Creating a Vibrant Freelance Writing Career
September 14, 2021
Note From Rochelle
Are you planning to NaNo?
If so, follow the #NaNoPrepAndWin challenge I’m participating in. Hosted on Instagram by my friend J. Mercer (@Jmercerbooks), the prompt challenge will help you think about characters, their relationships, the setting, and major plot points, so when November hits, you can hit the keyboard running. If you make a post or reel for the day, you’ll also be eligible to win some cool giveaways—including a copy of my Level Up book.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Rachel Werner to the blog to talk about her career as a teaching artist and freelance writer. She talks about how being persistent paid off, offers amazing advice on how to build your social media brand and shares craft tips on writing diverse books. Plus, you’ll get to learn more about The Little Book Project WI.
Writers@Work: Creating a Vibrant Freelance Career
An Interview with Rachel Werner
You are a content marketing specialist and a freelance writer. Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a writer?
Currently I am teaching artist for Hugo House, The Loft Literary Center and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. My literary writing and craft essays have been published by Off Menu Press, Digging Through The Fat and Voyage YA Literary Journal. And a selection of my recipes are also included in Wisconsin Cocktails (UW-Press, 2020)—and my poetry in the anthology Hope is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic (The Wisconsin Historical Society, 2021).
I first started freelance writing eight years ago as a side gig to working as a fitness professional. Two years later, I became an editor at a women’s lifestyle magazine (BRAVA), where I enjoyed overseeing culinary, arts, style and live event coverage while working in the media at a women’s lifestyle magazine for four years. I have also contributed print, photography and video content to TheKitchn, The Spruce Eats, Fabulous Wisconsin, Madison Magazine, Entrepreneurial Chef and Hobby Farms Magazine. I am also grateful to have presented previously at The Highlights Foundation, the UW Writers’ Institute and during “Write to Publish;” a one-day conference hosted by Ooligan Press at Portland State University; the Loft Literary Center’s Wordsmith Conference in Minneapolis; and virtual workshops hosted by San Diego Writers’ Ink on digital marketing and social media strategy for writers.
On a personal level, the biggest challenge I have overcome thus far in my career was pursuing freelance writing and foraging advantageous connections in the publishing world. In less than 4 years, I went from being an unknown novice to becoming an assistant editor, then digital editor for one of the most influential media outlets in Wisconsin. I overcame the initial roadblocks I faced through perseverance (I spent months sending out dozens of pitches to local and national publications, but I knew if I didn’t give up eventually, a ‘YES’ would emerge from the plethora of ‘NOs’). I also made the most of every opportunity that came my way by not missing deadlines and accepting each networking invitation and/or new local connection someone extended to me. What I learned via this process is that open doors often exist around so many corners; one just has to have the confidence to first seek them out, then walk through them. And that passion fueled by resiliency can carry you a good stretch of the journey, since knowledge and talent can continue to be gained along the way.
Which is why I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to help amplify the growing number of diverse authors finding success in several genres. Over the past two years, I have written guests blogs and book reviews for We Are Teachers, We Need Diverse Books; The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Michigan Chapter; Hugo House, The Loft Literary Center and Shelf Awareness—each highlighting the slow shift toward wider representation and inclusivity in the publishing industry. I am continually humbled to have a role in this important work during one of the most challenging and volatile eras in modern history.
Most writers have to do content marketing for themselves! What advice would you give writers who feel overwhelmed by social media?
Consistency pays off in spades if you are willing to work hard initially on crafting a personal brand. If you’re struggling on where to begin or how to stay on track without pressing deadlines, create a daily (or weekly) schedule as way to hold yourself accountable to brainstorming new content and establishing marketing priorities. This could include:
- Updating websites, headshots, logos, etc.
- Responding to comments on blogs or social media platforms multiple times a week.
- Pitching guest posts to bloggers, publications, influencers, etc (essentially, anyone with more followers than you that is “hustling” in the niches you are currently focused on).
- Soliciting brand deals/partnerships. (You won’t know until you ASK or follow-up.)
- Creating an e-newsletter.
Also regularly peruse what’s trending online (in the genres you are most interested in)—especially on the platforms you are active on. Make an effort to show some digital love to others in the publishing industry as well. It never hurts to PAY IT FORWARD in terms of likes, follows, comments, and reposts.
