Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008's Resolutions

I've kept my 2008 New Year's resolutions in the back of my head throughout the year, fully intending to implement all of them. In some ways I succeeded and in some I failed. Rather than just make new resolutions on top of old ones this year, I thought I'd look back at the last batch and see where things could have been improved. Here are last year's in a nutshell and how I did with each:

Get less distracted by shiny things and entertaining YouTube videos: Sadly, this will probably never happen. I have just found ways to integrate the shiny moments with the work that needs to be done so that I still get to catch up on SNL sketches that I missed and get work completed on time.

Make more residual income
: I've continued with this and make roughly seven times as much per month in residuals as I did last year at this time. That's still not great, actually, but it is starting to become something that I can count on as part of my income.

Start writing for magazines: Whammy. Never happened.

Read more classics: Um, do Kim Harrison novels count? I think they'll be classics someday. No, I laid off the Regency novels this year and got into Colonial history for some reason. I wouldn't consider any of them classics, but I think that most of what I read this year had merit.

Ignore more advice: Oh hells yeah. Most of the advice I get from other Web writers just doesn't work out for me. I know they are a nice, helpful bunch and they are only trying to share what they have learned, but I very, very rarely ever have success doing anything that another Web writer has suggested. I love ya, but I'll stick to my own methods for now. Good luck in 2009!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Praise File

As a freelancer, you don't have the luxury of a boss telling you that you've done some darn fine work. If you're freelancing at home, you don't get to see the face of someone reading your work so that you can see that you've made them happy with it, or at least that they haven't become angry, turned green and started ripping the place up. All you have is email.

The email can be an important tool for gauging how well you're actually doing at pleasing your clients. When I start to think that my work is basically crap and that there's no reason for me even to apply to a really good gig because no one would ever hire me, I go to my praise file.

The praise file is a collection of emails that I started filing about a year ago when I realized that I was actually doing pretty well and that clients were sending me nice emails about my work. The praise file currently has 30 emails in it, all complimenting stuff that I've written. Ok, one of them is an online compliment of some work that I copied and then emailed to myself, but the rest of them were actually sent to me. It's come in very handy when I need a confidence boost before applying to something or when I think up a new idea and wonder if I'm even good enough implement my own ideas.

If you don't have a praise file- get one. Start archiving those compliments. Pretty soon you'll have a nice email crop growing there to feed you when you're starving for a little resolve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tax Time is Coming

For freelancers, the end of the year means just one thing: paperwork. Well, paperwork and booze, but I digress. The beginning of tax season can be a confusing prospect if you haven't stayed organized with your paperwork over the past year. If you've never experienced a freelance tax season, here's how it will break down.

Any company that has paid you $600 or more over the course of the year is required to send you a 1099 form detailing the payment amounts. This is of course a simple way of keeping track, but not everyone you earn from will do this. The nature of freelance writing online means that many clients are middlemen who aren't keeping track of the amounts for you and won't be issuing you with a form.

I can think of two clients I've had this year that I have collected a few thousand from but that have never asked me for any tax forms and did not send me a 1099 last year. I'm not sure how that gets reconciled on the client's end, but on the freelancer's end, the records can be kept in any number of ways. The easiest is simply to use PayPal's own record keeping, if you are using PayPal to collect. They have an account history that can be used at the end of the year to see when and how much you have been paid. To make it easier, go through the payments tab to separate your income from the amounts that you've sent to others.

If you have a business license or are incorporated, you may have to fill out separate taxes for your business and your personal income. If you aren't operating under any licensing, the easiest method when you have multiple clients is just to file your income under "miscellaneous" income. This covers it all and is simple to do.

If you have an in-house writing job, take pictures of it. You'll want to keep those memories when the writing gets outsourced along with every other company's writing and PR departments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Gifts for Writers

Last year I had a bunch of people come here to The Writer's Journey searching for Christmas gifts for writers. Then I noticed a bunch of other writing blogs pandering to the keywords by running posts about what to get writers, most of which was writing crap. This year I don't think anyone has come here looking for that, but I'm pandering anyway.

The main problem with buying a Christmas gift is that you are assuming that they want something that relates to writing. Much of the time, in the case of professional writers, they don't want pens or writing calendars or any of that stuff. I really could puke if I get another fancy pen or a book about manuscripts. A person who writes for a living may not want to be reminded about their job all the time- especially on one of the only days (or part of the day) that they take off from that job.

Here are a few things that a writer might actually like to get for Christmas:

This t-shirt is perfect. If you don't know anyone who will love it, I will. Get it for me.

This is a great album that is Christmas themed but that can be played at any time of year. Many of the Christmas songs on it aren't really recognizable as Christmas music unless you've seen the special a million times. Most of it is pretty catchy and the audience for it is wide. In other words, it won't get annoying like those barking Christmas dogs. Too predictable? I can be of assistance.

Here's a Coneheads action figure. Why? I don't know. But, everyone likes the Coneheads and you can be assured that your gift recipient won' t already be up to their ears in Coneheads action figures this year. If you can't stand the thought of giving the gift of Beldar, there's another action figure you might prefer. Or not.

You can also be assured that your writer friend or relative will not have one of these. These are useful for decorating, cooking and keeping the annoying neighbor kids away.

For the writer in your life that you're pretty sure hasn't actually written anything, but who spends a lot of time at home trying to, there's this.

Have a writer in your life that you hate but that you nevertheless have to buy a gift for? Try a set of these. Not only are they annoying, your writer "friend" will have to spend hours making them into something annoying.

Friend or foe, a gift should never tie in to a person's profession too closely. Imagine if we got doctors tongue depressors and preschool teachers tiny screaming things that throw paint for Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here It Comes...

The Chicago Tribune's parent company, Tribune Co., has filed for bankruptcy. It's just chapter 11, but I can't remember the last time a "reorganization" actually saved a company. This just puts off the inevitable for a while.

Smaller papers with small circulations actually seem to be a little steadier than the big guys these days. I think that the local markets need advertisers more than the bigger, national advertisers who have other ad media at their disposal. Small local stores know they can get a lot of attention in their local paper but they may not have the budget for commercials and they may not have a place to put Internet ads that will get a lot of local traffic.

The big guys are apparently fleeing newspaper advertising, but magazine advertising is way down too. So where are these guys advertising? My guess is online. Web ad sales are still increasing, according to the stats that I saw a couple of weeks ago. That's good news for freelance writers who need that revenue and need their clients to keep making revenue.

