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An Open Letter on Trust, “Experts,” and Blogging

Read Time: 12 min

*Note* This post and podcast episode contain explicit language, as regulars will know pretty much all rants here do. If you don't want to read / listen to that, skip this one.

Bloggers. Readers. Friends.

We need to talk.

Do you know what I love about All Freelance Writing readers, including you?

You're out there carving your own path, pursuing the career and lifestyle you want without feeling constrained by someone else's notion of the kind of "job" you should have.

You get up every day, and you don't simply write. You run a business.

Think about that for a second. You. A business owner. Not everyone has that in them.

Do you know what that entrepreneurial nature of yours tells me about you?

It tells me you're bright. You're passionate. You're persistent. And, most important, you're quite capable of thinking for yourself.

Yet every single day, it seems, I see writers just like you and me using their blogs and media platforms to spew complete and utter bullshit under the guise of expertise.

And every single day, it seems, I see readers just like you and me eating that shit up without a second thought.

We are the problem. Writers. Readers. "Experts."

Experts are funny things these days. Everyone wants to be seen as one. Yet no one wants to trust them.

Nothing illustrates the latter point better than this week's EU referendum in the UK.

Why trust economic experts when making economic decisions with widespread ramifications? What the fuck do they know anyway?

Why believe an expert in European law when they disagree with that warm fuzzy feeling you get from raging nationalism? Nationalism never did any harm after all. Right?

This is hardly a UK issue.

If you're familiar with US politics, you know we operate in a perpetual clusterfuck. That's never more evident than it is in a presidential election year.

*Checks her calendar*

Oh, shit.

Remember when we elected "Cool Dad" and his opponents at once tried to convince us he was an "other" (not a real American) and an "elite" who we couldn't trust (because he was some hoity toity lecturer in constitutional law or some shit -- who wants that in a president)?

In both the UK's Brexit debate and pretty much every presidential election we have in the US, we face these kinds of issues and arguments.

They're bullshit of course. But as consumers of news and information, we love bullshit.

Bullshit is easy.

It's not about doing what's really in our interests. It's about making us fear that "other" who supposedly wants to ruin or take over what we hold dear.

It's not about wanting citizens to vote on the real issues at hand. It's about discrediting experts as some sort of elitist scum of the earth who think they're better than the rest of us (unless those experts back up a person's or party's viewpoint of course -- then they're special little unicorns plopping rainbow-infused bits of "truth" wherever they go).

If we don't trust the people who actually know what the fuck they're talking about, maybe we'll fall in line behind the loudest voice appealing to our fears.

We, as a species, seem to have this incredible knack for throwing common sense out the window when fear is involved.

The experts are fighting a losing battle.

Those who want us to base decisions on fear -- and these people always exist on both sides of an issue -- they have a talent for something many experts lack.

That talent is for storytelling.

Talk to any copywriter. Talk to any marketing or PR professional. Talk to anyone really whose job it is to persuade and influence others.

Facts aren't enough. Statistics aren't enough. Brilliant ideas aren't enough.

You persuade people by telling stories, by appealing to their emotions. Find their pain points. Figure out what they fear. Then tell them how you, and only you, know how to make everything better.

Tell that story, and you win.

Politicians and their campaign staff have become masters at fact-less fear mongering. Their job is not to educate you. It's not to help you make well-informed decisions.

Their job is to manipulate you. And they are damn good at their job.

This is where experts are supposed to come in. They're supposed to hold the storytellers accountable. Their job is to educate and inform and help people make better decisions based on facts rather than relying exclusively on emotional triggers.

Experts often fail at this job.

People buy into the "experts are all elitist assholes" crap because experts do a lousy job countering it.

It's funny though. I know more than my fair share of experts, from professors to industry leaders, and I've found elitist snobs to be the exception, not the rule.

For the most part, "experts" are perfectly normal people, just like you. They just happen to know a shit-ton more about one particular industry or issue than you do.

Chances are good you are an expert about something they know very little about too. *gasp* Elitist!

The problem (or at least the problem I've witnessed over and over again) is that experts are sometimes absolute shit communicators.

