The one thing that will save your gamedev career from certain failure.

This is a long post, so here are some important sections you can skip to:

You gotta eat. You gotta have a roof over your head.

Here’s the thing: you need money.

We live in a post-scarcity world that thrives through a strange, impure, though somewhat functional version of capitalism. At least, those of us in “developed nations” as they call them. That’s inescapable.

Bill Hicks (RIP) said:

“If you think you’re free, try going somewhere without money.”

No matter how much you hate it (or love it), it’s inescapable. You need money. How do you get food? Money.

You can grow it but that’s a lot of work. It’s a full-time job within itself. Seriously though, if you have time and energy to do that, I recommend it. But you probably don’t most of us don’t.

Same for the roof over our heads. Even if you bought a house and paid off the mortgage, there’s still government sanctioned property taxes. I’m trying hard not to get political here but I just am not a fan of all of this. But it doesn’t matter because it’s the reality and you and I have to work within that reality.

Lucky for both of us, I’ve figured out a way to do without being miserable for the rest of our lives. We’re going to make money making games. But before we do that, we need to get money.

Not having a way to pay your bills will stress you out.

The fastest way to kill any pleasurable thing is stress. If you’re stressed about life, you’re not going to enjoy game design and development.

If you’re stressed about anything, it’s going to kill your joy.

You might be so stressed about money that you think “I should be working right now” when making games.

Or, you’ll think “I need money right now so I’ll have to get this game out as soon as possible so I can start making money.” That turns gamedev into a job and not something you enjoy.

It also runs a high risk of creating a rushed, unpolished, shitty game. Then, that game won’t do well. You won’t make a lot of money. You’ll get discouraged and burnt out. You won’t want to make video games anymore. Result: passion == killed.

You need to avoid this at all costs.

Taking on massive debt will stress you out, too.

We also need to avoid debt. Having debt is going to stress you out.

To be fair, most of us in America have some amount of debt; many have a massive amount of debt. You need to keep the debt to a minimum and ideally non-existent.

The problem is, we don’t always have that choice. I understand that you may live in an area where everything is spread out and public transit sucks, so you need a car. But your car broke down and now you need $1000 worth of maintenance, or worse, a new car (new meaning, go get a used one for a couple grand). Now you’re in debt getting these things and it wasn’t your decision.

It happens. I understand. I’ve been there myself. Don’t be ashamed, just pay it off. Work to pay off all your debts. Keep your credit cards paid off every month.

Just like not having money is going to stress you out, having debt is going to stress you out too. We need to get a steady income, and you need to pay off your debt before you do anything drastic like quit your job and go full-time gamedev.

I wouldn’t say “never go full-gamedev”, because that’s the goal, but we need to make sure the timing is right and the preparation is done. The first parts of that preparation are to pay off debt and have nothing left that isn’t paid for.

It takes a lot of time to build, release, and market a game.

Your game will not be done in a week. It probably won’t be done in a month.

Even if you’re making little games, they’re not going to be ready for production (or ready to be shipped, rather) in a short period of time until you’ve already got a few games under your belt and have figured out your processes and efficiency.

Even once the game is done, polished, juicy, and bug-free (mostly), you haven’t done any marketing, have you?

You’re going to flop and maybe, if you’re lucky, pick up some customers and fans in a few months.

Flappy Bird made a lot of money, but it had been out for months before it reached the point of success.

Can you survive like that? Can you survive for 6 months to a year without your games making any money? If yes…well then I guess you’re good to go. Start making games. If no, you need to be able to survive for at least 6 months before you throw everything out and focus on game design and development.

You need to have money coming in to pay the bills while you build and market your early games.

Once you’ve got a few games out that are well marketed and polished and bug-free (again, mostly), you will have a good amount of residual income, or money saved up from launches, that you can use to leverage a more focused gamedev period.

Most people would say 6 months but I hate stress so I recommend having a year of income saved up before you go all-in.

You should have a year in savings, and/or residual income coming in before you quit your job and start making games full time.

It’s going to take even longer if you don’t already know how to make games.

Of course, if you’ve never made a game before, it’s going to take longer.

You’ve got to learn the software, learn to make the art, polish everything, work out your processes.

You’re going to be slow at making games at first. It’s okay, in fact, it’s encouraged! Take your time. Really learn the nuances of what you’re working on. Get into it.

Also, make a lot of games. Make lots of little games. Learn your processes. But during all this time, you need to be making money, too.

You’ll also need money to fill up the gaps you don’t know like development or art or music.

You’re going to find out that there are a lot of parts of gamedev you just are not good at, or don’t want to do.

I’m terrible at art. I can not draw. I’m not great at 3D modeling, either. My animations are terrible. Art just is not my thing.

So, I either work within my constraints to build very minimalistic games, or I hire someone to do the art. That costs money, so I need to have money.

You’ll find yourself in a similar boat every once in a while.

Maybe you’re not a musician, but your game needs music. Maybe you don’t know anything about sound effects, but there are sound effect libraries out there you can buy. You can buy art. You can hire programmers.

Maybe your art is beautiful and animation is your forte, but you can’t program worth a dang.

I’ll talk more in the future about how to make games w/out programming, but ideally you’ll hire programmers or artists (whatever you need) to make the really awesome games you have in your head (and hopefully in GDD’s because you need to write those ideas down before you lose them).

