Posts filed under Copywriting

Brittany E. Williams: Digital Advertising Copywriter

Name: Brittany E. Williams

Age: 29

College & Majors/Minors: Fort Valley State University, Bachelor of Arts in English Literature & University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Master of Arts in English Literature

Current Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Current Form of Employment: Copywriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m a Digital Advertising Copywriter at The Home Depot.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

Shortly after finishing grad school, I was contacted by a recruiter with a large staffing firm who found my resume on sites like Career Builder and Monster. It was a contract (temporary), project-based position with an industrial lighting company as a Graphic Designer/Production Artist. Not what you’d typically expect for someone with two English degrees; however, my previous experience with my collegiate newspaper and yearbook allowed me to learn programs like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, which helped me land the gig. This job also required extreme attention to detail and the ability to thoroughly proofread to ensure all copy was clear and accurate. 

Fast-forward to my current job, and once again, I was sought after by a recruiter with a smaller firm that specialized in placing talented candidates at a variety of well-known companies. A former contractor had just been promoted to a full-time position, so they were in the market for a new SEO Content Writer. I interviewed and was offered the job on the spot!

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

“I consulted a resumé writing service to help me rewrite my resumé, created an online portfolio of my more creative freelance work that more accurately reflected the type of work I was seeking, and even made up some projects just to showcase what I could do if given the opportunity.”

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with several writing-related opportunities throughout my career thus far, but I’d say there were two pivotal roles that led me to where I currently am today. The first was a short-lived contract position with a large financial institution here in Atlanta. There was no creativity involved and little to no direction on the writing I was producing. It was very constricting, which made it difficult for me to grow at the time. I wasn’t a good fit for the culture either, which plays a huge role in how successful you’ll be with any organization. Even though this position paid me the most money I’d ever made, it simply wasn’t in line with my ultimate career goals. 

The funny thing is, I didn’t truly know what those goals were at the time. I figured since it involved some form of writing at the corporate level, and I was making great money, surely I was heading in the right direction. I was ultimately let go from that job, which was pretty devastating at first, but it wasn’t until then that I realized just how much I dreaded the job! Being let go was one of the best things to ever happen to me because it forced me to make a career shift. 

Up until then, I’d been doing mostly technical writing, with a few freelance opportunities here and there to really write creatively and produce original content. I consulted a resumé writing service to help me rewrite my resumé, created an online portfolio of my more creative freelance work that more accurately reflected the type of work I was seeking, and even made up some projects just to showcase what I could do if given the opportunity. 

Eventually, after many long days and nights of applying to several positions, I landed a role as a freelance Jr. Copywriter at a boutique advertising agency called Shared Vision Marketing in Atlanta, GA. This position stretched me in ways I never imagined. I was challenged everyday to come up with original ideas and execute them in clever, tangible ways. I worked with their in-house Social Media Manager, Art Directors, Account Managers and Creative Director to brand a variety of small consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to develop web copy, blog articles, direct mailers, scripts and more. I even had a chance to continue honing my graphic design skills by laying out the official program for a non-profit event we sponsored. 

In just two months, I was able to significantly improve my portfolio with tons of fun, creative projects that truly showcased my creative abilities. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and showed me that working as a creative writer in the business world was possible. It forced me to pursue a much more fulfilling career, eventually landing me at my current job as a copywriter for the world’s #1 home improvement retailer. 

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I’d have to say mastering the art of critical thinking is a big one—and ongoing. Learning how and when to ask the right questions; especially “why?” will take you far. You’d be amazed at how many people, especially in the working world, don’t do this. I also believe that my participation in extracurricular activities such as my collegiate newspaper, yearbook and various honor societies, clubs and other on-campus publications like our literary magazine and departmental newsletters, was a big help. I learned to network and build strong relationships as well as how to problem solve.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

“I personally think it’s one of the best kept secrets in academia.”

