Monetization and the plan for shameless self-promotion

I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a YouTube channel lately for my travel writing as well as exploring my life as a full-time writer. There’s not a lot of information out there, other than the Hollywood movies which are just meta-fiction about how the main character is a writer or wants to be a writer.

There is always that part of the movie when the would-be writer has a friend read something they’ve written and they say, “This is good. You should show it to someone.” And BOOM! instant fame and success and living in a $6000 a month loft in Manhattan is the next act (and doing very little writing). That really doesn’t happen. Nothing close to that happens unless the niche is just so starved of talent or someone knew somebody who knew somebody. Like Anthony Bourdain and his success with the New Yorker.

Consider the urban legend of how JK Rowling (yes, I know everyone is supposed to hate her now, even though they grew up on her books) got 29 rejections before Scholastic took a chance on her. So, there are 29 publishers who turned down the goose that laid the $Billion (with a B) industry. And we are supposed to consider “making it” in publishing as a metric of good taste and what it takes to be successful.

Anyway, most books/movies/articles these days come with a fan base built in. That way the publisher/producer/etc. know that they aren’t taking much of a risk. They want to hedge their bets, because with an already established fan base, they don’t have egg on their face by being one of the 29 idiots who turned down Harry Potter. This is why Disney is going whole hog with cranking out Marvel and Star Wars shows. Both of those are “too big to fail.” Even if 75% of the fans hate the product, you still have a couple million people who watched it, bought the Lego sets, and are arguing about it on Twitter.

From what I’ve been learning about monetization of a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, typically you are drawing attention to a product or a service. In some cases, you are being sponsored by a company. Big sponsors or affiliates are web-design companies, camera companies, or in my case I shilled Origin Boots on my other blog. (use code Harris10 to get 10% off). But if I want to diversify my income streams, I need to focus on what product or service I offer beyond being a shoe salesman.

Both podcasting and YouTube allow for sponsorship, but you have to hustle and make calls to find those. But it’s all part of diversifying your income stream. Hopefully my content will appeal to sponsors, but I’m not going to bet the farm on it. If you look at a lot of successful podcasts (like Joe Rogan’s) he brought in a fanbase of people who enjoyed watching him dare people to eat pig anuses. The draw wound up being him using his connections with interesting celebrities to have long format interviews. The rest just snowballed.

Really, my writing is the product I am offering, but there isn’t a lot to be gained from that on the surface. Blogs no longer get the kind of clicks they used to to make a decent paycheck from just telling a story. So, like Disney or any good publisher, what I’m doing is calling attention to my work and creating a fan base.

My product is the books I write and a podcast or YouTube channel would be the commercial. By interacting with subscribers, I am building a fan base for my books which I will be publishing myself. If you like the kinds of stories I’m publishing on my blogs, then you might buy the books that are coming soon too. It’s not what I would call instant gratification (unlike the boot money) but I’m hoping it leads to something. Otherwise, how the hell are you going to even know what I’m writing? How do you pick a book from a whole slew of others on the shelf at a store and commit your hard earned $15 and several nights of your time to reading it if you don’t know what it is about?

My services might even be “Hey, I can write stuff. Hire me to write stuff for you!” And give me a big travel expense budget while you are at it.

So, yeah. I think the podcast/YouTube/blogs are eventually going to be the commercial for the stories I am trying to sell. Maybe I’ve got it backwards, but really the books are the merch. It’s about all I can think of right now. I doubt I’ll have as many subscribers as a guy screaming at a video game or a kid opening a box of something they got in the mail. If you knew how much money people made on CPM (clicks per minute) these days, it would make you throw up. (Like 20ยข per 1000 clicks). I’m lucky to get A click on a post. Affiliate links are harder to come by. I got lucky with the boots, but not everybody is rushing out to buy a $400 pair of boots (no matter how cool they are). The old method of linking Amazon as an affiliate is next to impossible to make money from, much less get approved. Their code doesn’t play nice with WordPress anymore, especially when you self-host.

A lot of what I want to talk about in my podcast or YouTube channel is challenges such as these. These are the real questions facing a freelancer these days. Gone are the days where the “Chief” gives you an assignment and a nice expense fund and you can do those deep dives to get the story. Most of the time you are paying your own way and hoping to God and little green apples that the magazine doesn’t fold before they pay you for your story–if they accept your pitch, or even responded to it in the first place!

I want to promote an honest look at it, and I also don’t want to starve to death in the process.

More to come!!!

Changing focus with freelancing

For the most part, we are expected to get an education, then chuck all of that out the window to work for an employer who will train us with an entirely different skillset, and bestow upon us a schedule, a wage, and whatever benefits don’t cut into their profits. We are supposed to take pride in being worked to death by someone else as they get the glory and the gold. We are in charge of our lives at home, but never at work. Even at home, if the police or some middle-management code enforcer from our HOA shows up, we are also reminded just how in charge of our lives we are.