They don't always know how to take those facts and brilliant ideas bursting out of their ears and get them in front of the people who need to hear them in a way those people understand.

In other words, they can be lousy storytellers.

And they don't always realize they have this problem.

Let me give you an example.

When I was in college, I had to take a couple of economics courses. The professor was known to be tough. But I aced that first course while everyone else struggled with it (and hated me for fucking up the curve).

I became an unwilling "professor's pet." I was almost always called on to come up with the answer if more than one student gave the wrong one, which left him visibly frustrated. And I was frequently asked to stay behind when he was excited about some economic development in the news and wanted to chat about it.

I had no idea why it was different for me. And I hated it.

My roommate was in that course with me. We sat together. We read the same material. I knew she was putting in the same amount of time. But she was worried she was going to fail the course. So one day she asked me if I'd tutor her, and I agreed.

That's when we figured it out.

I got back to our apartment one day and she immediately pulled me aside to ask me questions about that day's lecture. I was able to explain the concept she was struggling with and point her to a great example in our textbook.

She was shocked. I'd just gotten in the door after a long day of classes and work. How the hell had I found time to read the textbook already?

That was it.

The professor set the course up like this: we'd attend his lecture, then we'd read the corresponding section in the text, and then we'd come back to a quiz during the next class.

But that's not what I did. I always read ahead.

Basically, I was learning the material from the textbook (which happened to be a great one). Then his lectures simply reinforced what I'd already learned.

Good thing too. The guy was incredibly smart in the sense of being an economist. But he was a piss-poor lecturer.

He was the kind of professor who would become frustrated when students didn't understand things he'd spent 30+ years teaching and practicing. So while he thought he was presenting these brilliant lectures and most people just didn't "get" what he was saying, the truth was I was learning independently and simply using him as a supplement. He seemed to have no idea his teaching style (example-heavy after barely going over the fundamentals) might have been why other students were struggling.

You can be an absolute fucking genius when it comes to your industry or subject matter while not being cut out to teach that material to others.

That's where we sometimes see a disconnect.

It's why experts sometimes seem like elitist assholes who just want to rub their intelligence in your face. They don't. (OK. Maybe some do.)

They just don't always understand why you don't understand what seems like second nature to them.

And frankly, experts, that's on you.

If people aren't grasping what you're trying to teach them, it's not that they're all too dumb to understand what you're saying. It's that you aren't communicating well enough to be understood.

Yes, it fucking sucks that sometimes -- such as in the case of politics -- you have to go up against sleazy communications professionals. But guess what. They're experts at what they do too.

They will outshine you every single time unless you either learn how to communicate effectively or you partner with someone who can (preferably the less-sleazy breed of communications professional -- those other assholes give us all a bad name, so you shouldn't have a difficult time finding help).

Readers, you're not off the hook.

While it's up to legitimate experts to communicate their ideas and facts clearly, readers are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and actions.

Yeah. I'm looking at you.

If you find yourself making decisions in a fit of passion or rage, you're not being responsible. You're being manipulated.

And if you don't want "experts" treating you like you're a fucking idiot, then stop acting like one.

You know damn well when you read (or hear or see) something that gets you riled up, that content or message was designed to do just that.

You know when you see message after message that just reinforces your preconceived notions, you're being coddled and catered to by someone who wants you to trust them (so they can take advantage of that trust later -- whether that's to get your vote or sell you something).

When you play ignorant, when you give in, when you choose to ignore the lessons history teaches you, when you start parroting those messages instead of critically analyzing an issue and looking for facts that go beyond emotional appeal, you are the problem.

This is about so much more than politics.

I didn't mean for this to be such a politically-oriented rant. Really. But elections on both sides of the pond kind of play perfectly into the underlying issue right now -- that issue of experts and trust.

I actually hate to say it, but on some level I can't blame people for being skeptical of experts.

Don't get me wrong. When someone's spent a career doing, researching, or teaching something, you should fucking consider what they have to say in that area. Real experts are worth your ear every single time. Don't dismiss them until you've taken the time to at least hear them out.