My number one piece of advice is to never allow anyone to box you in. When I was an English major, most people assumed that I would become a teacher or a professor. These are great career paths if that’s what you truly desire, but this assumption is often because most people don’t understand what obtaining an English degree entails other than reading and writing. There are so many paths available to you as an English major. I personally think it’s one of the best kept secrets in academia. English requires you to study several other disciplines to truly understand the intent of a text. You learn to thoroughly research in addition to studying individuals from various backgrounds, beliefs and experiences, providing you with unique insights that make you a much stronger candidate, writer and employee. 

It can be difficult when you’re first starting out, but don’t give up!  Think outside the box and learn how to sell yourself. Always think “big picture” and then convey how all the fine details work to create the big picture. Be a writer, but also be a thinker and a doer. Understand how to best implement your ideas into something tangible that will have the best impact on the intended audience or medium. Always be working on and improving your portfolio and always be willing to learn new skills to help you leverage your writing in new and exciting ways. Keep asking the right questions and be naturally inquisitive. Steadily build your network and keep in touch with recruiters and colleagues as you move throughout your career – you never know when you may need them again! An English degree equips you with all the tools necessary to be successful in a variety of career paths, but keep in mind that some roles may require you to be more than just a good writer. 

To learn more about Brittany and the work she's done over the years, check out her portfoliowebsite, and blog. You can also follow Brittany on Twitter and Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn. Brittany is also a contributing editor for Neu Neu Magazine, which you can follow on Instagram here


Posted on March 22, 2018 and filed under Copywriting, Interview, Interviews.

Jessica M. Collins: Web Copy Manager & Freelance Copywriter

Name: Jessica M. Collins

Age: 33

College & Majors/Minors: UW-Oshkosh, Bachelor of Science - English. Emphasis in Psychology.

Current Location: Rural Wisconsin

Current Form of Employment: Web Copy Manager and Freelance Copywriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am the web copy manager at a promotional products company. Together, my team and I write copy for over 400 products for our website per month. I also write for our company blog and  produce some of our marketing emails. I started as the lone copywriter here and as our company and my responsibilities have grown, so has my crew. I knew I wasn't cut out to be a high school teacher, but I love teaching my employees in the training capacity. 

I am also building up my freelance writing portfolio right now, writing web copy for successful entrepreneurs, writing articles for websites like the Huff Post, and keeping up my own fitness lifestyle blog. And finally, I am a certified personal trainer working on getting my barre certification so I can teach fitness classes. My life motto is to live life with intensity and be a better person every day! After spending as much quality time with my family as possible, writing and fitness are what make me feel alive.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first job after college was as an "Order Writer." It had "writer" in the description, but it was actually order entry, so I sort of felt like I was duped when I took the job. I knew that job wasn't what I was called to do, but it was the first job I was able to land after college, so I stuck with it for awhile. Then I sent out one, ONE, resume while working there and landed my dream job at the time at a local company that was only one mile from my and my husband's newlywed home. I had heard this was an excellent place to work and kept a casual eye on their job postings and one day a "web product copywriter" position was posted. It was absolutely perfect, just what I was looking for! During the interview process, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. It was really weird timing, but this job was absolutely, obviously meant to happen. I've been here for 8 years and 2 kids later!

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My positions before this were absolutely random and not writing related at all, but they each gave me their own training for my life up to this point. I went from babysitting as a pre-teen to working at a flower shop and JC Penney as a teen. Then, I worked a security job through college right up until I took the order writer position. Each taught me a new level of responsibility and skill set.

I did try my hand at publishing poetry and short stories on the side during that time. I was always writing, whether my professional positions required it or not. I filled the backs of all my college notebooks and floppy disks and flash drives with my writing and journal entries. Some of the poetry that came out of those buried pages is in my new book Unlatched, which is on Amazon Kindle.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I was proactive and created my own volunteer positions for several local businesses. I was able to fill my portfolio with writing samples and help my community in a meaningful way at the same time. There are a lot of things I would probably do differently knowing what I know now, but didn't at the time. For example, the internet has created some epic opportunities for content marketing and online business building. I would have probably taken a few more public relations, journalism or website design classes in college. I'm still always learning though. I've taken several courses just for the thrill of it during my time in my current position including getting my copywriting certificate from Media Bistro and taking a Business and Marketing Writing course. The best thing you can do for yourself is to never quit being a student!

