Interview: Star Lawrence and Nancy McKeithen

Today, I’d like to introduce you to two writers who have found opportunities to put their talents to good use. Star Lawrence and Nancy McKeithen operate the Writer’s Catablog, a website full of humor to help writers stay on track, along with a few accessories for your favorite writer. Their blog is here, and their mascot, Scribbles the dog, has a blog as well.

What are your respective backgrounds, writing-wise?

Star: I made the mistake of starting at the top, making it all downhill from there. I was a Hill lobbyist in Washington and wrote up a little adventure I had and sent it to Washingtonian Magazine. No answer. So, since I was a lobbyist, I went and sat in their lobby. Finally the editor saw me….What the heck did I want again? I said, “Do you want my article or not?” He seemed shocked and asked me if I wanted to write their “What to Do in Summer in Washington” cover story—I learned later no one else wanted to do it. I went on to write for them every month for a couple of years, then got in a disagreement and left. After having a late-in-life baby at 37, I never went back to my “real” job and have been freelance ever since.

Nancy: I’ve done mostly B-to-B and marketing communications. In college, I wrote a lot of poetry, but it’s hard to make a living at that. I’ve also written a “non-fiction business book with a sense of humor,” which I trying to find a home for. Got any agent and publisher recommendations?

What prompted you to choose freelance writing as a career?

Star: Choose? No one else would have me.

Nancy: A man I had written copy for at a telecommunications company, where I was the staff writer, went to a startup and contacted me about writing some manuals and marketing material. When I told him that would be a conflict of interest, he offered me a 6-month contract (which turned into 3-1/2 years!) and suggested I start my own freelance business. So it wasn’t even my idea! I never once looked back.

What prompted the idea of the Writer’s Catablog?

Star: Have to blame Craigslist for this one—all those Johnny-come-lately “employers” trying to convince writers that their work is only worth $5 a story. Nancy and I are Internet pals—we have never met in person—and we decided, “Hey! This is a profession. We are not your bitches.”

Nancy: It was October 31, 2006—Halloween—and Star and I were emailing back and forth. She wrote about seeing some writer’s mugs on a site and thought they were lame, that we could do better. So we made a list of what “products” we could sell. And I said, “We could do a website.” We started it that afternoon, and it morphed into a humor site for writers and other freelancers. Within a few weeks it was done. I had designed other sites but never programmed one, so we hired a freelance programmer off Craigslist. He took a year to do the job. We added a couple of blogs: Scribbles the Dog and one where we archive stuff we take off the main site when we update it.

What have been the key differences between running a business based on writing, such as Writer’s Catablog, and freelancing?

Star: Business? Writer’s Catablog? Yes, we are theoretically selling merchandise, but no one has bought anything yet.

Nancy: For me, freelancing is a full-time business, and just like any other, we update, we market, we check other writer’s sites, we send out e-PR, we survey, we budget expenditures. I set aside time to do the updates. Star does the majority of the writing (she allows me to contribute though), and I do the design. We work as a team (Scribbles is our CEO).

Working as long-distance partners was a new experience for both of us. Star is the most naturally funny person I have never met. We agree so much more than we disagree—Star jokes that since nobody has ever seen us together, we may be the same person.

What advice do you have for writers trying to expand their businesses?

Star: Well, as sometime copywriters, we would advise marketing. We are doing a monthly e-newsletter/email contraption to our readers and target audience. We post comments on blogs. We also have exchanged links—though we do this selectively. We are now doing a video of our spokesdog Scribbles talking about the writing life. An actor and Screen Actors Guild member, Ron McLarty, who is also a writer, has agreed to voice the little Clipart. The video will go on YouTube. We are sort of just having fun, if you want to know the truth. This is not a hard-nosed money-maker. But we are pretty insistent on newbie writers and employers both recognizing that the professional freelancer saves them money and brings a wealth of equipment, experience and talent, available project by project.

Nancy: Market every day—I try to do it for a half-hour—during the good times and the bad. Learn new skills. The Writer’s Catablog site gave me a reason to learn new software. Although a freelance programmer coded the original site, I’ve now put it into Dreamweaver and I’m able to modify and update it. Since it’s part catalog, part blog, we don’t change it as often as a blog, but we do get new cartoons daily and change some longer sections weekly. We’ll launch the redesign in early April, with new features: another cartoon, “The Wrant,” “Scribbles’ Choice.” Stay tuned.

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