What sucks is that I keep the idea of going back to newspapers in the back of my mind, holding it there as a safety zone in case I start having trouble getting freelance work or just start to hate it. I don't think that going back to print news is really a viable safety net anymore. I'm guessing that those still in print news probably hold freelancing in mind as their safety net.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blogs and More Blogs

Holy crap, it's been quite a while since I updated Ye Olde Blogg. I hate to see the blog suffer from neglect since I'm quite fond of it. However, I have been having trouble with what I see as stilted writing. I was talking about it in my writing group just yesterday- I can see the way that other people seem to write effortlessly and my work just seems too stiff. This blog has gotten that way several times. The posts end up being informative and all of that, when that's not really my aim.

So, I admit it- I've been seeing other blogs. I keep up this one regularly because I use it in promotional activities for some other stuff that I do, and because I get paid to. I also recently started this one just to let off stream of consciousness stuff, most of which has ended up being about William Shatner for some reason. It's been a nice, freeing diversion because no one ever reads it, so I don't have to worry about what I'm posting. I'm also getting paid, but less since I'm not promoting it. I think this may be the first time I've ever linked to it. Bad blogger! Bad!

I started my professional writing career with four years of journalism school under intensive, often rude conditions with Ph.Ds breathing down my neck about every little misplaced comma or uninteresting lead. I think that years of that as well as years of work in print news have given me the ability to put out technically-correct work that's often bare and lifeless. I'm working on it. I'm always working on it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Most Affordable Places

I just found out that my county was ranked number one out of Forbes' "Affordable Places To Weather the Downturn" earlier this month. I do find that interesting since I keep hearing people in town saying "what recession?" At least two people this month have said to me that you certainly can't tell there's a recession going on by the amount of crap people are buying. Stores are still packed and people are buying plenty this season. Here are some other crazy accolades.

In other recession news, however, the McNews is in trouble. I talked to a reporter from our local paper last week, and he was very antsy about layoffs in the industry. I don't think our paper has had them yet, but even a seemingly recession-proof area may not be able to weather what the new media is doing to newspapers. Of course, the McNews is owned by Gannett. It's not the worst chain in the world (I've worked for the worst one), but it's certainly not the best. Our local paper is owned by Newhouse, so I do expect them to fair better.

The Recession vs. The Web

And the winner is... the Web! If you've been worried about how the recession will hit your Web business, fear not. Online ad spending is growing steadily. Web advertising is forecasted to "withstand the storm."

That pretty much reflects what I've been seeing. There are plenty of ads to support sites, plenty of Web traffic and plenty of money still being spent online. Web writers should be able to continue eating and having electricity throughout the recession. (fingers crossed)

Friday, November 21, 2008

ALWAYS Save Your Files

I am just now calming down from an alarming experience. I emailed a half-completed file to my laptop and completed the file there. I then emailed the completed work to the client. I was paid and then a couple of hours later got an alarming message that the file was only half completed. At the very end there was some of my naked research and notes, just as it has been when I emailed it to myself.

No problem, I thought. I just sent the wrong file. Unfortunately, the actual completed file was never saved on the laptop and was somewhere squirreled away in a temp file that was almost impossible to get to. Getting to it actually took my shouting spouse awake to help me find it. I was sweating the whole time, thinking I'd have to do that part of the work again from scratch. Fortunately, it was found after about a half hour of searching and cursing. I was worried that the client might think I had done it on purpose or that I was really just that incompetent.

Normally I am less of an idiot, but the danger of losing a file is always there with any writer. I am going to be the most vigilant file saver in the history of the world from now on. If this hasn't happened to you, take this as a lesson. Point and laugh if you must, but always, always save your work often.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Smaller Search Engines

I'm generally a firm believer in only worrying about Google and Yahoo for marketing and SEO purposes. I won't mess with submitting to the 56,214 smaller ones and I certainly won't pay anyone else to do so. But, a reader sent me this page that lists a number of interesting, smaller search engines. I'm having fun with God Checker right now. One of my offspring is named after a Norse god, so I'm finding it interesting.

There is also PicSearch, which could end up being pretty valuable when trying to find specific copyright-free pictures, or when you're wasting time looking at crap online. Fellow freelance writers might also be interested in the Writer's Web search engine for quick information.

Some of these smaller, more specialized search engines can be good for finding specialized information quickly, but I'm not sure that they are much good for marketing. I may end up using a few of them, but I don't think that time spent submitting to them would be spent well. The vast majority still search using Google and Yahoo. Interestingly, more people apparently use Yahoo than Google. I don't know anyone who uses Yahoo, but apparently millions of people do. Who are these Yahoo people?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wow

I guess we all expected Obama to win, but he really stomped McCain in electoral votes. I had expected a closer race than that, but I also had different expectations. I expected the independent vote to be far higher than what it was. This election had the lowest independent voting of any election I can remember. That last numbers I saw showed a whopping one percent.

I try not to post anything political here because politics is simply too complex and too convoluted for anyone to have the exact same opinions about anything political. There are simply too many aspects to look at and too many opinions regarding each one. But, I do wish that more people would vote for independent candidates.

The two party system means that you have two guys and each only has to show that he is better than the other guy. The candidates rarely have to resort to their actual voting records, their history of creating jobs or their economic viewpoint. As long as they are marginally better than the other guy, they will usually win. In a system with three or four main parties, however, I think the process would be a lot different. A campaign showing the faults of two or three other guys would look ridiculous.

The candidates chosen by each party would actually have to be good politicians who have done things with their careers. Parties would be forced to find better candidates and the campaigns would actually be run based on what the candidates have done with their political careers. They would have to be in order for a candidate to get enough attention to beat two or three other candidates.

I don't think that the Italian-style system of millions of political parties would work here, but three or four main parties is sorely needed in this country. So who is my candidate? At this point, with so little independent turnout, it doesn't really matter much. I can't vote for the bipartisanship, so I generally vote for the same candidate every time. Why? This is why.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Editors" Who Don't Actually Edit

The problem with some of the companies that I write for is that they hire low-priced "editors" to look over the incoming articles. These aren't editors in any real sense of the world. They aren't required to actually edit anything and they don't have a hand in deciding the content for the site, they just look over incoming articles to make sure they conform to house style.

When you come from print publications and are told that every article you send through is sent to an "editor," you might be foolish enough to believe that these people actually fix the occasional typo or that they have any kind of idea about grammar, punctuation, at least one specific writing style, etc. This is no longer the case. When these companies hire people to "edit" an article for $2-$3 per article, what you get is random words being thrown in, the occasional ridiculous headline change and sometimes grammatical errors inserted into the text.

Just recently I discovered that one such article in my name was edited to add parentheses around a word in a subheading for no reason. Oh, and did I mention that a question mark was added in those parenthesis? Yeah. The subheading wasn't a question and there was no discernible reason for the additions. The crazy part is that the article wasn't flagged, i.e., I wasn't notified that an editor had any problem with it or that any changes were being made. So, I had an article sitting there for weeks with that crap on it and I had no idea.

