Helen Scheuerer is an author, publisher, and the founding editor of Writer’s Edit. We recently sat down with Helen to hear her insights about writing and learn how to be a better online content writer.
Tell us about your background. Why did you decide to create Writer’s Edit?
My background is mainly in creative writing and producing website content. In 2011, I completed my Bachelor of Creative Arts (majoring in Creative Writing) at Wollongong University, and went on to write and edit content for some of Australia’s biggest e-commerce startups.
Almost three years ago, I created Writer’s Edit to test the waters for starting a small press. I knew there’d be a lot of work ahead, and I needed to try out my dedication and commitment to it. I also very much missed the creative writing community I was so used to at university, and so I was eager to see how a website could nurture a community of writers.
The site evolved from a simple Tumblr blog to a fully-fledged online literary magazine that writers from all around the world wanted to contribute to. After a year, Writer’s Edit published its first book; and its third one was released this year.
Given your experience with e-commerce startups, could you give us your thoughts on the state of copywriting and editing that you’re seeing today on e-commerce sites?
Unfortunately, I think quality content is very hit-and-miss with a lot of e-commerce startups. Because of strict budgets, there’s a lot of outsourcing going on, which often means compromising on quality. Another problem is that a lot of startups underestimate the value that well-written content brings to a site, and so they’re not willing to front the money even if they have it.
Many copywriters and editors I know find it hard to determine their worth and find fair, steady jobs because of these issues. However, there are some great clients out there. When you find people who both understand and appreciate the value you bring to a publication or site, it makes sifting through the rest worth it.
What are some of the misspellings, grammar mistakes, and other errors that you commonly see on websites today that make you cringe or want to pull your hair out?
Because online content is relatively easy to fix and update, a lot of people tend to write and publish without proofreading their work. They assume they’ll see mistakes later or have them pointed out to them. For me, particularly in product copy, this sends alarm bells ringing about professionalism. Mistakes are always bound to happen, no matter how meticulously you comb through your content; but when errors are a consistent, careless habit, it’s incredibly frustrating.
In terms of other errors, many writers who are new to web content tend to forget to adapt their style for an online audience. Massive chunks of text, not utilizing headings and subheadings, and wordy and drawn out sentences all make for a tedious online reading experience, which is not what we want when we tend to skim read online.
Name one thing that aspiring writers can do today to help improve their writing.
Besides reading incredible books, I’d suggest joining a writing community. Whether it’s your local writers’ center, an online forum, a Facebook group, or getting involved with a platform like Writer’s Edit, having like-minded writing friends will definitely improve your work.
Since starting Writer’s Edit, I’ve found people to beta read my novels, provide me with feedback on story ideas, and share book recommendations with. All of these things and more can directly (or indirectly) improve your writing and your development as a writer.
As you’ve worked on your debut novel, what lessons have you learned about the craft of writing?
Working on a novel, particularly with an editor or publisher, is an extremely personal experience. Over the last year, I’ve learned so much about the push-and-pull and the give-and-take of editor-author relationships, as well as just how incredibly slow the publishing process is.
I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer, including how important it is to trust your instincts when it comes to those niggling thoughts about what’s working and what’s not in your manuscript.
I’ve also learned the importance of using beta readers in the early stages of a manuscript’s development. Had I asked for feedback on my debut novel from writer friends early on, I think the editing process would have been a lot smoother further down the track.
Your site features some “writing prompts.” How do these help writers and/or aid the writing process?
Prompts are particularly useful for writers when they’re in the mood to write but may not be so full of ideas or inspiration. A prompt can be a launchpad for just about anything, and once the writer is actually writing, the problem is half solved.
Every writer is different. Some use the writing prompts really literally, while others use them as a trigger or starting point to get their creative juices flowing.
Is it difficult for a creative writer to utilize his or her skills to write and edit web copy, blogs, and other online marketing content?
The difficulty lies within learning to adapt to a new format more than anything else. When I first started out, I struggled with the short paragraphs and breaking up the text so thoroughly, because I was used to writing chapters upon chapters.
Blog post titles, in particular, are also tricky to get right from a creative writer’s point of view. When you’re writing chapter titles, short story titles, etc., you have much more creative freedom – freedom to be misleading or ambiguous, and freedom to play with various elements of the story that a reader will only understand once they’ve finished the narrative.
With blog post titles, it’s different. A reader needs to know exactly what they’ll get from the post and why they need to get it. Blog post titles should create a curiosity gap and sell the content to the reader. I still often have to write numerous titles before picking the perfect one.
Since anyone can take up writing and display it to a global audience these days, what tips do you have for writers to stand out from the crowd?
I would offer two pieces of advice:
1. Don’t skimp on editing and design. Whether you’re self-publishing your novel, you’ve signed with a publisher, or you’re simply publishing on your blog, the packaging of a product says a lot about what’s inside. As the writer, you should be proud of how your work reads and how it’s presented to potential readers. If you’re not, it’s a good sign that it’s not ready to be shared with the world.
2. Be authentic. This is particularly important when you’re trying to build up social media followings and your blog readership. Be yourself, be honest, and be willing to share your “journey” (including all its challenges and celebrations) with your readers. Readers will connect with authenticity, and they will be far more willing to engage with your content and purchase your products if they feel they know a little something about the person behind the “brand.”
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