In the world of Brutal Pixie, there are some tight requirements for what makes an outstanding writer.
Writers are not all the same. Trouble is, huge numbers of people assume that they are. The plethora of bullshit courses that assure attendees they can get freelance work after 3 hours of basics doesn’t help.
In my world, my requirements are considered extreme. I know that because I’ve been approached by writers who tell me they’re senior writers, but who, on examination, are juniors to me.
The requirements that I have for writers in the world of the Pixie are:
Research capability. And not just any old research capability, but the ability to define a topic, define the questions, and nail down research that a specific audience will appreciate, within one hour (on average).
Writing at speed. And not just writing at speed; but ability to write to Grade 9 reading level, with immaculate grammar and usage, for a specific audience and purpose, in a way that is suitable for a digital publication.
Ability to sell without selling, which means understanding sales. They need to be able to educate, explain, instruct, and sell — sometimes all at the same time. They also need to be able to craft perfect calls to action, that work.
Knowledge of what makes accessible digital interfaces and accessible language.
Deep understanding of audiences and how to meet them.
Deep understanding of how to follow and question a brief.
Ability to run an interview like an absolute pro.
You know where I find these writers?
The music industry.
They’re not journalists. They’re not technical writers. They’re not advertising copywriters.
They’re music writers. Here’s why they’re so good:
They cut their teeth on tight timelines: They go to gigs, take notes, and turn in a piece the same day
They can distill an album down into a focused and reasoned opinion within 48 hours
They understand how to structure arguments, because they (the good ones) are critics
They know how to sell; they’ve been selling people on their perspectives, opinions, experiences, and products, albums and bands, since Day 1
They can work at speed
They know how to do research
They know that to get amazing interviews, it takes time, research and preparation
They know how to tell a good story and when it’s appropriate
They know how to hit their audiences right between the eyes
They know how to work with briefs, editors, and requirements
Most of the time, they write for digital publications.
In my experience, researchers can’t write simply and don’t understand sales. Their average reading grade hits about 14, which is waaay too high. They say facilities instead of rooms; utilise instead of use.
Journalists can write simply (yay newspapers!) but don’t understand sales - they’ve never, ever had to sell anything. Few of them understand digital interfaces, calls to action, or accessibility.
I tell you this because this week I had the good fortune to be able to throw some trial work in the direction of a music writer whom I met more than ten years ago. His publication ran in parallel to mine. After I saw him tweet about being available, I opened a conversation. Then I sent him a brief.
One of the most brilliant things for me is being able to pay good money for writers to do trial work for me. It rocks my world to say to someone, I’ll pay you twice what everyone else is offering in the market, and I’ll do it for your trial work. He’s happy and excited; I’m happy and excited; and fingers crossed the outcome is The Radness.
The piece of work is something for me and not a client. Not only is it a good test, but it’s a test for the person with the highest standards of them all: Me. What that means is that if this flies and is awesome, it’ll function as the very best litmus test for client work.
Finding people to work in your business when you’re a controlling person who loves power, control and freedom is really hard. I am that person. Loads of people tell me constantly that I don’t need to find a clone of me to work in my business. That everyone has their own way of doing things. That, Leticia, you just need to loosen up for farck’s sake.
Yeah, ok, that’s probably true. :)
My comeback is that if a professional writer can’t write to the same timing as me, with the same outcomes, that’s purely and simply not ok. I know I’m not unique, because this fantastic woman was writing for me before she “retired” from freelancing, and we have identical pacing, similar methods, and similar outcomes.
The challenge isn’t just replacing me. It’s finding absolute rockstars.
Writers are everywhere. Writers with the right skill-set are as rare as hen’s teeth.
And, frankly, when I subcontract out to someone, I’m not going to train them. If they can’t already function at the expected level, they don’t become a Pixie. It’s that simple.
I know, it sounds extremely hard-line when I put it in writing. It’s staring out at me from the screen with a glaringly fascist attitude. Almost like working with me must be one tough-ass gig.
But you know what, when you work with writers you must have this attitude. There are loads of people who think they can write, and throw their hats into the ring. If you don’t run a hard line, you’ll never weed those people out. They do it because they think it’s exciting and great, and easy, and people tell them that they’re good. But they’ve never had to grow into the profession; have never been pushed.
Rubbish writers are everywhere. Good ones are extremely common. But tight ones whom I’d consider professionals? Rare, mate. Extremely rare. Journalists are out of work, but most of them wouldn’t qualify for the type of business work we do.
I’ve always had this attitude about working with writers. When I ran Metal as Fuck, I had super high standards. And you know what? People met them.
If you push people, if you challenge them, if you’re willing to mentor (as opposed to train) them, very often they level up.
Mentoring is the key; not training. Find a great writer, they’re a sponge for being mentored. Because the very act of finding a mentor as a writer is as difficult as it is finding a writer to start with.