The fact of the matter is, you need to have an income before you start making games. You need to have generated residual income that’s coming in, or have a lot of money saved before you go off on your own.

We’re going to complete this in two ways: by first getting a job, and then making money playing video games.

First, get a day job.

  • You need to get a day job if you want to be a professional game designer or developer and run your own studio.
  • You need to get a day job if you want to be a professional game designer or developer that works with clients.
  • You need to get a day job if you’re just learning to design or develop video games.

You need to have money coming in, and you need to be working towards your game design and development goals in your off time.

This will take the stress of not having guaranteed income off your back.

It’s going to take the stress off your back. Having a guaranteed amount of money will pay your bills and get everything done.

If you’re stressed out all the time, you’ll never want to work on your games or get any extra work done. You’ll come home and space out on Facebook or in front of the TV. Maybe you’ll load up a game to de-stress and the next thing you know it’s time for bed.

Of course, you need to take time for yourself, too, but you don’t want to spend too much free time if you’re working to become a full-time game developer.

If you want to make it your full-time job, you need to start with a day job and make a smooth transition once you have money coming in.

Your day job can’t be related to the gaming industry.

It’s important that your day job is not the same as your gamedev aspirations. I know, it sounds like you should get a job in gamedev if what you want to do is gamedev, but there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t do this.

The first is that when you work on something all day, you’re not going to want to take time at home to work on the same type of thing.

If you just spent 9 hours at an office doing gamedev, you’re unlikely to have much motivation to come home and work for another few hours on gamedev. You’ll want to do something else. You just spent all day on gamedev. Your brain is fried from that.

That’s why if you get a day job in something completely unrelated, you’ll come home ready to work on gamedev. It will remind you every day why you want to come home and hustle on gamedev.

You want to get out of that day job, even if you enjoy it, not because you hate it but because you are passionate about gamedev and want that to be your main source of income. You want to spend 40+ hours a week working on gamedev and not your day job.

I personally love my day job. I am Communications Director for a nonprofit trade association. It’s completely unrelated to video games. Most of my job is internet marketing, traveling to our events, and handling the website.

Of course, those are things that I do for gamedev and are a part of running any business, but when I come home I mostly focus on gamedev. I work on my marketing during lunch and in the mornings before I go to the day job.

Another reason you don’t want to have a day job in gamedev is because many companies lock you in with non-compete clauses.

They’ll make you sign a contract that says you will not make any other games while working for their company. If you do, they will own the rights to the game.

Sounds unfair, but it’s totally legal, though maybe not ethical. Either way, it happens, especially for bigger companies. Some smaller companies are catching on and doing it now, too.

You don’t want to get locked into that even if the job seems like a dream job. You will be completely unable to make a transition to full-time gamedev if you’re not allowed to even go home and work on gamedev.

Be aware that some nongamedev companies will do this to you, too. I once started to work at a company that was in the substance abuse rehabilitation industry and they made me sign a non-compete that said that even video games would be theirs because it could be used in rehabilitation.

Not a very nice thing to do, but luckily that didn’t work out in a bad way. I also didn’t work on any game while employed there, which really sucked.

You also can’t be doing freelance work for the same reason as above; you’ll be too tired to work on your own games.

Back when I first started doing internet marketing I started experimenting with my own websites, but I was talking to a co-worker named Drew who gave me a great analogy:

“It’s like being a mechanic and going home to work on your own car after spending your whole day working on other people’s cars. You’re just too tired of working on cars to work on yours.”

Though I once had a roommate who was a mechanic and he went home and worked on his own car, but he was just really passionate about his car.

There’s also the freelance hustle that will take up a lot of your time. If you dig back in my content here, you’ll find some blog posts about content marketing. I used to do freelance content marketing, SEO, and consulting.

I made good money and enjoyed the job, but I was working almost constantly. No time for a girlfriend, no time for most of my other friends, and no time to really enjoy life. That particularly meant no time to work on gamedev.

How to get a job:

Alright so how do you get a job? You can’t just walk into a place and ask …Wait yeah actually you can.

Start by asking people you know.

The first thing to do is ask people you know. Reach out to people who know you and let them know you’re looking for a day job. A lot of people will have openings where they work or know someone who does.

This is the easiest way to find a job, and a lot of people I know, including myself, have gotten a lot of their jobs through people they already knew.

Besides, it’s free to ask. Post out on Facebook or something.

Next, check Craigslist.

I found my first really good job on Craigslist, the one that got me started on the path to learning internet marketing. It was a completely random find.

My roommate at the time was looking for a job and asked how to use Craigslist to find jobs. So I pulled out my computer and opened it up and was showing him when I saw the ad. I told him that ad was mine and I’m going to apply for it, so don’t, and he agreed.

The next day I was in there for an interview and later that day I got the call that I was hired. Thus started the journey that got me here. All thanks to having a shitty job and a roommate (who worked with me at the shitty job) who wanted to get out of that shitty job.

LinkedIn also has great job search capabilities.

The second time I went looking for a job was recently, and I signed up for a paid LinkedIn account to look for jobs.

I sent out a lot of resumes and didn’t get anything back, but from what I hear, it’s an actually great place to apply for jobs.

