Technical issues and frequently asked questions
This week we’re looking at the more technical aspects of being a professional copywriter in the adult industry. I regularly get asked certain questions about copywriting, so I’m pleased to be able to address most of these in this part of the course.
Of course if you have other questions which are not covered here you can always check out the Cara Sutra site FAQ or just send me an email. Don’t forget to catch up with the rest of my Professional Copywriting for the Adult Industry course here, a write up of my talk at Eroticon 2014.
Let’s get on with the Q&A.
How much should I charge?
The standard industry rate for freelance copywriting starts at £25 per hour. However, if you’re new to the writing scene and want to build up your portfolio, it might be a good idea to start low until you have built up your profile and are a more prolific writer in the industry. Of course the more writing work you get, the more you can add to your portfolio. It’s a good idea to link to your work from your website or showcase articles you’ve written for companies, as well as frequently linking to that page on social media, showing it to others virally as well as merely hoping people land on it by accident.
With research and writing time, as well as any formatting required, my articles generally take between 2-3 hours to complete. You may find that it’s different in your case. If you are asked to complete other writing tasks such as product descriptions or site content, you will need to have a think about how much time this will take you. Product descriptions tend to be paid between £2.50 up to £4.75 each depending on your product knowledge and experience, as well as any optimisation and keywording skills you have. For other site content such as writing the copy for website pages I would stick with the industry standard of £25 per hour unless you discuss and agree to an overall price for any particular project a company requires of you.
Should I negotiate/allow bartering?
This is a personal choice but I don’t allow myself to get bartered down in price. I know that I write well and that I know what I am talking about when it comes to industry writing. Therefore I have the confidence required to let a company know (nicely!) that I’m able to complete this work for them to the professional standard required, for the price I quote. That’s why it’s important to set a realistic price that you’re completely happy with and confident about, before you communicate that price to companies. It’s important to feel confident that you’re worth your value, to avoid being pressured by a company trying to knock you down on price. Which they will do, as this is business after all.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever agree discounts – if a company agrees to ongoing work or wants a particularly large project completed, I may then offer a 10-20% discount due to the amount of work they require, as a gesture of goodwill. Again, it all comes down to personal choice, the company involved, your own feelings on the matter and retaining a professional perspective at all times.
When should I get paid – before or after writing the piece?
When it comes to web writing work, I would advise that you get paid before writing a company an article, whether on your site or theirs. This stops problems such as having to chase them for payment, or in the worst cases, the company not paying at all and just taking the copy and running. It’s hard to prove that you wrote any piece of copy and trying to fight plagiarism takes time, as well as legal letters – which can be a costly endeavour.
Save yourself the hassle and invoice before you write articles. I only start work on the articles once I’ve received the payment too – that way I am not wasting my time preparing work which I might not ever be paid for! It might seem harsh but I’ve found I need to protect myself in this way.
For product descriptions and site content, I have been paid after those have been written but then I have been very selective about which companies I have written those for. Product descriptions are a good ‘in’ to industry writing. They give you lots of experience as well as expanding your product knowledge, and besides, with Google’s duplicate content issues there are quite possibly a thousand websites out there requiring unique product descriptions.
A top tip is to keep a copy of any product descriptions you write on a separate file either machine or cloud based (I prefer Google Drive). This protects you against personal content loss if said website disappears off the web. It’s unlikely that the owners of a website which is going down will contact you to ask if you want your content. Saving them separately has a few benefits attached: you always have a copy of your work as evidence of description writing experience, you retain a portfolio of product information in your own database, and in the very likely event that you have to rewrite the same products many times in different ways, you have a basis from which to create another few descriptions.
It’s a good idea to save or personally ‘back-up’ any articles you write for company websites too. A recent example of why, is my writing work with the Erotica Show website. I’d saved my articles I’d written for them and instead of merely a link from my site to what was a full article on theirs but is now a dead link and lost copy, the articles are now in full on my own site, without posing any duplicate content issues and without losing that valuable content. It’s also a content boost for my own site, of course. As their site has now been taken down, If I hadn’t saved my work then I would have lost all those articles. I probably would have cried, too.
How do I invoice a company?
To invoice a company, make sure you have a Word document or similar which you can send them (by email). This will show your blog name or chosen business name, date, their company details, the work you’re invoicing for, how much it is, any agreed discounts – and at the bottom, the ways in which they can pay. I started off using the standard Word invoice template, adding my logo in at the top and it is perfect to invoice companies with by email. They get a copy for their records and I save all mine in a standard title format (backwards dating so they file chronologically) in a cloud folder on Google Drive so I can keep up to date with them at any time. I also have a separate spreadsheet for monthly income and expenditure for my copywriting and business so I can quickly see which companies have paid and if any need chasing.
I prefer to be paid by bank transfer directly to my bank. I put my bank details on the invoice for companies to pay to – you give these details to people every time you write a cheque anyway – and I only accept Paypal in rare circumstances. There are also incoming fees for Paypal payments which takes a bit off your payment.
