Friend and colleague Phil R. Owen sold a column to gaming site Kotaku earlier this week, and was I was talking to him about the project, he said that advice I had given him had helped in the sale. Namely, that advice was that he should write articles and sell them, rather than rely on pitches of abstract ideas. I’m taking that as an endorsement of the list of tips I posted a while back, which you can find here.
Meanwhile, Phil’s story seems to have really touched a nerve, because the Kotaku story (here) got a fair amount of attention and a lot of positive response from readers.
Phil called me to tell me how excited he was about the story’s success, as he’s lately been trying the route of straight freelance rather than working for a specific games outlet. Getting published on Kotaku, especially with the article he sold (it discusses issues of mental health, namely depression), is a big win in that regard, and he seems to be getting his feet under him, which is great.
As Phil mentioned that the article was pulling down a lot of comments and buzz on Twitter, I suggested to him something I’ve found to be very successful for me in a lot of the writing I’ve done on various outlets: I told Phil to continue to engage. It seems that this can be an arena in which many writers miss the mark, especially as the world of social networking and commenting continues to change. But the most successful writers I’ve seen on the Internet, whether they be games journalists or novelists or something in between, don’t just write things, they make people remember who wrote them.
So I advised Phil to spend the day answering comments, engaging readers, following up on tweets and basically talking to as many people as he could. And I’d suggest that to anyone else trying to be a successful freelancer or writer in any regard. In the age of instant communication, every single piece you write — including a book — isn’t a standalone piece of content, enjoyed in a vacuum separate from the writer. It’s a conversation. What’s more, your readers want to have that conversation with you.
Last week, when co-writer best friend Nick and I published our breakdown on the film <em>Looper</em> at The Huffington Post (here), we spent good chunks of the next five or six days talking with people. There’s an important distinction here: it’s not just promotion. Sure, you fire off status updates plugging an article or a book or whatever, include a link, mention that you wrote it. But hitting people over the head with your piece of content, especially the same piece over and over, doesn’t really do anyone any good. We spent our time trying to connect with as many people as possible.
That meant reading through comments on the HuffPo article, discussing <em>Looper</em> with folks. Mostly this amounted to someone raising a point and us either explaining our viewpoint or discussing their interpretation; sometimes it meant trying to see things from another angle. But the point is, the “comments” section of any given article online is really at its best when it’s a discussion session. And I think that the article helped us sell books — which, at the end of the day, is the ultimate goal, even though the article itself is also an end unto itself (because writing that stuff is fun). We tried to form connections with people, and I think those connections paid off.
I do my best to answer comments on everything I write, whenever I can. Same with tweets, Facebook posts, and emails if possible. I want people to remember me. I want them to be interested in what I have to say, and I want them to discuss it, maybe even challenge it, because that’s what makes any of this interesting and worth doing. When you’re a writer, you <em>are</em> your own product, so from a business standpoint you have to “sell yourself.” But really, doing so is kind of dumb.
I know I don’t respond to people selling me, even if what they’re selling me is themselves, their work, their personality. What I like are conversations with interesting people. Ultimately, the best thing you can do as a writer isn’t to play salesperson — it’s to be cool. Talk to people whenever they want to talk to you. It’s what all writing is ultimately about anyway, and really, it’s as personally rewarding as it can be professionally.