Eight Ways for Freelance Writers to Become Famous on the Web

You may not want to be a famous online figure, but you do want attention.  You want to be a thought leader, a valued contributor to the greater conversation (whatever the hell that means), the recipient of search engine traffic, a recognized name brand, the “go to” person for whatever it is you do, a bestselling writer, a fully-booked and well-paid consultant or something.

You want a presence.  Gravitas.  Authority.  Whatever.  You want people to find you.  You want them to know who you are.  You have your reasons.  They’re probably related to maintaining a sufficient balance in your checking account.

So, how are you going to do it?  How are you going to go from being just another of 13,397,988 freelance writers to Famous You?

Here are a few models to consider.

Too Legit to Quit

You have a nice, clean website.  You do good work for your clients.  You participate in online and traditional networking.  You may have a blog you use as a platform to provide well-written and well-reasoned perspective on your areas of interest.  You participate in visible activities that truly match your personality and to which you feel you can provide a quality contribution.

Congratulations.  You’re a pro!  If the cream really does rise to the top and if you’re half as good as you think you are, you’ll eventually develop a good reputation and well be held in high-esteem by others.  People will begin to find you.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take some time to make this work.  It isn’t a recipe for fast fame.  And if that “cream to the top” stuff isn’t really true–or if you’re not THAT good, you’ll disappear into the vast sea of other rather traditional professionals who find that very few people are thrilled by the prospect of dealing with Mr. of Ms. Bland.  With all due respect to Huey Lewis, it isn’t particularly hip to be square.

Five-Way Bullet Train Collision

You make the standard Internet train wreck seem mild.  You’re willing to do anything for a set of eyeballs or the repetition of your name.  You’ll cuss as if you’re at a Tailhook reunion party.  You’ll pick fights for fun.  You’ll scream for attention.  You’re Amy Winehouse and Paris Hilton wrapped into one person, in front of the press on a stage littered with Fredericks’s of Hollywood thongs and hypos brimming with smack.  You WILL do what it takes to end up on every front page.

Congratulations.  People will know you.  If you get wild and crazy enough, you can become a truly famous person within your niche.  You will receive all of the attention your little personality disorder-cursed mind can handle!

Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of attention that turns into big stacks of cash (or even steady smaller stacks).  When’s the last time you’ve heard about a sideshow freak retiring early and luxuriating in his or her wealth?  People will gawk, but they won’t take you seriously.

The Pet Mouse

You want a little attention, but you’re a little nervous about the whole thing.  You have a friendly little blog connected to a non-threatening little website and you only write safe things about safe ideas.  No waves.  You may not yell out opinions, but you’re quick to offer friendly, sweet encouragement at every turn.  You’re just active enough that people notice you commenting on others’ blogs, even if they don’t read yours.  When people see your positive comments, they smile a little bit.  You’re so cute, just like a timid little pet mouse!

Congratulations.  You haven’t pissed anyone off.  Everyone will consider you a friend and you’ll develop some worthwhile professional connections in the process.

Unfortunately, they won’t take you too seriously and they’ll only think of you if you peek out to say hello before scurrying back to the safety of your little nest.

Mr. Big Shot

You’re looking good, feeling great, doing well and want everyone to know it!  Either that or you’re completely screwed, struggling like mad and are engaging in an all-out effort to “fake it until you make it.”  You substitute bombast for substance and will never hesitate to discuss your numerous triumphs (real or imagined).

Congratulations.  For reasons only psych professionals understand, some people are actually attracted to that kind of over-the-top self-adulation.  If you’re lucky, you might end up with a little online cult to call your own.

Unfortunately, things generally don’t turn out so well for charismatic cult leaders.  Ask Charlie, David, Jim or that dude who had everyone slide into some black Nikes as the magic comet approached.  You’ll have a fan club, but most people will find you sleazy, egomaniacal and thoroughly unattractive.

The Creation

You realized that you don’t really need to be little ol’ Eunice Powelisky of Enid, Oklahoma.  You can be a tall, svelte former supermodel prospect who left the vacuous world of high fashion just as she was about to get her first COSMO cover in order to pursue a highly successful career as a journalist which then led to a freelance career.  Now you write better than anyone and know all of the secrets to success.  You might consider selling some of them.  The fact that the State of Oklahoma is about to cut off your unemployment benefits and that your 1982 Citation is up on blocks on the red clay in front of your trailer are minor details.  This new persona can change things around.  You can reinvent yourself and profit in the process.

Congratulations.  You figured out how MeMe Roth gets on television talk shows and how Taylor Marsh manages to secure readers for her political “analysis.”  Very few people will bother to find out if you’re full of shit or not!  You’re walking the same path several skeezy-but-wealthy Internet marketers have blazed before you.  It might just work.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably blow it.  Being a fictitious character on a full-time basis is tough and there’s always someone smart enough to connect the dots who’ll be more than willing to blow the whistle on your shenanigans.  That’s why MeMe Roth doesn’t have her own empire.  It’s why Taylor Marsh still isn’t on the radio.  For every successful poseur, a few thousand “alts” have died humiliating deaths.

