Maximilian wrote: "I've read many of your blog posts with great interest and do admire your discipline and passion for the craft. I especially am interested in how you find clients for various writing projects. It's clear to me that people who call themselves writers are as abundant as sand on a beach. It's hard to stand out. This year I really want to earn some coin with my writing, not necessarily with my as-yet unfinished novel, but with helping others find the right words. You mentioned that you've been hired as a ghostwriter before...you have shown time and again that you can weather any storm, or at least you're good at making others believe that. I admire what you've accomplished. I would appreciate some advice, any advice, as to how I can develop a freelancing career with the power of the internet."
Dear Maximilian, let me preface my answer with this: In the almost five years that I've been writing full-time (it'll be five years this May, Jesus...), my goal was never to develop a freelancing career. It kind of fell on my head out of my incessant sharing of everything I'm doing—learning this, learning that, figuring things out—on the internet. I started sharing on my blog, then continued on Twitter, then migrated to Instagram, then to Ello, and finally to Patreon, but the gist has always been the same—I don't plan anything (except my writing schedule). I just share. Things happen every day. Bad things. Good things. In-between things. Boring things. I share ALL OF IT. That's probably some secret sauce lots of people ask me about ("How did you do X? And what about Y? And Z?"). We've all been groomed (with various differences, depending on the culture) to put our best face forward. Especially in business. Especially if we think of making money in said business. I have turned this formula upside down. Not because I was very smart. And not because I have foreseen some spectacular results. But because I had nothing to lose. I wanted to take my life. Then at the last moment I decided not to take my life. Then I started talking about EVERYTHING that was cooking inside my head, without any filters. Not the type of decision you'd make if you want to make money. Only I did start making money. So that's how my "freelancing career" started.
I'll give you a rundown of the things I do, and maybe from them (and from how I came to them) you can glimpse something useful, steal it, and apply to your own career. None of them are carefully planned. And all of my clients (well, almost all) came to me, not the other way around. Meaning, I wasn't looking for clients. Clients found me. And one more thing.
BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER!
Recognize my perceived position on the internet. I look like a white straight American middle-class woman, hence all the privileges I get with it. For example, not very many people realize I'm an immigrant and English is not my first language. Also, I'm conventionally beautiful, in the Western-culture sense, with blue eyes and all that jazz. People make subconscious choices when wanting to hire me. Sometimes older men in particular are drawn to me, which is standard in the white patriarchy. I cringe at it, and I hate it, and I accept it for what it is and use it if I have to, and when it seems wise, I fight it, because I learned that being confrontational at the outset isn't producing a positive change. Instead, it inflames people. I still make mistakes in this department, and a few years ago I didn't even recognize my privileges. Another such privilege is my ability to rely on Royce financially when all goes to shit. This allows me to pick and choose. Now, would I be hired as much or as often if I were black? A black man? A black woman? Hispanic? Asian? Muslim? Not straight? Ugly or physically deformed in some way? Handicapped? Hardly. The conventions of our society marginalize those who don't fit the bill of the white straight Christian male if you're a man, and a white straight obedient beautiful female, if you're a woman.
With all of it in mind, and with your own image on the internet in mind (depending on what country you're from, you can now proceed.
It's my blogging that scored me that ghostwriting gig. In particular, this post. I got an email from a reader, interested in my blog writing. He was starting his own blog, and he wanted me to write some articles for him. I did, for a while. And I was paid. And it was awesome. Then the gig dried up, my client went elsewhere, and I wasn't making shit, sucking on my paw (in Russian there is a saying about a bear sucking on his paw when there is nothing to eat). This, by the way, is a common trend. I'd have a good chunk of money one moment, then squat another. So I plan accordingly. In fact, I plan to be broke all the time. Then when I do make money, it's always a joy, no matter the amount.
