Online Marketing for independent authors with Nicholas Furnal (MrWriteNow)

Tell my readers about yourself. My name is Nicholas, and I've been deeply interested in writing since high school both as a hobby and professionally. I received a BA in Modern Literary Studies from UCSC. I put writing on the backburner to gain more professional experience, and I soon began working in affiliate marketing. I worked at an affiliate marketing company for about 6 years, and during the time, my wife and I decided to become foster parents.

The variety of experiences, and unique backgrounds of the kids that we interacted with, inspired me to begin writing again more seriously. I left my job and became a freelance content creator to get my feet wet. I found that it actually blended my online marketing experience with my writing skills, and I soon found I had a strong interest in growing my writing career. I was somewhat intimidated by full novels, and the market felt so saturated. Knowing I had a unique understanding of younger audiences from my fostering experiences, I wanted to capture my experiences with illustrations as well. I had already worked with an illustrator on some other projects, so I decided to publish my first illustrated book!

First off, can I just give you a giant virtual hug? I have such a heart for foster parents. My husband and I fostered a nine year old boy for about a year, with plans to adopt, but as you know nothing in the foster care world goes as planned. I love how you utilized these experiences in your writing. You actually covered the next two questions I generally ask, so I’ll move on. Tell us about working as a freelance content creator.

That's amazing that you also fostered!

Doing freelance was slow at first, it's a big world and the market can feel intimidating sometimes. I first started doing ghostwriting for a blog just to get a feel for the process. It turned out I loved it! It was exciting hearing someone's vision, and being able to turn it into a finished product while using my skills as a writer. I found it sort of difficult to not apply to every freelance position available, so I decided to narrow my field of expertise a little. I did extensive research on content creators, and content writing and found that it was a good fit for my skill set.

In order to gain a stronger presence, I created my website and freelancer persona. My primary purpose was to create a portfolio to give a stronger backing to my applications when reaching out to people who needed freelancers. It helped a lot! I quickly landed more "long term" freelance positions with some tech blog websites where I wrote probably 20-25 articles. The connections and networking I made through these positions helped me understand what to look for regarding future freelance positions.

The more I was able to narrow my search, the more my expertise and familiarity with the field increased. Once I realized I could actually make a living of freelancing, it really became a passion. The writing experience alone that you get from working with dynamic tech companies was pretty amazing. Once my freelance career started becoming more stable I wanted to go back to my writing roots, and work on books which brings us back to present day!

Amazing. I do want to talk a little more about freelancing before we move on to books. How did you go about searching for freelance jobs?

Oops, sorry! forgot to mention that. The coffee is still kicking in.

I feel you, bro. I began by creating a profile on Upwork and doing a lot of my preliminary searches there after I got a few jobs and positive feedback under my belt, I felt the need to expand my expertise. Also, the more research I did, the more I realized I was being underpaid for my skills. Eventually, I was referred to "problogger" which also has listings for freelance positions, with a focus on longer term positions. I found that I was able to get more stable and more "professional" positions through those listings as well. The more experience I got, the better gigs I was able to land.

Honestly though, it was quite a lot of research in the beginning phases before I was able to find a stride and consistent jobs. Doing freelance/remote work also gave me the ability to be more involved with fostering as well which was a huge benefit

Lots of research? Isn’t that how life goes? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just snap our fingers and get our way? What advice would you give a newbie like me a go if they wanted to try to get into freelance writing?

I think a pitfall that a lot of new freelancers experience is undervaluing themselves. It's true that you have to start somewhere, but I think people get intimidated by the market thinking "I'll take whatever I can get to make a living". But the beauty of freelancing is it only takes a couple of consistent gigs to become sustainable, and it's a quantitative process. The more gigs you get, the better gigs you get and so on

Also, I would recommend finding a niche and sticking to it. I've also worked with freelancers, and the I've been the most successful with the ones who have a clear set of skills and expertise they can offer to a project. When people are hiring freelancers, they can get lost in the sea of applications. So if you focus on a specific niche, it's typically easier to market yourself. You can also be more decisive with the jobs you apply to if that's the case.

Another thing is that you really have to sell yourself. People tend to shy away from "selling themselves" for fear of selling out or cheapening the trade. At the end of the day, it's a job though. doing menial gigs now doesn't mean you will be doing them forever. I love freelancing, because I improve both my portfolio and my skills with each job.

Another tip I found is doing "cold call" emails. I often go to sites that I would typically frequent, and if they have a blog section that's lacking, I'll reach out to them and say "Hey, I noticed you have an up and coming blog, here's how I can help if you're interested..." You really have nothing to lose from networking, especially in this digital age

Wow. Great tips. You definitely seem to be putting your marketing experience to work for you. You mentioned previously creating a professional persona. What does that look like and how does some create their own when they have no relevant experience ?

Good question! [As for creating my own professional persona] The initial driving factor was that I'm super shy. I wanted to remain more anonymous while still having a professional portfolio. Although with many similar sites I found people just used their actual faces/names etc. Since the freelance market tends to be so saturated, most clients and employers tend to shift their focus more heavily on your work and how it makes you unique from your competitors

A friendly presence goes a long way [and a good website]. Fortunately, I've dabbled in webdesign so I'm familiar with it, but honestly I use fiverr for a lot of things. Even if you know very little or nothing about creating websites, you could have it professionally done for like $20.

I also tell people there there's always going to be costs involved when starting any sort of company, even if it's independent freelancing. Some people pay hundreds for online classes and workshops, but I find that you can learn so much doing it yourself and even working with other freelancers And it's not impossible to do it all for free, but it will be much more complicated and you would be amazed by the low quality sites out there. With a little love and attention, I think most people can create something eye catching. Realistically, it all comes down to how you want to market yourself.

But how do you sell yourself if you’ve had no previous work?

Something that helped me on my site before I had a more extensive portfolio was focusing on the services you offer page. That allowed me to effectively have a resume I could copy and send to any interested parties, even before I had previous work to show. it was a way of letting employers know who I was and what I could offer, even though I didn't have a portfolio to back it up.

Additionally, I created two blog articles on my own that I could show potential employers just to have something, but honestly, what really helped me get started was having a services offered page on my site. Employers get so many generic applications, a website really helped me stand out among the competition even though I didn't have much of a portfolio starting out.

Those are really great tips! I peeked at your website and I think it’s a really great! If any of the readers are interested, they should pop over there and see your examples. Now, tell us more about your novels. Thanks!

I actually began writing a science fiction novel to hone my skills, but the more I wrote, I felt myself sort of losing interest. My strength and interest in writing always revolved around short stories. I thought of a way to still write and publish something that I felt passionate about. I love writing short, uplifting/humorous works. And I felt my background as a foster parent might help give me a unique perspective for writing illustrated books accessible for wider audiences. When I was working on my first book "Dog Hacks to Train Your Human" it felt like all my experiences were coming together: freelancing, marketing, fostering background.

Especially after publishing it, I realized marketing is arguably more work than producing a book! I really loved the process and the level of control I had being self published. I considered querying agents or publishers, but I felt that my goal and vision was strong enough to stand on its own, so I wanted to try it myself. I enjoyed it so much, I actually started my 2nd illustrated book yesterday! I also REALLY enjoy the marketing aspect of it.