Become a Writer Today

Getting Started in Freelance Writing with Zulie Rane

March 10, 2021 Bryan Collins
Become a Writer Today
Getting Started in Freelance Writing with Zulie Rane
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
Getting Started in Freelance Writing with Zulie Rane
Mar 10, 2021
Bryan Collins

My guest in this episode is experienced freelance writer Zulie Rane. She is not only a popular freelance writer on Medium, but she also writes for B2B and B2C clients and is also a ghostwriter, all of which provide her with multiple income streams.

An excellent place to start your freelance writing career is by posting articles on Medium, and this is something that I discuss in more detail with Adrien Drew in a previous episode.

I wanted to know what advice Zulie had for freelance writers who are just starting. Medium is something we talk about, along with other ways that freelance writers can get started.


In this episode, we discuss:

  • The importance of having multiple income streams as a writer
  • Ways to get yourself noticed as a freelancer
  • Write what you know about
  • What to charge for your work
  • Should a writer ever work for free
  • The world of ghostwriting

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

My guest in this episode is experienced freelance writer Zulie Rane. She is not only a popular freelance writer on Medium, but she also writes for B2B and B2C clients and is also a ghostwriter, all of which provide her with multiple income streams.

An excellent place to start your freelance writing career is by posting articles on Medium, and this is something that I discuss in more detail with Adrien Drew in a previous episode.

I wanted to know what advice Zulie had for freelance writers who are just starting. Medium is something we talk about, along with other ways that freelance writers can get started.


In this episode, we discuss:

  • The importance of having multiple income streams as a writer
  • Ways to get yourself noticed as a freelancer
  • Write what you know about
  • What to charge for your work
  • Should a writer ever work for free
  • The world of ghostwriting

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Zulie:
And I think having these three different types of content, they all have their different challenges, they all have different income optimization methods, but the balance makes sure that even if you have a slow month for clients, even if the algorithm doesn't favor you that month, you can still have a more or less even stream.

Introduction:
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan:
Would you like to become a freelance writer? Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. And getting started in freelance writing is the topic of this week's show. Now years ago, when I graduated journalism college back in 2004 or 2005, I thought it would be relatively easy for me to start getting paid to write. I thought I'd get a job in a local newspaper, I'd work there for a year or two as a news journalist, and then I find another job as a writer or as a journalist in a national newspaper, and I'd become an editor by the time I was 40. Funnily enough, I'm 40 this year and I'm not an editor of a national newspaper. And in fact, my experiences when I graduated journalism college weren't at all what I would have imagined. In fact, I found it really difficult to find paid work.

Bryan:
I remember I got particularly frustrated after sending in dozens of CVs and cover letters to media companies in Ireland, and emailed one editor in frustration, just asking him for feedback to tell me what I was doing wrong. And he got back to me and he said, "Bryan, you need to actually come up with article ideas rather than just sending in an immaculate cover letter. And you need to pitch these at the news editor." And that's when something clicked. I realized that I wasn't a news journalist because I didn't have what journalists call a nose for hard news. Just didn't know how to come up with article ideas. And it was only much later that I realized that it's still possible to make a living from freelance writing outside of news journalism.

Bryan:
And that's actually the topic of this week's podcast interview, because if you're a writer today, it's easier than ever to find freelance writing gigs. And one of the platforms that I recommend to new freelance writers or to anybody wants to earn a little bit of income on the side from their creative work is Medium. Medium, we've talked about it before in the show. There's a particularly good podcast interview with Adrian Drew, which I recommend you check out, who runs one of Medium's top publications. But basically it's a social media network for writers. You don't need any technical skills. If you can join Facebook, you can use Medium. You don't need to learn how to use WordPress. You don't need to learn SEO. You don't need to learn email marketing or any of the skills that go along with blogging or content marketing. At least not yet. Once you set up your profile on Medium, start writing about topics that you think readers will be interested in about what you've a particular area of expertise in.