But there's another side to the "expert" coin:

The pseudo-expert.

As if it isn't bad enough that legitimate experts have to deal with sleazy politicians and communications people trying to discredit them, they have to compete with fake experts.

As readers, you probably come across fake experts all the time. And I'd bet many of you don't even pay enough attention to realize it.

Let's turn our attention to blogs -- especially those you visit for professional advice as a writer. Pseudo-experts have been a fucking plague in the writing and blogging community for years.

Sean Blanda has a great post up at 99U on this topic. You should read it. Go ahead. I'll wait...

READ: The Creative World's Bullshit Industrial Complex

The post is about those who don't "do" before advising, who don't really intend to make contributions that matter, who are far more concerned with building their own platform and fake "expert" status.

You know the type.

These are the bloggers who sign up for paid membership sites, courses, or mastermind groups run by smarmy marketers (often masquerading as topic or industry experts in their own right, when really marketing their own shit is all they know).

The whole point of these groups or courses is to teach bloggers how to "become authorities," or some such nonsense, by focusing on visibility and sales. These are also the ones who lie and tell you guest posting on big sites before you've put the time into actually building experience makes you an expert.

Hate to break it to you, but all it does is make you an over-exposed amateur.

I was a little surprised by some of the comments on Blanda's post, such as one expressing delight that someone was "actually speaking about it."

Some of us have been speaking about it for years actually. The problem is readers don't seem to pay attention. Not for long. Being a blind follower is easy. And people like easy.

Besides, the "problem children" never see themselves in the feedback.

"Oh, she must be talking about that other bullshit artist. Surely not me. Surely not my favoritest mentor in the whole wide world."

My personal pet peeve is the onslaught of freelance newbies who come in offering business advice to even newer freelancers when they haven't even fucking done the work yet.

Newsflash sweethearts:

Freelancing for one, two, even three years? That doesn't make you an expert, no matter how many of your besties include you in their "expert" roundup posts.

Yeah, the rest of us notice your perpetual circle jerk; it's kind of gross.

You haven't even gotten to the point where half of small businesses fail yet (about five years if you're curious). When you do, maybe you'll actually have something to teach.

Until then, e-books, courses, and webinars? You're not ready. You're still a beginner. You're still figuring shit out. You're still in that necessary "doing" phase (and that's not a bad place to be, so enjoy it).

If you're selling those things without real expertise to back them up -- if you're trying to suck newer writers into these little ventures of yours so you can make a quick buck off their naive backs -- go take a look in the mirror.

That's what an asshole looks like. Congratulations.

What's worse is these pseudo-experts often come to more experienced pros looking for advice. Then they turn around and share that advice on their blogs (no credit given of course) as if they're sharing their own little gems.

When this happens, bloggers are basically stealing expertise to try to teach something they don't even fully understand themselves. That's not only dishonest. It's dangerous.

You can't steal real authority anyway. You have to earn it.

What is authority?

Far too many bloggers mistake visibility for authority. But they're not the same thing.

You can get visibility by pulling stupid stunts, kissing people's asses (read: "influencer marketing"), or whoring your blog or reputation out constantly for exposure.

Authority, on the other hand, comes from actual knowledge and experience.

It's when you have your own stories to tell.

It's when you've gathered your own data to report, whether through research or analyzing existing metrics related to your business growth.

It's when you've taken the time to look at industry issues critically and honestly, and you have a well thought out opinion to share.

You don't build authority relying on constant round-up posts where you share quotes from actual experts because you aren't one.

You don't build authority by publishing guest posts just so you can associate your name with a popular blog.

You don't build authority by peppering your posts with statistics. Bonus points if you're too lazy to cite the original source and instead link to your favorite bloggers in the hopes they'll notice you. And, oh, we're going to chat about this again in a future post. Trust me. If not here, on NakedPR. A shit storm is a-brewin'.

No, you don't build real authority by doing any of those things. Does that mean those types of blog content are a bad thing? Of course not. They have their place, and in some situations they're your most logical option. The problem is when you start to think associating with experts makes you one in lieu of doing the work.

