Writers: How Not To Suck At Marketing

When I’m not giving marketing advice and using dirty words on my own website IttyBiz, I’m over at First Wives World being an editor and blog manager. I hire writers. A lot of them. While I’m sure many of our applicants are good writers, I’ll never know because I don’t get back to them. Learn from these writers. They screw up so you don’t have to.

1. Treat it like a real business.

I recently received an otherwise wonderful job application from a woman whose email address was prissymissy456[at]aol.com.

I am not joking. The only thing I changed was the number. Would you hire an accountant with an email address like that? A lawyer? Would we elect this woman to Congress?

Get a real email address. Answer your phone with your name. Do not let your kid record your voice mail greeting with “You’ve reached Sherri, Larry, Barry, and Kerry! You know what to do!” Get business cards, the kind you didn’t print off on your own ink jet.

2. Get a real website.

If you have some spare time to kill – and you don’t mind mourning for the rest of your life that you’ll never get it back – go check out some writer’s websites. Seriously. Google it. It’s freaking disgraceful, and it’s not just limited to broke freelancers. Head on over to Nora Roberts’ site and you’ll find a typo on the homepage.

We hang around in forums and comment threads bitching and complaining that people don’t pay us enough money. We say we’re worth $50/hour. Does your website say you’re worth $50/hour?

On the other hand, check out Joel Schettlers’ site. Is your site this good? No? Go back and redo.

3. But act like a real person.

Can we agree on a cease-and-desist for all query letters that start with Dear Sir? Or To Whom It May Concern? I thought these went out with the ark.

You know all those writing books and websites that you read, the ones that tell you to cultivate your voice? That “voice” you’re trying so hard to develop does not start on page one – it starts WAY before that.

As a writer, the only thing you have is your words. Choose them wisely.

4. Spend some money.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about writers that makes them feel they’re exempt from spending money on their business. Is it because they think they’re broke? Not acceptable. Go find an installation artist or a musician – they’ll tell you about broke.

Does it cost money to get a second phone line, a fax machine, a professional website? Yes. Is it your basic human right to be paid for what you love without spending a dime of your own cash? No.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for bootstrapping. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage on your home, people. Barter for services, if you can. Eat ramen for a few months if you have to. You’ll be eating it for a whole lot longer if you don’t spend some money to promote yourself effectively.

5. Figure out what you’re good at, and tell people about it.

Imagine this little scenario. You are at a social gathering of some type (not a LAN party, though – we’re covering marketing for programmers next week) and someone asks you what you do for a living. There are only two acceptable answers. You can say you’re a writer. Or, you can say specifically what kind of writer you are. That’s it.

How the hell do you expect to get any business if you don’t tell people you’re in business? My aunt, God love her, has two masters degrees and wants to work from home as a copywriter. Ask her what she does for a living and she tells you she works at a wine store!

Along the same lines, if you specialize – and if you’ve been freelancing more than six months, you should – make your specialty very, very clear. Do you write white papers? Blog posts? Feature pieces? Open your mouth and tell people about it.

BONUS TIP: For God’s sake, proofread.

I really, really wish I didn’t have to say this, but clearly I do. We got 68 applications for our most recent job posting and 51 had major errors. I’m not talking about someone using a semicolon when I would have preferred an em dash. I’m talking about starting out your email with “hello my lisa.” What does that even say? Oh, and check your attachments while you’re at it. You never know what you’re sending.



Naomi Dunford writes for IttyBiz, a blog for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other work-from-home types. Come by and check out her free 31 Day Marketing School. No homework required.



  1. says

    Wow! I am not a writer, hold on, I guess I am since I blog. All I wanted to say is this is a wonderful post.

    I agree to all points but number one is one of the things that I annoys me the most. Here is an instance, not related to writers but proves the point,

    Me and my wife are trying to purchase a house, so we got a realtor. The very first day after talking to him I asked him for a business card, he doesn’t have one, Ok! fine how about your email address – his email address given to me on a piece of paper read – 21tillidie[at]yahoo.com .

  2. says

    Wow. Damn. I don’t really know what to say to that. I didn’t think anything could be worse than Prissy Missy, but at least she wasn’t trying to sell me half a million dollars worth of real estate. Damn. Again.

