The Write Career: An Interview with Writer Tara M. Clapper

Like many writers, Tara began her online writing career unexpectedly–by being laid off from a self-publishing company, where she was a manager of a self-publishing pilot program. To earn extra money, she began writing online for AssociatedContent.com.

“I temped and worked as a Starbucks barista for a few years while writing on the side for AC,” she explains.

She published her first piece, Ireland as a Commodity in Irish-American Culture, in December 2006, going on to publish nearly 260 articles to become one of the top producers on AssociatedContent.com.

A short while later she secured another job in the publishing industry as a production editor for an academic publisher, sticking with Associated Content and other venues for part-time work. She also became the marketing director for Seventh Kingdom IGE, securing the interest of a internationally-famous entertainment company in less than a year.

But it wasn’t until late 2009 when she made the transition to full-time freelancing. Why?

“I’ve always wanted to write full-time, but health insurance was a major issue,” says Tara. “After my husband started receiving benefits from his new job, we made the decision together.”

The added stress of commuting to her full-time job–and dealing with the aftermath of recovering from three car accidents–also encouraged her to write from home. The choice seemed simple, and she finally made the move in December 2013.

“I was finding myself distracted and swayed by the dream of writing full-time while working in publishing, so I decided it was time to make the transition,” Tara recalls. “I probably could not have done this at this point in my life without the emotional and financial (health care) support of my husband.”

Tara’s presence online today is paramount. Not only has she continued to represent Seventh Kingdom IGE as their marketing director, she also oversees four Examiner topics on Examiner.com, writes for Going Freelance, is equally as prolific on AssociatedContent.com, and teaches on EduFire.com.

She was also recently ranked as one of the top 1000 contributors on AssociatedContent.com, an award only given to the most prolific writers on Associated Content. And her “writing empire” continues to grow, with an notable presence in the LARP and writing communities. Her quick rise to stardom is a great inspiration to many writers.

Q&A with Tara

Oftentimes freelance writers or people who work for publishing companies, such as Tara, have trouble adapting to the simplistic writing style that works best online. We asked Tara several questions about her difficulty easing into online writing.

WJR: How hard was it to transition to online writing? Did you have to learn new skills, did you get any help from anybody, etc?

Tara: I learned mostly on my own. I had to learn to be concise, but I have somewhat of a journalism background so that wasn’t quite so tough. More than help, I required encouragement from others. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to rejections or edits, but the support of my family and friends really meant a lot.

WJR: Some people say Associated Content is a “content mill”. Do you think it is?

Tara: No. In partner content instances, I make more per hour at AC than I have ever made full-time at a salaried office job in publishing. Associated Content always offers choices to their writers. You have the option to accept, decline, or resubmit for upfront offers.

Writers can make bad choices on AC (writing partner calls for free is not always in a writer’s best interest), but there are lucrative opportunities for writers on this site. It’s also a creative outlet to make money. I wouldn’t write poetry anymore if not for AC–and I can make some spare cash writing for it.

WJR: Do you think it’s worthwhile to write for sites like Associated Content?

Tara: Absolutely, but you have to understand the system and how to use it. If you’re writing for Demand Studios, you need to strictly adhere to guidelines and expect some frustration with the editors (though 99% of them are sincerely professional and kind). If you’re writing on AC, you have a bit more freedom.

Ann, one of my breakthroughs on AC happened when you told me that AC sometimes prefers (health) articles which offer information and first-person experience. I find these to be a breeze to write and I feel that AC pays fairly for my honesty.

AC isn’t just a place to pick up partner calls–you can write articles for fun and still get paid for them. That’s why I enjoy sites like AC and Examiner. If I did not publish articles on here, I would probably write them anyway and not make money off of them.

WJR: Do you think your writing improved after beginning your online writing career?

Tara: Yes and no. I practiced and improved through practice and also feedback from other writers and editors. However, I had a stint at Demand Studios in December-January doing mostly just DS work. I did this because my office-to-freelance transition was a bit more abrupt than intended. I am so grateful for it and needed the money.

However, the style required for how-tos and other DS formats actually detracted from the quality of other writing for sites like AC as well as my fiction. I saw my upfront offer amounts decline. Now that I am not writing there as frequently, my upfronts have gone up and I am having more fun writing.

I feel like it’s about balance. Too much of writing for one site or client can alter my writing style. It’s helpful that I can write within parameters, but I won’t do anything that endangers my writing ability or inclination towards using descriptive language.

WJR: How do you find new clients?

Tara: I found my first major client via referral. My former boss and I have a good working relationship. He showed me how to network and has been a very good example for me in the business world. I feel like I am miles ahead of other twenty-somethings because of the professional behavior I have learned from him.

He had a friend completing a thesis to receive his MA in creative writing, but the university required him to write in APA format (academic). I was a production editor at an academic publisher at the time and have a BA in English, so I was very helpful.

I’ve had other work from Craigslist ads (both ads I posted and responded to), freelancewritinggigs.com, fellow bloggers and writers I’ve met online, and even customers I met while working at Starbucks. I wrote a piece on singer/songwriters John Wolf Vasquez and Dakota Jay–I worked with both of them at different Starbucks locations and ended up writing these promo pieces for them.

WJR: If you could give people who are interested in becoming online writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Tara: Develop your style and niche and go from there. Associated Content is an excellent proving ground. Examiner is also a worthwhile place to start–even though it does not pay very well, I can say that it has directly led to higher-paying gigs in my case.

These sites are amazing tools for developing your own voice and areas of interest. You can also take your following with you wherever you go by using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook.

We wish Tara continued success on her online writing journey.