Do you dream of getting paid to attend conventions? To have companies send you anime, games, or graphic novels for review, unasked? To make a living out of one of your favorite reasons to be alive?
For a handful of professionals, it’s not just a dream. In a new column on Otaku Journalist, I will periodically interview the real working otaku journalists of the world about their geeky careers.
Today’s professional is Humberto Saabedra, who you might know better as a contributor to Crunchyroll News and the webmaster behind AnimeNews.biz. Here’s what he has to say about making a career in fandom:
OJ: You were a fan before you became a professional writer for anime and technology websites. How did you make the jump?
HS: My current path started in 2006 when I noticed that one of my favorite sites for mobile and telecom news was looking for new writers. Being that I lost my latest in a string of menial retail jobs at the time, I felt that I had nothing to lose with sending in an application showcasing what little writing skill I had. I essentially started my professional writing career in December 2006 writing for PhoneNews.com and 2012 marks my 5th year writing for the site.
I somehow convinced my business partner to let me launch AnimeNews.biz in the Summer of 2008 as a part of his then new publishing network venture. The site launched in October of 2008 on the back of my forum commentary involving the latest implosions in the anime industry and the site quickly became an alternative to Anime New Network. The site was in a perfect position to cover the transition to legal online streaming and focus on the stories that never really get told within and out of the industry.
How did you get the Crunchyroll gig?
I started to interact with [Crunchyroll News founder] Patrick Macias on Twitter in late 2011 and he made me an offer to contribute to Crunchyroll on their News page later on after I started noticing that they were picking up a lot of stories from my site and we talked shop about high-end audio gear. Even though I wasn’t looking for another gig, I accepted his offer as I’d always looked up to him, growing up reading his work in Animerica and his books. Being able to make a splash with the Steve Jobs Tribute Doujin set the tone for the sort of writing I wanted to do for the site once I was brought on, though chasing stories is what I’m best at.
Crunchyroll is not my “day job” in the strictest sense. It is one of the gigs I spend the most time on outside of writing for my site, but the one job that keeps me clothed and fed is writing the news and features on PhoneNews.com and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as I’m the current Editor-In-Chief.
Tell me about a typical day in the life of a professional writer.
My typical day can start from 6-8 AM CST, in which I take time out to clean my office, have breakfast and take a shower to get ready. I spend about 12-16 hours a day working across three sites starting at 9 AM and that’s actually down from the 20 hours a day I used to work when I first started writing professionally.
What’s the difference between what you do and what fan bloggers do?
If I were to describe the difference between a “pro” anime blogger and a fan blogger outside of being paid, it would be the ability to stand out from the sea of fan bloggers easily and having a perspective that quickly draws people to what you write, no matter what it’s about. In my case, its the fact that I take a measured, even-keeled approach to commentary on the anime and manga industry, free from emotion and doomsaying and heavy on business analysis and knowledge of market economics that has proven itself rather popular.
However, the biggest difference I see between a “fan” and “pro” blogger is level of commitment. Too many fans bail out of blogging because they come to the realization that they can’t keep up a consistent schedule, or they feel the time and effort put into blogging isn’t paying off in some way, so they quit.
What’s your advice to writers who want to follow in your footsteps?
If I were to give advice to anyone that really wants to do this professionally, I would suggest learning how to talk to people first and foremost. I got my job at Crunchyroll News by talking to Patrick Macias about headphone amps on Twitter of all things! It also helped that I looked up to him and he was able to look at my previous work on my site, having read his work in Animerica and Pulp magazine when I was younger.
This might seem counter intuitive, but my Twitter feed isn’t just about anime and manga, it’s a mix of politics, music, opinion, and occasional self deprecation. You not only have to have a grasp of what you’re writing about, it helps immensely if you have other interests not necessarily related to your chosen subject to keep things interesting.
I’ve also seen and talked to too many people online and at a few local cons that ask me how I got to where I’m at and the first thing I ask is: “What have you written about lately?” You are only as relevant as your last article, editorial or review. No one with any sense will hire someone just based on a pitch of being able to write about anime and manga. Just like writing about video games, there are too many people that want to write about them and no real way to figure out who’s good and bad. I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, but I tend to prefer writing longer pieces over the news of the day if given a choice.
Anyone can do this given enough time and effort, the difference is being able to develop a voice that yours and that can drive people to read your work without it getting lost in the feedback loop. You also have to earn the trust of readers, no one will take you seriously if your work is shoddy and poorly researched, or worse a complete repeat of an identical viewpoint with no trace of original thought.
You have to show people your best work using your voice, every time. Will you make mistakes when you start out? Yes, early and often. The important part is that you bounce back and learn from them. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the years, even recently and I’m pretty sure I’ll make more, though I’ve learned valuable lessons from each one.
Now, if you want to do this and make a living at it, that’s much more difficult unless you also want to manage the work of setting up ad networks and affiliate programs, which I find that most people that want to do this don’t want to deal with and instead want to be hired to just write, which really isn’t possible these days.
As for writing for free, which most aspiring anime bloggers do for other smaller sites, forgive my language, but writing for free is a shit way to get a writing career started and it really harms future prospects for paid work. If you’re going to write to build experience, do it yourself, for yourself and don’t do it for someone else. Nothing bothers me more when I see anime blogs putting out calls for writers, but the positions are unpaid or trade review copies as payment.
What’s next on your career path?
My short-term goal at the moment is to have AnimeNews.biz generate enough revenue to live off of comfortably while being able to contribute to Crunchyroll News more extensively and picking up other related skills such as photography for convention coverage. Another goal I have is exploring cosplay photography as a new related hobby.
If you could talk to a professional fandom blogger, what would you ask? I’ll be sure to include your feedback in the next interview!