Your blog InkThinker, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. One year ago, did you think that your blog would impact so many writers?
Absolutely not. When I started out, it was the online equivalent of me standing on a stage in an empty concert hall, talking to myself. Thirteen months later, it's become way bigger than I even thought to imagine. It surprises me daily.
How did you find an audience for your blog when you were first starting out?
Mostly by accident. I commented on other people's blogs and added the URL to my signature line for e-mails and forum posts, and one thing just kind of led to another. The biggest factor in having a well-trafficked blog is to provide content that people want to read. Easier said than done, of course.
How do you generate new content for your blogs? Is it as easy as it seems?
I'm a talkative girl and working from home all by myself, I need an outlet that's a little more interactive than talking to my dog (though that is admittedly quite entertaining). There have been a very few times that I struggled for something to write about but mostly I try to rein myself in. I guess I just have a lot to say.
What motivated you to start the 2007 Query Challenge?
I've been trying to get on the ball with sending queries instead of just thinking about doing it and I figured there must be other writers out there in the same position. Why not rally the troops? Positive peer pressure has always been a great motivator for me so I guess I'm just trying to spread the "easily influenced" love in a productive way.
How has the Query Challenge grown or evolved over its first few months?
Like the blog itself, the Query Challenge has developed a life of its own. The e-mails I've gotten from people telling me about their experience and how the Challenge has inspired them have literally made me cry. They're just so sweet. It's amazing to see this whole community of strangers rallying up to support one another and provide encouragement.
You also started the Lieurance-King Article Challenge. What's the idea behind that challenge?
I heard about Suzanne Lieurance's 40 Article Challenge from fall 2006 after it had already ended, and I thought it just sounded like a good time and right up my alley. At the beginning of this year, I contacted Suzanne and asked her if she'd like to team up to co-host an article challenge throughout the year. We talked it out, and the Lieurance-King Article Challenge was born!
"The biggest factor in having a well-trafficked blog is to provide content that people want to read."
How important is it for freelance writers to network and participate in support groups?
Networking is critical for freelancers. Developing and maintaining relationships with other writers is how you'll stay motivated; how you'll grow as a writer, a businessperson, and an individual; and how you'll stay connected to what's going on in the industry. It's not enough just to have access to reference materials; you need access to resources, and that's what your fellow freelancers are.
Now that you're busy blogging for LivelyWomen.com and working on other projects, how do you find time to keep up with your personal blog?
Writing Inkthinker has become such a part of my life that I can't not do it -- not just because I enjoy it so much, but because I know other people are counting on me. If I don't post for a few days or even if posting is just slim, it's just a matter of time before "Are you okay?" e-mails start trickling in, and many from people I've never heard of before. (That part's a bit surreal but I'm getting used to it.)
You've had some good marketing opportunities offline as well. Could you tell us about some of your speaking engagements and interviews?
I started speaking at writers' seminars in fall 2004 and am doing them on a larger scale and much more frequently as time goes by. The speaking engagement I'm most excited about is the June 9 Washington Independent Writers Conference, where I'm flying solo on a 75-minute presentation on online marketing for writers. Peter Bowerman is speaking at the same conference, so I'm feeling a bit famous by association. I'm also looking forward to an upcoming interview with the author of a soon-to-be-revised how-to book for writers who's asked to profile me for the new edition. Forgive me for sounding a bit Valley but is that like totally cool, or what?
Some writers struggle with face-to-face networking because they're used to hiding behind a computer or notebook. Any tips on overcoming this hurdle?
I don't think there's any big secret to networking in person. You'd probably never know it but it's hard for me too. My heart races pretty much the whole time every time and every time I think about it for about two weeks before and after -- particularly for speaking engagements. But again, I've made a commitment either explicitly or implicitly to provide something for the people I'm meeting (whether it's a useful presentation, an informative handout, a listening ear, or some encouragement), and I don't want to let them down. Focusing on the other people instead of myself gets me through it.
How do you keep track of projects, deadlines, and queries?
I'm still working on finding the best system for this, but I've started to rely more and more on my Outlook calendar and my new PDA/phone combo to keep me on top of things. I still drop the ball from time to time but I try to stay ahead of the game. Writing things down and setting my calendar to remind me when I'm supposed to be working on something definitely help.
"you need access to resources, and that's what your fellow freelancers are"
How much time per week do you spend marketing yourself versus writing for publications or clients?