Do you want to know how you build real authority? You put the fucking time in until you actually have something significant to say.

Guest posts and open publishing platforms are a big part of the problem.

It's become too easy for anyone under the fucking sun to pretend to be an expert. Just publish guest posts on popular blogs. Join open (or semi-open) publishing schemes (thank you HuffPo). You can pretend to be an expert too!

Even better, when you get someone to agree to publish your "expert" content, just follow this simple tutorial:

  • Make sure your post is super duper long.
  • Add lists. People like lists.
  • Regurgitate something you learned from a real expert.
  • Throw in lots and lots of statistics so it looks like you actually did research and know something (given that you have no real experience to speak from).
  • Make sure all of those statistics link to sources. No, not the actual studies. To bloggers you like who mention those studies.
  • Then tell all those top bloggers you linked to that you linked to them. They like their egos stroked. Stroke it well enough or often enough and they might pat you on your little head and send you on your way with a shiny new link.

Congratulations. You look like an expert even though you aren't one. You should be proud.

Well, no, you should be completely and utterly disgusted with yourself. But I bet you're proud.

It's funny, isn't it?

Here we are, living in an age where legitimate experts are being treated like frauds. And at the same time, frauds put on their little "expert" hats and we fall for their bullshit on a regular basis.

Real experts tell us what we need to hear, whether we like it or not.

Pseudo-experts tell us what we want to hear because they know enough of us are stupid enough to trust them just because they reinforce our views (or delusions as the case may be).

Which one are you?

Which do you put your trust in?

Back to politics for a moment...

Look. I know what outcomes I want to see from upcoming votes. But I don't care how any of you vote as individuals, whether that's in the EU Referendum or in our next presidential election come November. That's your business alone.

If you legitimately feel a major change is the best way to solve the problems that weigh on you, whether that's leaving the EU or flip-flopping political parties in power in our Congress or White House, then vote for those changes. But do so knowing you'll have a hell of a long road ahead of you, because you're starting from scratch.

If you feel the best way to solve those problems is by maintaining influence and making changes from within rather than walking away or turning your back on a party, then you know where your vote belongs. But do so knowing you'll also have a hell of a long road ahead of you. Your job doesn't end with a vote. That's where it begins. That reform you want? It doesn't happen with an election or referendum. It happens in the period that follows.

What I do hope is that each and every one of you can look beyond the messaging you're bombarded with (from both sides). And I hope you can come out on the other side knowing you voted based on the facts, and also that you voted your conscience.

In the meantime, readers...


Pretty pretty please...

Can we stop demonizing experts? The real ones I mean.

How about we turn our pitchforks on the pseudo-experts who fuck people over left and right just to make a buck or manipulate their way into more votes? Or how about the marketers who teach amateurs being an "authority" is about nothing more than shouting just a little bit louder than everyone else?

That would be anger well-placed. And it would be about damn time.

24 thoughts on “An Open Letter on Trust, “Experts,” and Blogging”

  1. Ah Jenn… well said and clearly too. For myself I trust those whose advice makes sense to me and often I find people’s suggestions about how I should conduct my business or my life don’t make sense to me. Sometimes it’s because I’m stuck – more often it’s because they are wrong at least for me.

    Years and years ago I was wordprocessing for an engineering firm and one of the engineers said something like ‘oh this change will only take a few minutes.’ That’s when I realized the computer I was coming to love made the whole writing thing look way easier than it is. That’s one of the reason we get instant experts who haven’t a clue.

    I’ve done some other things that work for me… no television and now all those darn facebook posts go into a folder so I don’t see them unless I make a small effort. I do internet news and work hard to read both sides when I can find it… sure I’m a screaming liberal, but I at least want to know roughly what the other side is thinking – and sometimes I find a few points in common.

    Reading and writing does carry some responsibility… no clue how to get people to act on that fact… humanity with all its goodness, all of its badness and everything in between is sure a puzzle.

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    • Thanks for weighing in Anne.