“The best thing you can do for yourself is to never quit being a student!”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

There is SO much you can do with an English degree. You think your only two options  are to be a starving artist or a teacher, right? But that is so far from the truth, it makes me itch! There are so many beautiful things you can do as an English major in this world. Teachers are a true gift from God, but that doesn't mean we're all cut out to be one. In fact, I offer career strategy calls and a Getting Started Guide for recent English studies graduates to help you nail down a career action plan. I have such incredible resources to share and have acquired so much knowledge that I would love to impart to ambitious future leaders if you're searching for your way after graduation.

Whatever field you want to pursue, the best way to gain valuable experience is to volunteer in the field. This is the most direct route toward what you want, because it's a clear demonstration of your ambition to future employers and it gives you the most invaluable related experience to get you in the door.

I would also say you should always continue learning: read personal development books whenever you can, learn new writing techniques, acquire new skills, study influencers in your favorite field, join a mastermind group, etc. There's always something more to learn. In addition to writing and literature, I have found a reverberating passion in fitness and read everything fitness-related I can get my hands on. I've even published my own e-book titled Budget Fitness and have a few more fitness e-books in the works.

You were put on this earth for a reason, so live your true meaning every single day.

To learn more about Jessica M. Collins visit flashfittrainer.com. You can also follow her on Instagram and connect with her on LinkedIn.


Posted on September 2, 2016 and filed under Copywriting.

Nicole Danielle Chinn: Copywriter

Name: Nicole Danielle Chinn

Age: 22

College & Majors: I graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor of Arts in Literary Studies

Current Location: Dallas, Texas

Current Form of Employment: Copywriter

Where do you work and what is your current position? 

I'm currently a self-employed freelance copywriter. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first couple of jobs were fairly easy to get; they were all either in retail, fast food, or lifeguarding, so the process was pretty simple. Walk in, ask for an application, and wait for a callback. 

Finding my current job took a bit more work. I stumbled accross the opportunity when I was job searching back in November of 2015 and applied for it and didn't hear back. That's when I got my job as a Content Strategist/Copywriter and Social Media Manager at a local digital marketing agency in Dallas. A few months later I found out that I had a friend who knew someone that worked at the company I hadn't heard back from and and was able to put me in contact with the Editor-in-Chief. About a month later, I was offered the option to come on board as a freelance copywriter.  

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career? 

Before I decided to go freelance, I worked as a Content Strategist/Copywriter and Social Media Manager for a digital marketing company during my final semester of my senior year. During that time I was able to really immerse myself in my writing and I was able to refine my writing skills in many different areas thanks to my time in this position. 

What did you do in college to prepare you for your post-grad life? 

Pretend that post-grad life didn't exist and that I'd never have to become an adult? In all seriousness though, I spent my extra electives throughout college dabbling in different subjects that seemed interesting to me. This allowed me to see if maybe there was something out there I wanted to do other than write. In the end, I learned a lot from those classes, but nothing ever trumped my love for writing. 

After I made certain that I really wanted to write, I started looking for careers that would allow me to hone my abilities to the fullest. I tried the whole 'corporate America' desk job thing for awhile, but I ended up feeling very stifled. So, I looked for other ways I could support myself by writing that wouldn't make me resent my craft. Freelancing is the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. 