Bryan:
Now I would say that there are a couple of the themes that do quite well on Medium, particularly content about relationships and staying in love, content about earning more money, and content about improving your physical or mental health. So you'll see lots of articles about meditation, relationships, or things like that on Medium. And if you have any experience in those areas, and I'm sure you do because they apply to everyone, you can write about your experiences using your personal stories and maybe some research and the article should do relatively well. And if it does, then what you can do is submit it to a Medium publication. And these publications thrive on views, so they're more than receptive to getting submissions from freelance writers.

Bryan:
And once you're getting views on Medium, you can join the Medium partner program. Every month, they will send you, via Stripe, a payment into your bank account. And I've actually written articles two years ago that I haven't done anything with that I still get paid for every month by Medium. It's not a huge amount of money, but to put it in context, I'm in a Slack group with a series of Medium writers that are quite prolific on Medium and they've been using it for quite a while, but they regularly earn five figures a month by focusing just on Medium. So I definitely recommend it if you want to get started with freelance writing, but you don't have a profile or you're not quite ready to learn WordPress or anything like that.

Bryan:
That said, I would encourage you to consider your Medium profile and it should have a clear call to action that links back to a website that you either own or that you're going to create at some point. And when you do, you will have a call to action on your website for people to join your email list. And for this I'd recommend you use ConvertKit, which is what I use, and that way you're taking some of Medium's readers on you're putting them onto your email list once they've opted in, and then later on, if you've got a book, if you've got a course, if you've got coaching, or you've got some other offer you can pitch or sell that directly to your readers. Or even if you just want to share your writing, you own that relationship rather than Medium owning it. I recommend doing that because while these platforms offer fantastic opportunities for freelance writers today, we don't control the algorithm. Medium can change the way things work because they need to do what's right for Medium, and what's right for Medium may not necessarily be right for writers.

Bryan:
So I would encourage you to get started writing on Medium, pitch popular publications, but also consider how you can get people back onto your own website at some point once you're ready to take that next step. Now, of course, I mentioned I was in a Slack group with some Medium writers and this week I recently interviewed Zulie Rane. she's a popular freelance writer on Medium who covers a huge range of topics, including things like coding. She's also a freelance writer who works at B2B business to business, or B2C, business to consumer clients. And she's a ghost writer. So Zuli has a lot of experience in freelance writing. And I wanted to ask her how a freelance writer could get started today. And of course, Medium is something we talk about in the podcast interview, but she also talks about some other ways freelance writers can get started.

Bryan:
And she also explains the importance of having multiple income streams as a freelance writer, and that's something I really wish I had known back in 2004, 2005 when fell into freelance writing for the first time. Now before we go into this week's podcast interview, I do have an ask. If you enjoy the Become a Writer Today podcast, please can you leave a short review or hit the star or like button wherever you're listening to the platform, on iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or wherever, because more reviews and more ratings mean more people will find the show. Now with that, let's go over to this week's interview with Zulie Rane.

Zulie:
Yeah, well, that's pretty much it. My name is Zulie and I write on the internet for money. I got started on Medium, which is just this very open blogging platform writing about my cats. I don't know if you can hear her in the background. And then that kind of broadened out into making opportunities to make money through freelance gigs, more ghost writing blogs and that kind of thing, and that's how I make my living today.

Bryan:
Okay. Wow. So I guess the first question new writers often ask is... When I was a freelance writer, I asked this question as well, how can I get a job as a freelance writer? Because everybody says I need to have a portfolio, but how can I get a portfolio? People won't give me a job.

Zulie:
Yeah, great question. So I think I'm actually really well positioned to answer this because I kind of fell into freelance writing by accident. I didn't intentionally create a portfolio or anything else. I just wrote about stuff I wanted to write about. There are three ways, in my experience, to get freelancing jobs. The first is, yeah, you create this portfolio of work and then you go out and pitch people and you say, "Hey, look at all this cool stuff I've written. You should hire me to do that kind of stuff for you." I am terrible at pitching. I've sent a couple of unsuccessful pitches and then I stopped doing it because I wasn't getting work. And I don't know, that's still on my to do list, to work out how to do that better.