      I agree. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you should be keeping an eye on news from other sides. If you don’t, you’ll never truly be an informed voter. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. When they spew bullshit, it’s OK to acknowledge it as such when you see through it. But as you point out, every once in a while you’ll find those “points in common.” And that’s where compromise starts — an ability we’re sorely lacking in this country.

      As for readers, I really wish they’d take more responsibility for what they take in and allow themselves to believe. When these newbies are often learning from the same old marketing playbook, they follow the same stupid patterns. They’re not even difficult to spot. So why so many readers remain blind to their antics will always be beyond me. Sheer fucking laziness is all I can imagine.

  2. Hi Jenn:

    I’m not stupid or lazy but I fit the bill for the freelance writer mistakes that you talk about here. I’m not going to talk politics today cause that’s another ball of fire and right now, I’m most worried about succeeding as a freelance writer. The thing is, I am an expert with long term business and educational background and have a lot to write about that can be helpful and useful, I believe. I’ve fought and worked long and hard to catch up, learn, use and still going strong every single day to transfer my abilities to the digital world and conquer technology to write on the web. But because I am transforming my livelihood to online and have gone about it ONLY via online channels and it is all new to me over the last few years, I have listened to what pro writers, editors, and writing sites galore have taught me and that’s everything you state in this piece as WRONG! OMG.

    I’m at wit’s end. I have been guest blogging to gain notice and I have linked to sources which are sometimes blog sources (because I was told that’s the way it is done in blogging) and I do reach out to “authority” and whomever I link to to build relationships and, again, get some notice and help with social media marketing, etc. and maybe even business leads. I’m struggling with following the “rules” as they’ve been laid out to me by the “big time industry leaders and writers alike” of blogging and by the push for using linking in web blogging work when I’m much more comfortable and frankly, better, at being more original. I’ve put together my site and marketing of it as per the standard blueprint, as well. Not because I’m stupid but because I’m listening to what has been denoted on the Internet to be some of the biggest known and trusted resources. Though half the time, I can teach what I’m supposed to be learning and add to it! Further, just because I’m not in writing for a living for 5 years doesn’t mean I’m a rookie or newbie to operating or building a business or being a worthy professional to earn money for my writing ability and business knowledge combined.

    AND, I have found a nice circle of writer friends who are nice enough to help me by answering a question now and then, or commenting on work, and we do promote each others’ work but again, I honestly thought that was part of the game in social and online relationship building. I think you have a circle, too.

    Look, I’m pissed that I fit your description and I’m pissed that I’m working so very very hard but not getting great results. I’m not giving up but, in truth, I was too timid to reach out to you before to learn about it another way because you have newbies and advanced offers and I guess I felt that I’m neither. I’m trying to adjust my thinking and I’m always open to suggestions and learning and DOING whatever it takes. I’ve possibly been afraid to reach out to you though I respect your work and have been following you for some time. Now I have because I really am completely pulling my hair out!!! And even if I don’t fit your specified years as a writer, I feel I am and can be worthy, as a freelance writer, for honest pay. I hope you’ll help get me straightened out, please.

    P.s. Also, your outline for your Indie Challenge project just proved to me that I know my stuff as I just completed the very same/similar overview for a potential client as you did, and was spot on in my outline, judging by your very own work!! Yay.

    P.s.s. I also agree that there are many fakes. Maybe they’re just lucky, or they lie about how well they’re doing. But I’m the real deal just maybe need a leg up. I wouldn’t be a small business owner for 27 years now by faking it! Now I need to transition to an new (writing) occupation using my mind more than my bod, that’s all. If I really am kidding myself, please let me know because I’m working night and day and NOT in the hopes of ending up with nothing viable. And no new income. I don’t know…my confidence is fading, maybe…
    Thanks for your time, Sue-Ann

    • Hi Sue-Ann,

      First of all, relax! Deep breaths. You’re fine. πŸ˜‰

      You never would have crossed my mind while writing this, I promise. From the little I’ve known of you so far, you seem to be going about things in a pretty responsible and sensible way.

      Guest posting, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. You should just be discriminating in where you post, why, and how often (not foregoing billable time on actual freelance work for unpaid or low-paid guest posts for example — use your marketing time for that).