“ Don’t settle because it seems like the only option. Find your passion and do what you love.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

Don't settle. Don't settle for a dead-end job that doesn't allow you to utilize your English degree and everything you've learned and practiced and perfected over the years. I know that when I was in school, I would get a lot of weird looks and chuckles when I told people what I was majoring in, which can feel a little discouraging. I was told I would never be able to find a job with my degree. However, when I was growing up, I was always told to go after what I enjoyed and what made me happy, so I did and I don't regret it for a second. Don't settle because it seems like the only option. Find your passion and do what you love. 

You can connect with Nicole on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter


Posted on August 17, 2016 and filed under Copywriting, Freelance, Self-Employed.

Becca Wallace: Content Manager

Name: Becca Wallace

Age: 23

College & Majors/Minors: San Diego State University – Bachelor Degree in English

Current Location: San Diego, CA

Current Form of Employment: Full-time Content Manager

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I currently work as a Content Manager (or Content Queen as my coworkers like to call me) for an Internet Marketing Company. We have a few different names for our company depending on our client’s category of business; Dental Affiliate and San Diego Business Media are the two main ones. We create websites and manage marketing for dental offices, plastic surgeons, auto shops and a large variety of other businesses, but our primary focus is dental offices. 

My job is to manage all of the content that goes onto our clients' websites, including blogs and content on all of the pages. This includes lots of copywriting and copyediting and some SEO! I know way more than I ever wanted to know about dental procedures now that I am constantly reading and editing about them.  We usually send our content off to writers (I occasionally write it), and I am the one who edits and posts it on their websites. I also manage social media for our clients and our company. This will include posting links to their blogs and posting occasional fun things. One of my other duties includes writing for our corporate blog and whitepapers. This means I need to stay on top of what’s happening in the internet marketing world!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

The first job I got after college was as a Marketing Assistant for a manufacturing company. I found that one on Craigslist after applying like crazy one month before graduation. I went in for two interviews, and even though I had a degree in English, I had the skills and attitude they were looking for so they hired me. I stayed at this job for about six months and went in search of a job more relating to reading and writing.

I also found my current job on Craigslist (apparently it’s the place to go!). I sent in some writing samples and came in for an interview and was hired! 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

The only writing experience I had outside of my current job and the endless amount of essays from my college career were these two groups I was involved with while I was in school. (See next question for more info).

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

For my first three years of college, I really wasn’t doing anything to prepare for post-grad life other than working at my part-time job at the school’s dining hall. Although all I was doing was cooking and serving food, it really helped me break out of my shell and develop a more lively personality, which is something I think is important for people to have when they go to job interviews.

During college, I got involved with my school’s literary review (Aztec Literary Review). This is where students submitted poems and short stories for our semester PDF of student work. We had a team of about seven people who all worked together to spread the word to students asking for submissions, read the submissions, and create the PDF that contained the winners. I also helped manage our website and created the artwork for one of the semesters.

Another group I had in college was through my Publishing and Editing class. In this class, we formed groups based on our interests in books and made a website on WordPress where we would feature book reviews, interviews with authors and more. This was by far one of the most important parts of my college career because I learned how to use WordPress and Adobe InDesign which came in handy with both of my post college jobs.

On top of my work experience, I tried to read and write as much as possible, as well as learn anything that would help my resume stand out. I taught myself about HTML, CSS, and Photoshop. The more skills you have, the better your resume will look!

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Don’t give up hope and don’t listen to people who tell you that you won’t find a job. My advice is to be open-minded about careers. Before I graduated, my heart was set on working in publishing, but that’s a whole lot harder to get into than you might think. Sit down and make a list of jobs you think you might enjoy, and apply to all of them. Your first job will most likely not be your dream job, so just think of it as a stepping stone and resume builder towards your career goals. If you can, get an internship or join the school newspaper while you’re in school! Any experience and extra skills you have will make your resume stand out more. There are two parts to getting a job: 1. Have a resume that stands out and 2. Impress your interviewers with your outfit, confidence, skills, and interpersonal skills. Finding a job can be extremely stressful, but if you are able to apply the skills you gained with your English degree, your career possibilities are endless.

