Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!
Alexa Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle, WA.
Her work focuses primarily on arts & culture, wellness, and travel/tourism topics. Alexa’s work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The Washington Post, Leafly, Thrillist, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and many other publications.
In this interview, we’ll cover her background, influences, and thoughts on content marketing, as well as her interest in the cannabis writing niche and some tips for up and coming writers.
How did you get into freelance writing? What’s your origin story?
I have always felt called to writing. From a young age, I made little crayon-marked zines with my friends, kept several journals, and signed myself up for all the honors and AP english classes I could. So, once I reached university, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I declared my major in creative writing and never changed it.
I graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in creative writing in 2014, but while I was still at Western Washington University, I made a simple website for myself as a writer and started pitching every magazine imaginable.
Just starting out, I was throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and hoping it would stick. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls bit and asked me to write a column about women musicians and artists who inspired me. From there, I taught myself reporting as I went, reading others and honing my interview and writing skills with trial and error.
That was eight years ago. Since, I’ve had stories published in Seattle Magazine, No Depression, Leafly, Paste Magazine, Thrillist, The Seattle Times and The Washington Post, along with so many other quality publications in print and online.
I’ve diversified my writing business and begun to cover cannabis, travel/tourism, and lifestyle topics, along with the arts. I’ve begun freelancing full time and paying my bills!
As for content marketing—a few years after university, I caught the eye of a small-yet-brilliant music publicity firm in Shoreline, WA called Hearth PR, and was offered a gig there as a part-time tour publicist. I took the job to supplement my journalistic writing, and found there was a lot to learn in the world of marketing.
While I still prefer to stay on the journalism side, that experience did prime me for some great content marketing gigs with Visit Seattle, Seattle Magazine, and some individual artists and musicians.
And, despite the groans of many old-school journalists who consider straddling the PR and journalism worlds to be unethical, I’ve found that being conversant in both types of writing is an asset—as long as I am transparent about my role to the reader.
Is there anything particular to your background, personality or skill set that you believe makes you a great content marketer/writer?
My dad is a professional jazz musician and self-employed music teacher. This was crucial to my development as a writing entrepreneur because it showed me that I could go out on my own and thrive, that making a living from my art was possible, and that if you keep working at something it will pay off.
Plus, it was really inspiring and positive to be around music and artistic people all the time. It definitely made me want to pursue arts & culture journalism and it also taught me how to appreciate beauty.
Additionally, I am an empath. This makes me very intuitive when it comes to the moods and feelings of interviewees, which can help me be a more effective interviewer. It also helps me put myself in the shoes of a potential reader and consider content from multiple different perspectives.
How did you pick your niche? What got you interested in writing about cannabis/the cannabis industry?
I’ve talked music history and played jazz piano with my dad since I was a little kid. So, when I thought about writing, I started with what I know and love best—music.
Hence, I began writing profiles of women artists I loved for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, then started doing some jazz round-ups for Paste Magazine, and covering country and Americana music for Fretboard Journal and No Depression From there, I branched into other art forms that interested me, like comedy and theater, and got curious about commenting on cultural trends and patterns I saw in the art.
In 2017, I took a job at the Seattle Times as a new assistant in the Features department, where I ran the nightlife events calendar and wrote about music until 2018. I continue to write a lot about arts & culture nationally, and in Seattle, where I live.
As for cannabis writing—the green rush sort of fell into my lap.
In 2016, I was having lunch with the talented freelance writer, Claire Dederer, when she told me about the cannabis information site, Leafly, and encouraged me to pitch them. At the time, Leafly was looking for writers and her husband, the acclaimed environmental journalist, Bruce Barcott, was an editor there. He ended up taking an idea I had about bluegrass and cannabis and that has lead to a lot of fun work with Leafly that I am really grateful for—Bruce is one of my favorite editors to work with.
Early in 2019, an editor at CannabisMD saw some of the work I did with Leafly, and asked me to join them as a staff writer shortly after. This is such an exciting moment for the cannabis industry, so it’s an absolute blast to report on what’s happening in the space right now.