Zulie:
But I get the majority of my work through freelancing the two other ways. I have a portfolio of work. I hesitate to call it a portfolio, really, because it's just blog posts that I wrote because I like writing and I wrote about things that I am interested in. I posted them on Medium, which as I said, anybody can join. You can just start writing today. And then companies found me and most of my clients now came to me through this method where they Googled something, they came across my name, they read something I'd written, and they said, "Hey, I like this. I would like you to do this for me on a long term basis."

Zulie:
And that's the second way. And that I think is the most intuitive way, and the easiest, especially for beginners who like me aren't very good at pitching. Write stuff you like, write some stuff you care about, and then make sure... This is what I didn't do at the start. Make sure you have somewhere that says, "Hey, I'm open for freelance work," so they get to the bottom of your work. And they're like, "Oh great. I can hire this person."

Bryan:
That's your website?

Zulie:
Yes, that's my website. I experimented with doing different calls to action, but the issue I had is that on Medium my audience is really varied and the needs that they have are varied. So rather than trying to send everyone to a different place, I just said, "All right, well you can go to my website and hopefully you'll find your way from there." And then the third one, which I do want to mention, because I think it's... We can't pretend it doesn't exist, is networking. Who you know matters in the writing world a lot more than I wish it did, but it does just like it does everywhere else.

Zulie:
So again, if you have friends in the writing world, or even people who aren't in the writing world, just friends of yours, I've had a lot of really lucrative work sent my way because they knew that I was a freelance writer looking for work, and they said, "Hey, well I know that you are good at what you do. I know that you are looking for work. Here are a few opportunities. You take it from there." I think people shouldn't be afraid to rely on their connection.

Bryan:
Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I wasn't very good at pitching either.

Zulie:
I know very few people who are.

Bryan:
Yeah, it can be difficult. Have you used the Medium newsletter tool that they've rolled out recently for writers or do you solely focus on getting people onto your own email list?

Zulie:
They rolled it out, what, a couple of months ago, and they didn't backdate it, so anyone who followed me before that point wasn't offered the option to follow my newsletter there. And I think as of today I may have a grand total of like 12 subscribers on my Medium official newsletter. So I ignore that feature completely. I have my own newsletter that I got started on ConvertKit, which I find super easy to use.

Bryan:
That's what I use as well.

Zulie:
Yeah, it's great. Isn't it? And that's how I communicate with my peeps.

Bryan:
I think they rolled out that feature maybe to compete with Substack, because people are finding Substack quite easy.

Zulie:
A little too little too late, in my opinion.

Bryan:
Yeah. So when you started writing on Medium, how did you figure out what to write about, because you can put out anything on Medium, but it doesn't mean people are going to engage with it.

Zulie:
Yeah, that is also a really good question. Before I started writing on Medium, I didn't think that I was going to be a blogger. I wrote because I wanted to write about my cats, who I love with my whole heart and I wanted to have a place to put them and I found WordPress really intimidating and I couldn't figure out how to do the Squarespace blog. Medium was the one place where all you had to do was write. So I started writing about my cats, and then I started branching out into other topics. And that's the other thing... I know you don't want to make this a whole Medium podcast, but I love Medium so much. You don't have to stick to a niche, which is really nice because I think most people have more than one or two topics that they want and enjoy writing about. So I started writing about just anything that I enjoyed, which ranged from programming to relationships to pop psychology, cats, as I've mentioned. But literally anything that caught my interest.

Bryan:
So one of the things I like about Medium is you can see how well particular articles are doing, and then it gives you an idea of what headlines to use and what content to focus on. So what did you find got the most engagement for you and which types of articles led to the most clients?

Zulie:
Yeah, so stories that are successful on Medium don't typically result in me getting freelance clients. Usually I write stories that have a very niche audience, and for that reason, they don't do well on Medium, versus the articles that do do well on Medium tend to be evergreen listicles, pop psychology, like this simple trick to make conversations better. Clients don't want that kind of stuff. Clients want their specific audience specific content that you can create. So there are two different types of content. I found that on Medium, as I said, anything that keeps you healthy, wealthy, and love typically is a good performer.