You can check out Becca's blog here, connect with her on LinkedIn here, and take a look at the literary journal she participated in during college here


Posted on May 17, 2016 and filed under Content Marketing, Copywriting, Interviews, Interview.

Brittany Olsen: Editor

  Brittany holding a copy of the graphic novel she self-published about her volunteer experiences in Japan.

Brittany holding a copy of the graphic novel she self-published about her volunteer experiences in Japan.

Name: Brittany Olsen

Age: 25

College & Majors/Minors: Southern Utah University; Major: English (Creative Writing emphasis); Minor: Art (Illustration emphasis)

Current Location: Provo, UT

Current Form of Employment: Part-time

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I have two jobs right now: One is a copy editor for an SEO management company (Textbroker International), and the other is an editor for a startup modest clothing retailer's blog (She Traveled). At Textbroker, I'm simply editing product descriptions and other pieces of content marketing to pay the bills, and it's meticulous work to make sure an author's writing fits what the client is paying for. At She Traveled, I manage a very small team of writers who have a lot more freedom with their topics, and because it's a lifestyle blog, it's a lot easier for the writers and me to get very excited about what we're working on. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I feel very fortunate to have a writing/editing job within two years of obtaining my undergraduate degree. Shortly after graduation in 2011, I left for an 18-month volunteer opportunity in Japan, and I found work as a copy editor at Textbroker upon returning to the United States in 2013. I applied for a position I saw listed on a local job board, and it turned out to be a great fit.

As for my job at She Traveled, it was mostly old-fashioned networking. My sister-in-law was a friend to a former model who was starting her own fashion company, and she hired me as a blog writer because she'd heard of my background in English. After nearly a year of writing, I was promoted to blog editor because the company CEO saw my dedication and organizational skills stand out in addition to my writing proficiency.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

During my time volunteering in Japan, I spent a few hours a week teaching English as a second language. Not only did this help me understand my own language better, but I also learned how to communicate ideas in the most simplified way. I had to teach in clear, simple terms so that even my beginner students could understand difficult grammar concepts. I also was able to develop a fun and creative teaching style so that participants would stay engaged in the lessons. These experiences helped me improve my communication skills in general, which has been beneficial in both my professional and personal lives.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Some of the most valuable experiences I had in my undergraduate classes were peer reviews. I went into college wanting to be a writer, and many of my writing classes involved working on other students' essays and creative writing in small groups. It was through this process that I grew to love editing more than writing, and I gained valuable skills in communicating with other writers. It takes work to put into words what you like/don't like about a piece of writing and why. It's also an extremely valuable skill to learn how to communicate your comments in a professional and encouraging way. I could apply those skills in any field, but I feel fortunate to have a job where I can guide other writers.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I would encourage you to take up a volunteer opportunity that puts you out of your element. Growing personally and expanding your horizons will help your career prospects more than any amount of book learning, and volunteer experiences always give you interesting talking points during interviews. Employers are always looking for great communicators who can come up with creative solutions to problems, and English majors definitely fit the bill.

Visit Brittany's website, check out her blog ComicDiaries.com, and view her writing and editing work at SheTraveled.com/blog


Posted on April 17, 2016 and filed under Editing, Teaching, Copywriting, Blogging.

Rick Wiedeman: Instructional Designer

Name: Rick Wiedeman

Age: 49

College & Majors/Minors: Pitzer College (Claremont Colleges), BA English

Current Location: Dallas, Texas

Current Form of Employment: Instructional Designer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’m an instructional designer for Hitachi Consulting, the IT and business consulting division of Hitachi, which is one of the largest companies in the world (330,000 employees), based in Tokyo. Our division is in Dallas, with offices worldwide. I’m basically a teacher in a company, instead of a teacher at a school—I write curricula, teach classes in person and over the web, and create elearning on a variety of topics. It’s a lot of fun.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first job was as a subrights and special sales assistant at Viking-Penguin Books in New York. I fell in love with creative writing in college, and wanted to be involved in the publishing industry. On my first day there, we got a death threat for publishing Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and had to evacuate the building. That was a fun welcome to New York.