How important do you believe it is for freelance writers to pick a niche? How has it helped you in your career?
I think having a niche is really important, especially if you want to create content full-time.
Having a niche or “beat,” as they say in newsrooms, allows you to really dig into a subject and to become an expert. That makes you more marketable as a writer and, more importantly, helps the public engage more deeply with a topic through you.
That said, having a niche doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible and write about other things that interest you—that’s good too. But having a few focuses makes you look more serious and professional, I think, and it can be really rewarding to build on your knowledge of a topic, and create community around your niche with publicists, sources, and other writers.
How do you craft a piece of content that stands out in a crowded space? What does standout, remarkable content look like?
The angle you take is everything, especially if you’re in a crowded space.
If everyone is writing about the financial fall-out of a Trump’s tariffs, for instance, there might be something fresh to say from the environmental or human interest angle.
I think stand-out content starts with a solid new angle, and ends with thorough research, meticulous fact-checking, and artful writing. Some of the best advice I ever received about finding unique angles came from a talk given by the brilliant Pulitzer-winning journalist, Jacqui Banaszynski, who edits Nieman Storyboard. I highly recommend that resource!
And, a tip that was hard for me to learn: the depth of your research can make your piece stand out. I have a bad habit of rushing the research process, so, when I feel like I’ve gathered enough to start writing, I challenge myself to at least another fifteen minutes of digging around about my topic. It definitely enriches the piece.
What’s an irritating trend in content marketing that you wish could go away?
Reprinting press releases. Few read them, so why bother? You’re better off to either get a writer to craft a narrative around the topic or leave it out entirely.
Conversely, what’s an underrated tactic or something you’ve seen to be effective that hardly anyone else is doing yet?
Capitalizing on SEO. I think every newsroom or publication should have an SEO specialist—and many don’t.
How do you keep your skills sharp and continue learning? What’s your process for continual improvement with regard to writing, content marketing, SEO, or other digital topics?
I keep my skills sharp by reading as widely and consistently as I can, and creating community with other writers like me.
You can’t know what topics or angles are trending with readers, or what content marketing strategies are really reaching consumers, unless you have an idea of what the media landscape is like. That’s information you glean from reading and sharing experiences with other writer friends. This is more important than ever right now because things are changing so rapidly in the media industry.
In the last 6 months alone, for instance, two of Seattle’s alternative weeklies have gone under, and a pre-existing publication has widened its coverage scope. We writers have to be ready to adapt to these changes and support each other through them.
As well, in discussions with other writers in the field, you can get an idea of where you need to improve in your actual writing—which is invaluable. I take other writers and content creators out to coffee at least twice a month.
What’s one lesson from your English education that sticks with you in your career today and remains useful?
“Show, don’t tell.” In other words, don’t tell people the kettle burnt you. Describe you’re blistered hand, the feel of the heat, the smell of seared flesh. Use the senses. I’ve found this to be the key to powerful writing.
What’s your advice for an ambitious junior content marketer looking to grow their career?
First of all, when you have no idea where you’re going or if you’re going—keep going. I often tell frustrated new journalists and content creators that they shouldn’t expect a path to follow because there isn’t one anymore. As we speak, a new media industry is being shaped in the face of the internet. So get out your machete, and start hacking away the jungle vines for yourself.
The new path will appear, just keep going.
One good way to keep going is to try and frame all the change and tumult as a positive—because as frustrating as it can be, it brings opportunity. This is an exciting time to be in media, as we all learn how to better utilize new technological tools.
Stay alert and look at ways to innovate. Take other writers to coffee and listen to their stories of survival. How did they do it? How are they doing it? I’ve found that bonding over the uncertainty can be a source of inspiration and community.
If you weren’t doing content marketing, what would you be doing?
I’d be a counselor. I love the idea of helping people lean into their pain to find peace, and I’m a huge advocate for mental health and self-care.