Writers With Web Sites Get an Edge

By: Steve Outing

The Web is a boon to freelance writers — not only because Web sites and Internet publishing represent a growing new market for their work, but as a handy repository for their clip files. Long gone are the days when a writer querying an editor had to send along photocopied clips of past work done for other publications in order to demonstrate competency. Now, you just tell the editor to visit your Web site, where resume, clips, testimonials, references, photos, etc. are handily presented.

I’ve been spotting more such writer sites, as the cost of having your own Web site has declined to the point where anyone can afford it. Even having your own domain name — something I highly recommend if you want to look professional — it can cost as little as $25 a month to maintain a site.

Recently, I asked members of the Online-Writing Internet discussion list to let me know about their personal sites devoted to promoting their freelance businesses. Let’s take a look at a few. You might get some ideas to use on your own site.

Keep it light-hearted

A site I like is WriterMike, the Web presence for Mike Whalen. Here you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about Whalen, and more. What I like about the site is its humorous tone; Whalen exhibits the creativity he’ll bring to his writing projects (presumably) with his less than serious prose. On his Biography page, for instance, he’s written two versions of his bio, placed side by side — one written in first person (“Hiya! Mike Whalen, A.K.A. Writermike, here. I suppose you’ve come to read about me. …”), the other written in third person (“Mike Whalen, A.K.A. ‘Writermike,’ started writing to chase away the demons that haunted his psyche. …”).

Whalen has done the obvious and assembled a collection of his clips that are available for viewing online, on a page that he regularly updates as he completes new work. And as a handy aid to editors, he lets them download a file with a collection of his clips, in either PC or Macintosh format.

‘Rax’

Robert Arnold bills himself as “Pretty Good Writer” on his Warbaby.com site, which promotes his freelance writing as well as graphic design services. While Writermike’s design is simple (no fancy graphics or coding), Arnold’s is more professionally polished. The site includes several sections, with the “Raxpages” devoted to hyping his writing work. I find the design a bit unsettling, though. The gray type on black background is hard to read.

Arnold and his writing partner, Niko Coucouvanis, also have created something called The MonkeyPool, which is a consortium of writers and editors who provide Web site content and editorial services. Arnold describes the concept as providing a one-stop source for “everything you need to put between HTML.”

Husband, wife, 1 Web site

Jonathan and Lisa Price share a Web site, since they both write together and separately. They call it The Communication Circle, and the site promotes writing, editing, articles, consulting, and plugs books they’ve written. The Prices’ site is a model for good, clean, simple to use design. It’s not fancy, yet is very professional in appearance. This is a site that demonstrates that you don’t have to spend lots of money on fancy design to have a pleasing, useful site. Just make sure, as the Prices have done, that what you’re trying to show editors is easily accessible.

Keeping copies

Randy Sparkman writes a column for the Industry Standard, so he keeps a personal Web site he calls Moveable Type. The site is primarily a repository of his columns, republished sans Industry Standard branding and on his own server space (but acknowledging that the articles first appeared in that publication). This is something all freelance writers should think about doing, for a Web site where your work appears may not keep it online forever; but you can keep it indefinitely on your own site. And as a freelancer, you retain the copyright to your work, of course, so you have the right to republish it.

Successful site

Danialle Weaver recently redesigned her site, which now sports a nifty graphic device on the home page and nicely designed navigation frame on the right side of the site’s pages. A business and technology writer, Weaver says the site is useful in that it has brought her work, as well as “bunches of leads on freelance work.” She occasionally advertises for work in the classified ad section of Editor & Publisher magazine, so the site is useful in directing readers of ads to examples of her work online.

“Another way it’s really useful,” says Weaver, “is if you’re trolling for interviewees online. I point them to my site so they can see my face, read some of my previous work, and be assured that I’m really a bona fide reporter. My visitor count always shoots up sky-high just after I post a note to a newsgroup, for instance.”

Alas, she says, some editors still want clips mailed to them and won’t take the time to get online.

People just find it

John Scalzi’s site also has generated online writing work. Scalzi.com helped land its owner a music writing job with MediaOne, he says, “and a number of online businesses have come by and queried me regarding consulting and writing.” It even had an impact for off-line writing; an editor at a publishing firm visited the site and contacted Scalzi’s agent about book opportunities. Scalzi says he doesn’t do much of anything to advertise the site, other than attaching the URL to the signature file at the end of all e-mails he sends out. “People seem to find it just fine.” He also gets exposure from word of mouth, and because of previous jobs where people remember his work. (He spent two years earlier in his career as America Online’s sole full-time writer, and was a humor columnist for the Fresno Bee in California.)