Zulie:
Whereas for freelancing, if you want to write content that attracts clients, you want to do stuff that's more specific. So for example, my first freelance client came to me through... I think it was a piece I wrote about my various different income streams that I have. And that was obviously very tailored to my experience, my situation. They were someone who was trying to look for new creators, so they hired me to write a piece of content that featured their platform, which was again, very, very specific and tailored. And then my second client, I wrote an article on the fastest way to learn to code, which didn't do particularly well on Medium, but now I have a long standing gig with this person who hired me to write programming articles for him.

Bryan:
Yeah, that would make sense, because I guess a lot of coders and people who are running software companies maybe find it difficult or need some help articulating that into a form of an article or a piece of content like an ebook.

Zulie:
Exactly, yeah.

Bryan:
So do you have an ideal client or do you branch across different industries?

Zulie:
That's the other nice thing about freelance work is I don't really have any one particular client. I would say my ideal client gets me interesting blog posts to write. That's about it. I've written about social media. I've written about wellness, programming, as I said, freelance writing, in a little bit of a meta twist. I get to write about all kinds of different stuff that I really enjoy.

Bryan:
I like that. I like that. When I was a freelance writer a couple of years ago I was a technology journalist in Ireland during the recession of 2009, 2010. When the recession really got bad, a lot of the media organizations got rid of the freelance writers because we weren't on a contract. So you talked there about multiple income streams. Would you be able to give me an example of what types of income streams you recommend writers develop?

Zulie:
I think of my income streams in three buckets. I have myself as a client and that's where I post work on my own website. I do my own services like consulting and editing. Then I have external clients who would be people who pay me money to write stuff specifically for them, for their platform. This would be the traditional freelance clients, my ghost writing client, my programming client, and my freelance writing type client. And then I really recommend that freelancers try to get a third, which is what I call the partnership type of client. These are places like YouTube, like Medium, where you can post your own content, and if you learn the rules of that platform, you will earn money that way as well. And I think having these three different types of content, they all have their different challenges, they all have different income optimization methods, but the balance makes sure that even if you have a slow month for clients, even if the algorithm doesn't favor you that month, you can still have a more or less even stream.

Bryan:
Yeah. I think it's definitely important to have different income streams so if one drops off you can have another one that will compensate. Plus you're not in control of the platforms either, so they can change the algorithm or what content surfaces. So you also talk there about developing or finding different types of freelance gigs. Are there any other platforms you've tried, like for example Upwork?

Zulie:
Yeah, so I haven't tried Upwork. It's been on my list to trial, if nothing because it'll give me content to write about that experience. I've tried one called ClearVoice.,And I think another one where it's a board of freelance writers and clients can contact you. I haven't had any luck with those particular methods. But yeah, best way for me to get clients is typically they contact me or through networking.

Bryan:
So if somebody was getting into freelance writing for the first time, and they're wondering how much should I charge for their gig, what would you recommend to them?

Zulie:
This is something I still work with on myself because I struggle to find the right answer. I think the biggest mistake people make is pitching too low. Think about the value that you're providing for the company that you're working with. It's not the time that you do. It's not the knowledge you bring. It's the value that you're providing for them. So that's the fluffy way to think about it. The more specific way that I came up with my number is I worked out what I wanted my ideal life to be. So if I worked X number of hours, how much could I write, including time for pitching and outlining and communications, et cetera. How much money would I need to make for that ideal lifestyle and how much time I could put towards that and what that worked out to per hour, and then how long it takes me to write a blog post with that time and money in mind.

Zulie:
That's how I came up with with my number to pitch people with. I've kind of experimented, I've gone higher, I've gone lower. If it's lower, I find that it's just not worth your time because you will spend so much time in meetings trying to work out what they want, and if you give a higher number, A, you're more likely to scare off people who aren't really serious, and B, your work is worth that much. I've gone higher as well, and sometimes they take that. Sometimes they ghost me. And I think that's the other thing is that if you pitch high and people leave, don't think that means you're not worth that money. It just means that it wasn't worth it to them at that point. And just know that more clients will come your way who are willing to pay that higher number, but it does take a little bit of tweaking to sort out what you should be pitching.