While you’re at it, you get access to all of Lynda.com’s courses when you’re a paid LinkedIn user, so you might as well use some time to go through their course videos. If anything, just watch the business and marketing ones. You’ll get a lot from those.

There are also some for Unity and other gamedev stuff, but they’re a bit outdated last time I checked.

Monster is another place I’ve heard good things about.

Monster.com is another popular one, though I can’t say I’ve ever tried it so there’s certainly no endorsement from me. I do know of people who have gotten jobs from that site before, so I do know it works.

Plus there are TV commercials so it must be somewhat successful, right?

Also check any other job boards you can think of.

If you can think of, know of, or find any other job boards, they might be worth trying.

I know a lot of associations, such as the one I work for, have job boards on their websites. So do colleges, and of course, your local county website will have a job board as well.

As I said before, you can always just walk into a place and ask for a job!

Getting a day job is going to save your game development career. I promise you that. You may think it sucks, or is terrifying, but it’s going to make focusing on gamedev 100x easier and your games will be 100x better because of that.

You can also make money playing video games.

What if I told you-you can start making money playing video games?

You’re going to play games when you relax anyway so you might as well monetize your hobby.

I mean, you do play video games, right? Of course you do; you’re learning to build video games.

You’re not learning because you think it’s some market to get rich in. You’re doing it because you have a passion for games. It’s because you play video games and see things you want to do or wish were done differently. You are, at your heart, a game designer or developer, and you want to make games.

You have to play video games to make video games. You have to understand what makes them tick.

  • What makes them good?
  • What makes some of them suck?
  • Which levels are the most fun?
  • Why does everyone hate water levels but game designers keep putting them in?

All of these things come from experiencing the medium first hand.

What if you made money while playing video games? Monetize your hobby and make money while you relax at night and on the weekends.

You need to start making money while you play video games.

Lots of people are making supplemental income playing games, or even making a full living.

If you’ve ever been on YouTube or Twitch.tv you’ve seen people who are making money playing video games.

Pewdiepie makes millions of dollars every year playing video games and posting the videos on YouTube. He’s not the only one making money. Most people aren’t making millions, but many people are making a living playing video games.

I’m not saying quit your job to become a full-time streamer. Not yet, anyway. We can get you there, though. For now, let’s just focus on some supplemental income.

There are ways to monetize that others aren’t taking advantage of.

I have a background in marketing. I’ve been working in digital marketing for almost 10 years, and I have a focused specifically on internet marketing. Here’s the thing I’ve noticed studying Pewdiepie and other streamers and youtubers: they’re not taking advantage of the best ways to make money.

Most of them could have been making more money the whole time.

That’s not to say what Pewdiepie is doing is wrong. He’s obviously in the right place now.

What I’m saying is that when he started, he could have been making more money from the beginning. He could be making even more money now because of that.

I’ll show you how in my free email course Gaming For Fun and Profit (sign up below), but let’s take a look at some more of those tips right now.

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Most people who are making money streaming don’t even know marketing.

The thing about most streamers and YouTubers is that they don’t really know anything about marketing. They know about playing video games.

Here’s a tip regarding content marketing: teaching what you know is a great way to get people to listen to you.

While a lot of streamers and YouTubers don’t know that marketing tip, they’re subconsciously or unconsciously doing it by making achievement videos. They show you how to get the achievement and you find it because you want to know how to do it. You see they have other videos teaching you how to do other things in the game, and you subscribe or follow them.

They grow their audience that way.

There are tons of other marketing tips and tricks, really just techniques, that are being used by major corporations and small businesses all over the world. If you knew them, you could apply them to your streams and videos and make a lot of money by growing and monetizing your audience.

You just need to know the marketing techniques and how to apply them to your specific industry.

That’s what the free email course Gaming for Fun and Profit is for.

The more free time you have to dedicate the more money you can make, using this to replace your day job (if you want).

Once you’re building up an audience and monetizing the audience in an effective and fair way you can eventually begin the transition of replacing this with your day job.

The great thing about YouTube videos is that they’re there until they get deleted. I have YouTube videos I posted a year and a half ago that still make me enough money to pay for my groceries every month, and I haven’t touched them. It’s practically set and forget.

Of course, if you keep working on it, you’ll get even more money and can pay for more than just groceries.

But our goal isn’t to ultimate replace our jobs with streaming. We want to replace our jobs with game design and development.

But who is the target audience for game designers and developers? If you’re selling a game, who are you selling it to?

The same people who are watching you play games. Your YouTube and Twitch audience will also be your gamedev audience. These people are the first people that will buy your game when it’s ready.

And they’re the first people who will promote it and play it online for others to see. They’re the first fans you’ll have, and they’ll help you make the transition from streamer to gamedev full time.

It’s important to have this audience set up and actively engaged during your transition phases.

That’s why I set up this free online course to teach you how. I originally was going to turn it into a book and sell it, but I decided it would be better if I just gave it away for free. It was going to cost $40 for just the book and then as much as $130 for bonus materials. Instead, everything is being sent right to your inbox for free.

You can sign up with the form below:

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I was supposed to launch a book last week.

