Online Writing -- My Ticket to Success
by Ruby Bayan, 1999
It was a leap of faith. Exactly one year ago, I resigned from a secure 15-year career in sales and marketing to pursue a dream -- to be a successful full-time freelance writer. How I was going to do it was a puzzle at the time, but there was one thing I was sure of: I could tap the power of the internet. So that was exactly what I did.
Having been exposed to the business of marketing and sales for more than a decade, I was well aware that in order to effectively sell my writing, I had to sell myself first. But on top of that, I had to have a plan. I figured, I would put up a personal Website, then surf for markets to target. I would e-mail my queries and sample clips, refer editors to my Website for more info about me, write the articles, submit, and cash the checks! It all looked so easy in my head. I didn't realize until six months later that it would even be easier than I thought!
First, The Website
It took me about a month to put up my personal Website. I had some background on HTML, but it was going to be my first time to build a whole site on my own. Not wanting to complicate my life, I kept the web pages simple, clean, friendly, and wholesome -- a hearty welcome, a brief background on my passion for writing (it had been more of a hobby than anything else), and a profile.
Since I had been freelancing a column for a local magazine for some time, I had several articles I could convert into HTML. They became my showcase of write-ups, samples that visitors could browse if they wanted to see my message and writing style. So, in December 1998, my new web address was born: Freelance Writing Resources and Archives of Ruby Bayan-Gagelonia.
Next, The Groundwork
Then came the tough part -- looking for editors and publishers who would accept my writing. I surfed like mad, searching and bookmarking all the writer's guidelines I could find. There were three online databases that proved valuable in my groundwork:
Through just these three major databases, I was able to access the submission guidelines of hundreds of publications. I had more than enough to choose from.
After zeroing in on some choice print and online publications, those I felt I could develop article ideas for, I started compiling them by category. I noted their response time (those that responded four to six months after submission, I put at the bottom of the list), their submission requirements (some accepted submissions by e-mail -- I pushed them towards the top of the list), and most importantly, how much and when they paid (now, *that* was easy to sort!). I was able to build a neat reference grid of my target publications, and I had shortlisted the magazines I was going to approach. Proud of what I had accomplished, I thought I was ready to make money.
The Confidence Factor
When I sat down to work on my first query letter, I was stopped cold by the realization that I wasn't confident enough to pitch! Had I put the cart before the horse? Should I have taken freelance writing classes first? Fear set in. I felt like a lamb walking into a lion's den of distinguished writers, discriminating editors, and professional writing. I knew I had to compete, and I had to stand out. I needed to have the skill, not to mention the courage, to penetrate the market! So, again, I surfed the web.
This time I was looking for help. I needed tips on how to freelance effectively, how to hone my writing skills, and how to do it without breaking my back. Fortunately, many established writers had been there (done that, and even sell their own T-shirts), and are generous enough to teach the newbie writer some of their own tricks.
I discovered specialized Websites geared towards the freelancer and the aspiring writer, such as writers' web rings (like those found in this directory of writing web rings), message boards (like the iVillage.com Writing Life), and writing communities (like the eWriteLife).
When I typed "freelance writing" on one of the search engines, dozens of reference links came up. They shared ideas, tactics, leads, and even the more personal, much needed, encouragement to be a successful writer. A whole wide "writer's world" was on the internet -- I wasn't alone. I gathered all the skill tips I could find, and read them word for word. No problem, I said. I can do this.
Print Media vs. Online Media
Then my plan hit a snag. I had originally imagined myself marveling at my byline in a glossy magazine, but the more I reviewed the different guidelines I had compiled, the more I got lured into writing for online publications. Was it the feeling of inadequacy being a relatively new writer? The fear that I would be dismissed in favor of established writers? Maybe it was because it takes several months to receive a check from a print publication.
In the meantime, online magazines were springing up like mushrooms, some paying just a little less than comparable print publications. Job sites that posted ads for freelancers gave evidence of the growing need for web content writers. The job boards I started to visit then (which have since become much more popular) were:
The sheer volume of the online writing requirements posted on these sites convinced me that online media would have a place for me. So, I decided to take the plunge.
By February of 1999, I was ready to present myself. I submitted an application to Suite101.com for Contributing Editor, and within a week, my topic, Inspiration/Motivation, went online. I used this Contributing Editor role as a reference, and proof that I could, indeed, write.
By March, I was being commissioned by CyberTips4theDay.com to be a Tipletter Writer, and by May, I was faxing a signed contract to WriteEdge.com for by-the-hour feature writing projects. In between, I found time to present my favorite ideas and articles (mostly about health and fitness, relationships, and self-improvement) to many other sites. My words and byline appeared in Fitnesslink.com, Families-First.com, and AttheFence.com, among others.
Doing the Math
Today, aside from on-going contracts, I am helping build content for three Websites that are set to launch in a couple of months. Needless to say, the pay is not something to complain about. Of course, print publication still pays a bit better per published article. But when I did the math, I figured: in order to see my byline in a national mag, I'd have to buy and imbibe at least three copies of their publication; I'd have to have an outstanding idea, pitch a knock-your-socks-off query, wait a month for a reply, and another three months to get paid -- all for $1 a word (ideally).
If I write for an online market, I can read their past issues without leaving my keyboard, I can pitch comfortably by e-mail, wait a few hours for a reply, and get paid in less than a month (one Website even sent me the check five weeks before they posted my article). If I get paid 25 cents a word for an online article, to even off with the income I could get from a print magazine, all I had to do was pitch four times more often, which was really not very hard considering the quicker response time, and the fast-growing demand.
But I'm not totally discarding my dream to see my name in hard print (in fact, I've written for a couple, from guidelines posted online) -- just that I'm already having a great time writing for the virtual media!
So, now, every time I open a snail mail containing a check payment for one of my articles, I can't help but be amazed -- online writing has turned my life around. It's a far cry from my sales and marketing days.
Now, I don't have to miss breakfast, nor brave traffic and bad weather to do client calls. I receive money from people I haven't actually shaken hands with, and may never get to see. I learn skills, make friends, receive assistance, find information, and "make a difference" on other people's lives, all through a piece of equipment that sits in my room.
When I took the leap to a totally new career as a full-time freelance writer, all I knew was that I could tap the internet. Thanks to the power of the cyberworld, I am well on my way to fulfilling a dream.
[First published in Link-Up Magazine Nov 99]