      The other big difference between you and the kinds of pseudo-experts I’m talking about here, specifically in relation to guest posting, is that you mention actually having professional experience. When you have expertise in your specialty area, you have that business background that can benefit clients, and you’re using guest posts to build visibility around expertise you already have, there’s nothing wrong with that. Again, just be careful that you don’t get so caught up in it that you start treating those promotional efforts as a substitute for actual paying work.

      The “problem children” we see so much of in the freelance writing and blogging communities are the ones who don’t have that experience or subject matter expertise yet. And instead of doing the work to actually become experts in their specialty area, they use guest posting to create the illusion of having some sort of authority. The only reason anyone pays attention to them is because they’ve spent their time kissing ass and riding the coattails of anyone they can latch onto. Their idea of “expertise” is parroting others instead of having experience of their own that they can speak from.

      Along those lines, there’s nothing wrong with including statistics, linking to other bloggers (you’ll notice I linked to a blogger I think you should all read right in this post), or even publishing round-ups when it makes the most sense to do so (I just did a guest piece for Muck Rack that was a round-up for example, mostly because the topic area meant that approach would be more fun).

      But again, there’s a big difference between doing this as part of a larger content strategy — bringing others in to fill gaps in your knowledge for example — and doing these things as a way to, again, kiss ass. If you’re only, or mostly, doing it as ego-bait, that’s when it gets sketchy. And if you do it because you’re hoping to build your reputation on theirs, rather than getting out there and earning experience yourself, that’s a far bigger problem.

      There’s also nothing wrong with connecting with other writers. Of course we all have our groups of friends, and we may promote them more than others simply because we’re exposed to more of their work. But again, you (from what I’ve seen) are going about this in the right way. I’ve seen it with how you interact with me on Twitter for example. You don’t just share content hoping I’ll link back to you. You have actual conversations, both publicly and privately when you have questions to ask. That’s exactly what you should be doing, especially when you’re learning. Never be afraid to connect or ask questions.

      And again, you mention the year range I gave for experience. That doesn’t have anything to do with who I would or wouldn’t be willing to connect with. I have writers in my “circle” as you put it who have been at this far longer than I have, and far more recent freelancers. And I respect them all for what they bring to the conversation. Those circles only become a problem when you have situations like the one I mention in the post — where groups get together and constantly feature each other, talk about each other, and refer to each other as “experts,” when none of them actually are. They create that name association with expert status among even newer people, and again we have a situation where we see an illusion of expertise (and a dilution of any value in that term). The worst thing in these situations is that they often start to believe their own hype, thinking if they call each other “experts” enough, it makes it so.

      Where that crosses a line, and where I lose respect for newer writers, is when they offer business advice they aren’t qualified to provide. Some writers (Cathy Miller is a great example) haven’t been freelancing as long as many of us, but she brings years of corporate writing experience to the table. When she was new to freelancing, she didn’t start a blog offering advice telling even newer freelancers how to run a freelance writing business. She started blogging about business writing — the thing she’d built a career doing. There’s a huge difference, and her experience as a freelancer (or lack thereof early on) had no bearing on the advice she could give.

      The problem is when new writers immediately begin offering business advice to other, newer, writers. That’s where things get dangerous. And I’ve seen more than a few new writers give up over the years because the shit advice they were given by inexperienced newbies in their own right drove their businesses into the ground. And they had some responsibility there too for waiting so long to seek help or actually pay attention to the people advising them enough to realize they were full of shit.

      So chin-up Sue-Ann. You’re not the problem. You’re just in a transitory period in your career. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll figure it out, and I’ll do my best to help you out along the way. πŸ™‚

      P.S. I did see a DM from you last night. I was caught up trying to get this post and podcast out, catching a bit of shut-eye, and about to prep for the next podcast call to be recorded. But I will give that a read-through and get back to you later today as soon as I’m able.

    • Agree with Jenn, Sue-Ann. If you have business experience you are not a pseudo-expert. Your approach is sound.