Being in publishing was one of those experiences that looked neat on paper, but in reality was rather boring, and had little to do with my skills or interests. I did light typing and filing, and answered phones. My salary was $15,000 a year, and as you can imagine, you can’t live in New York on that—even in the late 1980s. It’s one thing to pay your dues, but it’s another to be miserable all the time. After a few months there, I took a job as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster—$17,000 a year—and the work atmosphere was even worse. The woman who worked next to me jumped off the George Washington Bridge just before Christmas, and my boss mostly went to long lunches and schmoozed with people. I stuck it out for a year, got to be editor for one book, and left. 

After this experience, I felt lost. I returned to my college town, Claremont, California, and got into the PhD program for English literature, but this wasn’t what I expected, either. Grad studies are nothing like undergrad—it was applying obscure philosophical principles to books nobody reads outside of academia. I didn’t see the point in going into debt for this, especially with the poor prospects for recent grads (at this time, fewer than 5% of PhDs in humanities were finding fulltime work). 

“The computer skills I’d developed, combined with my English degree, made me attractive for tech writing jobs.”

I don’t blame publishing or grad school for either of these experiences—I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted. I was still searching. For me, I learn by doing, and two years out of college I’d learned two things I didn’t want to do: publishing and grad school.

I went back to my hometown of Dallas, Texas, mostly to see old friends. I hadn’t lived at home since I was 18, and didn’t want to be one of those people who got a liberal arts degree and went back to live with their parents, so I slept on a friend’s couch and got temp work. The computer skills I’d developed, combined with my English degree, made me attractive for tech writing jobs. I think my first gig paid $10/hour, or about $20,000 a year, which was livable in Dallas back then. I worked for the technical training division of American Airlines, creating course catalogues and instructor guides. This was mostly layout in Quark and Adobe Pagemaker, which I’d learned working on the college newspaper, but also involved interviewing subject matter experts to build lessons, which I found interesting. 

The neat thing about corporate training is, you learn about a lot of different things -- technology, law, project management, organizational psychology. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys random documentaries, likes people, and who’s good at trivia, it can be a natural fit for a busy mind. Equally important, it paid a living wage, and I didn’t have to share a one bedroom apartment with two other guys on the Upper West Side and eat bologna sandwiches. I could be happy doing this in Dallas, and I was.

Due to my natural interest in technology, I’ve ended up working in corporate training for Microsoft, Siemens, McAfee, and now Hitachi, where I’ve been for six years -- the longest I’ve ever been at the same place. Maybe in middle age, I’m finally settling down. They give me great freedom to approach projects as I see fit, and it’s satisfying work.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Everything I’ve done (teaching, ad copy, tech writing, corporate training) has been shaped and supported by my writing skills. To me, good writing is the result of clear thinking. What I really learned in college was how to think clearly. I’d argue that if you can’t write well, you’re not thinking well. Writing is the evidence. People who approach it as a separate skill are missing the point.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I was on a work-study program at Pitzer College—my financial aid was tied to keeping a job on campus that worked around my schedule. The first two years of college, I was a security escort. I mostly accompanied young women to the library, which was across three other campuses (Claremont has five colleges, a grad school, and a school of theology). That was a good gig.

“So, it was really the combination of writing skill and technical skill that shaped my career, though at the time I didn’t think of it in such formal terms. I just enjoyed writing, and needed a college job for gas money.”

My second job, junior and senior years, was running the computer lab. This was in the days before everyone had a personal computer. Pitzer is a liberal arts college, and most students went to the lab to type their papers. I was given the key to the lab. That was my entire training experience. Basically, I was guarding the equipment. As students complained about losing papers or not being able to print -- these were the days where the operating system and the word processing program were on the same 5 1/4 inch floppy disk—I slowly figured out how these damn machines worked, and found I liked helping people. It turned out to be two valuable career skills that I’ve maintained throughout my life.

