Josh Spilker: Content Manager or Taco Jehovah?
I’ve been lucky enough to pick up some freelance writing gigs while I look for more permanent work. I found out about one of these jobs because Josh Spilker shared it on facebook. I became friends with Josh through the online writing scene. I think the first thing that brought Josh to my attention was the press he used to run, Deckfight. He also ran a review blog called I Am Alt Lit. In addition to running things, Josh is a pretty prolific writer himself. His latest novel is called Taco Jehovah. I asked him some questions about his day job:
Hey Josh. So recently I’ve been writing some blog posts for you in your role as Content Manager at Workzone. What exactly does that job involve other than reading my thoughts on project management?
Ha! It’s a lot of editing, fixing web pages, strategizing about new priorities, thinking about the marketing funnel and optimizing some of our blog posts for better search results so our stuff comes out on top.
Also, I’m thinking about pain points around project management software and creating some interesting lead magnets/content downloads to help with that. Really it’s thinking about how to educate someone through the buying process. I’m also working on PR stuff, writing a lot of email campaigns, that sort of thing. We recently launched a brand redesign so we’re playing catch-up in a few areas and laying a good foundation for content marketing.
How did you get started working in Content Management anyway?
Well, I used to be a journalist and then moved into the marketing side with copywriting. My last job morphed from a more content-specific role, where I was writing video scripts, email marketing and product brochures, into something that was actually more basic project management, which has helped me in my current role, because now I’m marketing to someone in my former position.
Long story short: I kept pursuing writing for businesses and this is where I ended up.
And why did you start pursuing writing for businesses? Was there something specific about it that appealed to you?
I was a business journalist and in grad school for English at the same time. And it was two different worlds, really. There were actually times when I would interview someone in the business school about real estate markets and then go straight to class to talk about Pulitzer Prize winners.
At the time, I took some classes with the MFA students and was surprised at how much time they were agonizing over their words when I just turned them out every day and then they were quickly published.
It also made me realize how many businesses need quality communicators, but the people that could do that stuff were sitting in grad classes racking up debt.
And then when those people graduated, many of them couldn’t find jobs or didn’t want to find marketing or writing jobs with businesses.
I know that’s really simplistic and there are lots of factors involved. Businesses aren’t universities and universities give you more “freedom” I guess. But I do think there are some opportunities that writers aren’t considering.
At the same time, I wish I didn’t have to think about some of the business implications of my writing and just think about craft, which is what the university environment allows you to do.
What advice would you give me, as one of those people who racked up debt pursuing a graduate creative writing degree and who spends a lot of time agonising over their words, if I decided to take a crack at writing for businesses?
Yeah, I mean I have undergrad debt for sure. I would either freelance (like you’re doing) and just be really humble about marketing strategy and stuff like that. Think about copywriting and some of those more persuasive strategies that aren’t necessarily part of creative writing courses. Some copywriting can be super weird and shady of course, but a lot of companies get caught up in crazy jargon and then no one understands it. It can be your job to make it clearer. Sometimes that’s just editing and other times it’s the actual writing. I’d look for opportunities like that and then grow skills from there. Upwork is a great place to get started, especially if you create a few sample pieces. And overall it pays better than journalism.
How did you get started as a business journalist and how was that work different from what you do now?
In the mid-to-late 00s, I had done a few wild magazine features on like bands and stuff and based on that I got the job as a business journalist. My education definitely helped, because the business newspaper was in a fairly small town.
I also had a lot of clips from college and soon after in lifestyle/music publications, nothing really big, but it was something I definitely pursued more than others. Because at first, I didn’t want to do any type of journalism that wasn’t lifestyle or music or you know the big magazine features. I was pretty confident in my abilities, even though I hadn’t really demonstrated it in any meaningful way.