I market myself constantly. I've recently started devoting the first hour or two of each day to going through the job boards and any alerts I've set up for myself and applying for positions; following up with potential clients; and catching up with my forum memberships. But the bottom line is that, as an independent business owner, everything you do is a marketing activity whether you realize it or not. When you focus on the potential that lies in your everyday interactions with people, you'll see your business increasing.
How much time should writers spend marketing themselves when they're first trying to get clips?
I don't care if you're brand new or a seasoned pro -- constant, aggressive marketing is critical to a successful business. Maybe you're doing okay without it, but just think how much better you'd be doing if you tried even a little. Then, think how much better you'd be doing if you developed an annual, monthly, or even weekly marketing plan. There's a huge opportunity for growth at any level when you devote time to conscientious marketing.
In your opinion, what is the single most important marketing tool for new writers? A blog? A website? A coveted spot on Inkthinker's blogroll?
In today's connected society being without a website will hold you back. You don't have to be an HTML guru to create a professional-looking website and the returns are huge. Second, if you don't have business cards (or if your current cards are ugly, cheap, unprofessional, or any combination of the above), bite the bullet and shell out a few bucks for nice cards -- and put your website address on them.
Is there anything you would have done differently when you were starting out as a full-time freelancer?
My freelance career has gone pretty well so far but I do wish I'd made a point of getting on a more regular schedule from the very beginning. I was so excited about being able to pick my own hours that I've developed a bad habit of, shall we say, having a very flexible schedule. It makes it hard for me to feel like I ever clock out, which I really don't enjoy. I'm working on sticking to Regular Business Hours instead of Whenever I Feel Like Working.
Should writers share their personal blog with clients and editors or keep it separate?
There's no such thing as a secret on the internet. Anything you'd be embarrassed or ashamed to have a client read is something you shouldn't be posting. Even if you use a fake name, you're not as sneaky as you think you are. Just be intelligent about it. For me, there's definitely some personal stuff like about my bipolar disorder, on both my Inkthinker blog and my professional LivelyWomen.com blog and I'm okay with that. I know some of my clients have read it because they've commented on it. But I haven't lost a client because of it and if someone's decided not to hire me because of that kind of stuff, that's not someone I'd want to work for anyway. You can be as personal as you're comfortable with -- but recognize that there are consequences to everything. Just use common sense.
Tell us about your decision to go to grad school. Do you think writers need an advanced degree?
I decided to go to school for my masters in publishing because I got into the industry at a young age with a lot more ambition than experience, and I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. Forget an advanced degree -- you don't even need an undergrad degree to be a writer. If you've got the motivation to learn what you need to learn, it doesn't matter how much education you have or how you get the skills so long as you do what you need to do the way it needs to be done. It's all about what you want to put into it.
Do you think writing and editing are similar or different skill sets?
Writing and editing are definitely intertwined but being good at one doesn't automatically make you good at the other. I can edit a novel like nobody's business but when it comes to writing one, well, my fiction just isn't that great and I know it. This is not me being modest -- this is me being realistic. I write the things I'm good at writing and I edit the things I'm good at editing. I try to develop the skills where I'm not as strong but I also try to focus on my strengths. It's definitely possible to do both well but you'll be better in some areas than others, and that's normal. Go with it.
What is your dream writing gig?
If I had my way, I'd make like $80,000 a year just writing Inkthinker. I love it so much. I think if I could afford it, which might be all I'd do.
What's next for Kristen King?
After editing my friend Kristen Fischer's book Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal With Career Ups and Downs, I've been feeling inspired to devote some more time to my own nonfiction book project. I got some really positive feedback on my proposal at last year's Writer's Digest Book Expo America writing conference (including Editor from Really Big Publishing House expressing serious interest in a spin-off of my initial idea), and that coupled with Inkthinker's growth and increasing recognition makes me feel like it's time to get started. So, who knows, maybe this time next year I'll be announcing a book deal. Hmm, that might make a great new Challenge...
WOW's comments: Kristen, we want to thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us today. We'll be looking for many more great things from you.
Kristen would love for you to visit her at:
"Subscribe to Kristen's free newsletter at www.notes-in-the-margin.com."
“Boston-based writer Susan Johnston is a two time National Scholastic Writing Award-winner. She has written for a variety of print and online publications, including Young Money magazine, the Shecky's Nightlife Guide to Boston, and 100Hats.com. Read about her writing adventures at The Urban Muse.”
Susan's blog: http://www.theurbanmuse.blogspot.com
Susan's home page: http://www.susan-johnston.com
Photo by Decent Urban Lifestyles