Be entrepreneurial. It’s the phrase of today, but I’ve heard it all of my life.
And over the course of my 35-year career as a writer and editor, I’ve tried to be just that.
Being entrepreneurial means making things happen for yourself. It’s recognizing opportunity and acting on it to create something that no one provides for you.
This is pertinent today because the long-standing structures of the publishing world are crumbling. Within a few years, there will be few titles left that produce content in the traditional manner: by hiring writers and other creatives, and paying fees and expenses (while retaining profits) from revenues from advertisers and readers.
Writers — known now as content creators — are challenged to create their own, new structures that will bring their work to market and provide revenues from which they can live.
What drives this change? Subscribers decline in number, as content can be accessed for free. Advertisers allocate fewer funds to traditional media, which they believe to be less cost-effective than (often free) social media. Most of all, patterns of reading have changed.
The mind of the consumer is splintered in a myriad of directions. Ask readers what they want, they often don’t know, but they generally say they want it online, not in traditional print. They want to be unencumbered by printed matter, yet connected to one another, and able to access the world from a mobile device, a phone, a tablet, Google Glass.
I have moved from writing and editing traditional print media to overseeing online publications, and my staff and I continually struggle to recognize how best to engage online readers. We live and die by analytics: How many readers visited the site, how many read what content, how long did they stay on it, how many pages did they view, and how many “bounced” from an article after just one glance?
We now write — scratch that, we create content — for an audience of skimmers and scanners who make little commitment to our content. Analytics tell us that online readers decide in about 1 second whether a piece of content is pertinent to them — or they bail. Any cognitive barrier causes online readers to flee. “Is this an ad, or what….” Bail! “Is this a real person, or someone shilling a product….” Bail!
At best, if an online reader decides to consume a piece of content, he or she allocates a minute and a half before they are on to the next piece of content. And that is considered a long period of time to be at one place online.
So what can a Baby Boomer like myself tell a Millennial about being entrepreneurial? And about creating content in the electronic era?
So far, I’ve given you the bad news: You’ve got to make things happen yourself because my generation is leaving you no easy path. You can figure it out, you’re going to have to.
But that’s the good news, too. With the challenges of our electronically interconnected world come countless opportunities to reach readers, to merge the content you create with the minds and senses of those who consume it. To reach those readers not within structures that require years of grunt labor and ladder climbing — but in new and emerging structures with immediate rewards. And to make some form of living from that.
Be concise (like on Twitter!). Engage in 1 second; write for the 1.5 minute reader.
Be visual. Learn to use a camera and incorporate photography, video and voice in the content you create.
Be logical. Good writing answers a reader’s questions right around the time those questions emerge. Be your own editor and press yourself to follow reader logic.
Also, once in a while, learn something from someone older. For me, the late, great Elmore Leonard said it best in one of his 10 Rules of Writing: “Try to take out the parts people tend to skip over.”
Words to be heeded by the young content-creating entrepreneur!