Bryan:
Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. That's good advice. So what about if you're dealing with a client who turns out to be more work than you imagined at the start and they're giving difficult and conflicting feedback and they keep changing their mind about what they want, and suddenly they're saying they want X, but the brief actually said they want Y. How do you deal with that?

Zulie:
I have been erring on the side of caution up until now, really. When that happens, I just go with them. I'm sure you've done the same where you've spent more time in meetings than you have actually producing the writing, and all of those meetings that you've been in could have probably been an email, and it feels like both parties are wasting their time for nobody's gain. So up till now, I've been easy with that. I've gone with what they've said. I've tried to work with their whims. I've been blessed that that hasn't happened too often with me.

Zulie:
But I think in the future, or what I would tell my past self is to really value your time and theirs. Be upfront and say, "Look, I want to be 100% clear. This is the brief that you want. This is what I'm going to produce. If you want me to make more changes after that, I'm happy to do that, but you will have to pay me more because I've done the work that you asked for." My dad, he's got a job, he's not super happy, so he vents that frustration by giving me a ton of unasked for and unsolicited freelancing advice. But he tells me that I should actually be charging people to meet with me, even my own clients, billing them for the hours that I'm spending not just working on the projects, but working with them on their feedback. And maybe I'll get to the point where I need to be taking that advice.

Bryan:
That's good advice. What about value added services? For example, I'll write you a set amount of articles, but I can also provide an SEO strategy or I can provide a content upgrade or I can help you with your email auto responder series. Do you provide any extras like that to clients?

Zulie:
You're right. That's a good point. I normally include that as part of my pitching process or when I'm trying to find a number that they're going to pay me for. I'll say, "Okay, I can do this for that price, or I can do slightly higher price for X cool feature like SEO strategy, for example. I haven't got to the point where I'm negotiating that later on in the relationship with the client. That's normally something I do up front.

Bryan:
Okay, makes sense. So one of the issues I had in Ireland is the jobs market is quite small and a lot of big media companies wanted us to come in and work for free because they had a huge pool of candidates, and the way I felt about it at the time was I trained to be a journalist, why should I want to work for free. Do you think there are ever a circumstance when a writer should work for free?

Zulie:
No, I don't. That's my answer, I suppose. I'm trying to think if there are any examples of the time that I've worked for free. I've been offered the classic exposure as payment. But exposure, as many other freelancers have pointed out before me does not pay the bills. Exposure, it's fine, but you can get that same exposure, and just, as you said in Ireland at that point in time there was a very large pool of candidates. The truth is that now I find the opposite. There are many, many clients out there who are willing to pay me for my time, and if somebody offers to pay me in exposure or in other favors, it literally is not worth my time to deal with them because there are clients who are knocking on my door who want to pay me more money to do that exact same thing for them.

Bryan:
I'd agree with that as well. I suppose to follow on, would you write for a big publication if their rate was quite low, but they are quite big or well-known?

Zulie:
Again, no. Perhaps this is just my perspective because I know that I can get paid for writing in smaller publications more. The name exposure that you get from those bigger publications, I don't think it's worth it for a lower rate, especially when... It feels a little circular, I suppose. If you want to get into Fast Company or Inc. or Thought Catalog, a lot of times you rely on your byline from other places like Inc. Or Fast Company or Thought Catalog to get into them. But if all of those places offer such low prices and the only value is getting into other ones, I don't see that's worth it from a financial perspective, especially when you do have smaller publications that do pay you more money.

Bryan:
Yeah. No, it makes sense. I'd probably agree with that as well. I've written for some of those larger publications, but the amount of time it takes versus what you'd earn doesn't really pay off after you've got your first couple of articles live on their site. Have you looked into copywriting much as a freelance writer? Is that something that you'd like to explore?