I was particularly drawn to Twitter back in the time when it was only three years old. I was very active there, got lots of followers, lots of retweets, and was playing the whole numbers game, until I got disillusioned in it and tired of the troll wars (not that I had that many) and the ads. I still tweet a bit daily, because you asked me to stay there, and occasionally from a tweet a consulting gig would fall in my lap. One time I tweeted about the pains of editing, and on the heels of that got an email from an interested client. Note, I was tweeting about the pains of editing. According to social media gurus (there are self-proclaimed professionals out there who claim they know it all—steer clear of them), it's a big no-no to share not-so-happy stuff. Bull. We're all human. You don't want to hire an automaton, do you? Neither do I. Sometimes it's the most intimate things that I tweet that get me freelancing jobs. Also, tweeting got me both of my editors. And my formatter. And my proofreader. Actually, it could be any platform, not just Twitter, and Twitter is not for everyone. One thing I learned is this: if you're uncomfortable using a social media channel, it shows. Drop it. Just because everyone is using it, doesn't mean YOU have to use it. Fuck it. Be yourself. Do what gives you pleasure. And it will show. And people will hire you.
Funny enough, I got some gigs out of sharing pictures of one thing or another. I don't remember where I posted that one in particular. It was most likely on Instagram, and it trickled into Facebook (I'd have ditched Facebook a long time ago, if not for the only ties to some of my family in Russia), and I think it was a picture of me sticking my tongue out and looking dead. From too much editing. Or something like that. You know, one of those selfies I post. It got a person to reach out to me, with a funny suggestion of adding more to my editing load, so I would be double-dead. Okay, I'm imagining most of this as I don't remember our exact conversation, but it was like a chain reaction. I got done with one editing project, and immediately after posting that picture scored another. In the same way I got gigs from posting on Ello and on Patreon, from one of my patrons. Again, the idea is the same. SHARE EVERYTHING. SHARE ALL THE TIME. People forget about you if you're gone for a few days. And they will really forget about you in three months if you don't remind them of your existence. I've read that statistic online somewhere, but don't quote me on that. The logic is solid, though. When an opportunity comes across someone'e desk, they will think of you, if they remember you. How to make them remember? Be visible. Talk about your passions, your fears, your inspiration. People will match an opportunity to you because they will remember what it is you enjoy doing most.
This is the biggest source of my gigs, by far. Which is historically how we humans work. We spread the word about stuff we like (and even more so about stuff we don't like). Someone somewhere has read something of mine, and then that someone thought about me when someone else has asked them about self-publishing help. That's how I got one of my latest clients—a writer who needed help with self-publishing his book. Now he is talking to other people about me, others who need help with the same. And I got new clients lined up already all the way to July. Crazy, right? I came back from Russia completely broke, and I was breaking my head over how I would pay my tax accountant next month and be able to afford to buy books for stock (it's dangerously low right now), when several people reached out, and BAM! I got booked, and I can now breathe. This came, I believe, from sharing that I'm back (but really, I don't know where it came from). Not very helpful to you, I understand. Damn. I wish I knew for sure. It always takes me by surprise.
And that's about it, Maximilian. Just share your humanity, would be my advice. All of it. The pretty. The ugly. You never know when you'll connect to another human who is just like you and would like your help. When that happens, do simple human things of kindness, regardless of the request or the outcome of the request (I got turned down a couple times because of my rates, though they were very cheap, and I remember feeling infuriated and waiting for the feeling to abate, so I could put myself into my prospective client's shoes, and understand, and give love). Thank the person, thank them profusely, even if they come across as a spoiled, narcissistic asshole. Trust me, when they're done being an asshole, they'll remember you for not adding to their misery. Say please if you ask for something. Be on time. Do what you said you would do. And finish what you started. Basically, it's about having your shit together and being a pleasure to do business with. When it's chaos all around, people will come to you because they'll feel good interacting with you, and they know they can rely on you. Simple as that.
I hope this helps, Maximilian. Good luck to you! And keep me posted on your freelancing career achievements. XOXO