As a writer, you talk about the importance of diverse narratives. In an SCBWI article, you said, “‘Diverse’ and ‘Authentic’ are mutually exclusive.” Can you say more that—and about creating diverse narratives?
I always recommend my students write from as close to their lived experience as possible. No narrative should read like the author was merely “checking boxes” in terms of inclusivity. Making a character transgender or Black or disabled or an immigrant should be a deliberate choice—consciously shaping and guiding the story in intentional directions, plus not only for the protagonist. Also beware of the trauma trap. Individuals who identify as a part of one or more marginalized communities have multi-faceted lives that are not necessarily steeped in abuse, poverty, lack of education and/or a number of other ‘tropes’ society haphazardly assigns to entire demographics. Do research, get sensitivity readers, and repeatedly check in with yourself to ascertain “Why am I choosing to write this story and who is my intended reader?”
Can you tell us about The Little Book Project WI? What inspired you to start it and what does it do?
The Little Book WI Project weaves together visual and literary arts focused on a central theme, providing a mechanism to spark “uncensored” public discourse by providing a platform for artists from a variety of disciplines—especially those who have encountered barriers to making their work accessible to a wider audience. In addition to the website, which features artist interviews and resources, the project manifests as a community arts and nonprofit ‘zine’ series. Each limited edition “print book” weaves together visual arts and literary work based on a central theme. Its main objective is to provide a low-cow medium of how social justice can be pursued through multimedia collaboration.
Artistically, the selected content is meant to be thought-provoking, in tangent to the overall endeavor of the project being multi-disciplinary by interweaving photography, poetry, illustration, digital painting, collage, graphic design and music composition. Not only does this project contribute to the vibrant artistic community and discourse in Wisconsin, but it also serves as a collaborative community initiative by building partnerships with local organizations such as Arts and Literature Laboratory (ALL), Monroe Street Arts Center and Artworking to advocate for broader community awareness and intentional social justice action aimed at establishing more accessible and safer community spaces in Madison. Upon completion, each limited-edition print booklet is also made accessible to a larger audience throughout the state upon request or at community events. Economic barriers to viewing the booklets are removed by making each copy available for free and by posting high res images of a portion of each ‘zine online via The Little Project WI website and social media.
You juggle so many things—writing, teaching, parenting! What are the tools you use to stay on top of everything?
Although the majority of my life seems to be connected to digital spaces, when it comes to organization, I am pretty ‘old school.’ I still keep a paper calendar. The physical motion of writing down by hand appointments, meetings and events is seriously the only thing that helps me remember where I am supposed to be when every day. I also have learned to ask for help when I need it; and sooner rather than later too. This is crucial as a single parent, whom prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, frequently traveled to teach at conferences, for freelance assignments and other professional obligations. I am also in the process of hiring a virtual assistant for the first time through myVA to help me compile and track my quarterly business expenses. Finally being ready—mentally and financially—to start delegating a few tasks on the perpetual “to do list” to someone else, honestly feels good.
What are you reading now?
Aside from the next stack of books I’ve been assigned to write book reviews about, I’m also making my way through:
More Than Enough (media and fashion maven Elaine Welteroth’s memoir)
Lucky Fish (a poetry collection by Aimee Nezhukumatathi)
Happiness (a self-help/psychology book by Buddhist monk Matthie Ricard).
And I’m trying to crank through the past months’ editions of Harper’s Bazaar and Runner’s World (since I have a subscription to both).
About the author
Rachel Werner is a teaching artist for The Loft Literary Center, Hugo House and Lighthouse Writers Workshop, as well as the founder of The Little Book Project WI. She has contributed print, photography and video content to The Kitchn, The Spruce Eats, Fabulous Wisconsin, BRAVA, Madison Magazine and Entrepreneurial Chef. Her literary writing and craft essays have been published by Off Menu Press, Digging Through The Fat and Voyage YA Literary Journal. A selection of Rachel’s recipes are also included in Wisconsin Cocktails (UW-Press, 2020)—and her poetry in the anthology “Hope is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic” (The Wisconsin Historical Society, 2021). Visit her online at: http://rachelwerner.pressfolios.com/
NOTE: The books links lead to the Write Now! Coach bookstore on Bookshop.com. Write Now! Coach receives a small percentage of your purchase, which helps to support this blog.