I was lost.
I was supposed to launch a book last week. It was called Gaming for Fun and Profit, and it was about how to make money streaming video games on websites like Twitch.tv and YouTube. It was originally going to be supported by a website, CharityStreams.com, which was going to empower people to use the knowledge they gained from the book as a way to raise awareness for causes they believe in. I’ve been working very hard on these things for the past year, and I’ve decided to shelve them both for now. Yet again, I lost sight of what I truly want to be doing: making video games. I saw dollar signs in this idea and was chasing money, not happiness.

That’s not a way to live.

90% done w/ writing it and I was miserable. I knew that after writing came all of the promotion. A week before launch, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur colleague of mine that went something like this:
  • Them: “What have you been working on?”
  • Me: My GfFaP book and CharityStreams.com.
  • Them: “What happened to making video games?”
  • Me: I’ve been working on this and then I’ll switch to making video games.
  • Them: “Between writing the book, promoting it, building out and managing CharityStreams.com, on top of having a day job and spending time with friends and family, when will you have time to make video games?”
  • Me: Well…uh…
  • Them: “Do you want to make video games or do you want that book and website to be your business?”
  • Me: I…want to make video games.
  • Them: “Then why are you spending so much time working on this other stuff when that’s not what you want to do?”
Of course my first reaction was “I’ve already put so much time into it, it would be a waste to not keep working on it,” but that’s the sunk cost fallacy. The worst thing I could do right now is keep working on it. I need to stop and shift focus to what I really want to do: make video games.
  1. I want to build a company I can operate from my laptop from anywhere in the world.
  2. I want the freedom to wake up and go to bed whenever I want.
  3. I want the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
  4. I don’t want to be held down by an 8-5 job.
  5. I want to make video games that make people happy.
  6. I want to help people learn how to make video games in a better way than I learned.
Which is why I’m shifting my focus to work on GarrettMickley.com and game development. The future of this blog+newsletter will be focused on discussing the design, development, business and marketing of video games. For those who made it here from IndieGameDev.Club, that site is going on hold until later this year. GarrettMickley.com and this blog+newsletter will handle everything that site was originally supposed to be, and later on in the year I’ll be building a community for game designers and developers at IndieGameDev.Club. If you would like to join me on this journey: awesome! I’m excited to have you here. Starting next week you will be receiving emails about my journey in game design and development.

Write About Things Even When People Won’t Shut Up About Them

this guy found a pikachu
this guy found a pikachu
This guy found a Pikachu.
Raise your left hand if you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go. Raise your right hand if you’re playing Pokemon Go. Clap your hands if you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go even though you’re playing it. It seems like over half of the articles that have crossed my path this last week have been about Pokemon Go. That’s not including all the social media posts from my friends and family. It’s really cool and really popular right now. It’s a game changer by being the first wildly successful augmented reality game. That said, we’re all sick of hearing about it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it, too.

If you have an idea, you should be writing about it. Even if you’re sick of hearing about it, get out there and write about it. This doesn’t just apply to Pokemon Go, but anything that is being talked about. Don’t worry if other people are talking about something too much. If you’re afraid you’re covering something that’s already been covered, don’t be.

You are so unique.

Even though there are over nine thousand articles about Pokemon Go to come out in the last week, no one else has your perspective. No one else has gone through your exact same experiences in the exact same order.
You are unique, and you have a voice.
Your voice brings a new outlook on the subject.

Write what you know.

As I’ve said before: write what you know. If you know something about Pokemon Go, share it. At the most, you’ll get some work, or maybe a check out of the content. At the least, it’s something to put in your portfolio. You could also run a case study on newsjacking. Whether you’re successful or unsuccessful with it, write about it. Write about why it was or was not successful, and learn from that. And if it is a failure, the transparency in your failure will speak volumes.

Newsjacking isn’t all bad.

Some content marketers shudder at the word “newsjacking”. It’s not all bad, but it can be. The proper way to handle newsjacking is to take a news event and write about it from your perspective, or how it applies to you or your industry.
  • If you do marketing as a profession, you could discuss how Pokemon Go is increasing profits of local businesses.
  • If you’re a fitness instructor, you could talk about how Pokemon Go is great for exercise.
  • If you’re a writer, you could talk about how other writers shouldn’t be afraid of writing about something even though it’s being talked about by what seems like every other website on the internet right now.
The bottom line is this: don’t ever feel like you can’t write about something because it’s already been written about before. Just write it!

Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online

Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online
Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online I’ve been getting a question frequently: how long should my blog posts be? Is there a minimum word amount for blog posts? Maximum? No. There isn’t. People will tell you otherwise, but I’m telling you there isn’t. Side note: this only counts when online. Magazines and other print media will require specific word counts because of space. I’m not saying that you should ignore those word counts. In fact, those word counts are extremely important. The only time word count really doesn’t matter is when online. If you charge a flat rate per word, you should stop doing that right now. Charge per piece. Not per word. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Blog post word count doesn’t matter, even for SEO.

In SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the rule of thumb is frequently changing on blog post length. It was 300 words. Then bumped up to 500 words. Then bumped up to 1000 words. I don’t keep up with it anymore, so I don’t even know where it is now.
It doesn’t matter.
Google and the other search engines are going to find your content if your content is good. They’ll rank it well if your content is good. Focus on creating valuable content for readers, and you won’t need to worry about those stupid SEO rules. The thing about those SEO rules is that they had to be enforced because SEO’s were all posting as much trash as possible. It was all about more pages and more keyword optimization and stuffing and all that. Of course, they’re trying to get hundreds, if not thousands, of pages out every month, which is expensive, so they shoot for lowest word count possible to get them all out. There can’t be duplicate content, either, so each page needs to be written individually. The problem with SEO is that it has always encouraged sketchy practices, work-arounds, and generally just trashy work for the sake of getting more rankings. SEO’s would sell companies that more rankings are important. What’s important is getting the right traffic, not as much traffic as possible, and then turning that traffic into leads/conversions. Of course, that has been done with SEO by many companies, but I have found that all companies do much better when they focus less on SEO and more on content marketing. Of course, I still write with SEO in mind, but I’m focused more on providing value to readers and website visitors, which ultimately turns them into customers and clients.

Get the point across in as many words as you need.

Here’s the thing about writing content that provides value: the word count doesn’t matter as long as you get the point across. You need to provide the value the user is looking for. If they found you on Google, because you’re ranking well, they’re looking for an answer to their question. Answer it. Don’t fluff the content with a bunch of BS in the beginning or end to reach the wordcount that some SEO recommended to you for every page. A lot of stuff, especially “how to” guides, will come under whatever word count is recommended. I bet you can find a ton of them ranking well in Google that are under 500, 300, even 100 words. They’re ranking well because they have been seen to provide value to visitors to the site. The people who read the content share it because it answered their question and they want the rest of the world to know the answer to their problems, too. People are nice like that. Sometimes.

If clients want a specific word count, obviously do it.

Some clients aren’t going to know this. Or they’ve heard it and they don’t understand. It’s not your job to educate them. It’s not worth your time to educate them. Those clients are going to ask for specific maximum and minimum word counts. Sean McCabe would say those aren’t the clients you want. And, he’s right. But until you’ve switched over to Value Based Pricing model he teaches, and ditch scarcity mindset, you’ll be taking clients on that want specific word counts. And that’s okay. Take them and do their word counts. Get your pay. Save up for Value Based Pricing and get out of scarcity mindset. Or, even better, go get a day job and then only take on good clients. This was supposed to be a short article to prove a point, but it ended up being well over 1500 words because there was so much to say.

Where were you the night of June 20th? – 07-01-2016 Newsletter

The light shining above you is so bright and focused on your face that you can’t see more than a foot away from you in any direction. The detectives lean in and slide photographs across the table. They know you committed the crime. At least, that’s how it feels in an interview sometimes. Like you’re being interrogated. I hate doing interviews, but the truth is that when you’re writing the right content, sometimes you have to interview someone. Maybe it’s the focus of the page, or maybe it’s just a few questions. Either way, make it easy. I wrote some tips on how to conduct a great interview. Check them out here: http://bit.ly/28Y2QhZ Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week! Garrett Mickley, GarrettMickley.com P.S. Do you have any questions about writing creative content? Reply to this! Seriously. This isn’t noreply@garrettmickley.com (that’s not even a real email address). It comes straight back to my inbox. I’ll get your questions. P.P.S. Did you know you can read old newsletters at GarrettMickley.com/newsletter?  

How To Conduct A Great Interview

how to conduct a great interview
how to conduct a great interview Part of writing creative non-fiction is that sometimes you need to interview someone. You might just need a few quotes for a post, or you may need an expert to explain an entire concept to you. No matter what you need to use the interview for, you can make it easier on yourself and the interviewee by knowing how to conduct a good interview.

Do your research.

This is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for a great interview. You need to do your research. Imagine you show up at an event and you don’t know anything about the person you’re interviewing. How are you supposed to ask them questions? You can’t just prepare your questions in advance because an answer to one question may prompt you to think of another question, and that’s great. You want to know as much about the subject as possible, be it the person themselves or something else that you’re interviewing the person about. Do research before you head in so you’re able to think of smart, interesting questions on the fly when something is said that calls for more elaboration. A lot of times they’ll also bring up something you might not have thought of, or found in your research. Having the research and knowledge you already have will help out in those situations, too. You’ll be able to prompt them to elaborate properly on a subject they’ve mentioned when you know enough around it to ask the right questions. While you’re researching, look for past interviews. Research as many past interviews with this person, or about this subject as possible. Some of them will have questions you’ll want to use, but it’ll also tell you what questions haven’t been asked before. Try to find questions that have never been asked. Interviewees who have been through tens or hundreds of interviews will always be thankful for new and interesting questions they haven’t been asked before.

Make sure the interviewee is comfortable.

You don’t want to have an uncomfortable interviewee because they’ll be trying to get out of the interview as quickly as possible. You’re not the paparazzi. You’re a creative non-fiction writer. Don’t be pushy, and don’t ask anything too personal unless it has been specifically agreed upon by the interviewee themselves that the questions are okay. If you don’t know if a question is okay, be on the safe side and don’t ask. Or, save it until the end if you think it’s really necessary to the piece you’re writing. You’ll want to make sure the surroundings are comfortable as well. If you caught them in public or somewhere such as after a concert, make sure they’re not being surrounded by fans or signing autographs or in a really loud area where you’re going to have to yell your questions and listen close for the answers. Open up with a joke or two, even if it’s before the questions. If you’re a fan of them, let them know. Tell them what your favorite thing they did was. Then jump into the interview. You could also open up with some easy questions that give the interviewee a chance to talk themselves up. I don’t mean self promotion questions, but stuff like “how did you feel when you were asked to play this festival?” You don’t necessarily have to use these warm up questions in the final piece; the point is just to get the interviewee comfortable and talking. People like to talk about themselves, especially their achievements, so try to start there. You don’t want your interviewee to be uncomfortable at all or else they won’t open up.