      By the way, I was in a similar situation to you when I started Get Paid to Write Online. I had to distinguish clearly between advice given based on (at the time) 15+ years of writing and teaching journalism and non-expert experiences shared in my online writing journey.

      • And that’s another great point. None of this is to say new freelancers shouldn’t blog. But blog about what you’re qualified to blog about. Share personal anecdotes, but don’t offer business advice for example. Interview others, but people who have been at it far longer than you with valuable insight to share — not just your circle of friends of other relatively new writers. Focus on niche information that you have more experience in rather than the act of freelancing and running a business itself. Share your journey or document a challenge of some kind. But, as Sharon pointed out, you have to be careful and distinguish between those kinds of updates and offering advice you aren’t in a position to give yet. It’s not that newbies have nothing valuable to share. It’s about knowing what you bring to the table and making sure a lack of experience and advice don’t overlap.

      • Well, thanks for the shout-out, Jenn. It’s now been 8 years since I started freelancing and I STILL don’t think I am qualified to advise freelancers. πŸ™‚ I am in such a different place in my working career and have different goals.

        Sue-Ann, as one of the “targets” πŸ˜‰ for your reaching out, allow me to underscore Jenn’s and Sharon’s sentiment. None of us view you as “riding on the coattails” of others or being a pseudo-expert. Your heart is definitely in the right place and, in my humble opinion, readers appreciate that.

        • Haha. You are. You’re just modest. I wish that was contagious.

          Eight years is when I started giving advice based on my experience (freelancing in both PR and writing at that point, plus helping to build and promote businesses for countless other independent professionals, so not just from experience in my own biz). At 7 years, when this site launched as a group blog as, it was actually a follow-along challenge kind of project, not an advice blog. And that’s the kind of model more new folks would benefit from — have a unique spin on things and highlight the journey rather than trying to influence others’ businesses in a way where you could do much more harm than good.

  3. This needed to be said again, Jenn. I’m so sick of the pseudo expert BS, especially in the writing biz, but you’re right, it’s a wider problem. We need to think for ourselves and assess who’s really worth applying that label to and learning from and who’s just faking it.

    • That’s something I didn’t touch on well enough here — telling the two groups apart. When it comes to blogs and marketers, the signs are almost always there. It’s particularly challenging with politics though, where people often place trust in politicians (rarely smart no matter what issue or political party we’re talking about), and politicians abuse that trust by trying to convince people real experts aren’t. And that doesn’t even get to the completely delusional notion that no experts can be trusted. That’s just a matter of projecting your own perceived inadequacies on someone else — a much more difficult issue to address.

      • Yes, politics… I’m pretty disillusioned with all politicians at the moment (in three different countries, no less!). Abuse of trust is rife and credulous sycophants rifer. If more people researched the facts of any issue, it wouldn’t be so easy for these people to get away with the stuff they do.

  4. It’s funny, Jenn, I’ve noticed in the last year or so, I’ve become more focused on communication and on how awful we humans tend to be at it.

    Politics, work, personal – it all comes down to how we communicate. On all sides, there are masters of manipulation, skewing how we should think, act, and feel.

    You are so right that it is up to us to recognize manipulation for what it is and to seek out our own truth. Thanks for lighting a spark, Jenn.

    All that is shiny is not gold.

    • Haha That we are Cathy. That we are

      I can understand laymen not picking up on a lot of this manipulation. There’s a reason it works. But in this case we’re talking about writers — people who communicate for a living, many copywriters whose job is to manipulate and influence. Of course we don’t all focus on the sleazy stuff mentioned in this post. But come on! There’s no excuse for us to be as blind to it as we often are. Incredibly frustrating.

  5. Yea, I’m writing your name on the ballot this November.

    This post made me so damn happy I could cry. There are so many gems:

    ” if you’re trying to suck newer writers into these little ventures of yours so you can make a quick buck off their naive backs — go take a look in the mirror.

    That’s what an asshole looks like. Congratulations.”

    “You can’t steal real authority anyway. You have to earn it.”

    “Do you want to know how you build real authority? You put the fucking time in until you actually have something significant to say.”