Zulie:
I copywrote, I don't know if that's the correct term, when I was a master's student in the UK. I found this... What was it called? Copywriter... Copy... Something like that. Smallish website. They paid pennies, so little money, but as a student, obviously it was very attractive to be able to knock up some copy about... Oh God, I think the worst I did was for bidets. Bidets, I don't know how to say it. The fancy toilets. I wrote copy on different varieties of those. But yeah, you could earn like, I don't know, 10 or 15 pounds an hour just writing content for these places. There was always a lot of work to be done. But, again, I guess now that I'm in a more privileged position of having work that I enjoy doing and can pay well, I stay away from copywriting personally.

Bryan:
Yeah. Copywriting is actually something I got into. Depending on the industry, it can actually be quite profitable, particularly video and B2B copywriting.

Zulie:
Yeah, you're probably right.

Bryan:
I'm not sure how much you get paid for writing about bidets.

Zulie:
Not very much. I can tell you that. You're right, I guess the more skilled you get and the more talented you are and the markets that you're looking at, the better you get at approaching them, the more... You're right. There are plenty of people who make a very good living from copywriting, but yeah, on the... What was it called? I guess the job board that I was on, it was very little. I think a penny per word.

Bryan:
That's [crosstalk 00:21:50] for a copywriter. Medium's changed a lot over the past 12 months. I know we're in a group together on Slack and some Medium writers question that the algorithm has changed and their articles aren't quite getting the same views that they used to get, even though the content is still consistent. Do you still consider it a core part of what you do every day or every week?

Zulie:
Yeah, absolutely. As I said, even though views are down, I was able to start on Medium... And granted, this was two years ago, but I still know of people who start writing on Medium in a day, like in recent months, and then within a couple of weeks, really they've got tens of thousands of views and you just can't get that exposure anywhere else unless you're an SEO wizard. That was for me and continues to be the nicest thing about Medium is that you can write, if you know how to write well, you don't have to worry about the marketing, you don't have to worry about SEO, you don't have to worry about linking your post everywhere, you don't have to worry about chasing a payment or invoices. You can just pay and... Or you can just write, and when people who enjoy that kind of thing read your writing, you get some money.

Zulie:
I have not been able to find something that equals that value anywhere else, so I do continue to write on Medium, despite the shifting algorithm and the decrease in views and payout. It's still the best place on the internet for me to write about that kind of stuff. However, it did change my strategy. I think it started happening in October. And that was around the same time that I started freelancing. Originally, I thought about quitting my job and just working on Medium full time, but when that happened, I realized that I couldn't do that because, as we were saying at the beginning, if Medium goes down and you have 100% of your freelance worth tied to one platform, you're going to go right down with it. And I have no desire to return to a nine to five quite so soon.

Zulie:
So I did start both looking at additional income streams, but also trying to collaborate more with other writers and other people like you who have their own projects going on, both from a networking perspective where it's nice to be nice and offer help where you can in the hopes that you might get some later in the future, but also because as a group of writers, like you were saying on our group, there's a ton of value on that platform if we work together and offer opportunities to one another, that Medium ultimately doesn't care about us, but we as people do care about each other, so I started trying to collaborate more with other writers at the time.

Bryan:
The way I think of it is Medium is much bigger than one single content creator. So sometimes they'll need to change the rules for publishers to do what's right for Medium, but it might not necessarily be right for writers on Medium. What about the publications on Medium itself? Do you have particular publications you've had success with, or do you prefer publishing on your own channel?

Zulie:
I rotate through a couple of publications fairly frequently. I really like Mind cafe. I really like The Post-Grad Survival Guide. I enjoy publishing in The Ascent, PS I love you, Better Marketing. The nice thing about having been on Medium for so long is I've had the opportunity to cultivate relationships with the editors of most of those publications. So I tend to get better feedback than I think newer writers get when, for example, a post gets rejected or a title gets changed. Because I hear that's a typical concern many newer writers have on working with those publications. But for me, it's definitely worth the pay off to continue publishing with them rather than on my own channel.

Bryan:
Yeah, I've written for some of those publications as well. It is actually quite useful to get feedback from an editor if you're writing in a genre or a niche you haven't tried before.

