Last week Paula Hendrickson wrote a great guest post for Lori Widmer's blog on vetting writing experts. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I've had more new writers come to me looking for help after taking horrible advice from pseudo experts than I can count. I feel for those writers. It's easy to get sucked in because some of these charlatans are masters at hyping themselves up (and that's about all they've mastered).
Paula's article gives you three ways you can vet freelance writing experts before deciding to follow them, hire them as a coach, or take their courses. I'll be honest. I didn't agree with all of those tips (mostly one about Twitter follower ratios due to my social media consulting experience and knowing how people often game the system). But overall it's good advice and I hope you'll check out the post.
What does that have to do with this week's quick tip?
Paula's post inspired a private conversation with three other freelancers. That post, coupled with one I found on another blog shortly after, got us talking about not only pseudo experts and their affect on new freelance writers, but also the way some newer writers are living in bubbles.
Here's the gist of what we've witnessed:
You'll see a group of five to ten newer freelancers (generally freelancing for one to five years, often on the lower end). They're friends. And they seem to get their writing advice from each other, or very few sources outside that group.
They essentially operate in a bubble. When they need to tap someone for advice, they reach out to these friends of a similar experience level. They start referring to each other as "experts." And the scary part is that they start to believe it.
They often then launch blogs offering their own "expert" advice on freelancing. Or they focus on publishing guest post after guest post with writing tips, thinking that alone makes them an expert on freelance writing. Guest posts do not make you an expert freelance writer. They help you build more exposure when you've already put the work in.
Much of the advice on these blogs is simply regurgitated. I've had writers ask me for advice privately and then turn around and give the same advice on their blog as though it was their own idea, never crediting their source. I've also seen writers parrot what they just learned in a course as if hearing something from a more experienced professional made them qualified to teach others. In addition to those kinds of posts, some are little more than them sharing an experience they had and thinking it represents a larger trend or that it's easy for others to replicate.
It's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. They act like experts because their friends tell them they are. And then even newer writers buy into that hype and get their advice from inexperienced freelancers. This is a great example of why you need to vet your writing experts. Make sure they're experienced in what they're teaching -- whether that's writing style and grammar or the business side of freelancing.
What's the problem with this?
Look. It's absolutely cool to have a group of friends you network with more than others. We have that at all experience levels. But don't launch an "expert" blog when you're years away from really being an expert.
Instead, launch a blog targeting your ideal clients. Use it to land more, and better, freelance writing jobs. And when you have more of those under your belt, then start offering advice to newer writers. You'll be in a much better position to do so.
If you really want to start a blog on writing, go for it. There's nothing wrong with that either. Share your personal journey. But make sure it's clear to readers that's what your blog is about -- not giving expert advice before you're qualified to do so.
On the flip side, if you're one of those writers living in a bubble, break out of it. I'm astonished when some of these newer writers, who often have "expert" writing blogs of their own, tell me they've never heard of some of the most experienced writers around. If most of the freelancers you get advice from have been at it for fewer than five years, try to get out a bit more.
Finding More Experienced Freelancers
Here are just a handful of more experienced freelance writers you should be aware of:
- Peter Bowerman
- Ed Gandia
- Anne Wayman
- Bob Bly
- Kelly James-Enger
That doesn't mean everything each of these people says will apply to you. Find the ones who have the kinds of careers you want to build, and focus on what they can offer.
Not all people qualified to give you advice to grow your freelance writing business have blogs and courses. So also get out in networking groups. Join forums where more experienced professionals hang out. Make an effort to meet the pros who write for your ideal publications and other markets (social networks are great places to start).
Please, don't get caught up in a newbie networking bubble. It only holds you back. I get that it's more comfortable to stay around people in a similar position to you (and it's what leads some more experienced pros to unfortunately avoid meeting newer writers too). Those are valuable contacts to have. Just don't let them be your only contacts when you need freelance writing advice.