Open with something they definitely know about.

Let’s say you’re writing a piece on a music festival. You’ll probably end up talking to a lot of other concert attendees, but what if you get a chance to talk to a band? Don’t lead off with something like “Have you been to our town before?” You don’t want to ask yes or no questions, but we’ll get to that later. An alternative would be, “what do you think of our town?” That’s actually also a poor example of what you should ask. Don’t ask about things they could possibly have an “I don’t know” answer to. You want to start off with something they know for sure. Ask them what other shows they’ve played lately. What it was like starting a band in their town. How do they feel when they’re up on stage in front of a festival worth of people? Get them talking about things they know and enjoy and they’ll open up a lot quicker.

Never ask yes or no questions.

All questions you ask need to be open-ended. If you absolutely have to ask a yes or no question, then you need to have a follow up open-ended question to get your real quote. If you ask people yes or no questions, they often answer in yes or no. They won’t talk and you won’t get any good quotes. It’ll be a terribly boring interview. Instead of, “have you been to our town before,” ask, “what did you think of our town?”

Don’t stick strictly to your pre-selected questions.

As mentioned before, sometimes an interviewee will say something you didn’t think about or completely didn’t know about. Or, maybe they just say something that you realize will open up a new, better angle for your piece. At that point, don’t worry about sticking to your pre-selected questions. Ask them more about that thing. Just because you planned doesn’t mean you have to stick to the plan. Learn to be a little improvisational with your interviews in this way so that you’re able to get all the best information you can. Your pieces will be far more interesting and educational.

Give them time to answer.

Sometimes people pause to think. That’s okay, and in fact encouraged. What they say next might be exactly what you need. Wait until you’re sure someone has finished answering their question before you move on to the next one. Moments of silence will be okay.

Ask “looking back” style questions.

Another common interview question is the “looking back…” question. These are questions that prompt the interviewee to, well, look back upon the event. “Looking back, would you have done anything differently if you know what you know now,” is a pretty easy one. Be creative and come up with some unique ones. You are a creative writer, after all! In the future, we’ll talk about how to come up with good interview questions. If you have any questions about writing creative non-fiction, shoot me an email by filling out the contact form. I’d love to help you out with anything you don’t understand.

You think you know everything, don’t you? – 06-24-2016 Newsletter

I’m just kidding. You probably don’t think that at all. You’re a pretty rad individual so I doubt you’re that self absorbed. But you do know a lot of things. A lot of those things you know are things other people don’t know. You should be writing about them. No, seriously. You should be writing about what you know. Educate the masses. Or, at least educate your target audience. There are a lot of benefits to writing what you know.
  1. You get it all out of your head, opening up for more information to come in.
  2. It’s out of the way so you can begin researching what you don’t know.
  3. You build authority in that niche.
  4. You create products you can sell.
  5. And more…
This was the best advice I ever received: “Write what you know.” I wrote about it (because I know it) here: http://bit.ly/28JEg3H What do you know that you can write about today? Reply and let me know. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week! Garrett Mickley, GarrettMickley.com P.S. Do you have any questions about writing creative non-fiction? Reply to this! Seriously. This isn’t noreply@garrettmickley.com (that’s not even a real email address). It comes straight back to my inbox. I’ll get your questions. P.P.S. Did you know you can read old newsletters at GarrettMickley.com/newsletter?  

Write What You Know – The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

Write what you know.
Write what you know. I hated working retail. I was a customer service representative at TJ Maxx for a year. Before that, I was a regular cashier. After that, I worked the jewelry counter. Things were great when we had a dream team of managers and employees, but managers got moved to other stores and new, terrible managers were moved in. So, people started quitting and the dream team fell apart. After that, it was all downhill. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at TJ Maxx because they helped shape who I am today. It’s what I know. One story I haven’t told, was when I got the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: “write what you know.” I was working the jewelry counter when a kind older woman needed assistance and started asking me questions about what school I went to (Palm Beach State College, PBCC at the time), and what I was studying (writing). She told me her husband was a writer and that she’d send him over to talk to me later. When he came by we discussed what I had written that had been well received by others, and then he imparted this advice upon me: write what you know. And, keep writing. Keep writing what you know. Since then, I have stuck to it and that’s helped me quite a bit with my success. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t go learn new things. In fact, learning new things means you will know more, which provides you with more to write about. There’s nothing wrong with doing research to make sure your writing is accurate. You shouldn’t only write what you know, but there are three situations where writing what you know will be particularly beneficial. This particular article pertains to writing what you know in regards to creative non-fiction and journalism. The rules change when you’re writing fiction, and that will be discussed at another time in the future.

Write what you know when you’re first getting started.

