liked. Part of the secret to writing successful controversial posts is knowing what really sparks strong feelings in your readers.

In the freelance writing world, posts about money and rates generate controversy. It’s the same argument over and over again, but people never tire of it. When you post about a controversial topic, add a new perspective or a fresh viewpoint. Don’t generate controversy just for the sake of argument (so to speak). But if a situation has really gotten your hackles up, post away! You’ll get to share your views and generate traffic to your website. It’s a win-win, as long as you monitor the comments and make sure no one gets nasty about it.

9. News posts – When the FCC introduced fair disclosure standards for bloggers, this was big news for the industry. Many writers shared their views, tips and advice on the subject. The trick to writing a successful news post is either to break the story or to come up with an original perspective — to share insight you haven’t read anywhere else. (If you can’t be first, be the best!) You can also take a news topic not directly related to your industry and think about how it affects your blogs readers.

10. Videos – Like cartoons and photos, videos have a great chance of going viral. Since this is a writer’s blog, I won’t offer too many tips about posting videos on your blog. There are nearly as many types of video blogs as there are written blogs. I will say this: Even if you think of yourself as a writer, be open to posting a video on your blog now and then. You may find a whole new audience for your work.

Why types of posts have you had the greatest response with on your own blog?

10 Types of Blog Posts That Draw Traffic to Your Site (Part One, 1 – 5)

Maintaining a blog with new and exciting posts every day gets tedious. Finding topics and writing about them in a compelling way, that is different from all the bloggers out there can become a full time job and, for many writers, is their biggest challenge. It helps to have a road map that will spark ideas.

Over the years as blogging has grown into a full-time, moneymaking endeavor for many people, bloggers have discovered many different types of blog posts that draw traffic to your website. This list could go on forever — as I write, I keep coming up with more ideas. So I’ll share with you the Top 10 blog posts that draw traffic to your site. Please add your own favorite type of posts in the comments section!

1. List posts – This article is an example of a “list post:” — “Five types of…” I could also have written about “Five Ways to…” or even “The Top 10…” These are some of the easiest posts to write, because you don’t have to worry about transition sentences between ideas, and they receive a lot of hits.

2. “Link love” – A variation on a list post, a link love post lists the Top 10 (or five or 100) blogs, bloggers, posts, videos or people in a specific field. These are called “link love” posts because you link from your site to other top blogs. These type of posts pay off because the people you link to typically link back… sometimes to show their readers they made the list, and sometimes just to return the favor. When you do a link love post, you may also gain new readers — the names on your list! Even if none of this happens, spreading a little link love is good karma.

When fellow freelancer Thursday Bram listed me as the number 17 writer of 100 Freelance Writers You Can Outsource Your Blog Content To, I got a few gigs and quite a bit of attention from making the list. (Thanks, Thursday!)

3. How-to posts. For many blogs, how-to posts are the meat and potatoes of their website. At a glance, I’d say more than 50% of the posts here at Writer’s Roundabout are “how-to” posts. We read blogs for information, and most people want to know how the experts do what they do to achieve success.

4. Reviews – We live in a consumer-driven economy and people want to know what other people are buying. Whether you’re reviewing books, iPhone apps or products that interest your audience, you’ll get lots of hits from review posts. These also offer the opportunity to earn residual income with affiliate links. (Just be sure to disclose that you get a percentage if your readers buy the product.)

5. Interviews – Many blogs are designed to provide their authors with a personalized voice in a specific industry. Even if your blog is mainly about you, your business or your life, interviews with other experts in your field offer another perspective and a change of pace.

You can also ask experts to provide a guest post on a particular topic. This offers the same benefits as publishing an interview, but it’s less work for you. Interviews and guest posts are a great way to cross-promote your blog and grow your readership, because your interview subject is sure to share the link with her network, too.

Stay tuned for part two of “10 Types of Blog Posts to Draw Traffic to Your Site.”

Networking 101 for Freelance Writers: Is Twitter the New Chamber of Commerce?