So, it was really the combination of writing skill and technical skill that shaped my career, though at the time I didn’t think of it in such formal terms. I just enjoyed writing, and needed a college job for gas money.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Don’t leap into grad programs expecting you’ll find work afterward. I’ve had several English MAs and PhDs work for me on various projects over the years. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and pay attention to job projections. It’s fine to have a passion -- mine is creative writing, and I do it every week, if not every day—but I don’t try to pay the bills with it. You need to live. And you probably don’t need a Masters or PhD to do that. 

I think a lot of people go into grad school to feel good about themselves—grad degrees are like grown up merit badges. There are more fulfilling, and less expensive, ways to expand your mind and use your talents. For me, that’s writing. All I need is a library and the internet, both of which are practically free.

“Getting that first royalty check the month after publishing the first book made me feel like a real writer. (That’s my definition of “real.” If you got paid, you’re a pro.)”

The great thing about writing and publishing today is, you don’t need to be in New York to do it, and frankly, you don’t need an agent and a publisher taking 87.5% of your royalties to get your stories out there. Though at first I resisted self-publishing, since diving into it four years ago, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. The first thing I wrote -- a short novel about a father and daughter trying to get from Dallas to Galveston after an apocalypse—did surprisingly well. I made two thousand dollars. The follow up novels did OK, but were a bit indulgent, and got mixed reviews; that’s OK, too. I’ve learned from that. I wrote a supernatural horror novella, which did poorly, and am now at work on a psychological suspense novel. The only investment has been my time and effort, and it’s been a great satisfaction to me. Getting that first royalty check the month after publishing the first book made me feel like a real writer. (That’s my definition of “real.” If you got paid, you’re a pro.)

If I were going the traditional route, I’d have to spend at least a year getting an agent. She’d spend at least a year marketing my book. If it sold, the publisher would spend a year doing covers and editing and scheduling production... and all that assumes perfect success each step of the way, which seldom happens. You’re about as likely to succeed in traditional publishing as you are to be a movie star. 

I’m not anti-traditional publishing. I may try that route it someday. But I know enough about the industry to have realistic expectations, and I love the full control self-publishing offers.

My personal website is rickwiedeman.com and I’m on Twitter @rickwiedeman. I’m happy to talk to any of my fellow writers about my self-publishing experience, and share what little I know about traditional publishing. My ebooks on Amazon are here.


Judi Ketteler: Freelance Writer

Name: Judi Ketteler

Age: 41

College & Majors/Minors: English Major/Anthropology Minor (B.A. from Northern Kentucky University); I also have an M.A. in English from Miami University of Ohio

Current Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been self-employed for 14 years. I work as a full-time freelance writer. That’s meant different things throughout the years. At one time, my focus was primarily writing for magazines. Now, I do mostly content marketing writing and copywriting, working for corporate clients (and some small businesses). I’ve been able to successfully support myself through writing all these years! Not only that, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, and for nearly eight years, I’ve been supporting the whole family!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

My first job out of graduate school was a sales job at a trade industry magazine. I found it through a newspaper listing. Searching for jobs online wasn’t really much of a thing yet (this was 1999!). I only took the job because I thought I could work my way into editorial. I HATED the job. I didn’t want to sell banner ads for web sites (remember, this was 1999, and banner ads were all the rage). I only stayed six months. Everything about the job was terrible, except for the people I met! I made friends at that first job that I still have today. So, in the end, something good came out of it!

I started freelancing in 2002, after I got laid off twice in row, six months apart. I had been working as a copywriter at a design firm. I liked the job a lot, but when the economy took a turn for the worst in the summer of 2001, I got laid off. I found another job right away, helping a start-up nonprofit in the tech world with marketing. That job only lasted six months, because after 9/11 happened, the tech world was devastated. Non-profits definitely didn’t have any money!

