Chris Sims is a comic book writer who, in addition to serving as Senior Writer with Comics Alliance, maintains an independent blog, produces a podcast, and does freelance writing for a number of clients, such as Cracked and Wired.
We spoke with Chris in August 2013 to glean some tips from him that might give aspiring bloggers and freelance writers a leg up in the world. He did not disappoint.
The Role of Blogging in Freelance Writing
From experience, Chris has found his portfolio of work to be the most significant factor leading to professional opportunities. Should you have little client experience as a freelance writer, an independent blog is a great place to start.
In addition to helping one build a robust portfolio, blogs can be a (moderate) source of income. Most of the profits Chris has made through his independent blog come through Amazon Affiliate sales, as he regularly reviews and writes about comic books and collections that are readily-available on Amazon.com. For a long time, Chris (inspired by Bill Gaines' ad policy with Mad Magazine) avoided placing ads on his blog, however he now runs ads associated with businesses that (1) are related to his blog and (2) promoting businesses he earnestly respects, such as Project Wonderful.
Keep in mind that income earned through a blog's ad and affiliate revenue is not likely to be able to cover much more than some of your utility bills each month.
Building a Network
Though Chris Sims did nothing very aggressive to market his blog or work (e.g. do promotional collaborations with other blogs, attend networking events, etc), he has built a good network through genuine interaction and common sense.
Chris attends comic book conventions. He keeps business cards handy. He is generally friendly. He reads colleagues' work. He establishes connections and occasionally collaborates with other comic book writers and bloggers- not because he wanted to climb the ranks within the industry, but because he genuinely likes them and their work.
Once again, Chris' portfolio of work helps. It introduces potential editors and clients to his work. Those people, in turn, introduce Chris to additional potential editors and clients. The cycle is quite virtuous.
In short, Chris serves as living proof that you can establish a valuable network without doing things you're not comfortable with. Just be friendly, present, genuine, and willing to strike up conversations.
Dealing with Copied Content
The only somewhat legal issues Chris has encountered have to do with copied content. His posts and articles have been copied on several occasions- sometimes even translated into other languages.
Though most bloggers and freelance writers choose to file DMCA complaints with content thieves, Chris has taken a public shaming approach in which he shares with his followers how his work has been stolen. So far, this approach has been quite effective: the work has been taken down and Chris has avoided uncomfortable legal jargon.
Chris fully acknowledges that this approach doesn't work for everyone. He is well acquainted with others in his field whose work is repeatedly stolen by individuals who only respond to official takedown notices. He also acknowledges that not all copying is worth a fuss. Information regularly loses attribution as it gets shared and reblogged on sites like Tumblr. This is just how the internet works. So far, Chris has chosen his battles carefully and has yet to encounter any serious problems related to copied work.
Tips on Making it as a Full Time Freelance Writer
Chris' top tips on becoming a freelance writer are:
- Build a robust network: Published work online leads to job opportunities; initial job opportunities lead to new job opportunities
- Write, write, write: Create a daily deadline just to make sure you generate something every day
- Repetition is your savior: The more you write, the better you will become
- Develop endurance: As a freelance writer, you don't eat if you don't write; make sure you can regularly churn out work
- Know your strengths and weaknesses: This will leave you better equipped to pursue optimal opportunities
- Take on pro bono work to gain client experience: Focus on nonprofits (see next point)
- Don't work for free if a client is profiting from your work: Unless a publication is very well-known, it is not worth it to write for a for-profit client without compensation; you can get plenty of exposure yourself just by publishing work on your own digital properties