They say when hiring, you get what you pay for.
Offer peanuts, you’ll get monkeys.
While this is true from a managerial perspective, it’s also valid for freelance writers.
If you write like a monkey, you better get used to peanuts.
Before I moved in to affiliate marketing, I was a prolific freelance writer who tore through 50,000 to 75,000 words per month.
I learnt several tricks of the trade, including the near universal habit of stretching 250 words in to 3 pages of dross. Like many, my output was shaped by webmasters who cared only for keyword density and having the longest How To guide on Google.
If you’ve ever taken on a writing project driven by volume, or a dissertation with a lofty word count, you know how to say less with more. It’s your blood.
Well, I have a brand new problem.
My work now requires that I hire writers.
Many of my writers simply haven’t been very good, for which I take full responsibility as the donut hiring them. You do get monkeys.
A bad writer doesn’t bother me. A lazy writer does.
Lazy writers who have the talent, but lack a high regard for their work, leave me wanting to gouge out my eyes with a rusty steak knife.
They could be making so much money, we could be making so much money.
Here’s how we both make more money:
1. Get to the point, always.
A lazy writer, when handed a topic, will find 3 or 4 interesting points and wrap them in lines of setup prose.
Don’t wrap what you want to say in fluff to meet a word count.
Take this passage I was handed:
If you’re still not sure when to get a divorce, then there are a couple signs that you may consider looking into so that you can ensure that your marriage isn’t something that you can save. One of the first signs that may help you as a husband to finally figure out whether to get a divorce or not is to simply look at your sex life. If you’re not having sex as much as you did in the past, or if the sex you’re having doesn’t feel the same, then maybe your relationship with your wife isn’t the way it was in the past.
That’s 105 words. What a little scamp.
I paid his fee, then set about editing it:
If your sex life is a distant memory, or a forgettable blur, your marriage may be tough to save.
19 words that cut to the chase.
I understand why capable writers rely on setup prose. It is a useful tool in academia where students are schooled to say much about nothing.
Unfortunately, it does not sell.
And it reads like a fist in the balls.
2. Find the right voice.
Read this piece I wrote for ProBlogger on finding your voice. Now ask the hiring manager, “Who am I writing as?”
Here’s another passage from the same divorce article:
I personally think that the moment you’re being suffocated by your wife for absolutely no reason, that is when you should get out and leave her. However, you need to look at the things you will lose when you get a divorce and determine whether the advantages of getting a divorce outweighs the advantages of leaving your wife.
You personally think?
Of course you personally think! You wrote it.
Hiring managers can save a lot of time by addressing the voice of the copy.
- Who is speaking?
- What is his position?
- Is he neutral?
A writer can make a lot of money by understanding the above.
There are times to be creative. But in choosing the voice of the copy, creativity is suicide. Mixing your voices is treason.
3. Up the pace.
Many of the web’s top blogs use high tempo content. They read fast.
Social Triggers by Derek Halpern is one of my favourite examples.
Look at his writing structure:
It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s effective for an audience with little time to spare.
Compare it to this piece I was handed:
You don’t even need to see the content.
Those blocky paragraphs give the game away; somebody has been paid to write this. But you’d have to pay me to read it.
Chances are, if you are hired to write, you are also hired to sell.
Up the pace, trim the fat. You will retain readership and sell more.
Until you know how to use them, don’t use them.
5. Never say more than you have to.
In Wartime Britain, Winston Churchill had little time to spare.
He despised wooly phrasing and would return reports that took up more than a single side of paper. His memorandums became as infamous as the rollocking that followed them:
“Pray let me know by 4PM today on one sheet of paper…“
Here’s a memo circulated by Churchill in 1940:
The irony for writers is that projects routinely come with word counts, and essays with page requirements. Quantity is seen as a virtue.
You should not be disheartened by this.
The web is changing and a premium is emerging for writers who are capable of advancing a brand and engaging the audience. If you write an excellent 400 word piece and a blind fool turns it back for lack of padding, save the file and keep it handy.
You’ll sell it for twice as much to somebody who gets the price of quality.
A student taking a philosophy class once had a single question in his exam:
“What is courage?”
While the rest of the class splurged their souls in to essays, he wrote one word:
He took top marks, and promptly became a hero for anybody who gave a shit about brevity.
If this style sounds familiar to you, please get in touch. I’d be interested in using your writing.
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