Once available at Editor Unleashed (R.I.P. 2010), I’m now featuring my article Monetizing Your Voice here. Check it out at the Internet Archive for all the comments and such.

Bonnie Gillespie at Editor Unleashed

Not too long ago, I spoke to high school writers about casting, writing, and living a freelance lifestyle. Casting is the newer of my careers, writing has paid the bills for a decade, and “living a freelance lifestyle” is code for “doing whatever it takes not to roll around on a plastic pad behind a desk inside a cube” every day. The kids wanted to know about cultivating “voice” and being paid to write.

Ah, finding your voice is easy. How do you sound when you talk? How do you sound in your head when you talk to yourself? What is authentic to who you are and what you have to say? Almost every penny I’ve earned as a writer has come from demystifying the casting process for actors in Hollywood. Potentially pretty dry stuff, right? Nonfiction, how-to, with a little opinion thrown in. Not the most exciting material, but certainly very important to its audience. Most writers who cater to actors deliver advice dryly and with a nod toward the “this ain’t riveting” aspect of it.

Of course, that’s not how to win an audience. I’m not saying that… Everything! Must be! So! Very exciting! No. That won’t do.

Those writers absolutely sell stuff, but they don’t brand themselves as writers. They’re all sizzle and no steak, to borrow a phrase from Journalism School. There’s a place between being basic with, and over-hyping, your message. That place is where your authentic voice lives. It’s how you’d talk about an area of expertise with a friend over tea. Or cocktails.

My first paid writing-for-actors gig involved interviewing casting directors (which is how I became one, but that’s another story for another time). Pretty straightforward. No real “voice” other than those of the cool folks I interviewed each week for Back Stage. But one of my columnist duties—for no extra pay, of course—included answering casting-related questions at the message boards. No biggie. Show up, read a Q, provide an A, repeat.

Ah, but this is where I cultivated my voice. This is where I would slip in a “y’all” or a “dang” or an “eff.” This is where I would split an infinitive, use a fragment, and lead off with a conjunction. This is where I could bottom-line an answer to an oh-so-Googleable question while both advising and venting.

And, after I left Back Stage, it was that “voice” that got offers. Really freakin’ cool offers. Like, “Write a weekly column, retain your rights, have no editorial interference, and we’ll promote your books at our busy site.” Seriously? Big-ass yes. And as my weekly readership has grown from 10,000 to over 50,000, I’ve sold books; been hired to speak to groups of actors, filmmakers, aspiring casting directors, and writers; and cemented my voice. I wrote (for free) in my voice while building up an audience for the (paying) dry stuff. And as more fans emerged for the voice I was sharing for free, someone saw a way to monetize the product.

Like I tell actors, we writers, too, are offering a product. The goal is to get known for it early so that when it’s what the buyers want, they’re willing to pay for it. There’s little linear progression to any freelance career. But the closest to linear I’ve seen is this: Find your voice, use it—often and for no pay, at first—in front of your future buyers, build your brand, cultivate your fanbase, and say yes when someone offers big bucks for the voice (and the fanbase) you’ve created.

The good news is, for most of us, that just means sharing what we keep squirreled away in journals or on low-traffic blogs. Get your voice clear and get it out there. Use social networking sites, offer up your words to “the big guys” (once) for free, and interact with your earliest fans. The buyers will notice and, well, buy it!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

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1 Comment

  1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie August 21, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Isaac 02.11.09 at 11:44am

    I teach writing classes at JMU in Virginia. We focus mainly on academic essays. The hardest thing to do is teach them to find a voice. For some reason (No Chid Left Behind?), high schools have left kids with a bunch of structural formulas and nothing to fill them with. When they get to college, I sometimes have to tell them to forget everything, or mostly everything, they learned about writing in high school.

    Voice is so important. And it takes time. I wish the US educational system would start sooner.


    Alegra 02.11.09 at 11:47am

    What a great article — I am waking up with my coffee right now, so pardon the slow churning of my brain — but reading this was an “aha!” moment or, rather, a confirmation of a conclusion I was coming to in studying other novels and contemmplating what is or is not working in my own writing.

    Thank you


    Bon 02.11.09 at 2:12pm

    Thank you to Maria for posting this piece. 🙂 Very much appreciate what you have built here and I’m glad to have been a part of it.

    Also thanks to the commenters (both here and at my Facebook page… see, there’s that using social media to cement the brand thing) for sharing your thoughts.

    I agree that voice could and should be encouraged at a younger age, but within the awareness of what the rules are. Of course, that’s the whole “learn the rules so you know when you’re breaking them,” thing. I think encouraging journal-writing is a great way to get youngsters to feel comfortable with their voice. Privately at first, and hopefully publicly later. Ideally, for money! 🙂

    It’s been fun for me, learning what my “brand” is, as a writer. When people read my books or weekly columns, they comment that it’s like “sitting down and having a chat.” They can *hear* my voice in the writing style. I love that feedback. It means I’m being authentic when I express myself in writing, just like when I speak. Awesome.

    So glad there was an “a-ha moment” here. 🙂 Those are some of the coolest moments out there, wouldn’t you say? 🙂 Yay!

    Thanks again, Maria. And readers, all.


    Tom Bentley 02.11.09 at 8:13pm

    Great stuff on letting loose the power of your personality to good effect. It’s easy to tailor a piece of writing so that the quirks and odd angles are suppressed, when it’s those things that give a piece its flavor. Thanks!


    Helenna Santos 02.12.09 at 12:54am

    I am a writer/actor in Los Angeles and this article is fantastic!

    Aside from writing for the online magazine “Joie de Vivre,” I have a weekly vlog that I do on youtube (www.youtube.com/MuseCast) talking about being an emerging actor in the entertainment industry. The things that Bonnie has to say about “finding your voice” are also completely valid in the world of video blogging (a.k.a. “vlogging”).

    All of the same rules apply in finding that original voice, building an audience, working for free, and hoping that one day your potential buyers will acknowledge that that voice is important and has something innovative to say and has a fan base to boot!



    Guffin Mopes 02.12.09 at 8:06pm

    It can be scary to actually write “officially” as yourself, but I always find that I have the greatest success when doing so.

    If I try to keep it clean and dry I always end up being boring and… yeah, just boring.

    Thanks for the insight.


    Penny Martin 02.14.09 at 7:33am

    This was very interesting. Lots of importance on branding. I’m not really up on branding myself, but I know it’s important and I’m learning. Thanks for this article. Good read!

    Penny in North Dallas


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