I remember going to Barnes & Noble or whatever and looking at all the names in the masthead hoping one day to get in Magnet or Filter or something. I never did (well except a few smaller pubs) but I quickly realized how hard it was to stand out in that field–lots of people want to write about music and no one pays for it…book reviews are probably worse I guess. I really wanted to work at an alternative weekly, but I wasn’t cool enough for that really, or maybe I was just into more way weird obscure stuff than even those pubs wanted to cover. I really sound like someone from the 00s right now. Obviously that stuff is really hard to get traction in unless you live in NYC or are crushing it. I finally wised up and realized that any paying journalism job was better than nothing, so I applied for the business journalist job and got it.
Anyway, business journalism: it’s way different than what I do now because I was like breaking news and stuff. I mean sometimes I went and wrote about someone’s nice house or new business and it was puff pieces, but then I wrote a couple pieces about some local banks that had to close down and it was people’s real money on the line and I was affecting it. Not like writing about Uber or something, but still.
I guess the next step for me would have been to keep going and doing that, move to a bigger town at a bigger publication, but my wife and I weren’t really interested in that itinerant lifestyle, just moving for a job. Also, journalism is a lot of hustle and sometimes crazy hours. We wanted to live where we wanted to live. So when I moved (back) to Nashville, TN, I didn’t have a job, but I knew I wanted something that was writing related and not journalism, so I started teaching adjunct and working contract jobs and eventually got a copywriting job.
Aside from journalism and copywriting/marketing, what other jobs have you had? Could tell me a little about them?
This relates to question above–I eventually did get back to books and literature–because I got a job at Ingram Content Group, which is like the largest book distributor in the world, behind Amazon probably. So I was around books all the time, everyday for a year. And magazines. There would just be these huge bins of lit journals that no one wanted and I was the only one going through them. I was in a place full of books and I was the one still reading the weirdest stuff, all the stuff that you read too probably. I remember getting like the New York Tyrant books there off the galley shelf and I was super excited, but I was the only one that cared. It was also cool to get like the new Zadie Smith or Richard Ford before anyone else, but those had a little higher demand. Most of the people there (at least in the marketing department) didn’t really care about books at all, it was just a job. Which I get, but it was still disappointing.
In fact, the most dedicated people were like the library staffs and the academic staffs. But I’m there, in the largest book distributor in the world, and realized that no one really cared about literary fiction, I mean not in the same way as YA or fantasy or whatever, and that shows in what people talk about and what people promote. Even with my background (MA in English) there wasn’t really a place for me there, or I didn’t make a place for myself, I guess. I don’t know.
So I also became really disillusioned with “book culture” I guess and realized that my writing was up to me and I shouldn’t depend on these systems unless I went back to get a MFA at one of like 5 schools. That’s when I got even more interested in marketing and started researching all those self-preneur guys, but it hasn’t made a huge difference for me, I kind of get undecided sometimes about that stuff and what to pursue.
How has writing for businesses affected your fiction writing?
I think it’s mostly affected the way I’ve thought about marketing it, but not necessarily what I’ve been writing about. You can take a quick look at most of my creative writing and realize that it’s not very marketable. And that’s the tension that I’m currently in—between art and commerce which I think everyone is in, and I guess I’ve always felt that.
That said, I don’t feel as “precious” about my writing, because a lot of times I know it serves a certain purpose. Obviously fiction, especially literary fiction, shouldn’t be that disposable, but I think sometimes creative writers labor over their stuff for too long. Business writing has helped me get stuff out and move on.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer and a writer. I didn’t really know a lot of the in-between stuff, like cultural studies or communication or marketing.
What would kid-you think of what you’re doing now? Does that matter to you?
Kid-me probably expected that I’d be more “successful” but there’s a lot of freedom in not meeting my kid expectations.
If you had to shift to working a completely different type of job, what would you like to do?
I have a master’s in English, not a PhD, and I used to teach at the community college level and I think I could do that again. I really liked it. Also I’ve thought about non-profit work or becoming a Christian missionary.