When you first get started writing, you should write what you know. This doesn’t just mean when you start writing a piece, it means any time you start writing. Whether you’re starting a paper, a book, an article, or your entire career. Write what you know and get that part down. If you’re just starting your career, you want to exhaust what you know so you can get to learning and writing about new things. It’s easy to get started writing when you’re writing about things you know about, and when you’ve written about every experience you’ve ever had, you’ll start looking for new things to write about. That’s when things get good! You’ll practice writing on your experiences and improve your skills so that your newer, later on experiences can be better written. Here’s the truth: a lot of things that have happened to you in your life might have impacted you a lot, but they don’t mean anything to others. You’ll learn which things to share what not to share through doing. It’s best to get this out in your early days because after that, when you’ve built up a following and need to continue to produce quality content, you’ll have already learned. Of course, you don’t need to share every single experience you’ve ever had. Keep some stuff to yourself. Especially things you’re not comfortable sharing. You don’t have to write about traumatic experiences and share them with the world. However, if you do, you may help some other people who are experiencing it. You may also help yourself by getting it out. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If you need to keep something to yourself for your own mental health than that is what’s important. It’s also good to get what you know out of the way when writing an individual piece. Get everything you know out first so that you can organize and figure out what’s missing. Then research and fill in the missing parts to fulfil the purpose of the piece. This will help your productivity on writing immensely. You’ll get more out faster by getting everything you know out of your head before you sit down and start the arduous process of research.

Write what you know when you have “writer’s block.”

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I seriously don’t. I used to. I used to use it as an excuse to not write.
“I don’t have any inspiration right now.”
Or
“I don’t know what to write, so I just won’t. It’ll come to me later.”
Well, that’s bullshit. And you’re probably thinking “Garrett, you don’t know me. You don’t know how I work.” Hey, if you’re making a living writing and enjoying every minute of it, but you sit around waiting for inspiration, awesome. If you’re not making a living from your writing yet, or stuck writing stuff you hate, but sit around waiting for inspiration, well I guess the results speak for themselves. Dedicate time every day to write. I’ll actually post more about this later, but we’re going to briefly touch on it here so we can get back to the topic at hand. Write every day, and when you sit down and think “I don’t know what to write about today”, write what you know. If you want to take it a step further, plan out what you’re going to write the day before. Before you go to bed tonight, plan out an hour of writing tomorrow. Dedicate an hour of your day to writing. I prefer 0800-0900, right before I start my days work for clients. That way, when I’m done with client work for the day, I can either spend more time writing what I want, or relax a little, or do whatever I deem is important. My writing and my work have already been done. Write what you know when you have writer’s block and you’ll never have writer’s block again.

Write what you know as teaching something.

Here’s the thing about teaching: you need to be teaching. You need to be teaching what you know. People on the internet are thirsty for knowledge. They’re thirsty for free knowledge, and they’re thirsty enough to pay for good knowledge, too. You can make money writing about what you know. Whatever it is you know, you need to sit down and write about it. If you know about flying kites, you need to write about flying kites. Write about kites in a weekly blog post. After a year, take those blog posts and reformat them into a book. Don’t just copy and paste each article into a chapter. You need to actually reformat them to make sense cohesively in book format. That’s just one idea, you don’t have to do that, but it’s a way to build up a following, build up experience, and build up some cash. Who knows, you could end up getting client work or jobs from it. A lot of my client work has come from me writing about things entirely unrelated to what the client work’s subject matter was. Sometimes people find your writing and just love it, so they hire you. Or they become a fan and continue reading your work for the rest of their lives. What really attracts people is learning new things, so when you teach what you know, you’ll continue to learn about the subject as well as share that knowledge and grow a following.

Don’t always write what you know.

You shouldn’t write what you know if it’s boring. Let me rephrase that: you should still write it. You probably don’t want to post it anywhere or publish it if it’s boring. So, here’s what you do: spice it up. It doesn’t have to be 100% fact (as long as you don’t present it as 100% fact). You should write what you know, but you don’t have to strictly write only what you know. Write things you don’t know. Make stuff up to add interest. For example, if you’re reminiscing on a certain situation but you don’t remember how the weather was that day, just make it up. It’s not imperative to the story. If it is, don’t make it up. You shouldn’t be making up things that are important part of the piece you’re working on. But, if the weather isn’t necessary to tell the story, then “it was the hottest day of the year. A woman dropped a carton of eggs on the sidewalk and they were ready to eat before she bent over to pick them up,” will add detail and interest to the story.

Main Takeaways:

  • Write what you know when you’re first getting started on a piece or in your career.
  • Write what you know when you’re experiencing writers block or a lack of inspiration.
  • Write what you know when you’re teaching to gain a following.

Content Marketing Is How You Will Beat Your Competitors – 06-17-2016 Newsletter

Hey, I need to make this week’s newsletter quick because I’m about to head to a funeral. Bummer, right? So it goes. I didn’t even write a blog post this week, but I did write something that will help you beat out your competitors. As a writer, you’re competing with every other writer out there and it’s tough. Most of them are undercutting you. Have you tried content marketing? Two things:
  1. You can use content marketing to advertise yourself and get more clients.
  2. You can become a content writer to get paid big bucks from your clients.
Check out this case study I wrote about content marketing: bit.ly/1U4aEPK In the near future, I’ll write more about it so you can learn how to do it for yourself and your clients. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week! –Garrett Mickley, GarrettMickley.com P.S. Do you have any questions about writing creative non-fiction? Reply to this! Seriously. This isn’t noreply@garrettmickley.com (that’s not even a real email address). It comes straight back to my inbox. I’ll get your questions. P.P.S. Did you know you can read old newsletters at GarrettMickley.com/newsletter?