Whenever someone asks what I do for a living, I provide just enough information to justify my existence in polite society. The short answer I often give is that I write content for websites. This pays the bills and child support. It isn’t much, but it helps me get by. Content mill work.

The long answer about what it means to work for a content mill is that whenever someone Google’s a question or does a search, the search engine pores through the vastness of what is published on the internet, searching for keywords, phrases, and metadata in search of what statistically aligns best with what you were looking for. For every website that Google comes up with, there has probably been someone like me who wrote the copy for that site. There’s a good chance that like me, they don’t even know much about what they wrote. They just included enough key terms and related information (probably ripped off from another website, press release, or general knowledge) to get locked into Google’s tractor beam of relevance to make it to page one of your search results.

The information is secondary to driving web-traffic to the site. That’s why all the medical sites strongly suggest consulting your doctor and all the legal sites say to contact the attorney. It’s a “call to action” but it’s also a get out of jail free card when it comes to liability. It’s called SEO or Search Engine Optimization. A client requests a bunch of keywords to be packed into a blog post so Google looks for it. Length of the article also weighs heavy on whether or not the post lists on page one. There’s a saying that if you ever need to hide a dead body where it will never be found, put it on page two of your Google search results.

As long as the page keeps listing as page one, the customer is happy. I get paid. Not a lot, but I get some money for writing something that sounds convincing enough to a search engine to put on your screen. I’ve written legal posts, medical posts, tourism for places I’ve never been, product descriptions for things I have never held. And the poetic justice of this is really nobody but Google is even reading any of it.

I actually beat myself up quite a bit about that last part. That isn’t to say that the client doesn’t read the posts. They usually read them, put them through their SEO checker, and judge whether or not I’m going to get them placed on page one. Most of the fuss I’ve gotten has been “Needs to used active voice. Change all passive voice to active” because the SEO checkers figured out that Google likes when you are doing something, rather than if something is or isn’t.

There are times I really hate writing this stuff. Especially for law firms. Bloodsucking bastards that they are.

Last night I hit a wall. I struggled for six hours to write one 2000 word post for a law firm. I had three more due by 10pm today. It wasn’t happening. There’s a scene in that movie, Shine, where the main character is playing a Rachmonimov piece and al he hears is the keys hitting wood as he plays the notes. There is no music. Then (spoiler alert), his brain short-circuits and he collapses from the intensity of the experience. But he is no longer playing music, he’s just hitting keys. Last night, that’s how it felt to write another legal post nobody is going to read, and nobody is going to buy for at least another month. But of course, everything is DUE RIGHT NOW. It was just word salad, with a bunch of keywords, active voice, and pandering to a goddamned algorithm for views.

I waved off the other three.

Recently, I’ve been reading about freelancing and how to increase your success in the field. One of the things that keeps coming up is diversifying your income streams. Somehow I feel like writing for content mills is polishing brass on the Titanic. The jobs are coming less frequently and more associated with what makes the algorithms happy, instead of thoughtful, compelling content actual people might read. I’m considering branching out into other media that allows me to write stuff I want to write, stuff I would want to read even, and somehow get paid to do it.

I think it’s the only way that makes sense for the long term when it comes to making a living doing this. So when I give people the short answer of “I write copy for websites” it doesn’t cover what I really do. I am editing a book I wrote, I’m working on establishing myself as a freelance writer, more specifically a travel writer. I’m a published author who needs to do his own marketing and sales but has to figure out how to dedicate more resources like time and money to that whole process.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how traditional publishing is on the way out. Publishers used to help an author edit, produce, publish, and market their works. The writers got paid pretty well for it too. Nowadays, publishing is a mess. If you do get an advance it isn’t that much. The publisher expects the least amount of work to edit and get the book perfect for publication, and once that is done, they expect the writer to do their own marketing. A lot of publishing contracts are given to either celebrities with a fan base (and these tell-all autobiographies are usually ghost-written by some schmuck like me), or are just tag-a-longs with popular intellectual properties/themes/trends that are a sure thing when it comes to making a profit.

When people complain that movies are nothing but remakes, lately the same is true of books. It’s either post-modern rehashes of books we read when we were growing up, or Kirkland brand copies of successful series like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Ad infinitum. You would think it would be easy to just write something like that, but usually a publisher already has someone in mind to write this crap. They usually know them–a friend of a friend, or a family member.

Traditional publishing is circling the drain. Especially with magazines. So, the interesting thing is that the best way to make money is to just do it yourself. Run your own publishing house. I mean, why not if you are going to have to do all the marketing anyway?

So, I’ve been researching other things today. Podcasting. YouTube channels. Monetization. I’ve come to realize that nobody is going to open the gate for me, so I might have to do it myself. We are living in some strange times for this. It used to be that the writing was the horse that pulled the cart of advertising and merchandise. Now it seems to be the other way around. Crazy.