Zulie:
Yeah, and even if you're getting rejected.

Bryan:
Particularly getting rejected, because how else can you figure out what's wrong with your writing, even if it's a rejection. Because I know when pitch to a traditional media organization, which actually just comes in the form of silence, you don't hear anything. Can't do anything with that.

Zulie:
I was talking to somebody else who had a long freelance writing career, long before Medium existed, and they were saying, "Yeah, when writers complain about getting rejected from publications, that's a gift. It's so nice to hear back within 10 days that you're not a good fit, that that story wasn't a good fit, because in the traditional freelancing writing world, that just didn't happen. You'd send pitches off into the void and just never hear back."

Bryan:
So ghost writing is also a key part of your business. Could you maybe explain how you got into ghost writing and what type of content you ghost write?

Zulie:
Yes. So I have had three ghost writing gigs since I started freelancing back in October. The first and second came to me through networking. Ghost writing is a little weird. You can advertise, that it's what you do, but you can't apply because nobody wants to advertise that they're looking for a ghost writer. Normally it's a little secretive. If you become a ghost writer, you might have to sign NDAs that prohibit you from talking about your clients or the work you do for them. And that makes it a little harder to find work, which is why the importance of networking really comes into play here because you're much more likely to hear about an opportunity through word of mouth than on any job board to be totally honest.

Zulie:
So I got my ghost writing gigs because I knew someone who knew someone effectively. It was that and also my ability to write to somebody else's voice really paid off because I continue to work with both of them. The only writing opportunity I've had that didn't come through networking came through my LinkedIn profile. So I write, "Oh, I've done ghost writing." I secured the ability to submit a sample to someone if they ask for it from one of my other clients who understandably don't want me to be shouting from the rooftops that I'm ghostwriting for them. So somebody found that on my LinkedIn and they were like, "Hey, I would love for you to ghost write this origin story for me for my company."

Zulie:
And I did end up doing that, but it was just a one-off project. The type of content, again, it varies a lot. I find my most regular ghost writing gig tends to give me work that I do on behalf of other people that'll be... It really ranges from programming, wellness, social media, a really wide range of topics. And other than that, it tends to be founder stories from companies who want to get their story out there but have a hard time doing so from an objective perspective and getting the full story straight.

Bryan:
And is ghost more profitable than standard freelance writing?

Zulie:
Yes. Yeah, I think on the whole it is. For me, one of my ghost writing gigs was very unprofitable because I wasn't very good at giving good prices then. I pitched a number and the person came back to me and said, "Oh, I just don't have the budget for that. I can pay you a hundred dollars." And I was like, "All right, sounds good to me." It was not a good bargain. But beyond that, now that I have a bit more experience with how to value myself as a ghost writer, yeah, the prices are really good. Because it's such a... I don't want to use the word shady in a negative sense, but because it's a little... Visibility is obscured in the ghost writing market, and that does mean that what you do is... If you can market yourself, it is very valuable and people will pay a lot of money for that.

Bryan:
I've never worked as a ghost writer, but I've always been curious about how it worked. I mean, how do you feel about writing something but someone else's byline is on it?

Zulie:
Honestly, I don't mind, I guess, again, because I'm happy with my byline. I've gotten into publications that I love and I'm very proud to have those names under my name. When I see that my work gets in somewhere else, it's not something I personally struggle with. I'm happy to have been paid for work provided. It's not so much about the reputation for me.

Bryan:
Okay. What about... You talked about writing in the voice of someone else. Is that hard to do, or how would you recommend somebody writes like somebody else?

Zulie:
It's tricky, for ghost writing especially. I work with a digital media agency who often gives me assignments and then I'm not working directly with the person I'm ghost writing for, I'm working through a conduit, and that actually tends to be easier because I can just independently get a sense of the topics they like to write about, the style that they write in. I find it's actually, when they're trying to get into specific publications, it's much more important to look at what the publication wants rather than the person you're ghost writing for, or what their style is. Working with clients one-on-one tends to be actually more challenging because sometimes there's a discrepancy between how they perceive their writing voice to be and how their writing actually is or how that should be better.

