Saturday, September 10, 2011

Local Writing Markets: The 21st Century Writer's Untapped Revenue Source

As writers, many of you dream of becoming the next John Locke or J.A. Konrath or Scott Nicholson. There’s nothing wrong with this dream. Keep dreaming it, and more importantly, keep working toward doing it.

But it could be that while you’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses, you’re leaving a huge untapped market out there for someone else to discover. Allow me to share my journey, which has taken place in just a few months time.

I’m a former high school football player. Before I go all Al Bundy on you, let me share how this is relevant. Coming from that kind of culture, I am well aware of how rabid the local audience is for their Friday Night Frenzies. They treat their hometown heroes like gods, basically.

And many locals can tell you stats from a team that played 20 years ago, if said team was good enough. One day over a dinner conversation with my brother, he had the idea of doing a “Where are they now” book series for the Arkansas Razorbacks. It was a good idea, but surely someone was already doing it.

My writer’s brain started working. I checked all the websites that covered local football and discovered two things: 1) There already was an albeit rudimentary “Where are they now” system on former Razorbacks; and 2) Most of the sites were doing the same thing: covering the Razorbacks and the current season of local high school football.

As an Internet writer, I’ve made quite the living with list-based articles and writing on hot national topics pertaining to men’s interests and a variety of other fields that include entertainment, sports and technology. Many of these articles have done gangbusters with people I don’t even know.

Incredibly, nobody was doing this type of thing at the local level. Opportunity was starting to reek like a moldy three week old corpse bricked up in the wall. I had to rip out those bricks and reveal my discovery to the world. So I started thinking. How could I take my background knowledge and experience and use it to create something familiar yet entirely new that on idea alone would appeal to local advertisers?

From this challenge, The Varsity Wire was born. This week, we (and by we, I mean myself and owner Michael Tilley) launched the new site as an extension of his established hub for local business news and human interest.

The site’s content is written entirely by me. I cover some of the current season, but I don’t go entirely in that direction because there are too many local sites that are already hitting the scores and stats better than me. I don’t want to compete with them. I simply want to tell stories of interest that pertain to area high school football teams.

So far, the response has been astounding. We have five main sections on the site. Three of the sections are currently under sponsorship. We also have a large local bank supporting the entire site. In just a short amount of time, we’re generating a couple of thousand in revenue, and we’re getting a hugely favorable response from the local school systems.

This experience has taught me several things about making a living—and I mean a good living—as a writer. Here they are:

1. Tap your local writing market

The national level has way too much competition for you to make a lot of money quickly. The faster route is to do your homework and find that untapped niche in your local market. Then, develop a site around it. Pitch your idea only after coming up with several well thought-out features. Then, find people, who are already using the web as a business model and partner with them to avoid the laborious hours of site building that you’re probably not that good at anyway.

2. Diversify your audience

The Varsity Wire is not yet my full time job, but it is giving me a four-figure monthly income. In addition to the other sites that I write for—,,, and a few content aggregators here and there, I’m able to make a nice living in a really crappy economy doing what I love (for the most part). I’m also able to pay the bills while I work on my fiction career, and that brings me to:

3. Turn your active income passive

Look at Nicholson, Rain, Konrath, Hocking, and Locke. Their careers have taken them the digital route because they can write and market well. And because, unlike me, they’re making a passive income off the books they have already written. Hopefully, that will change next month when I unleash The Congregation on the world. But I don’t think it will. I’ll have to invest more of my time and energy into books two, three, four, five and six, in all likelihood, before the public gets the point that I’m not going away.

And that brings me back to The Varsity Wire. Tilley, my partner and friend in this journey, confessed to me that what attracted him so much to my story ideas was this: shelf life. The stories I’m writing and posting this week may not get a huge boom in traffic the first few days, but as The Varsity Wire becomes better known in the surrounding communities, my pieces on “The 5 Best Charleston Tigers Football Teams of All Time,” and “Where Are They Now” for past local football phenoms, will continually bring in traffic and ad revenue. Passive to active. Find a way to do it.

What ideas in your surrounding area have a human interest appeal that you can tap in to? Share your thoughts below.

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