Elizabeth Carlton ’10 of Fort Myers, Fla. never considered writing a career path – until she took an elective course on writing for newspapers. She did so well that Charisse Levine, who taught the class, persuaded her to major in communications with a concentration in journalism.
“I suppose she saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time,” Carlton said of Levine, who now teaches at Bellarmine University in Kentucky. “She worked closely with me to find and pursue opportunities for real-world experience in journalism.”
The rest, you might say, is history – but it’s been a history in which, by necessity, Carlton has pursued a wide variety of writing-related opportunities.
Carlton began her career in 2008 as a freelance journalist while still in college.
With Levine’s encouragement, she began covering human interest stories for Denver, NC-based publications, including News at Norman and Denver Weekly. After Carlton built up a portfolio of published work, Levine urged her to talk to Pfeiffer grad Bear Frazer ’05 about how she might expand her freelance journalism career.
Frazer – a music and MMA writer who’s now the chief editor at a global sports media company called ONE Championship – introduced Carlton to the editor of two nationally distributed magazines called AMP and Hails and Horns. Through that introduction, Carlton was given an opportunity to prove her talent by writing a feature for an upcoming issue of Hails and Horns. That feature led to Carlton freelancing for both magazines.
However, after graduating Pfeiffer, Carlton realized that making it in freelance journalism would be an unending struggle. Versatility became her guiding principle:
In 2010, she picked up a side job at GameStop as she wrote her first novel, The Royal Rogue. Published in 2012, the book became the first installment of what would become The Rogue Trilogy. She kept her side-job with GameStop for four years while simultaneously writing books and freelancing as a journalist.
In 2015, Carlton began writing blogs and SEO content full-time for a marketing company called iPartnerMedia (now Vectra Digital). Her freelancing became a full-time business in 2018, which she successfully ran until about a year and a half ago when Gartner, a research and advisory company, hired her to write and edit research on consumers, culture, and marketing.
During a recent interview, Carlton explained why she branched out to pursue writing-related opportunities beyond journalism. She also provided some advice for current and prospective students at Pfeiffer who want to become journalists. And she answered some questions about various jobs she’s had over the years.
What accounts for your desire to pursue writing/editing jobs in areas outside of journalism?
I graduated from Pfeiffer in 2010 – at the tail-end of the recession and in a transitional period for journalism, where the internet was changing the print game. Social media, online websites and blogs had begun enabling people to spread the news in real-time, turning new print issues into old news before they ever hit the newsstands. Readership of print media was declining and advertising – the backbone of print publications’ revenue – was plummeting. Numerous publications were either folding or laying off large numbers of staff.
I knew I loved writing and that I wanted it to be my full-time career. So, I doggedly chased new opportunities and I expanded my repertoire of skills with each one.
What would you say to current and prospective Pfeiffer students who want to pursue writing careers in journalism despite the news industry’s many challenges?
I’d encourage them to evolve with the times. To be successful in journalism today, you need to be digitally savvy. That means knowing how to create videos, shoot quality photography and engage on social media. The thriving journalists I know are more than just writers; they’re influencers offering real-time reporting and commentary to events relevant to their beat.
Also, don’t wait until after you graduate to gain experience. Start now. Grab every internship you can and build a portfolio of published work. Create your own blog and/or social media and cover what you’re passionate about right now. If you build a rich portfolio of published content and an online presence before you walk the stage for graduation, you’ll have far better luck finding job opportunities.
Let’s talk about your work at Gartner. What did you do to make yourself an attractive candidate for the work you now do for them? What are your principal responsibilities?
It was a combination of my experience as a professional writer, marketer, and freelancer that made me a strong candidate for my current position at Gartner. I had a portfolio that demonstrated strong, diverse writing experience, knowledge about the marketing industry, and a proven ability to work independently.
My job is to assist Gartner’s analysts in creating must-have market research. It’s a combination of research, writing, editing, and project management. I work closely with analysts to help draft and/or edit a piece of research and then shepherd that research through the extensive review and editing phases it undergoes prior to publishing.
As a writer, you have been both a freelancer and an employee of various companies for several years. Which scenario do you prefer?
The independence that comes with working as a freelancer/solopreneur is something that is hard to let go of once you’ve had a taste of it. There's freedom in it that you won't find in an office setting or 9-to-5 job, but it’s also a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. That being said, I think my preference lies in working with a company that offers a "freelance-style" work environment – meaning you have a lot of autonomy and the ability to work from your own office. It combines the best aspects of the freelance world with the security and benefits that come with working for a company.
You’re a published novelist. What can you say about your fiction that will enhance the Pfeiffer.edu readership’s appreciation of it? How does your journalism and business writing influence your fiction writing, and how does the latter influence the former?
Fiction is the most grueling and gratifying portion of my career. Stories have a magic to them that I didn't fully comprehend until after I began publishing my own. Over the years I’ve had readers across the globe connect with my books and the characters within them in ways that made them think, laugh, cry, and even help them through hard times.
The one connection with my freelancing/journalism career and fiction career is that the former prepared me to market the latter. My connections in the journalism realm and my experience writing press releases and other marketing materials for clients equipped me with the skills and resources to do my own marketing.
If money were not an issue, which genre would you focus on as a writer?
If money were not an issue, I would dive headlong into fiction. It was my first love and I never feel like there's enough time in a day for it. Yet, what I do currently at Gartner comes in a very close second place. I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to write influential research on consumers, culture, and marketing. There’s an investigative side to it that’s immensely gratifying.
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.