    I could spend the entire day just tweeting out bits of this post. It’s brilliant. I’m sick to death of pseudo-experts (a.k.a. content thieves), marketing wonks pretending to be writing experts, new writers pretending to have all the answers, beginners trying to take shortcuts, and these odd little unholy wars that are dancing on the periphery among writers who ARE actual experts and those who are in it for the coin.

    This is a BUSINESS. It’s not a fucking game. It’s not “Gee, I can sell newbies on this and make a ton of money!” It’s about building something real, not building off someone’s well-marketed shell game.

    It’s about learning for YOURSELF what you need to do in order to build a business. Writers should be taking more responsibility for teaching themselves the basics of business first. The information is out there and free.

    It’s that initiative that the writer takes to build his or her own business that makes/breaks their careers.

    • Haha. I suspected you’d get a kick out of this one Lori, especially give that you know who the worst “problem children” are. I’m not quite finished with it either. Graphics are coming, including a little asshole’s guide to becoming an “expert” w/ no effort. I just crashed last night & wanted to get this and the audio up given that it used Brexit as an example.

      “Writers should be taking more responsibility for teaching themselves the basics of business first. The information is out there and free.”


      It’s disgusting watching one new writer after another falling for those games you mention. They completely fail to see that these people exist to sell shit to them — not to serve as a role model or legitimate mentor. The only thing worse is when they get in on that game, looking for people even more naive than they are to sell “advice” they aren’t qualified to give.

      And I should clarify that by pointing out we’re not saying every writer selling something falls into this group. Most don’t. We’re talking about the ones who call themselves writers, pretending to have careers newbies want to replicate, when the truth is all or most of their income comes from selling shit teaching you how to run the kinds of careers they don’t actually have.

  6. People in my niche keep trying to push me into the expert mold…After reading this I am beginning to see why just a little bit…I always try to include personal experience (and even mistakes I made) in everything I write. If I am writing from strictly research I try to say that and give sources…Ha ! I need to charge more…lol

    One political comment…one person’s expert is another persons pseudo expert no matter their credentials…education doesn’t impart wisdom or intelligence.

    Take care

    • “Ha ! I need to charge more…lol”

      LOL Apparently!

      And real experts are simply experts, regardless of politics. The difference is whether you choose to believe them or not. That has no bearing on actual expertise. And essentially saying to an electorate that “experts” as a whole can’t be trusted is dangerous and disingenuous. There will always be people who choose willful ignorance in support of their political views, in this referendum and upcoming election, and in all others. And perhaps what I find saddest of all about this whole thing is that people showed they trust politicians who tell them what they want to hear more than experts who try to teach them things they really should make an effort to understand. It’s not nearly as surprising as it should be, but it is an incredibly sad thing to witness.

  7. You seem to think people are ignoring experts…While in reality many are choosing to follow experts who disagree with what you hold sacred.

    I am not saying this to argue, it is simply an observation.

    • When the majority of experts agree, and you choose to follow the dissenters because they support your preconceived notions, it sounds the other way around. In no way am I saying that no experts disagree about specifics. But that’s not what we saw here. The issue is that we saw a concerted effort to discourage average folks from listening to experts as a whole. That is dangerous. It is irresponsible. Though sadly, in politics, it’s not surprising.

      We should be teaching people how to vet their sources of information better, regardless of the issue or side of the political spectrum. Critical thinking in general is becoming a lost art.

  8. It was a long read , but you have embedded in it what you want to emphasize , being an expert on what you are talking about and telling it through stories. I am guilty of this being an expert but being a bad communicator. As if, I haven’t read that a lot, to tell stories on each post that I am publishing. and I am trying. Thanks for this

  9. This is amazing – I was nearly cheering and reaching for confetti bombs by the end.

    Righteous anger – there’s something we need more of when it comes to defending an over-saturated niche where standards are slipping and any bozo thinks he can dupe new and wannabe freelance writers with his ‘expertise’.

    So much sh!t in this sector, so *thank you* for cutting through some of that crap πŸ˜‰


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