Content Marketing Brings In Traffic – A Case Study

writing with seo in mind

writing with seo in mind

Increase targeted traffic to your website by posting regular, optimized content focused on bringing value to the reader.

Web marketers have pretty much always lived by the rule “content is king,” but that rings true more than ever in 2016. As I wrote in this post, SEO is dying because writing regular content that is focused on providing value to the reader is going to automatically optimize your pages for search engines. You don’t need an SEO company. What you need is a writer who knows how to write content for marketing. In fact, SEO only exists as a concept because of content. Content is king.

Content Marketing is all about using content to help people find you.

If your entire marketing funnel has various stages, they would be: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. This is the AIDA model, which was created by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. Coincidentally, people haven’t changed all that much and this still works today.
  • Awareness – the customer is aware of the existence of your brand.
  • Interest – the customer is actively expressing an interest in your brand.
  • Desire – the customer is aspiring to a particular product or service of your brand.
  • Action – the customer is taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product or service of your brand.
Content marketing exists before the AIDA model even starts, and then continues through both Awareness and Interest stages.

The point of content marketing is to bring people to awareness, hold awareness, and develop interest.

Content marketing has so many benefits that people are ignoring these days. First of all, it builds your brand. All of the content will speak through your brands voice, creating a consistent experience for all visitors. All of the content written for your site is also content that can be shared through all of your social media channels, reminding people of your existence and directing them to your website, where they can develop interest and desire, and ultimately take action. But most of all, content marketing builds a long term audience that will continue to follow you as long as you continue to provide value to their lives. This is a flywheel effect for the rest of your marketing plan.

Your competitors are doing content marketing. If you are not, you can’t compete.

Let’s take a look at a client. This client hired me to write regular content for their website with the purpose of increasing brand awareness and traffic. All of my content aims to provide value to the reader first (through the content itself) and to the brand second (through a call to action at the end). Each contract was three months long. I currently only offer contracts in three and six month intervals. I find that three months is how long it takes to see a difference, and six months is how long it takes to feel a difference.
content-marketing-case-study_rcvrrstrt_corrected
Graphic design is not my strength. Writing is.
Here you can see that content grows consistently over the nine months of posting regular content. For the first three month contract, I focused on trial-and-error to get a feel for the industry and discover what value I could provide to website visitors. I posted daily content for five days out of the week, Monday through Friday. For the second three month contract, I had figured out what content would bring in new customers, as well as bring the others back for repeat business. While the client was happy with the results by the end of this contract, I was not. I pitched a change of focus for the third three month contract. In the third three month contract, I cut the content amount down from five posts per week, to three posts per week. This gave me the opportunity to focus more on providing valuable content without increasing the rate of the contract. As you can see, with content marketing the rule is “quality over quantity” and traffic began to grow even quicker. The reason the content dips so drastically at the end is because this screenshot was taken at the beginning of June, so a full month’s worth of traffic had not happened yet. This client had no SEO plan and was not buying ads, nor creating any other content that directed visitors to their website. All content growth was through my efforts, as well as their word-of-mouth marketing to friends and family. They also periodically shared the content I wrote on social media.

There’s more to content marketing than just blog posts.

While I only offer content writing services, you would benefit even more from also seeking out professionals who can create other media content. The great thing about the content I write is that it can be repurposed elsewhere. When you hire me to write for you, you own the content. The content is yours to use wherever you like. I recommend you connect with a professional who can take my written content and create video content for YouTube. Another popular idea is to create a podcast based around the content I write for you.

Content marketing is right for your business.

Every business will benefit from content marketing, and the benefits are only exacerbated when working directly with other marketing campaigns. You’re welcome to browse my portfolio on the Read page. If you’re interested in hiring me for content writing, please go to the Hire page.
“I always knew I wanted Garrett to write for my site, it was just a matter of finding the right project. Bringing a writer you hadn’t worked with before onto your site is always a risk, so it’s important to vet them and think about where their voice will fit on your site. Garrett was a consummate professional. He delivered his copy on time, it was well-written, accurate and polished, and he made any edits we asked for quickly and efficiently. It’s always a pleasure to work with writers who listen to feedback and use it to produce a better product. It helped us launch flagship content for our website that ended up being a success, in part because of Garrett’s efforts. I really liked the research that Garrett did on the subjects we asked him to write about. Because he had done his homework, he was able to write with authority. We got really good traffic on the pieces Garrett worked on, and the project ended up being a showcase for a redesign that was central to our overall plan for the site. I would definitely recommend Garrett’s services. Garrett’s ability to quickly understand and take ownership of an assignment means you get quality work without the hassle of having to check in constantly, or worse, deal with a blown deadline. Also a plus: Garrett is really skilled at promoting his work on social media and through careful search engine optimization. I’d say that Garrett is a creative, experienced writer with a can-do attitude who will take a writing assignment from inception to completion with a minimum amount of hassle on your part. He’s always willing to go the extra mile to make sure you get the copy you need.” – Claes Bell, Bankrate.com