I’d avoid payment by post – ie. cheque and postal order – they’re old-fashioned, slow, paperwork can go missing and it slows the whole process down. Go with bank transfer if at all possible. It’s fast as well as easily traceable. For overseas payments you may need to provide an IBAN and or BIC code – you can usually find these on your bank statements.
As your writing portfolio builds, you may find you need to register as a sole trader for your writing. Keeping details of all ‘business’ income and expenditure will really help when it comes to filling in forms. This might be way ahead of you on the road to being a self employed copywriter but it’s definitely a worthy and very achievable end-goal.
How much should I be writing for a promotional piece of copywriting?
An article on the web is best kept under 1000 words, 1200 words max (and yes, I’m going to break this rule with this article, ironically!) I wouldn’t provide an article to a company which is under 500 words. My articles tend to average at about 8-900 words which I find is a comfortable amount to fit in the info I need – intro, main body, any question answering and a summary.
For prod descriptions and site content you will need to discuss and agree the word counts with the company involved. Don’t forget to allow time for any research too!
Does paid-for copywriting always have to be on their site or can I get it on my own?
Paid for copywriting can be on any site on the web, as long as you’re getting paid for it. There is a natural desire to get the ‘content’ element of your own writing by having it on your site, but you shouldn’t back away from writing on other peoples websites.
Companies paying you will usually give you a backlink at the end of the post unless it’s agreed ‘ghost-writing’. These are great to get your name (and backlink) out there as a recognised copywriter.
You can also link to your work on their site, showing not only the company involved that you are happy to link to them and display your work through social media, but at the same time letting all other companies know that you’re willing and able to undertake this work and that you’re valuable, popular, skilled and employable.
Should I let a company view the article before publication? Should I change my writing if they want it changed?
This is a difficult one, because a company may be prone to requesting that you edit your work numerous times before they are satisfied with it. The thing about writing is that there’s no ‘by the book’ correct or incorrect article, or way to write any particular subject matter. Whatever you write in the first place could be perfect for one company, while another company may require several different changes before they are totally happy with it.
I wouldn’t volunteer the option for a company to be able to check and request edits before publication, however if if was a stipulation on their behalf then I wouldn’t refuse either. If a company wants to change a word or two in an article I don’t have any issues (they’re paying for this copywriting, remember it’s not like a review, personal blog post or other unpaid writing) but if they start demanding whole segment changes then I feel the need to state that my writing is as it is – in the nicest possible way. If it ever got to the point where the edits requested took up the majority of the content I would question why they didn’t write it themselves in the first place (either as a guest post on my site or on their own). Avoiding this issue usually comes down to how you present your work. If you’re unsure or not confident about your article or writing, a company will sense that doubt and lack of confidence and start to question your abilities.
Be confident, know that you’re a valuable asset to their company by way of content or copywriting, and present high quality, accurate work that you’re proud of.
Should I give a company free run to edit my work before publishing?
Definitely not! They could rewrite the whole lot and assign it to your name. Before you know it, they could have told the internet that you’ve said all manner of things in an article which you didn’t say, or phrased things in a way that doesn’t suit your feelings or knowledge about a subject matter.
Any changes should be mutually agreed before publication – and if a company changes your work without your consent and attributes it to you then you need to approach them with a view to getting this changed. This is not a problem I have come up against though, as most companies are happy to receive great content to put on their site without having the extra work of rewriting it themselves.
What happens if someone plagiarises my work and copies it on their site?
If someone copies articles or work off your site, whether a company or other site/blogger, then usually an email to the site owner to politely ask that it’s removed is enough to get this taken down. You need to get full articles of content taken off their site as Google and other search engines have a duplicate content issues, whereby sites that have largely the same content as each other won’t rank as highly as they could do.
This doesn’t usually apply to snippets or excerpts of your work with a backlink to where the original article or content is found, as these can be highly valuable backlinks adding to the original site’s authority on the web. Usual web etiquette dictates that a website owner still asks permission this case however, although it won’t happen each and every time.
In the event that someone refuses to take down your full work on their site, you will need to seek legal advice and get a solicitor’s letter sent to them giving them the option of either removing the work or facing legal action.
Where do I get ideas for great articles?
Unfortunately I can’t give people an imagination but as you’re here reading a sex blog and you’re interested in the adult industry I should think you’re doing fairly well on your own.
Think about the subject matter if a company has specified one. What questions would you want answering, as a reader? Make sure you don’t take your readers knowledge for granted. As an industry writer you are probably more aware of product information and sexual education than many other readers on the web. At the same time, guard against belittling the reader by talking to them like they’re a toddler. It’s a fine balance getting the right ‘voice’ for your work; authoritative and professional, yet approachable and friendly.
To come up with article topics in the first place, think about issues that are topical to latest news, celebrity or trending amongst sexual education circles. There are many sexual and kink questions that people trawl the web looking for answers on. Take notice of what people in your social media circles talk about, and you can even peek through adult chat forums to see what the most common questions are.
Does my article title matter?
The title of your post should be relevant, a summary of the content and quite witty if you’re that way inclined. In an ideal world, the title will also be an intelligent choice of words for the search engines, so that they can easily pick up this article and present it to people searching for the information you’ve written about.