When a writing colleague on AbsoluteWrite.com asked, “What’s the best way for experienced writers to get writing gigs nowadays?” it sparked an interesting conversation.

The writer noted that she used to attend Chamber of Commerce meetings, collect business cards, follow up, and sign clients. I realized that many of my recent clients have come from similar means – except I rarely leave the house for networking events.

Here are three steps to land clients on the Web using time-tested networking techniques.

  • Set up an impressive website.

    By impressive, I don’t mean flash everywhere and zillions of pages of marketing copy. While I’m not thrilled with the look of it (I did it myself) my Website at www.allcotmedia.com has gotten me many clients. It contains five important elements:

    • A photo of myself
    • What I can do for clients/visitors
    • A bit about my credentials and experience and how that helps potential clients
    • Links to a diverse collection of published clips of my work
    • My contact information

    Beyond that, it’s clean, easy to navigate, and professional-looking, albeit a bit on the dull side in my opinion.

  • Promote the Website and yourself through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media outlets

By promote, I don’t mean sending out tweets every hour that read: Need a writer? Go to www.mywebsite.com. Instead, share links to your work and your own knowledge about writing. Most importantly, be yourself. Engage others – both other writers and potential clients – in conversations.

You wouldn’t go up to someone at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, business card in hand, and say, “Hi, My name is ___ and I’m a writer. Do you need me to write copy for your business?” There’s a simple rule for Internet networking: If you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it on the Web.

I often send out tweets promoting the blogs I write for, but I have never tweeted asking for clients. They can figure out what I do based on my tweets, my links and my website – they come to me if my talents fit their needs.

“Always Be Networking”

To paraphrase Alec Baldwin in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” writers may not “always be closing,” but they should always, always be networking.

In another post on AW, this one from last year, a new writer received advice that he should network to jumpstart his career. In a thread titled “Just Hit Send,” many of us post our goals for each month, and some even post daily to-do lists. In his next JHS post, that writer posted his schedule for the week, with time set aside Wednesday morning for networking.

While networking can be a discrete activity, performed only when you check your Twitter and Facebook accounts twice daily, it’s much better to approach it as something you’re always doing – or at least looking for opportunities to do.

If you go out to dinner and engage the waitress in a conversation about her day job – you’re networking. If you compliment the person in line behind you at the bank on her brooch – that’s a potential networking opportunity. Networking, when done correctly, is really just another way to say, “Asking people about themselves so you can find out how you can help them.”

Now, go network!

Leaving a comment here is networking too!
What are the most effective ways you network?

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Tips. Part 4 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

In part 3 of our 4-part interview with Rachel Swirsky, she discussed Secrets of Dialogue, Character, and Plot. But genre fiction — science fiction and fantasy, in particular — have their own rules for both writing and marketing your work. With more than 10 years experience as a widely-published science fiction and fantasy writer, Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky shares her best genre-specific tips.

Dawn: Your latest novelette, “Eros, Philia, Agape,” plays with conventions established by Isaac Asimov’s Robot series. I don’t want to ask you that tired old question of “where do you get your ideas” but I am curious: Where did you get the idea for that specific story?

Rachel: The story has been compared to Asimov’s work a number of times, but I didn’t have his work in mind when I was writing. The major inspirations were two-fold.

I had recently participated in a flash fiction contest with open judging wherein there were a number of robot stories, which my friend Ann Leckie and I started calling coin-operated boy stories.

One in particular involved a woman who had ordered a robot as a sex toy, but she didn’t enjoy sex with it. She would have sex with it–which is, essentially, masturbation–but it read to me as this totally passive event, like she was having sex with the robot for the robot’s pleasure. I thought it was a bizarre construction of female sexuality. There’s this idea that women only have sex because men enjoy it–and that’s odd enough. But why would you masturbate with a robot if you didn’t get some pleasure out of it? Since the robot in the story wasn’t sentient, that’s like having sex for the dildo’s enjoyment. So that was the most shallow inspiration–my character was going to want her robot as a lover, not passively accept it for the robot’s benefit.

