Featured Expert: Susan Wagner
Susan, refresh my memory. What brought you to the vast and varied world of online content creation?
I started a personal blog five years ago; I got into blogging because being home with small children can be isolating and frustrating, and that community of other mom and dad bloggers was often my only adult contact. Two years after I started my personal blog, I applied to write for both Blogging Baby (now ParentDish) and BlogHer.com, and was hired by both on the same day. I write and edit full-time now, for a variety of places, all online. I get to cover a range of interesting stories and work with really engaging people. It's a terrific job.
What did you do in your former life before creating online content? Were you always a writer?
I taught English literature and theory for 10 years; when my first child was born, I left teaching to stay home with him. Ironically, I never wanted to be a writer; blogging -- and the various related forms of social media that came into vogue at the same time -- offered a way to connect with other parents, and to engage in conversations that weren't just about the characters on Sesame Street. I used to imagine writing as an isolated (and isolating) form of work, but I ultimately came to writing as a career because it was a road to community.Do you remember your first AOL article that you thought was really successful?
A little over a year ago, I interviewed Kate Gosselin for ParentDish; the interview (my first with a celebrity) was incredibly difficult -- in retrospect, because the Gosselin's marriage was crumbling at the time and I was asking her about things like the way she interacted with her husband on the show. I struggled to pull together the 1,000 word article, and to make it positive and upbeat and interesting. That single article wound up getting over nine million page views, which was amazing, both from my perspective and the AOL editorial perspective. I had steered away from celebrity pieces because so much of that coverage is negative, so being able to write a piece that didn't criticize the subject and was still so widely read felt like a huge success to me.
What about the not so successful articles? Did you learn anything from them that has helped you become a more confident and effective writer?
I've learned to reveal as little about myself as possible, and to foreground the topic; readers don't want to know about me, they want to know about whatever it is I'm writing about. From that, I've learned to craft articles that are provocative without being personal. I can lead readers to disagree with my premise without allowing them to comment on my personal life. But it took a lot of articles where I was called out for being a bad mother or a bad wife or a bad person before I learned that.
What advice would you give new AOL content creators wanting to earn a living (or even some pocket change) from their writing?
Be professional, always. Make yourself available for assignments, and then turn in only the best possible product. Your editing and fact checking should be meticulous, every time, and your writing should be engaging and interesting. Show your editor(s) that you take this seriously and they, in return, will take you seriously.
Who have you met as a result of writing online?
Last summer, I interviewed Tim Gunn for BlogHer.com, where I do fashion writing. Gunn was a delightful interview, particularly since he was sincerely respectful of what I did and who I wrote for, and genuinely interested in social media at large. I showed him how Twitter works, which was a lot of fun, and we talked about Michelle Obama and Vogue and his book. It was truly amazing to spend an hour hanging out with him, and it's something I never would have had the opportunity to do in any other version of my life or career.
Where would you like your writing to take you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I'm doing more and more social media consulting these days, which is a direct offshoot of my years of writing and editing for online media. The skills I take for granted -- how to network on Twitter, how to create SEO-friendly content -- are things that other people find daunting. It's a fun way to make a living.
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