At times you won’t be able to get all of this in one title, but there are ways to make the title the internet sees, and the title the real people see, different. This can be done through meta data fields on whatever blog or website you’re writing on, usually with the help of an SEO plug-in. This is a bit more technical though and you’re best talking to a suitably geeky person unless you’re up on that sort of thing.
For general copywriting and blogging purposes, I would stick to choosing titles which are relevant, descriptive and which invite the reader to find out more about that subject.
What happens if I make a mistake, or write some wrong information?
If you do make a mistake in your article or in any of your paid for writing – don’t panic! It doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for this role or that you’re not a valued writer. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes regularly; missing out words or making typos or just not seeing a piece of information on a product box which is then pointed out to me in the comments. I bet if you tried you could find at least 5 mitsakes in this post alone.
We’re all human. As long as you devote enough time to research, work with due care then proof and edit your work before publication or handing over to a company, any mistakes should just be accepted as part of life.
Apologise to anyone involved, correct the error and take responsibility. It’s the mature and professional thing to do.
How do I deal with negative feedback and comments?
As in any area of life, during your writing career you are probably going to encounter negative feedback at some point. You may as well just get used to the fact that a) it’s going to happen and b) it’s not going to be very nice.
For instance, a company might not like your article or a reader might leave a horrible comment. With reader comments, remember that you don’t have to reply to them. Certainly in no event should you enter into a slanging match, or a trolling war. Be the professional person here, and if that means biting your tongue against nasty comments, then so be it.
If a company is really not happy with your work and you’ve given it your best shot, then you will need to talk with them about what can be done to make them happy. This situation may not happen much, if it even happens at all. As an industry copywriter you will know what you’re talking about, you will have a great grasp of the English language and you will be able to confidently and articulately express your thoughts on a range of relevant subjects.
I don’t get all this jargon a company is using: SEO, optimised, serps, follow/nofollow links. Help!
Companies might use some web and technical jargon when speaking to you and I know as much as anyone reading this that it can be really confusing. Dammit Jim, I’m a writer, not a geek. Admittedly, I have been lucky in this regard as my partner is the planet’s biggest geek, so he has been able to explain jargon patiently to me through the years, to a point where I now understand most of the web jargon and what the terms relate to. Thanks, D.
Of course it’s pretty simple to Google for any terms you don’t understand. It’s wise to allocate some time to reading articles about things such as SEO (search engine optimisation), optimisation (making your site more visible for the search engines results), the serps (search engine results pages), and follow or nofollow links (links seen by the search engines or not) so that you do have a foothold in facts and knowledge when you’re talking with companies and other potential writing clients.
As most companies will be purchasing copywriting for the web, they are interested in making that writing as effective at drawing in readers and traffic as possible. This means it’s helpful to make the article not only fabulous, entertaining and informative for readers who already have the link to the article, but also getting that article to rank higher across the search engines for search terms related to that article’s content. The algorithms of Google and the other search engines have changed quite a bit in recent times and there’s no way I am getting into a debate on the right or wrongs of The Holy Google Masters – I would only advise that you make sure any articles you read on this matter are the most recent you can find. If you’re reading SEO, web content marketing and other web optimisation advice from a year or two ago, I’d be inclined to bet my house that the specifics are now outdated and completely wrong.
What types of links are acceptable in a piece of promotional copywriting on my site and how many should I allow?
The general rules for links in a paid-for article on your site are 2-3 links so it doesn’t look to the search engines like link spamming, causing them to disregard your content when it comes to bringing up your article in search results. A company who is paying for an article on your site is interested in having a ‘follow’ or ‘dofollow’ (seen by the search engines) link in that article – so as long as they are a company who you have no qualms with recommending, follow links are the way to go. The company is paying both for your writing and for the backlinks.
There have been a couple of occasions where I have said to a company I will only complete some writing work for them on my site if the links in the copy are nofollow, ie not indexed by Google and other search engines. This is when I don’t really want to be seen by Google as giving any authority to the company/site I am linking to, because they may be a link directory themselves or a certain type of porn site – and I don’t want Google to see my site as being in the same class as www.bigbustymilfs.xxx, www.nakedbukkakequeens.com or www.pervertedpuppiescrushedtesticles.net when I am trying to rank for erotic writing, industry copywriting and/or sex toy reviews from a professional perspective.
On a related note, feel free to contact me about your next domain name. 🙂
A company will generally let you know which links they’d like in the article and it’s best to keep the links quite far from each other in the text so it doesn’t look like link spamming once again. The phrases you link are also important, so instead of merely linking the word ‘here’ you should try to link relevant words for the serps to pick up.
For example: linking the phrase ‘cheap couples vibrators here’ is better than just linking the word ‘here’ in the sentence ‘you can find cheap couples vibrators here‘. Make the links a natural part of the writing for best impact to the search engines and to avoid ruining the natural reading flow for your readers.
I hope that this part of my Professional Copywriting for the Adult Industry course has answered some burning questions for you. Next week is the final part of the course, in which I’ll be tackling the best uses of social media to complement your copywriting career as well as moving towards selling advertising space on your website.
I’m looking forward to your comments below and as always you can send me an email if you have any specific queries.
– Cara Sutra