The year is 2015. In my efforts to earn online in Kenya, I stumble on the WriteLearnEarn (WLE) Platform on a Facebook group called ‘Article Writers Village’ where Kenyan article writers hold camp and discuss ways to better their writing experiences and earnings. There is this UK guy [Spike Wyatt] whom I am wondering how he made it into a Kenyan online writing Facebook group. To me, he sticks out like a sore thumb; a white UK guy in a Kenyan Facebook page. Could he be a mullatoo? Or is he fascinated by the Kenyan online writers’ propensity to venture out to lands beyond and earn as much as they can using pen names such as ‘Samson James Smith’ whereas the real name is James Ng’ang’a wa Njenga and later say ‘Hakuna Matata’ as they sip cold Tusker at the local pub.
Well, Spike introduces us to WriteLearnEarn, an article marketplace and from then on, I realized that he is neither a mullatoo nor a white guy fascinated by our funny pen names or hakuna matatas.
In March 2017, Spike Wyatt feels compelled by circumstances to close the WLE platform and since I was earning from it, I feel really sad. Luckily, he dusts himself off and so did I.
Fast forward to April 2017, Spike Wyatt now works as an editor at spikewyatt.com. I interviewed him on his freelancing journey and here goes our conversation.
1. First things first, why did you close writelearnearn.com?
The pre-written content market is shrinking. It’s getting harder to sell articles when clients can so easily find and hire writers for bespoke work for the same price.
For several months, I’d been putting in the usual amount of work – a LOT of hours – but seeing diminishing returns for everyone involved. I decided it was better to shut down while things were still working, instead of trying to keep going and watching everything turn ugly.
2. How do you get your editing clients? What marketing strategy are you using?
Oh dear… this is where I have to admit to being awful at marketing and having no strategy at all! I’m very lucky because life gives back what I put in: for countless months, I’ve moderated, contributed to and generally helped in a number of writing groups. Now that I’m back in the freelance editing market, that visibility and generosity has brought me some wonderful clients.
3. How is the average freelancing day like for you?
I’m a full-time carer as well as a freelancer, so I’m very busy even if most of my time isn’t spent on freelance work. Mornings are mostly with my lady and the cat, intermittently disappearing to perform caregiver duties and check emails, Facebook and other online stuff to make sure I don’t miss urgent messages.
I fit a couple of hours of work into the afternoon, spend the evening with my lady, then perhaps do more work if it’s needed. Since closing WLE, my schedule has become significantly more manageable: when the site was open, I spent all day looking after admin, bug fixes, team emails and selling articles.
4. Why editing and not writing?
Excellent question! I have two main reasons.
First, like many editors I’m a reactive rather than a proactive person: my entire working life has been reactive work. As a writer, I’d have to come up with lots of creative ideas for content… which is a proactive activity. My great ideas are pretty few and far between, so I’m much more comfortable as an editor.
Second, I’m a picky grammar nerd who loves to correct things. Combine that with being reactive and I’m much better at improving someone else’s work than creating my own.
A *lot* of editors also suffer from things like social anxiety: their fear of being the public face of something makes back-office work much more palatable. All sorts of weirdos (like me) are in this business.
5. How would you describe your editing service? Do you check grammar or are you a deep person who goes to other things in the writing?
I do both. The basic version is “light copyediting” – checking grammar, syntax, spelling and so on. I verify facts, point out obvious omissions and generally tidy up without getting too involved.
The more involved service is “substantive editing”. As well as correcting all the technical issues, I suggest ideas, point out where the article can be better, address structure and flow, and give general feedback on article quality. The idea is to work with the writer to create something that will blow their client away and keep them coming back for more!
6. Do you have a crop of writers whom you have edited their works and they are really doing well?
I have an odd mix because I’m an odd mix myself. 🙂
For example, I have a corporate client who’s grown from a one-man-band into a national company, won awards and is revolutionizing his industry. I have a couple of individual writers who write cover stories for pretty big magazines (and are aiming higher).
But I also have some freelancers who are just starting out. I’m partnering with them so that they can break into the higher-paid market: I edit their social proof content for free, put in extra effort on samples and generally act as their editorial support system. Their part of the deal is to create their site, pitch new clients and work hard on building their business.
7. Do you think African freelance writers need editors? Why?
Absolutely. Why? Because an extra pair of professional eyes and an editor who can bring their experience to bear can turn everyday work into content that clients will fight to publish.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re African, a so-called “native” writer or someone who’s been writing for years: I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t need an editor. Admittedly, new ESL freelancers will likely get a lot more out of an editing service than, say, a published author with ten years’ writing experience (ESL or not), but the service is still valuable to every writer.
The difficulty is getting people to see that they need one. Everyone thinks their writing is great – or at least good enough – until they experience the difference editing makes!