The home page of the site includes a regularly updated essay, “The Daily Whatever,” as an example of Scalzi’s writing talent. On the day I checked his site, he’d put up some words about the first sheep birth on the Internet and some thoughtful commentary on the anti-gay minister who planned to picket at the funeral of a gay murder victim in Wyoming. This is a nice touch, going beyond just showing off work published in other venues.

Print images

What if some of your clips aren’t available in digital form? One option (though I can’t say I recommend it due to slow download times) is to post articles as GIF image files. That’s what writer Naomi Bloom has done on her Web site, which contains writing samples, resume, background information, a photo of her, etc.

Just type my name

Wayne Lewis did what every freelance writer who markets his/her name should consider doing: He got the domain name for his name, WayneLewis.com. Potential clients find out about the site when they see his URL listed on his business card, letterhead, or any hard-copy writing samples he sends them. The site is simple, cleanly designed, and contains the usual writing samples, resume, background information, references, etc.

One item on Lewis’ site that you don’t often see on sites like this is a “Rates” page, containing explanations of how he charges for projects, and specific rates for writing/editing/content development and script development. Lewis has primarily done news, radio/TV ad copy and corporate video, but he’s now seeing more interactive (online and CD-ROM) work coming his way.

Lesson learned

Grace McLoughlin says she learned a valuable lesson with her Web site, which she had used to showcase her humor and creative writing. But she also seeks out technology writing work, and the humorous tone of the site she believes was a mistake that may have turned away those editors seeking serious writing. When she redesigns the site in the coming weeks, McLoughlin says she’ll let visitors branch out to either the technology or creative side of her writing persona. She’ll also have two resumes, for each category. She includes the URL on her business card and makes a point of discussing the site during interviews.

Indirectly marketing yourself

The last site in my sampling isn’t really a direct promotional vehicle, but it does serve to market Amy Gahran’s freelance writing and editing business. Her Contentious site is a Web-zine for online writers, editors and content producers. Gahran (mostly single-handedly) produces a monthly issue with several feature articles, interviews with experts, letters to the editor, and an online content resource center. The site has received some press coverage and gotten popular, since it addresses some pent-up demand among online writers who haven’t had a publication available that addresses what they do.

Gahran’s visibility got a serious boost by virtue of Contentious, and it’s increased queries about her writing and editing services. So, while standard personal writer’s sites featuring resumes and clips are useful in getting new business, think too about creating original-content sites on topics where you are an expert as a way to demonstrate your writing ability.

(Disclaimer: Gahran and I in recent months joined forces to work on an online writing start-up venture. I normally avoid writing about people if I have a business relationship with them, but I think her site is a good example worth you knowing about.)

Clueless in Wyoming?

The savage beating death of a 21-year-old gay man in Laramie, Wyoming, and the ensuing national outrage over the incident was one of the biggest news stories to come out of that state in many years. It’s odd, then, that the day after Matthew Shepard died of his injuries in a Colorado hospital that the newspaper in Casper, Wyoming, where Shepard will be buried, kept the incident off its Web site’s home page. When I visited the site of the Casper Star-Tribune on Tuesday, when Shepard’s death was the lead item on all of the major newspaper Web sites in Colorado, there was no mention of the story. The lead item was a wire story about a train accident in Texas. To find news about the murder in Laramie, you had to click on a “Wyoming News” link to get a list of Associated Press headlines, including Shepard coverage.

Laramie’s newspaper does not have a Web site, so Web users wanting to learn more about the story from a local perspective had to turn to the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle Web site, which did feature limited coverage of the story on its Web site, including a story about the increased traffic the site was seeing as a result of national interest in Shepard’s death. Much of the news on the Web site, however, was in the form of short blurbs that directed readers to get the full story in the print edition of the newspaper.

When a big story like the Shepard killing breaks in your back yard, most newspapers are finding that their Web sites are the beneficiaries of significant traffic boosts from interested readers around the country and world. Typically, the attention provides a boost to the print edition as well, from non-locals who learn about the newspaper for the first time. It’s something to be taken advantage of by local news publishers. How odd that Wyoming’s two largest newspapers did a terrible and poor job, respectively, of providing news from this major local story to an interested online audience. The Star-Tribune’s omission of the story on its Web home page is an incredible oversight. And the Tribune-Eagle’s strategy of telling Web readers to pick up a printed newspaper is silly. Both papers missed an opportunity that was dropped in their laps.

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Steve

Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note.

This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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