The Right Answer

You don’t have opinions.  You know the right answer.  Every time.  Those who don’t share your opens down to the very last smug remarks are sad little fools who should spend less time drooling on their shoes and more time licking yours clean.  You can parlay your certainty and unwavering confidence in the veracity of everything that has ever crossed your mind into an online presence that reeks of authority.

Congratulations.  There are plenty of people who absolutely adore people who are willing to do all of the thinking for them.  You’ll develop a loyal fan club.  A girl from Kansas, her dog, a lion, a scarecrow and a tin man may even march all over technicolor to find you because they’ll just know you have the knowledge they need.

Unfortunately, that ragtag crew will eventually figure out that there’s a flawed, sometimes wrong person hiding behind the curtains of your website.  If they don’t blow your cover, the intrusion of real life and the fact that you will eventually be proven Incredibly Wrong about something will.  Oh, those followers are only loyal as long as you’re right.  They’ll find another wizard, guru, mommy, daddy or nanny to handle their thinking once you’re exposed.

The Technician

You split-test everything.  You optimize every blog post for your primary keyword and at least one tertiary keyword.  Your on-site SEO is solid gold and you have a carefully devised backlink campaign that’s humming right along.  You pore over your analytics like a G-Man trying to put a mobster away on a tax infraction.  You don’t take a shower in the morning without checking trend data and performing market research.

Congratulations.  You’ll get more than your fair share of traffic and you’ll always know which way the wind is blowing.  Your mastery of detail and scientific understanding of credibility building and reputation management will have you resting atop the SERPs–for now at least.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably find out that intangibles have values that don’t always appear on your spreadsheets.  Your lack of soul will make you cold and dull.  People will see what you’re doing, but they won’t love it.  It won’t change them.  It won’t forge a meaningful (or profitable) connection.  Robots are incredibly practical, but no one takes them home for dinner and a make out session.


You see the dangers in these other approaches and recognize their potential benefits.  You act accordingly, taking the aspects that work for you while leaving the nonsense that doesn’t.  You may not be a technical guru, but you’ll get the basics down pat.  You may not be willing to start the First Church of You, but you’re not going to let a little shyness keep you down.  You’ll present yourself in the best possible light, but you’ll do it without padding, fluffing and outright lying.  You’ll find your place on the continuum that runs between the man in the gray flannel suit and the crazy cat woman who hides in the bushes behind the bus stop screaming about the Freemasons, pork irradiation and how everyone is out to get you.

Congratulations.  If you’re sincere, talented, interested, interesting and willing to keep improving, you can make this whole thing work.  It won’t always be easy and it may occasionally be difficult to opt for integrity over caricature, but you can do it.  Work hard and prepare for life among the sufficiently famous.


What approaches did I forget to cover?  I’d love to see additions from the FWJ community.

I hate to admit it, but I know I’ve embraced a few ugly aspects of these strategies from time to time on my site and elsewhere.  Fortunately, I tend to come to my senses pretty quickly.  Did you see yourself on this list (even a little bit) before we got to the “You” category?  If so, are you going to change your slightly evil ways or you proceeding full speed ahead?


5 responses
  1. Deb Ng Avatar

    I think I can see a bit of myself in all these scenarios.

    Don’t forget the famous by proxy freelancer. The one who doesn’t really do anything big or special on his own, but instead he aligns himself with all the right people. As long as he’s photographed with the in crowd and has his name associated with the movers and shakers, he really doesn’t need to think about being creative.

  2. Shevonne Avatar

    I think I am “me.” =D
    .-= Shevonne´s last blog ..Cebastian Making a Fire With His Dad =-.

  3. allena Avatar

    genius. seriously.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..Successful Freelance Writing Can Be Scary =-.

  4. Chris Mower Avatar

    Fun post, the cynicism caught me by surprise, but it was an enjoyable read none-the-less.

    When I first started blogging over a year ago on my first site I went through a number of these phases trying to figure out what in the heck I was doing, who I was online, what type of persona I wanted online. After months of trying to figure it out it finally clicked… just be myself and do my best to figure it out as I go. There’s no need to be someone you’re not, and as you stated you’ll get called out on it sooner or later.
    .-= Chris Mower´s last blog ..12 Simple Lessons in Leadership for Those Who Want to Make a Difference =-.

  5. Jennifer Escalona Avatar
    Jennifer Escalona

    “You have your reasons. They’re probably related to maintaining a sufficient balance in your checking account.”

    I snorted. Thanks for this!

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