When I lost that job in spring of 2002, I was 27 years old, and about to buy my first house. I was crushed and had to pull the offer for the house (my layoff literally happened the day after I made an offer)! It turned out to be a blessing, because I was able to take the money that would have been my downpayment, and use it to start freelancing. I had no idea what I was doing at first! I had been writing on the side for the local newspapers. I kept doing that, but then also started pitching stories to national magazines (which paid exponentially better than local publications).

I felt my way along, and soon was writing for many women’s magazines (SELF, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Better Homes and Gardens, plus, a smattering of web sites). I also had some agency connections because of my time working for the design firm, so I landed some good freelance copywriting gigs. When the magazine industry took a big hit around 2009 - 2010, I moved away from magazine writing and focused most of my attentions on copywriting. That’s where I am now! I partner with lots of content marketing agencies and web design firms. I have small business clients, too, and I help with everything from social media to branding to advising on web design. I’ve also written a non-fiction book, Sew Retro (2010), and I partnered with a company to co-write another book, The Spoonflower Handbook (2015). I’m currently working with my agent on a young adult novel. 

“It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I’ve made six figures. I had no idea that ‘freelance writer’ was a job when I was in school.”

It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I've made six figures. I had no idea that “freelance writer” was a job when I was in school. I didn’t really have any model either. I just made it up as I went along, and found the resources and mentors I needed as I went. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I mentioned that I worked as a copywriter at a design firm. That was a really crucial thing, because it’s how I learned the ropes of copywriting. The only writing experience I had coming out of grad school was academic. So, I knew a lot about 19th century women’s fiction, but I didn’t know much about how to write for everyday consumers. I had to learn by doing. Copywriting really is an art. Not all “good” writers can do it. You have to set aside ego and figure out how to clearly communicate to a target audience. I learned to do this by working at that design firm. I never could have freelanced without learning those basics!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Honestly, I wasn’t much concerned with preparing for post-grad life when I was in college, or graduate school for that matter! I concentrated on learning as much as I could, and getting as much out of every class that I could! Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways that I was building skills in college. For example, deadlines! In my world, I wouldn’t get repeat work from clients if I didn’t know how to meet deadlines. In college, I learned the importance of turning papers in on time—and that skill has served me well! 

Also, the ability to research, to follow a footnote or a thread of something—that curiosity has taken me to some fantastic places, professionally-speaking. I had such great professors in college. They encouraged me to follow my interests and work on developing my own ideas about books, characters, theories, etc. I still use the critical thinking and discernment skills I learned by reading texts and criticism (and then writing about texts and criticism). Critical thinking is a big part of any story or project: knowing what to include (and why), what to leave out, what to edit, when to dig deeper into, when to push back, etc. 

“No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career!”

In terms of the craft of writing, my college and grad school classes definitely taught me the importance of voice. One of my strengths as a writer is my voice—specifically, my ability to craft the right voice for the project. How could I have learned that if hadn’t been exposed to such a diversity of voices, from Virginia Woolf to Herman Melville?

I think there is a social aspect, too: learning to have intelligent, respectful discussions with peers. I was very shy in college, so I probably didn’t really bloom in this area until graduate school. But the ability to contribute to discussions in a thoughtful way—that’s been so important in my career, and it’s helped me network and develop really key business relationships.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may stumble upon the perfect job right away, or, like me, it may be a series of stops and starts, and then a bit of luck and timing and going for it. Try to take something from each experience. No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career! Also, do as much networking and connecting with other people as you can. I’m talking face to face conversations! I love social media (especially LinkedIn), and have made quality connections that way, of course. But never underestimate the power of showing up in person and having a good conversation. Sometimes, I think I owe the success of my career to my ability to have a really good conversation with someone.

You can see Judi's work on her website, www.judiketteler.com


Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Writing, Freelance, Copywriting, Journalism, Publishing, Self-Employed.