When I first started blogging, I went to a panel at Denver Comic Con 2014 called Women in the Geek Industry. One of the things that really stuck with me during that panel was Bonnie Burton telling the audience to reach out to those people that inspire them. She encouraged everyone to tweet at their favorite creators, comment on their pages, and do whatever they could to try to pick their brain–after all, social media has made it easier than ever to get in touch with our faves. I decided that I would do just that when I returned from the con, and one of the writers I reached out to was Amy Ratcliffe.
Amy was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing: she was writing, and she was writing for some truly kickass places. StarWars.com, Nerdist, and IGN. I HAD to pick her brain. What was it like to be a writer full-time? How did she get to write for amazing places like StarWars.com? How did she manage to make people actually pay her to write? Without expecting a response, I fired some questions off to her. I figured she probably wouldn’t answer, but I didn’t think it would hurt to try and reach out. Of course, because Amy is great, she responded and sent me back a really helpful, informative response on how to expand my network and ways to try to find paying work. So when I started this series, I knew that I had to include Amy, one of the people who really helped me begin to find my footing in the writing world, and a genuinely nice person to hang out with on the interwebz. I’m so happy to introduce you all to Amy!
What does a normal work day look like for you?
I spent most days at my desk for many hours working through my list. I use an Excel calendar to manage my deadlines, so I start my day with making a handwritten list of everything I need to do that day (it’s repetitive, but I really like crossing things off lists). The first thing I write most weekdays is a round-up of television news for Nerdist, and then I work through any articles that are due – it can be anything from TV reviews, to cosplay galleries, to interviews – and check my email continually to take assignments throughout the day if I have extra time. There are occasionally phoners or meetings, but mostly, I sit at my desk and write. Sometimes I remember to eat lunch at a normal time, but usually I don’t remember until I feel cranky. Finally, I usually have to watch TV for review purposes or research.
You write for some pretty impressive places like Nerdist, StarWars.com, and IGN–just to name a few. How did you get connected to those sites?
It varies. In some instances, I made connections through Twitter first. I didn’t necessarily start talking on editors on Twitter with the intention of networking, just discussing things we had in common. In other cases, I spotted a job listing (also on Twitter) and applied with a resume an writing samples.
What has been the biggest challenge as you’ve launched your writing and journalism career?
The hardest part is to keep writing. When you have to churn out large amounts of content – which often feels necessary because writing for the web doesn’t pay amazingly well – it can be hard to keep motivated and to keep it from being dull. I’m constantly learning about how to convey news and facts while injecting some of my voice, and that helps stop things from feeling boring.
What has been the most surprising thing, good or bad, you’ve experienced as a writer?
I’m continually surprised by how many sites – and not small ones your friend is running – don’t want to pay for content. A number of places try to push “exposure” instead of dollars, and exposure doesn’t pay bills. There are instances in which working for free is worth it, but it usually isn’t.
What do you wish people understood about your career?
That it’s actually work. I’m fortunate and get to cover a ton of awesome events and interview people I admire. I recognize and appreciate all the cool things I get to do, but people don’t understand that it’s also work. For example, doing press lines and covering panels at conventions brings neat opportunities but also a ton of running around and skipping parties/hangouts in order to file stories.
With books like Sam Magg’s Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and Kathleen Smith’s upcoming The Fangirl Life, we’re seeing a lot of geek girl bloggers turn to books. Do you want to write a book someday?
I would definitely like to write a book one day. My ultimate goal is to write Star Wars reference books. I’m also trying to toe more into travel writing, but a book in that area is a long way away.
What has been the coolest thing you’ve gotten to experience as a writer?
I’ve been able to combine something I love to do with the stories I love. My fandoms are often part of my job, and that continually blows my mind. The way they mingle comes with its own challenges, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Where do you hope your writing takes you in the next few years?
I hope to keep pushing myself and to write for new outlets and to write about new topics. I very much want to stay in the world of pop culture, but there are other corners to explore. I don’t want to get too comfortable, you know?
What is the piece of writing you’re most proud of, and why?
Hmm. I can’t point to one piece, but I am proud of most articles I write about equality and representation. It’s important to point out when film and television get it right and wrong when it comes to diversity, and I’m most concerned with gender diversity.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come as you grew up?
Sort of? I didn’t know what I wanted to be until quite late in the game – my late ’20s to be exact – but I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was in junior high and high school, I loved writing essays and short stories. My enjoyment of writing fiction sort of died off around my first stab at college, and it took me a while to realize there were other types of writing that would satisfy me.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
Oooh. That’s hard because it changes. Today the answers are Neil Gaiman, Mo Ryan, and Cat Valente.
To be a successful freelancer, you have to have a pretty strong networking game. Does that come naturally to you, or do you have to work to network?
I’m terrible at face to face networking. Terrible. I’m not so hot at talking myself up or knowing when it’s even the right occasion to do that. I usually wait for work to come up naturally in conversation so I can find a non-pushy way to hand over my card, and maybe it’s cost me some work, but I’m fine with it. I see more than a few people who are constantly all “look at me, look at my work” and it’s incredibly obnoxious and doesn’t seem to really pay off. It’s a balance.
What are your tips for people who struggle with networking?
It’s hard but often a necessary evil. Do your best to be assertive but not aggressive, and if you’re better with emails rather than face to face, get a card and send a killer follow-up email.
What advice would you give for aspiring freelancers and aspiring journalists/writers?
Be prepared to write, write a lot, and write quickly. Start with your own blog and write a variety of articles and make sure they’re all as professional as can be. That way, by the time you start looking for paying work you’ll have a catalog of work and writing samples to send an editor. There’s probably something to be said for going to school for journalism too, but since I didn’t go that route I can’t offer advice in that particular arena.
A HUGE thank you to Amy for taking time to do this interview. Now go forth, you aspiring writers, write and create a space for yourself out there! Don’t forget to check out the other amazing women I’ve spoken with (like Jordan, the creator of the amazing Jordandene fashion line, Kathleen, author of the upcoming book The Fangirl Life, Mari of Sent From Mars, the Geek Girl Brunch founders and Meli from Melificent) in the rest of the series, and stay tuned here every week for another women who proved success doesn’t always come in a cubicle. And if you want to continue the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #RealJob.