Zulie:
So some people write in a very style with lots of sos and ands and dot dot dots, and I find that that doesn't translate well on paper, so I normally don't have any of that in my writing. As an example of that, that's just something that has caused a tiny bit of friction between me and a client in the past, where we just disagree on how the writing should be portrayed. And it is tricky to have the conversations of aligning both your visions, you bringing your writing expertise, what you know about the topic, and then bringing their experience, their tone of voice, how they want to be portrayed. And ultimately, of course, you're ghost writing for them. They're your client. What they want overrides anything you have to offer. But if you want the piece to be well-received, to perform well, you do have to try to convince them of your experience and what you can do to make sure their voice shines through as clearly and in the best light as possible. It can be a bit of a tight rope.

Bryan:
I can imagine. When you're writing an article or ghost writing an article for clients, do you interview them and ask them, "What do you think about the topic," and then transcribe that and write it up or do you approach it in a different way?

Zulie:
So typically just to ease the burden on both of us, they will say, "Hey, I would like you to write about X thing." Sometimes they provide me with a lot of content in terms of notes or interviews that they've done or examples that they want this to look like. But oftentimes they just give me an idea, a title, a publication that they want to get into, and then it's my job to turn that into a piece of content that fits both their needs and the publication's needs and what I consider good writing. So I think typically it's just the idea that they give me. We don't have to do a whole lot of interviews to get their ideas through.

Zulie:
I'll give them an outline before I flesh out the whole thing and I say, "Hey, this is the argument. This is the direction I'm taking it in. These are the sources I'm going to pull from. What do you think?" And then once they give me the green light then I fully flesh out the whole thing, and then we normally have a couple back and forth on phrasing, wording, et cetera. But I find that that stream, that workflow is pretty streamlined.

Bryan:
And who handles the publication? Getting their article into a particular publication?

Zulie:
It varies depending on which publication they're trying to get into. Sometimes as the founders, they obviously have a good existing relationship with the publication that they're trying to get into or their opinion, their position with the company gives them a little bit more weight. However, sometimes I have a backdoor into certain publications, and as long as they're okay with me saying, "Hi, I ghost wrote this piece. Can I get it into this publication," I can use that channel to try to get their work out. It just depends how ghosty they want me to be, if that makes sense. Often I will be in charge of writing up the pitch if nothing else.

Bryan:
Okay. Particularly if you've got the relationship with the publication, that would make sense. So Zulie, where can people find out more information about you or your courses?

Zulie:
You can find me on my website, zuliewrites.com, and I think if you're interested in learning more about Medium or freelancing, you can check out my YouTube channel, if you just youtube.com/zulieranewrites. And if you're interested in getting weekly advice from four top Medium writers on questions like how do you get a thousand subscribers or what's the best way to make money writing on Medium, you should check out our newsletter Write Your Future. I do it with, like I said, three other writers who are very, very cool people and very successful and talented on Medium, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Bryan:
I wasn't aware you did that. Who are the other three writers you collaborate with?

Zulie:
Yeah, you might know Sinem, Amar, and Mike Thompson who [crosstalk 00:33:01] with the group. So about a month ago, two months ago, we said, "Hey, this is a cool idea. Let's let's do it." And we kind of ran with it and it's been really, really fun so far, because it's kind of what I do. I do a whole YouTube channel about it. My newsletters frequently feature on that. So it was really fun to do a more targeted approach with collaborating with other writers to do [inaudible 00:33:20].

Bryan:
Okay. What did you say the URL for that was?

Zulie:
Writeyourfuture.substack.com.

Bryan:
Writeyourfuture.substack.com. Okay. I'll check that out. I wasn't aware you guys were doing that. Anyway, it was great to talk to you today, Zulie. Some really great tips there about freelance writing, particularly for people who haven't dipped their toe in the water before. And was also interesting to hear about ghost writing. Thank you.

Zulie:
Thank you Bryan. It was really fun to talk to you.

Bryan:
I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join, and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.