On another site, I recently had an "editor" reject an article that was supposed to be a piece about what an internship is. The reason for the rejection? The article relied too heavily on the point that an internship is a way to get experience. Seriously. About a year ago on yet another site, I had an "editor" add a few words to an article, one of which she misspelled. She then flagged the article for me to fix the misspelling. Some days I'm almost as irritated as Otto.

Here's the thing- a lot of people are stupid. A lot of them have no business writing or "editing" anything. Those people often get jobs that I can't get and sometimes they end up having power over my work. Why? According to my brother, it's because my writing sample website doesn't have any graphics on it. Personally, I think that it's possible that it comes down to who may or may not be giving other people blow jobs, but that's just speculation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

PayPal Invoices

If you've ever sent a PayPal invoice, you might have paused a bit when it came to labeling the request. After choosing the amount of the invoice and the email address that it will go to, PayPal invoices require the one sending the invoice to label what is being sold. The choices are Goods, Services, eBay Items and Auction Goods (non-eBay). The eBay and Auction Goods options are clearly incorrect unless you've figured out a way to sell your writing services through eBay (and if you have- you rock!).

That just leaves Goods and Services. So which one is it? Sometimes I choose one, sometimes the other and for no real reason. I was sending an invoice today and really started wondering about this. Is it really a good or a service that we should be invoicing for? Legally, I'm guessing it's a good, since we are selling the rights to the material. But how do the clients view it? They may feel like they are purchasing our services and expertise rather than just the finished materials.

If you aren't selling the full rights, should you mark it as Services? I know that there are a lot of writers who sell reprint rights often or negotiate for usage rights. In those cases, labeling the invoice as Services might help to remind the client about the arrangement.

I think that after thinking about it way too hard this evening I'm going to start labeling invoices with that mindset- Goods for most items and Services for the very, very, very few times that I sell a reprint of something that I've already published elsewhere.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Freelance Writing Courses

I have a few words about freelance writing courses, not all of which are complimentary. I have a few opinions that not everyone will agree with, but they are nonetheless right.

Ok, I was kidding about that, but I do think that there are a lot of people who don't understand that writing and marketing are two different things. I am seeing more and more Web writers who are trying to sell their own writing courses, and to put it mildly, not all of them should. The way it is now, just because someone is successful does not mean they can write well. It also is no indication of their ability to teach anyone to do anything.

I have a glaring example in mind, but I'm not going to mention it specifically. Let's just say that there is a writing blog out there that doesn't really say much, but that it tries hard to offer insightful information about writing and the freelancing biz. Then let's say that it's always poorly written but that the blog is promoted relentlessly and has way more readers than I could ever dream of having.

Great! The blogger hasn't had to hone that pesky writing because he is a master of marketing. This blogger apparently does very well and is now running a writing course. Should you take a writing course from this person? Of course not. Should you take a marketing course from him? If he had one, I might take it, but I might not. Being able to teach things online depends a lot on how clearly you write, and let's hypothetically say that this blogger writes mainly to fill up a page rather than to actually communicate anything.

This is not the first time I've seen this. I've actually seen a number of freelancers over the past year who have decided to start teaching writing online as a sideline. I have only seen one who had any business doing so. Some of them don't have degrees and have poor writing samples, yet people seem to be interested in paying to be told how to write like these people. One in particular had a horrifying mix of steep course fees, bad writing and zero credentials of any kind. Were people interested? Apparently.

So, why are people falling for this? Besides poor nutritional choices, most of these people probably think that taking a writing course from someone who is monetarily successful means that they will be too. They won't. Learning to write badly is a waste of time and money. Now, learning Internet marketing is a whole different story. You don't have to have any particular talent for anything if you know how to market yourself. Heck, you don't even need to sell anything.

I know of at least three incredibly bad writers who are wildly successful because of this. That's what they should be teaching and that's what new freelancers need to learn. Heck, that's what I need to learn.

If a person wants to learn marketing, make sure that the "writing course" you're signing up for is about how to sell your writing. If you actually want a writing course to learn how to write, don't go through some dude's blog. There is a blog I can recommend going through, but that's because the teachers of the courses are actually qualified to teach writing.

The Renegade Writer has several fascinating-looking courses that hit on specific writing types. A real writing course will do that. A bad writing course teaches "writing" in general. The particularly bad course I mentioned earlier taught "writing" and had no other information. The blogger was pushing the course among my writers' group, despite not having any information about what type of writing she was going to teach.

Speaking as someone who took four years of specialized writing courses and did two internships, I can tell you that there is no one course that can teach you everything about writing. Anyone who says that this is possible is a marketer rather than a writer.

I've actually found that some of the most successful, visible writers are often the worst ones. Why? Because writing isn't their focus. Their focus is on promoting themselves. If you are serious about writing, I would suggest going back to school or taking online courses from either a highly-qualified writer or taking a college course online.

Here is a list of some of the colleges that teach them online as well as a few websites with credible courses. Some of these courses are free, so there's no excuse to instead seek out some blogger who promises that though he doesn't write well, he can quickly teach you to do so. If, however, he can teach you how to write poorly but become ridiculously successful by doing so, have at it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Kontera


You might have noticed that I recently introduced Kontera to Ye Olde Blogg. If you didn't, you might have noticed the annoying little blue lines that seemed randomly placed around the page.

I have ended up writing about making money through blogging so many times that it seemed a little weird that I wasn’t really doing any of it. In much the same way that I can tell you exactly what you personally are doing wrong on your alpaca farm, I have ended up knowing a lot about how to monetize a blog even though I don’t do it myself.

Well, I decided to get off my tail and actually use some of the monetizing methods that I have written about so many times. So, I have an affiliate ad and I have Kontera and I increased the number of AdSense link units. Kontera is what’s creating the little blue lines that appear under certain keywords. The ads are keyword-based pay-per-click ads like AdSense.

There. Are the blog gods happy now? Now I gotta work on buying some alpacas…

You Know You Do Too Much SEO Writing When:


You find yourself adding keywords into an email to your parents.

You decide that a commercial on TV is keyword stuffing because of the number of times they say the product name.

You have a hard time using pronouns because, hey- that’s just a missed keyword opportunity.

You have a favorite keyword density checker and two alternate sites for when you get sick of the first one.

You find yourself shouting, “No whammies! No whammies!” when CopyScape is checking an article for duplicate phrases.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What is WRONG With MS Word?

