Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Writing for the Web

A Presentation to the 18th Annual
Spring Writers Conference
@ Lakeland Community College
March 28, 2009

(editor's note: we're long overdue to post these notes. Thanks to everyone who joined this engaging discussion. I found it uniquely energizing).

It wasn’t so long ago that most writers focused only on print, while a few others concentrated only on the Internet. But those two worlds are steadily merging into one seamless publishing platform (when you publish an article in print, the outlet generally has purchased the right to also publish it on their website, and that’s a plus for you in terms of visibility if not income). At the same time, with the steady erosion (sometimes bordering on implosion) of print outlets, the web is becoming an increasingly crucial platform. In truth, it’s all just writing, but it helps to understand the sometimes different protocols and market conditions of print and online.

Item: Blender, Tennis Week, PC Magazine and the century-old Christian Science Monitor are among dozens of publications that have recently converted to online only. Plenty more will follow.
Item: Just a few weeks ago, the Pulitzer Prize administrators announced that for the first time, web-only pubs would be eligible.
Item: Longtime NYT & Washingon Post writer Sharon Waxman recently launched www.thewrap.com. Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, recently began www.thedailybeast.com. Both are chasing after huffingtonpost.com, which just raised $25 million in funding.
Item: online-only Insidehighered.com taking on mighty Chronicle of Higher Ed. Former Clevelander who used to edit the latter is now editing the former.
Item: the New York Times recently launched a local blog network.
Item: Talkingpointsmemo.com (which might just win that first online Pulitzer) broke the story of the Bush White House sacking of U.S. attorneys for politics.
Closer to home, two former PD reporters have launched online-only
www.medcitynews.com, and Coolcleveland.com, an e-letter, has something like 60,000 subscribers, while Northern Ohio Live magazine last year went from monthly to every other month, and two competing alternative weeklies (the Free Times and Scene, both near 100 pages most weeks) merged into one smaller paper.

Around the country, a number of great online-only publications are springing up to slowly fill part of the vacuum left by declining print newspapers (again, expect plenty more to follow):
www.newwest.net
www.voiceofsandiego.org
www.minnpost.com

Potential Online-Only Markets For You
Flakmag.com
CoolCleveland.com
Thesmartset.com
Examiner.com
The two granddaddies, each now well over a decade old:
Slate.com & Salon.com

Every writer, novice to master, should maintain some form of web presence, the more substantial the better. At the very least, that should include a page or two with your credits, background and contact information. It should provide a sense of your style and distinguish you from others who wield a pen or word processor. If it also includes a handful of examples of your best work--published or not, journalism or commercial/institutional copywriting--so much the better. I can promise you this: it will make you feel more serious about your own writing aspirations and invite others to do so as well. Through the power of search technologies such as Google and the web’s unique linking structure, you will also substantially increase your likelihood of serendipity. You’ll find that, done right, even a modest web strategy will help writing opportunities find you rather than you always having to search for them. Not a bad idea in any line of work, but especially helpful in writing.BlogsWeblogs, or blogs for short, are an excellent way to establish that web presence. These easily updatable online sites allow anyone to instantly publish to the web, and you needn’t have any Internet skills to do so. What do they do? Whatever you want them to do. You can use it as a way to stretch your muscles and try new things. Experiment with new topics, new voices or approaches. If you’re a fiction writer, you can take a stab at nonfiction, or vice versa. If you’re a journalist, you can try some poetry. You can choose to tell people it exists, or wait until you feel ready to unveil it. You can be more ambitious, treating it as your own online publication, written for an audience. Even if you’re an advanced writer with decades of experience, blogs are a way to steadily widen your audience, engage more people (including new editors) and show more of what you can do and have done. You can share links to new articles and other publications, maintain an archive of earlier work, announce and sell your books and inform folks about your workshop appearances. In short, it’s a great method for building a community around your work. Unlike a static writers’ website, it screams out for readers to return periodically to your site to read about what’s new.


Other Benefits That May Surprise You

If you want it to, having a blog will instantly connect you to a dense network of fellow writers, thinkers, readers, doers and seekers. This group of highly engaged people can become a community of practice for you and your writing that will sustain and support you in your efforts. That’s critical for every writer, from the greenest novice to the most experienced master wordsmith, because writing can be, but need not be, the loneliest calling/profession/hobby/pursuit (choose one or more that applies to you). Through blogging, you can, should you so choose, join a large ongoing discussion that will stimulate your curiosity and imagination, challenge your intellect and ultimately inform and nourish your writing. It will stretch your writing horizons and possibly erase geographic boundaries. It could bring you a few (or perhaps many) international readers, and might just even get you hired for a writing gig simply because someone liked what they read and wanted more.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks


Okay: so let’s say for the sake of argument that I’ve convinced you to consider beginning your own blog. How do you do it? There are a number of online publishing platforms through which you can publish your blog. Wordpress (http://wordpress.com) is perhaps the most popular platform, because of its easy adaptability and many features. One of the best and easiest is Blogger (www.blogger.com). It’s owned by Google, is simple and reliable, and best of all, it’s completely free (though they’ll be happy to sell you upgrades with more bells and whistles). Actually, believe it or not, there’s something even better than the fact that it’s free: you don’t have to know a thing about web technology to set one up yourself and to maintain it. If you can figure out the Microsoft Word program, you can follow Blogger’s highly intuitive prompts and in about 10 minutes set up your own blog. You’ll just have to give yourself a password, decide the look you’d prefer by choosing from among several page templates, decide what to call your blog and if you’ll want to allow visitors to post comments. And bingo--you’ll be in business, ready to become your own publisher. If you need help, just ask. I’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

Some Worthwhile ResourcesFor writers, a static website and a blog shouldn’t be thought of as either-or propositions. Ideally, they complement each other. But if you’re going to introduce yourself at cocktail parties as a writer or identify yourself that way on your tax return, you’d better have at least one.
Here are a couple great examples of writer’s websites:

http://www.ruhlman.com/
http://www.kristinohlson.com/

List of websites maintained by journalists:
http://wiki.cyberjournalist.net/jblogs-personal

List of blogs by independent journalists:
http://wiki.cyberjournalist.net/jblogs-independent

Good Portal For Information About Freelancing:
http://freelancewrite.about.com/

Best Blog About Commercial Copywriting:
http://www.copyblogger.com

If you’re going to invest in a subscription to a writers magazine, I recommend one of these:
The Writer (
www.writermag.com/wrt) more nonfiction oriented
Poets & Writers (
www.pw.org) more poetry and fiction oriented
Over this:
Writer’s Digest (
www.writersdigest.com) mostly bad advice & sales pitches, but sometimes okay


5 Comments:

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, John.

Thank you,

Neve

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Neve. How goes your scribbling, by the way?

 
At 8:44 PM, Blogger Alanna said...

Thanks for this post, John! I enjoyed Writing for the Web at Lakeland and meeting you!
Thanks again for passing out my flyers for The Writing Show at the end of the presentation! I greatly appreciate it!
Take care!
-Alanna Klapp

 
At 8:54 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The best part of doing these presentations is always the great people you meet. So glad you were there, Alanna, and that we got the chance to meet. Hope you'll continue to stop back here and add your two cents. Good luck with your writing and with the show.

 
At 9:55 PM, Blogger Alanna said...

Thanks John! I will! =)

 

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