I gotta say too that the learning curve is steep. But it all makes better sense than hoping I can approach things with a dying model of industry as traditional publishing and expect success.

A couple things before I begin

Procrastination

Today will be a workday for assignments. I picked up five last night. It is very tough to get started on them sometimes, mostly because of how dry they are and how slow the clients are to buy them once they are done. I still have $700 worth of stuff sitting in queue from Memorial Day weekend and earlier. Summertime is especially rough, and with inflation and fuel prices being so crazy right now, clients are pretty tight-fisted. But, I have the work to do and I can expect it to pay off…eventually.

Procrastination is very real with me, and as much as I dislike writing posts for law firms about slip and fall injuries or traumatic brain injuries, it beats the alternative, which is sitting on my ass, working for someone else who gets to treat me like garbage while they get to live their best life at my expense. If the work is there, I pick it up. If I choose to ignore it, that is on me. But at least I don’t have some morbidly obese albino yelling at me every six months for my performance review.

Work

The other day, I was visiting my dad and he desperately wanted to give me a copy of the local paper. “Did you see they have a job with the town posted? You need to apply for that!” When I asked him what it was, he said it was doing things around town like fixing stop signs, filling potholes, and painting curbs. I thanked him and said no thanks. I already have a job. It’s just different from what people are used to. I work for myself. Some weeks are better than others, sure, but writing is what I was trained to do and it is what I want to do. The other job was safe in my dad’s mind, because punching a clock makes sense. Right now, I’m struggling, but I feel fulfilled. My work has meaning. Yes, even when I write about motorcycle accidents. Hey, as much as I’ve paid lawyers over the last ten years, I kinda like the idea of billing them for once!

What I do worry about is what is coming. A Recession. Let’s be honest. Probably a full-on Depression. I’m not sure where writers stand in that whole mess, but I can guarantee as cheap as off-shore services are to write copy, and as tempting as AI programs are for people needing content, there is NO substitute for something an actual writer has created. I don’t care what your SEO app says.

SEO and Robots

Here’s a brief rant about that. I got a rejection from a law firm because someone else’s SEO content scored higher than mine. Does anyone else remember that scene in Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams tells them to rip out the pages? The reason for that was even back in the mid 20th Century, some jackass decided to apply mathematics to the quality of literature and poetry. That’s what algorithms are. So these companies go ape-shit for what scores higher. Of course their keywords and content are always things like BEST ORTHODONTIST ZEPHYRHILLS or some other nonsensical crap that Google will home in on. These are the same customers who go by strict Search Engine Optimization recommendations from their algorithm and you get 20 keywords or phrases just as stupid as that just to pump up their numbers. The truth of it is that Google might search that shit out when you plug in your keywords and bring it up, but it is nearly impossible for the content to be organic, much less interesting, for return readership. But, people just aren’t reading like they used to. They have zero attention spans(myself included).

I have actually turned down work before because the client wanted the SEO numbers first and foremost, while the copy I wrote got turned into garbage just to appease the algorithm. That was the hardest $200 I’ve ever gotten out of two 1000 word posts.

There is a catalog out there called The Sportsman’s Guide and for decades it has been called the Fun to Read Catalog. It used to be army surplus but has now gone the way of outdoorsman gear. It is still fun to read. Every product description has the same narrative voice. Each item has a story and convinces you that this item is going to be awesome because it has character. I love writing stuff like that. Because I love READING stuff like that.

Cursive

I worry about what our dependency on technology is doing to the human race. I entered a conversation today on a forum for the agency that I find assignments through about cursive. One person talked about how they would like their babies to be able to read the Declaration of Independence itself because they know how to read cursive. Cursive has been cut out of the curriculum of most schools now. It’s almost as dead as Latin at this point.

It concerns me less that the next generation won’t be able to read the primary sources such as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution than it does they are effectively severed from nearly all previous generations by language.

If you have stacks of old letters saved by your grandma, your children won’t be able to read them. They are cut off from their heritage, their identity, and their history if they don’t have access to these family documents. I think our society wants it that way. If I sound a little woo-woo and Conspiratorial, consider what our government has done to every group of people they have wanted to control since the beginning. They cut the people off from their culture. Whether it is Residential Schools, forbidding people to speak their native tongue, eliminating foreign translations of religious texts, and removing art and expression from the public that doesn’t fit the narrative. When you can alienate entire generations of ancestors from children, you get to fill the vacuum with whatever the hell you want them to believe.

My kids don’t know cursive. I would have loved to have taught them, but I was busy working my ass off at a job that used me up for twenty years, paying just enough to scrape by every month (while the mucky-muckys flew to Thailand every month). See now why I’m not so eager to go right back into something like that unless I absolutely have to?

Anyway, it’s time to work on my assignments.