If you were a kid in the late 80’s, you might remember the whole shebang about Deep Thought beating the super-brain chess champion. You may have also been wondering, like I was, what the big deal was since your home computer could beat the pants off anyone at Solitaire. But, I digress.

The real question is why so many millions could be spent on developing a chess-playing computer when there are no agencies working in a lab somewhere to develop a decent freaking word processing program. Seriously, think about this. If you use Word you may have noticed how frequently wrong it is. You might have had it give you green squiggles when there is no possibility of it being correct in its rude little insinuations.

Where are the government scientists in all of this? How hard could it be, after decades of word processing programs, to create one that actually works well 98 percent of the time? I’ve noticed that Hubble works pretty well most of the time. My car has never broken down. My toaster can make four slices of toast at once. But, a decent word processing program? Apparently that’s just beyond the world’s current level of technology.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Depending on Clicks

There are a number of sites that work on a revenue sharing model, and more seem to be converting to that model every day. The principle is fairly simple: you write for them, they publish your stuff on their site and you get paid a percentage of whatever they make from the materials. Some do a straight percentage, others offer an up-front payment and then a percentage after that. I do some work for sites that share revenue, most notably Suite101. The copy generates money whenever someone clicks the ads that are on the page, and the writers get some percentage of that, depending on their position with the site.

In general I try to stay away from forums because, well, they're forums. They suck up time and make you shake your head at how insane people are. Well, I recently wandered into the Suite101 writers' forum and it wasn't terribly insane. However, I did get a little freaked out by one thing.

The site gives you daily stats as to how much you are being paid per 1,000 views of your stuff. Once I visited the forum I found out that I was making 5-10 times as much as the other writers in that forum. In fact, I think I am actually pushing the curve. Apparently there is a site average for the $/1000 number, and my numbers are 2.5 times the average.

Am I bragging? Hells yes I am. Nah, my point is that I think I know how to get clicks when you are participating in revenue sharing or have your own site that depends on ad click revenue. The writers in the forum were trying to figure out why their numbers were so low, and I can tell you why. The articles they mentioned were articles about movies, books and recipes. Articles like that don't get clicks. Why? Because no one needs to click on anything. If you're reading a recipe, are you going to click on an ad for recipes? Heck no, because you already found the recipe you were looking for and read it.

The key is really to target an ongoing action. If you're writing about a subject that people are interested in hearing about, but that they will continue to research, you have a much better chance of getting somewhere with clicks. I mainly write about online publishing, Internet marketing, etc. Those topics are extremely broad, and my article will not be the last word about them.

Someone researching PPC ads or article directories is not going to read my articles, know it all and then never want to research it again. There's a lot to learn on those subjects, and it could take weeks to sufficiently learn everything they want to know.

That makes it far, far more likely that people are going to click on the resulting ads that are matched with the content. That helps me because I get paid and it helps the advertisers because it matches them up with readers who legitimately want to know about the stuff they're advertising.

So, if you are freelancing and write for a few revenue-sharing sites, or you keep a blog or two and depend on AdSense for the revenue, try an experiment. Contribute information about an extremely broad topic and see how you do. I'm guessing that you'll do well enough to continue down that path.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Enemy

HTML has never liked me. Ever. The first time it laid eyes on me we simply glared at each other like two tigers staring over a single antelope carcass. It thought it would win, I thought I could take it on and win out with pure effort and logic.

Since that time, HTML and I have been engaged in a battle of wits that I usually win. Today, however, it kicked my tail all over the office. But, I'm not giving up. I will prevail over the enemy. I will continue in my fight to make HTML a logical way to do things that works the same way every time.

By the time I'm finished with it, it will never dare to leave gross symbols laying all over the place. It will clean up after itself. It will be too afraid to make pieces of code simply vanish into thin air. It will be cowering down, with its head lowered, too afraid to keep fighting me for control over my copy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day!


Well me hearties, last year I totally forgot about Talk Like a Pirate Day. It suddenly dawned on me a few minutes ago that the day is coming up yet again- and it's today! Avast!

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out the official site. The site has a good intro to the lingo here. Apparently the day has gotten so big that it's now referred to as International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It's come a long way in the past couple of years, ye scurvy bilge rat.

If you've never tried it, you should. A nice long aaaaaarrrrg for no reason while you're running errands somehow just feels right.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blogging About Writing About Blogging

Because blogging is such a hot topic right now, I find myself writing about it a lot. For the past few weeks I've been writing about blogging far more than I have actually been blogging. You would think that's strange, really, considering that I have five blogs. I don't think it is. I think it's far stranger that one of my offspring looks just like Sarah Palin.

Anyway, the hot topic these days is how to monetize a blog. Actually, I think that recently it's gone beyond a hot topic and become more akin to peer pressure. I've written so many articles and point-by-point how to lists about how to make money with a blog that sometimes I feel the need to rebel a little bit.

I recently edited a great ebook about this very subject and I realized how incredibly lazy I've been with my own blogs. Could I make more money with them? Of course. Does that mean that I have to? Not remotely. There's an element of bullying these days from freelancers who think that keeping a blog for anything other than money is a waste of time. But personally, I don't think that entertainment or personal expression has ever been a waste of time.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I'm Still Alive

This is the longest I've gone without posting on Ye Olde Blog, but it's crunch time right now. I had limited spaces for clients this summer, but I have to make up for it now. Project after project is coming and I'm getting it done. I'm almost out from under Giant Soul-Crushing Project.

GSCP is one of those projects that invades your waking thoughts and sometimes even follows you into your dreams. It's a project that has to be conquered head on and vanquished with the perfect set of words. Be gone, project of doom! Actually, I will probably miss it when it's over. Huge Nightmare Project from this summer stretched on for months and I really miss that thing.

After GSCP, I still have many smaller projects that are bite-sized and manageable. I like the small article-pack projects that I can sink my teeth into and then release them into the clients' hands. I've been working on one of those today and I actually enjoy watching each article come together and become a cohesive, persuasive unit. Back to it...

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Back!


I've been on vacation for almost a week, but now it's back to the 'ole freelance grind. Actually, it wasn't so much a vacation as it was me insinuating myself into a business trip. Why? Because the business trip was six days at a spa/winery. You heard that right- a place that offers both spa treatments and makes its own wine. Why anyone would want to go to such a place without taking me along I simply cannot imagine.

Ok, so the question for a lot of freelancers is generally whether they should tell their clients that they will be out of town. I see a lot of people who insist that you should immediately tell everyone you ever work with that you will be gone, but I don't think it's that dire. If you will have Internet access and can stay in communication in case you're needed, it's not a huge issue. If you don't want to be bothered with work at all while you're away, well, being self employed is probably not your calling.