After I committed to writing a coin-operated boy story, I started thinking about something Octavia Butler said about how the American consciousness is shaped by slavery. She said it has distorted our ability to love. I chewed on that for a long time. In “Eros, Philia, Agape“, Lucian is, essentially, Adriana’s slave. He’s a coddled slave, and I think Adriana has made a sincere effort to give them freedom and make them equals. But she can’t really–Lucian’s origins are still in slavery.

I believe that people who love each other often wreak terrible things on each other through best intentions–and this is a story that involves that, too. They all love each other, but love is not a panacea.
I imagine the story as an essential moral ambiguity. There are no right choices for anyone to make; no ways for everyone to be healed; everything that happens involves pain. At least, that’s my interpretation. Others have read the story differently.

Dawn: It sounds like you follow the adage that a writer reads, constantly!

Rachel: This is good advice for other kinds of writers, too, but there are some reasons it’s a good idea for science fiction and fantasy writers that are specific to the genre. The kinds of technology and world-building that appear in science fiction and fantasy stories tend to build on each other in ways that you have to know if you’re going to write relevant material.

Technology that’s introduced in one set of stories–for instance, in stories by William Gibson–becomes foundational for subgenres, as Gibson’s did for cyberpunk. You don’t want to reinvent the science fictional wheel. Also, idea is primary to many science fiction and fantasy stories in a way that it’s primary to very few literary short stories. There’s a push toward innovation, to describing a kind of new technology idea that no one has ever seen before, or rendering an entirely new treatment of an old concept. You can’t innovate if you don’t know what the old material looks like.

Dawn: Yes, exposition is another challenge more prevalent in science fiction and fantasy, right?

Rachel: You have to build a world as part of your exposition. It’s a knotty problem. That’s why workshops aimed at mainstream writers sometimes fail for science fiction and fantasy writers. Most mainstream writers have never thought about how to solve exposition issues. They may also get distracted by things like not understanding what, say, a generation ship is, or that salamanders are associated with fire–things your audience would already know.

That doesn’t mean mainstream-oriented workshops can’t be useful to science fiction and fantasy authors — they have been massively useful for me — but it’s good to be aware of their limitations. Reading people who handle their exposition well (Orson Scott Card names Octavia Butler as a master at it, and I agree) seems to be the most useful tool.

Dawn: How can science fiction and fantasy writers market their work?

Rachel: There are a couple of websites– ralan.com and duotrope.com come to mind–that keep track of salient details of short story markets. Of course, they’re not going to do all the work for you. You have to figure out where to send.

It may be tempting to start with small markets where you feel like you have a higher chance, but don’t do it — a top-down marketing strategy is best. Aim high. Then, if the best market doesn’t take your stuff, try the second-best market.

You might start with Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Interzone, Chiarascuro, and some of the other big hitters, and then make your way into the semi-pros, the well-respected token paying markets, and so on.

It’s relatively easy to figure out who the pro markets are because the Science Fiction Writers of America keeps a list of magazines that meet their qualifying criteria. Read widely, and then submit to the magazines that publish stories you like.

I do not recommend submitting to magazines whose stories you don’t like because you figure you can do better than that and they must be desperate for quality. Either they will reject you because they don’t like the kind of thing you do and you’ll feel bad, or you’ll be embarrassed by the credit later because it will associate you with fiction you think is inferior.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:

Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com

Dawn: What about networking in the science fiction and fantasy community?

Rachel: Find places where science fiction and fantasy writers hang out, on Absolute Write, or Livejournal, or the Codex Writers Group if you qualify to join it–or wherever else–and keep your ear to the ground. Short story writers talk about magazines constantly, so you’ll learn the buzz. Those are the best methods, but if you’re still looking for stuff, I also recently wrote a brief article at Ecstatic Days about some of the ways I decide where to submit my work that lists a number of smaller magazines I like.