    You know how they have those charities that give interview suits to the poor and disenfranchised? Every now and again I fantasize about doing the same with business cards. I figure, if you can’t afford the twenty bucks for a set of business cards, you’re pretty freaking hard up.

    Thanks for the comment – I’m glad you liked the post.

  3. says

    Well Well Well, You are a great writer and this is not because you have written something that is great but because you think in that way and this is a deep thoughts that you have converted in words and shared them with us. Its a very very very wonderful post. I have never seen people like you who thinks in this way. That is making you different and special from others. Keep posting such a nice topics, I would like to read more of your posts.

  4. says

    I can relate to all the goofups writers make – I see a ton of them in applications to our team every day.

    Number four on your list is the biggest problem writers have: QUIT WHINING ABOUT NOT HAVING MONEY. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    And then SPEND the money to improve! Writing is a business and a trade. If you want to be some artist in a dusty closet crying over rejection letters for the greatest works you’ve ever written, go ahead. Shut the door and shut up about it.

    If you want to make money and earn a living, act like an entrepreneur and a professional. Treat your craft like a business – because it IS.

  5. says

    Very valid points, Naomi!

    1. Treat it like a real business.

    I remember when Yahoo! launched their personalized email campaign, their tag line was: “Is you email ID STILL kooldude737-at-yahoo.com?”

    2. Get a real website.

    Totally agree! Your website is your visiting card!

    3. But act like a real person.

    If I read “Dear Sir” on a letter, I immediately categorize it as one of those Nigerian phishing emails.

    4. Spend some money.

    I think the writers shy away from spending because the very act of writing does not call for an investment. I mean, if you’re manufacturing nuts and bolts, you need to buy a machine that produces them.. not so when you’re writing.

    5. Figure out what you’re good at, and tell people about it.

    The crying baby gets the most milk!

    BONUS TIP: For God’s sake, proofread.

    Well, I do’tn see a rael resaon to watse ttime poorfreading.

  6. Guy Sarsten says

    Is it just me or does this article seem a little angry?

    I’m not saying these points aren’t valid I’m just saying if you don’t like my email address move on we’re probably not a good match anyway.

  7. says

    Naomi all fantastic points! I think they could apply to alot of genres, for instance how many web designers are there out there that fail to grasp the need for a well designed functional website (No.2). Then expect clients to come knocking on their door!

    You have to spend money to make money, its not always necessarily true, but simple things like business cards, having a website designed/developed etc can have a beneficial impact on your business.

  8. says

    It’s taken me a while to get #5. When someone asks what I do, I now tell them I’m a freelance writer. I may add in that I own the company, depending on the situation. The fact that I can now do either with a straight face and no giddiness shows that I finally believe it myself!

  9. says

    Thanks, Naomi, good post.

    I might also add to the category on business cards: your blog or your online business may be virtual, but nothing about the effort or time you put into it is. This is your brand, this is your identity. Make an investment into professionalism and showing the world your value.

    And e-mail addresses, oy. Fluid branding is key. Keep all your online names in the same vein and if you publicize them or could at any time associate them with your identity, keep them professional. I know someone who I would hire in a second, but her e-mail address is an unfortunate “heroin_chic.” Could you scream warning any louder? You dishonor yourself and undermine your efforts at not getting your online identity in order.

    In short, you are how you appear, so make your best effort at being professional in any way that is associated with who you are and how you make your money.

    Maya Norton

  10. says

    Nice tips you have there. I do believe a lot of us are not doing it. Well we are not perfect. I believe nobody do things right in the first time. as long we are willing to learn and better our work than we will do just find. just continue to receive advice freely and get it done.

  11. says

    “Head on over to Nora Roberts’ site and you’ll find a typo on the homepage”.

    Found not only that one, but also on Joel Schettlers’ site:
    - punctuation problems on the “about” page.
    - “increasing” instead of “increasingly” in one of his featured articles (http://joelschettler.com/images/uploads/meet0309p006.pdf, third para).

    So, how big a fuss should we make about typos — and do some typos deserve more fuss than others?

  12. says

    The posts on this website are always great and other marketers like me should inspire to create such original content on a regular basis instead of paying computers or people who can barely write to post.


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