I generally tell the ones that need to know, and that works out just fine. I told every client but one this time. The one that didn't hear about it didn't need to because I have an end-of-month deadline with them. So, I don't really believe there are any rules set in stone concerning the issue.

If you go out of town a lot, which I don't, it might not be a good idea to mention it or you may be seen as someone who is frequently unavailable. If you rarely get a chance to go anywhere, like me, use your own discretion. If it comes to it- this isn't the Renaissance. There are laptops, hotel business centers and even Kinko's if you need to communicate while you're away.

You can also postdate articles to appear on different dates ahead of time, which I did with a couple of sites. For regular gigs like blogs or other regular postings, there may be a time-stamping option that will make it look like you never even left.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Freelance Writing Roundup

A writing acquaintance of mine mentioned the other day how important it is to toot your own horn when you feel you deserve it. I think that's a grand idea, so here goes:

I have gotten two Editor's Choice awards from Suite101 in the past three days. They aren't for the article that I expected to win one, but I'll take it. I thought that The Fair Use Doctrine was timely and important for bloggers to know about, and you rarely read about it, so I kind of expected, well, something. Nada.

The ones that did win were How to Sell Books on eBay and Today.com Paid Blogs. Weird. Someone at Today.com even found it and recommended it to the bloggers over there which I thought was nice. I still haven't figured out how he knew that I wrote it, since I use a pen name on that blog, but there you are.

I also lost TWO computers last week alone. The light went out on one laptop and the hard drive on my desktop crashed completely and I swear made a face at me as it did so. I had to rig my sad laptop up to a spare monitor to make the whole operation keep running. Third-string computer is waiting in the wings in case this set up explodes or gets hit by a meteor.

The message- always use web-based email. An email program on my desktop would have been useless after this incident. You can email yourself any essential files and they will then be stored there in the email. Gmail is a great system if you've never tried it. I often hear that people "won't take you seriously" as a professional if you use free email, but I don't think it's ever stopped me. There may be a rogue client out there who thought - hey! I love the samples, and she's available, but heck if I'll hire someone who uses Gmail!

Maybe so, but I imagine I'd actually be taken less seriously if I didn't use web-based mail and then lost all my data in a crash.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wash That Blank Right Out of Your Screen

Yes, I haven’t posted in eight days. But you know what? That’s because I didn’t have anything to say about writing for a few days. There are blogs that look like they’re under extreme pressure to post every single day no matter what, even when the blogger clearly has nothing to say. If you've got nothing, wait until you do. But I’ve got a few things on my mind today, so settle in.

First, it occurred to me last night after far too many hours spent staring at a computer screen, that writing an article or piece of web copy is a lot like washing really dirty hair. It may not be the way that normal people wash their hair every day, but I think I left normal behind the last time I went to a convenience store and pretended to be English.

Anyway, the main concept is using shampoo, clarifier and conditioner. The blank screen is the dirty hair. You want to wash the blankness off the screen with the heavy-duty shampoo. The shampoo will throw all of your research and insight onto the screen and leave it covered in the basic shape of what you want to express.

For anyone who has never used a clarifier, it’s something you use to wash residue from styling products or heavy conditioners out of the hair. When you use it after shampooing, it can get rid of anything in your hair that shouldn’t be there. The clarifying stage for writing is exactly the same- clear it up and make it express the idea as clearly as possible. Get rid of anything that sounds too awkward or self conscious and clean the typos out of the copy.

Conditioning the hair is what makes it smooth, shiny and soft. You want the copy to be touchable and inviting for the reader. It should read smoothly and be easily managed by any reader who happens across it. Cut the sentence length if you need to. Break the work up into manageable segments.

Don't worry about blow drying your copy- that will probably just fluff it up and make it look like it's overdone. You want it to sound effortless and air dried. If you want to add a barrette sometimes, however, that can make the copy stand out. A link, a sidebar, a crack about how you're weird at convenience stores- those little extras may end up being what people remember most.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cool Writing Blogs

There are a number of writing blogs that I think are very good at what they do- inform and complain. Every blog should both inform and complain. Seriously. Think of your favorite blogs and I’m betting they do just that. In the freelance writing profession, information and complaints are particularly essential elements of the business.

Bad blogs beg you to read them. They constantly ask you to subscribe, to be a part of their community and to keep coming back. A bad blog tries to force a community and reads as extremely self conscious. A good blog tells you stuff and then complains for awhile.

Real Words

I like Real Words for several reasons. For one, it is never dull. There is always something interesting and surprising around the bend. Even the posts that have little to do with writing are always interesting and well written. I also like it because the blogger writes books about ghosts which is possibly the coolest thing a writer can do. Another reason may or may not be because the blogger put my blog at the top of a list of 40 inspiring writing blogs.

Web Writing Info

A master of both information and complaining effectively about freelance writing issues, the blogger is simply fabulous. Every post has an issue that is pressing in the freelance writing world, and of particular interest to the Web writing world. She also has an ebook there for beginning Web writers. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, so you should probably buy it.

Inkwell

This blog has always impressed me because the blogger isn’t afraid to get really in-depth and write long blog posts. Most bloggers tend to stick to the bite-size post nugget, but I do like reading long posts sometimes. It is mostly informational and with little or no complaining, but I like it anyway.

Writing Frump

The Frump is the all-time grand champion of the complaint. What’s more, she is a secret blogger- very cloak and dagger. I want to be a secret blogger, but every time I start a blog of my own I end up telling everyone about it. Ghostwritten blogs I can keep a secret, but never my own. Not the Frump! She’s still going strong.

Freelance Zone


I only recently discovered this one, but it immediately grabbed me. There is some very sage advice to be found there, and I was extremely impressed that Strunk and White’s “omit needless words” was mentioned. Yes, I did just use “very” and “extremely.” Anyone who can quote Strunk and White, Henry Rollins and Monty Python on the same blog has my immediate attention.

Bly Blog

If you’ve never heard of Bob Bly, you are probably not a fanatical freelance writer. That’s actually probably a good thing, but I digress. Bob Bly is the most famous copywriter in the freelancing world because of his decades of experience and his many helpful books on copywriting. I have two or three of his books, each of which has invaluable information about sales writing techniques and effective copywriting.

What I LOVE about his blog is that I always find punctuation errors. Always. In every post. The best copywriter out there isn’t perfect, and that’s a grand thing to see.

All of these blogs tend to be well written and cover topics in an interesting way instead of a tired rehashing of the same old writing and freelancing issues. Does that mean you should read these blogs instead of mine? Yeah, probably. But then of course, none of them brings you goodness like this:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My First Psycho

When I was in online sales full time, about twice a year I would run into a complete psycho. That came mainly from dealing with the public through email so often- if you play those odds you eventually get someone who is a light bulb short of a candelabra. But, I've been writing part time for several years and full time for two and never met a real nut case through writing until this week.

