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Talk is cheap, text is free

By Paul Watson on .

When text on the web is free and abundant (even more so than music and images), why should a person pay for it? In other words, how can writers (and by “writers”, I’m including writers of fiction, screenplays, academic theory, graphic novels, journalism etc.—the whole kit and caboodle) make money when what they write is free?

The concept of “freeconomics” has been covered here before—and in many other places before I ever mentioned it—but I want to look at how it affects writers (since I’ve already looked at visual artists and musicians in this blog before, albeit only briefly so far). If you can’t sell your writing on the web, then how can the web sell your writing?

Rather than attempt to answer the question myself, I decided to get a couple of writer friends of mine to write their own answers (for free, of course!). They both work in different areas of writing and have different approaches.

So, giving their opinions today are:

Me: When text on the web is free and abundant (even more so than music and images), why should a person pay for it? What added value can you provide?

Steph Auteri: I’m not so sure that a person should be paying for any of the content they’re finding online. The only web content I pay for is that on Mediabistro.com. I pay an annual fee to be a member of their AvantGuild program, and gain access to their How to Pitch articles and other features. The reason I find these to be so valuable is that the How to Pitch pieces provide specific and necessary information for mag pitching, such as contact names and e-mail addresses that I’d otherwise have to get off my ass to find out myself.

That’s why, as an online writer, I believe your best bet is either space advertising or supplementary materials (and by supplementary materials, I mean stuff like exclusive e-books or databases, or even nifty t-shirts that promote your site).

As you say, there are too many freebies out there for anyone to find it worth their while to pay for plain old blog content.

Me: What business models are available for the writer – how can a writer make a living (or even just a bit of extra cash from their hard work)?

Adrian Reynolds: When, with your technical assistance, I created www.yoodothatvoodoo.com, I did so for a number of reasons. A key one was and is to raise my profile among the community of online screenwriters that’s become known as the scribosphere.

In looking at what most of online screenwriters did, I knew I wanted to do something different. Like, believe it or not, most screenwriters don’t provide free writing samples on their sites: I’ve made a point of doing this. That means my site functions as a resource, and also as a marketing tool: if you as, say, a producer come across several sites, one way to distinguish them is by the scripts they include. The fact that mine does, and most peoples’ don’t, is in my favour.

Another aspect that came out of exploring how poor most screenwriters’ sites are is that I wanted to provide evidence of my ability to think about stories and the different media I work in. Again, there’s precious little evidence in most screenwriting blogs, many of which are fairly facile semi-personal diaries about what the writer had for lunch and their difficulties getting their agent to return a call. By contrast, I write pretty much every day a piece of 400 words or so that touches on some or other aspect of writing, creativity, film, television, theatre or comics. You may or may not like all of those pieces, but they undeniably paint a picture of me as someone with something to say about their craft and industry, which is more than can be said for most screenwriting blogs.

Steph Auteri: How can a writer make a living with their actual writing, and not just an almost-daily proofreading gig and once-in-awhile work for their former employer? Like, their actual writing? If only I knew.

Fortunately, I subscribe to sites such as ProBlogger.net, so I know that there are ways to trick out your blog—as I mentioned before—with supplementary materials and advertising? So you can, in fact, make money with your blogging. If you’re lucky. And if you’re dedicated enough to put in the time to build a money-making blog.

Outside of your blog, you can always…

Me: Has all of this work paid off?

Adrian Reynolds: Yes, and in unexpected ways. I was expecting to slowly make an impression with some of the more credible screenwriting resources, and that has happened, and I have acquired new readers as a result. I’ve also been approached by people who’ve read my script samples, checked out my piece on script doctoring, and have approached me about working on their short film and feature scripts. Perhaps the best piece of feedback I received came from someone on StumbleUpon. Their comment has disappeared—out of date I guess—but what they said demonstrated to me that I’d achieved what I set out to do, writing to the effect that ‘pretty much every day you’ll come across a real nugget here, particularly if you’re into screenwriting‘. Mission accomplished.

My big success with the site comes from an unexpected source however. I post on another forum which has nothing do with screenwriting, but where my profile links to www.youdothatvoodoo.com. And people who’ve been taken with what I’ve said on that forum have come to check out my profile and site, and got in touch to offer me work. As a result of which I’m now consulting on a TV series proposal by a very successful businessman, and have been discussing running very lucrative trainings on creativity with a couple of other people. I’m also advising people about how to improve their marketing, an area already know about and work in, but which my increasing knowledge of building an online brand is contributing towards in a big way.

So: have I got people to commission me to write scripts through my site? No…but that was never likely to be the case anyway. But I have got people interested in me as a writer, and potentially as someone who can work with them on their script, and who can also deliver on other fronts, such as training and marketing. All of which is already helping to boost my income—and all of which has happened since the site went live on December 31st last year.