How to be a Successful Online Writer
Whether you’re a professional writer with articles printed in various venues in the brick and mortar world or whether you’re just hoping to see your words published in a public forum but haven’t made the leap yet, you’ve probably eyed and thought about or played around on the online writing playground.
There are many ways to get involved writing online.
Some venues require some (or a lot of) technical expertise. For example, you’ll need to know some HTML (the codes that make words look the way you want them to look) and must download a ftp (file transfer protocol-a program that uploads your words, photos, and graphics to the world wide web) if you opt to write for a space like allinfoabout.com.
Others publishing options do not require anything beyond typed words and enough knowledge to send those words by email (or even by snail mail) or to paste writings in simple automatic forms with a “submit” button press.
For the techno-phobia, sites that take care of the technical details may be the best bet. Although it’s not that difficult to learn the basics of web publishing, some writers simply freak when it comes to thinking about, discussing, or using web language and/or tools.
Traditional Offline Publication (Shoveled Online)
My mother is a writer specializing in nostalgia and mountain stories. She publishes in the local newspaper and with national magazines like “Good Old Days” and “Grit.” She does not seek out online markets. In fact, she knows only two online tricks-(1) press email button and respond to mail and (2) go to home page which is google (the very basic version with the search bar right in the center) and type in topic of interest. If dad makes even minor changes to the desktop, mom can’t or won’t use the computer. I then visit and “fix” her computer.
Although my mom makes no effort to publish online, she does have pieces in print in internet land. Traditional print publications often post pieces online after showcasing those pieces in print publications. In such cases, the writer sells various rights including electronic rights, and the newspaper or magazine takes care of the online publishing.
Sometimes crossover pubications may notify the writer that the piece is being published online, but generally they do not. I watch my mother’s markets and email clickable links when I see her articles posted on the internet. She enjoys seeing her work online. She just isn’t interested in considering online as a primary publication venture.
Most writers do not begin with full-time writing jobs or with nationals. They may sell a piece or two to local or even national publications and those works may or may not cross over to online publication.
One of my early “Family Fun” (Disney owned) articles appears online. “Learn from Neighborhood Experts” was written about ten years ago and discusses setting up hometown tours to answer questions kids may have. For instance, my son wanted to know how they get the chocolate on a doughnut. I had no idea, so I called and arranged to visit Krispy Kreme and see the doughnut making process. I don’t know when my piece was pasted online. I stumbled on the article a couple of years ago. Though I’ve written lots of offline articles, that’s the only one I’ve seen cross over though there may be others that I’ve just not managed to pull up.
More often online content is written specifically for online publication. Pasting over traditional content is called shoveling, and dumping pieces intended for offline reading does not typically work well. Consumption online is simply different from consumption offline. It’s quite possible to write to different types of markets, but most articles need to be tweaked a bit depending on the medium of display.
Online Supported Publication
Most offline newspapers and magazines do offer materials online. Some pieces are shoveled from the sister offline publication and some pieces are purchased specifically for online reading. Adding some online specific articles as well as side pieces meant for online consumption is becoming more popular.
Typically, the online magazine publication process mirrors the offline process, and writers need never think or worry about the nontraditional uses of the materials. Simply, query, write, and sell to a traditional publisher and the online matters are out of your hands and are handled by an editor.
Online Only Magazines
A whole host of online-only magazines speckle the online landscape. Some are associated with offline parent publications, but many are internet magazines with no ties to the offline world. Back2College.com and Lodging.com both publish articles I write. The process is similar to writing offline, but all contacts are electronic (email queries and submissions) and the pieces are structured a bit different from articles I’d put together for an offline audience.
Some onliners are seeking “content.” These content companies may or may not publish the materials. They are brokers and buying work from writers to use to build mega sites or sell the articles to various sites across the web. The process for inclusion and the requirements for submissions vary greatly from site to site. Some post assignments (topics wanted). Others are open to a wide range of materials and accept or purchase a host of materials. Write for Cash (not currently accepting materials) requested pieces on “How to Clean Venetian Blinds” and “Things to Do for Kids in Charlotte” which I delivered. Finetuning called for articles on unspecified topics, so I wrote pieces about strawberries, barbeque smokers, and clay pots.
Another area where online site owners are seeking content is review materials. If you enjoy talking about books you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, kitchen gadgets you’ve tried out, and the cars you drive, then reviewing can be a good foot in the online writing door. If you’ve visited Amazon.com or Ebags, then you’ll see consumers checking in on products purchased through those sites. Store sites like to include information about products which help buyers make informed decisions. Epinions.com does not sell products, but they offer a platform for reviewing almost anything you can think of from toilet paper to video games. You check in at Epinions and then click to purchase from online venders.
If You Want More Control of Your Online Content
While online magazines and content sites generally have guidelines and some sense of what they want and expect, other online venues are more flexible as far as topics and style. If you enjoy playing-outside-the-box, then you may want to explore writer driven content spaces.
Message boards cover almost any topic you might imagine. Though some boards are moderated, rules are fairly relaxed overall. If you’re an expert on heirloom tomatoes, then skip over to Garden Web Forums, hunt up the tomato section, and read or post for hours about your toms. Members share information, ask questions, and some even post photos of their plants and fruits. Though I’m not big on message board posting, I’ve learned a lot by looking over the shoulders of gardeners, Scout leaders, and barbeque cooks. It’s simply amazing how much can be gleaned by visiting chitchat sites, and many onliners really enjoy writing for such sites.
If you like to catalog your world, then a blog may be the best vehicle for sharing your thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Similar to a journal, blog posters check in daily (or when they take a notion) and write from the heart. Some blogs are themed. Others are more random. They all have the feel of a public diary. Again, I don’t find this the type of writing that I’d be comfortable producing, but I enjoy blog reading and have several friends who send updates to my email box so I can keep up with these folks that I don’t see on a daily basis.
Micro sites are now coming into vogue. The process here is that site owners allow individuals to control small portions of larger sites. About.com is one of the early pioneers in the concept though other sites are now making inroads.
Garden and Hearth, for instance, has been recruiting writers to select and specialize in topics relating to areas of interest to women (and some men). Since I enjoy grilling and since they listed the need for a “Barbeque Master,” I turned in the required five articles and now have a micro site up and running. I continue to write and email articles as I think of more information of interest to readers. It’s fun having a site where I can write and publish articles on something I really enjoy doing. I also hope that working on this site helps others just starting out or even those who are also experienced in grilling.
Your Own Web Site
If you’re the type who likes to call all the shots, then you can set up and build your own web site. It’s not as difficult as you might imagine. Costs are rather modest. If you want to build a web site, you’ll find loads of books on the subject and plenty of online help for getting started and for adding more advanced features.
My favorite web building internet page is designed for kids but can be used by anyone. “Lissa Explains it All” covers all the basics with tips that make web building simple and fun. Lissa started the page when she was a pre-teen. She has now gained enough recognition and has made enough cash from her site to buy a car. She’s really good at explaining the ins and outs of web page building, so if you’re considering that venture, then check out her page.