I have a few hubs over at HubPages and write one every so often when an idea for one occurs to me and I'm not busy with something else. They are mainly to entertain myself and blow off a little steam by voicing my own opinions. When you write for others full time I believe you need some type of outlet to express your own thoughts. Hence, many writers keep blogs or write AC articles and the like.

Anyway, one such hub is extremely opinionated and concerns some celebrities that I think are useless. Posh Spice apparently has a psycho admirer because someone started sending comments through the hub over and over again this week. That hub has been up for almost a year without any problems, but this guy apparently just ran across it or just got off his medication. Either one.

The messages started out rude and soon escalated to verbal abuse. They then went to threats. Once the threats started I wrote to HubPages about it and they responded extremely quickly. I'm not sure what they actually did but they said he will not be contacting me again, and he hasn't.

The lesson: never say anything bad about Posh. Ok, that's probably not the lesson, but it is a reminder not to run around the internet putting your name and contact details everywhere you go. I see a lot of people who do this and I wonder how necessary it really is. There are a lot of writers engaged in branding and believe that their own name should be the brand.

Branding is important, but think about the possibilities. Is there another way to brand yourself? I use initials most of the time when publishing something under my own name. I also use pen names on HubPages, Triond, Squidoo and sites like it. A pen name is something that can be branded just as easily as a real name, and it's a good deal safer. Just a thought.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Is Craigslist a Good Place for Freelance Writing Jobs?

No. It’s a terrible place for freelance writing jobs. I think there was a time when it was a legitimate place for people to post their writing projects and open positions. And, there are still a few who use it for that purpose. Unfortunately, it has been so crowded by scams and people seeking writers to work for free that it's no longer a worthwhile place to go for writing gigs.

Hey, you may be thinking, I found a great job there! Maybe you did once. But think about this- how many ads did you go through before you got it? A hundred? Two hundred? Your time is more valuable than that. You could have been doing paid work during all those hours instead of applying to scam after scam.

The temptation to apply to Craigslist ads can be overwhelming, though. There are a number of interesting freelancing sites that occasionally post freelance writing jobs, and I will run into Craigslist ads there. I also frequent a freelance writing board and Craigslist ads sometimes rear their ugly heads there too. I advocate ignoring Craigslist completely, but every once in a while I will apply to one of these on the off chance that it's legit. It never is.

The key, I think, is to simply look away. Sure, the gig sounds great, but chances are that it’s not. They say it’s for an established site, but let’s face it- it won’t be. But the pay sounds great! I have to apply! The last one that I applied to sounded great too. They asked me to write for the site for free for two weeks after which time they would evaluate my work and decide whether they wanted to pay me the rate they had advertised. Unfortunately, that kind of scam has become the norm on Craigslist these days.

Another common scam is advertising a great rate, an interesting project, and then telling each person who applies that they have to sign up as a member of their site or forum and hang around there to wait for word on the project. Yeah. Obviously these ads are simply intended to get their traffic up and there is no job.

Instead of the constant disappointment of Craigslist, take a look at Media Bistro and Journalism Jobs. Both are much more likely to have real projects and positions posted.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Useless Skills Gained From Freelance Writing

There are of course a number of useful and lucrative skills you gain by writing full time. These aren’t those skills:

Word Count Guessing: I can now glance at my page and approximate, within about 20 words, how many words are on the page. I can’t, however, cook rice. Priorities.

Useless Knowledge: Do you know what causes hemorrhoids? I do. I also know the intimate workings of every type of vacuum cleaner known to humans, where to visit if you ever go to Burkina Faso and what to feed your llamas. All of this completely useless knowledge came from various freelancing gigs and all of it is now lodged permanently in my brain.

Solving Other People’s Problems: Thanks to near-constant article writing, I can now solve everyone’s problems, and not just with this. Need a new vacuum? I know the one you need- I wrote articles about them last year. Want plastic surgery? Don't worry, I know what kind you need. Have back pain? I know just how to solve it. Need to go on a diet? Let me tell you about all the latest studies... Going to Trinidad and need to know where the best beaches are? I’ve got it covered.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Newspaper Layoffs

Here's the world we live in- gossip blogs are multiplying like those gross mice with the red eyes, but newspapers are constantly going under. Hardly a city has more than one paper anymore, and now the cities that do are severely downsizing their newsrooms. Sadly, cutting 14 percent of the newsroom doesn't surprise me in the least. What does surprise me is that Reuters, writing about a Chicago paper, apparently used AP style. Yeah, I'm a nerd.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is Cold Calling Really Necessary?

Cold Calls- Calling some random company and telling them that they should pay you to do something that they never asked you to do and might not even need done.

Is this really necessary? According to the big dogs on the block, it's essential to make cold calls to get new clients coming in and to get work that pays a fair rate. The big dogs, of course, being this guy, this guy and another guy whose blog I read.

I think that the whole cold calling concept is necessary for specific types of copywriting if you don't know anyone in the industry and don't have any samples to show anyone. In that respect, it's a carryover from when print copywriting roamed the Earth unchallenged by the digital gods that later came to power.

Nowadays, I don't see any reason that anyone would have to make cold calls. Yes, it's probably necessary if you want to go after the big names to get something impressive for the old resume. It's probably necessary if you want to get away from Web writing but don't actually want to work for just one company. If neither of these is your goal, cold calling is never necessary for a few reasons, namely:

People online rarely want to see a resume anyway. They mainly just want to see writing samples and to have a vague idea about your experience. If they do want a resume, it's to see your educational credentials and number of years of experience, not to see that one time you wrote this flier for LG and it rocked pretty hard.

There is no shortage of Web work. The amount of work is actually pretty overwhelming at times. There's no reason to look for off-Web work unless you just want less work and want to work harder to get it.

There's the skin crawlage factor. Imagine having to call people you don't know over and over again, trying to make yourself sound like someone they need even when you don't know if they need anyone. Imagine being turned down over and over again by people who don't know why you even called them because they never advertised a position and don't know who the heck you are. Yeah. Fun times.

Monday, June 30, 2008

How Much Can You Make With Suite101?

First of all, I can’t tell you. The site doesn’t allow anyone who writes for them to divulge how much they make from the site. However, people come here every day by searching Google for the answer to this very question. You won’t find the answer anywhere online, and if you do, it will probably be a very old number that was posted before they changed the payment structure.

So, the question is not really how much can be made on Suite101 but rather, is the money you make worth the effort that you put into the site. The answer to that is a profound yes and no.

There are two types of Suite101 writers- contributing writers and feature writers. As a contributor writer, your work gets little promotion and often little attention. The pay is fairly small, though there is a slight raise after you have 50 articles written for them. As a contributing writer, I did not feel that the income was remotely worth the effort. Maybe that’s because I don’t write about iPods and American Idol, or maybe it’s fairly standard. That I can’t say.

After I was made a feature writer, however, that all changed. There is a nice raise involved, but I think that the income shot up because you get better exposure. You write your category’s landing page and your latest creations are featured there. You also get a blog there that you’re required to post to every week. That also brings readers to your work.

After spending some time as a feature writer, I do think that the pay is well worth the amount of time I spend there. However, that isn’t generally my criteria for something with my name on it. About 98 percent of my work is never credited. It’s ghostwritten or simply work that the client doesn’t put a name on.

To have something online with my name on it, I require a good deal of creative control. In that respect, Suite101 does come through. I have to write weekly for my category, but the specific topics I choose are entirely up to me. I can also write additional articles for other categories if I so choose. If you want creative control- go for it. They don’t require that much of your time and they have pretty good page rank.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meeting Clients in Person


Getting used to communicating with clients online wasn't too hard. There are a million ways to do it. But, when you're doing a local project there may come a time when a client wants to Meet in Person.

It looks like I'm going to have to meet with a client and a collaborator fairly soon for a mid-scale project that I've taken on.

That's right- not through email, not through Google chat, not through IMs. It won't be a suit kind of meeting, but it will be the kind where you have to put on a bra, get in the car and go somewhere. I haven't had to do this in several months. The last time I discovered several pros and cons of the face-to-face client meeting.

Con:
You can't wear pajama pants or eat egg rolls while you're meeting. You actually have to let the client dictate the space and parameters.
You have to be there at a specific time- not just a certain date or a range of dates. The client tells you the exact hour that you have to work. Oh no he di'int!

Pros:
For a complicated project, or one that involves several people working together, it really is the best way to communicate. You can collaborate more easily and get a feel for how to make the project turn out the best way possible.
You can see all of those buildings and trees and things you keep hearing about.
Sometimes a face-to-face meeting can get you and client working together better than days of emails. This saves time for both of you.

Whether it's with a suit or without, eventually most writers will have to meet with someone. For the most part, I think it's best to talk to clients in person the way you talk to kids- keep a pleasant tone in your voice and try not to swear too much.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Resisting a Writing Niche


When I started freelancing, I couldn't understand why so many freelance writers were limiting themselves to a niche. Wouldn't they be limiting their work? Wouldn't that cut down on the kind of jobs they could take on?

After awhile, I could see the temptation to take on a niche. Once you get used to writing about something, it gets easier and easier. You are then able to write it in less time and take on more work, making the day more profitable.

But, I have tried to resist the lure of the niche. For one thing, it does exactly what I feared. It does limit the kinds of projects you can take on. It won't matter much if someone is paying $25 a word for articles about mushrooms if the only thing you've ever written about is constipation. It isn't necessary to most clients that you have direct experience writing about their specific topic- if you can show that you write about many topics well.

Even if you do write about one or two things more than any other (marketing!), it's still important to make the effort to write outside that niche. If you have some health samples (no, not urine), some marketing samples, a few home improvement samples and an article or two about onions, you can demonstrate that no topic is beyond you.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Article Prices


I've been through a lot of different payment methods for determining article and ebooks rates. For ebooks rates I've come up with a per-page system that reflects the length of the overall book in relation to how long it will take and how many other things I will have to turn down to get the ebook done. But for articles- pricing can be extremely tricky.

Per-Article Pricing
When I first began, I started with a per-article rate that was the same no matter how long the article was, how many keywords it needed and what it was about. I was able to slowly raise that rate as I developed more clients, more online bylines and experience with more topics. It was not, however, turning out to be a great method of pricing. One article might take 30 minutes while another might take two hours, but both were the same price. It didn't really make good sense.

Per-Word Pricing
I then moved to per-word pricing. This worked a lot better than the per-article pricing, but it still didn't tell the whole story. I was chugging along pretty well at my per-word rate when I got smacked in the head with a few highly-technical articles. They were short, and the per-word rate was good. Unfortunately, they took longer than most long articles and reduced my hourly income to about minimum wage. What to do? Funny you should ask because I did come up with something better.

Topic Rates
I've been using topic rates for the past two months or so and this has been working out better than either of the last two rates. With a topic rate, I charge more for things that I know for a fact will take longer. A longer article won't necessarily take longer, but a completely unfamiliar topic will. So far I've had no problems with this with private clients. As for companies, well, they generally won't change their rates to suit your new pricing plan, the bastards. So, in those cases I've been choosing topics that are more in line with what I would be charging another client for them if they were paying what the company does. Make sense? Well, it does to me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Better Places to Find Freelance Writing Work

So, if not the standard places to get freelance writing jobs, then where? There are countless ways to go about finding better paying work. These examples comprise a combination of company work and getting your own customers. That means steady work from a variety of sources so that losing any one client doesn't mean living on beans until you find a new one.

Bidding Sites
I wrote a fairly long review about most of the freelance bidding sites and their potential for making money. The potential for a higher price per article is excellent with Elance and Guru and even RAC to some extent. These sites sometimes get bad mouthed by freelancers. Why? Because many of the people who run sites full of freelance jobs have a vested interest in doing so. If you're on bidding sites you won't be combing their sites for jobs. It's really as simple as that.

Using these sites is extremely lucrative and can get you as many regular customers as you want. It is also much, much less time consuming to get projects through these sites than by applying over and over again to those long lists of gigs. There is far less competition for these projects and there are always new ones being posted.

Companies

There are also a number of companies that hire hundreds of writers and pay them a per-article rate. One such company is WRG. They hire writers and editors periodically and are usually in the market for someone who is serious about getting articles in. If they aren't currently hiring, you might inquire about when they will be. The company has several projects, none of which I am allowed to mention specifically. The main one right now is very short articles that pay $10 apiece. That may not sound like a lot, but the articles are half sized, making them quick and pretty easy to write. The work is pretty much unlimited with no maximums. There are many people who make thousands a month with them.

Demand Studios is another company that has several projects requiring quick articles. They reportedly have maximums, however. For some people this probably works out well, though, as they don't feel like they're slacking for not writing hundreds of articles a month. It just depends on how many you want to write and how much you need to make. I'm told that this site does pay a little more than WRG on a per-article basis.

Love to Know
is another company that pays per article. They reportedly also have maximums and they are fairly limited as far as topics. There is always a list available of topics that need writers.

There are countless other companies out there that pay per article- doing a little searching may help you to find more. I used to write for one that bought short articles about insurance for $12 apiece but I can't think of that sucker's name right now. So, they are out there. Having one or two companies that pay regularly is a great safety net for slow times.

Freelance Portfolios
If you have a portfolio on Freelance Portfolios, people will come to you. It's free to put a portfolio together and it does bring in the traffic. I've had quite a few people contact me through there. And, the people who look for writers through this site aren't usually the type that don't want to pay for writers. If they contact you, they already know what you are capable of and whether you are a native English speaker or not. You can also set a pay rate right there on the portfolio if you choose to.

Your Own Website
Having your own website is a great way to get business. People can contact you through contact form or through an email address that you post on the site. A few writing samples and a bio is generally enough to show what you do and what your skill level is. People can contact you directly and you can negotiate from there.

Job Sites
Mainstream sites like Monster.com have some writing jobs that are available for telecommuters. It may take some digging to find them, but since the site charges companies to post these ads, you know they are serious about paying. They will not be people looking for the cheapest possible writer. If they were so concerned about their pennies they would place a free ad somewhere else.

There are a number of other places that people find work that pays a decent wage. These are the ways that I generally get clients. I also get word-of-mouth clients who were told by other marketers that I was good and reliable. Word of mouth clients are great because they already know what you charge and come to you willing to pay it. It can take some time to get those types of clients, but it's certainly worth the wait.

If you want the ultra-high payers, there are many sites that pay much more than these. Of course, they will not pay for 200 articles from you and they may want story pitches first. I do know of people that go this route. They are certainly proud of the $800 article they wrote for an ultra mega site. Of course, it took days of pitching to get it, the article took quite a while to write and then there were revisions that needed to be made. And, that site was just one of many that were queried with story pitches, most of which were rejected. The whole process may have taken weeks.

On the other hand, my articles are mid-priced but they are always there. I made more than $800 last week and will this week as well. It's all a matter of what kind of income you need. Some want the prestige more than the money, and that's fine too. If you want to make a living at Web writing, eventually you have to make this type of decision.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where Not to Get Freelance Writing Work

So where do you get better paying work? I hear that question a lot. The standard sources that most people hear about are Digital Point, freelance job sites and Craigslist. Sure, there are gigs to be had on all of these sites. There are, however, significant problems.

Digital Point

Con: The people of Digital Point are often called bottom feeders, and if you've ever spent time there you will understand why. Don't get me wrong- there are a few perfectly lovely clients there who want quality and will pay for it. Unfortunately, there are about 1,000 jerks for every one of those. They will argue and make fun of anyone who wants a decent price for articles. They tell new writers that the "standard rate" for articles is $5 apiece. New writers believe it and soon devalue their own work to the point that they can't afford to keep writing.

Pro: If you have an enormous amount of time on your hands, you can find the lovely clients. They are there, somewhere. There are also a few places to post your info and to post special offers for the marketers who hang there. I'm told that though it costs $20 to do this, it can pay off in the end.

Freelance Job Sites
Con: For the most part, they are a waste of time. They are so heavily promoted and so populated that the job posters are inundated with several hundred emails a day, making it impossible for them to even look through them all. The first cheap one is generally chosen. Also, most of the jobs are from Craigslist and many of them are scams. I wasted too many hours that I will never get back on this type of site.

Pro: There are a few gems in the bunch, but it can take 100 hours or more of applying to scam after scam to actually find one, if you manage to apply within minutes of the gem being posted. I do know of people who have found high-paying work this way.

Craigslist
Con: Most of the time the jobs are either scams or they simply weed through responses to find the cheapest one. For a professional it can be difficult to abide this type of system. Quality is often not a consideration. And, scams are flourishing at a rapid rate. Many of the ads for high-paying work are really affiliate ads trying to get you to sign up for a membership with a job board. Others are there to get your email address to sell to people who run those types of job boards.

Pro: Like any type of freelance site, there are gems in the slush pile. I know of companies that use Craigslist to quickly fill legitimate writing positions and individuals that use it to outsource decent-paying work. However, like the freelance job sites, it can take days of searching and applying to find one.

Tomorrow I will go into some of the best places to get work that pays better than the DP "standard rate." Once you get going in that direction and build a reputation, there's no reason to ever take .02 a word, or even less, for an article.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can You Make a Living as a Freelance Writer?


Of course you can. I sometimes see speculation about whether it's possible and who is actually doing it. I know of quite a few who do, and all of them are Web writers or copywriters.

I'm not sure whether it's possible with magazine writing, though. Magazines may pay a lot more, but there are far fewer paying markets and it can take months before you see payment.

If you've ever look at a Robert Bly book, the entire process of becoming a commercial copywriter is spelled out fairly thoroughly. According to him, much of it depends on cold calling. Copywriters that I'm acquainted with have reported the same thing. If you can't do it, and I can't, there's Web writing.

Web writing may not pay as much per project in most cases, but there's plenty of work and no limit on how much you can earn. If you're getting started, it's a good idea to have a monetary goal in mind. Without that goal you may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people looking for what is essentially indentured servitude. To reach a weekly or monthly goal, you need an hourly goal. Starting with a reasonable hourly figure, with hard work you should be able to increase that rate steadily until you are able to work fewer hours and still reach your goal every month.

Reaching an hourly goal sometimes means having a specific per-word rate. The rates for Web writers vary wildly, but there are a few norms. One norm is that the bottom feeders will try to tell you that .01 a word is the standard. It isn't. Even starting out there is no reason to write for that rate. Another norm is that charging a super-high rate means getting little work. I do know of people who charge .30 a word or more for Web articles. That rate will probably work for one or two clients, but it would be hard to succeed long term at that rate. If you are writing sales letters or other commercial copywriting online, that is a more reasonable rate. Of course, it may take longer and involve revisions. In the end, the hourly rate may be the same.

If you seem to be working all the time but are wondering where the money is, calculate your hourly rate. Try it for at least two days- using only one day may be affected by mood, energy level or distractions. If you can get a two or three-day average, you might be surprised by what you see. It may make you ask for higher rates or it may impress you so much that you put on a bow tie and hit the town. Either way, you will know where your business stands and what you need to do next.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stay Out of the Low-Pay Rut

I've seen it happen many, many times. New Web writers accept very low paying work and then have to work an extreme amount of hours to make the money they need. Then, of course, there is no time to search for better paying work or to learn about other markets. All time becomes devoted to the low paying work in order to keep up the pace. People who get into this rut may never get themselves out.

Don't get me wrong- you certainly can't start at the top. Making the transition from print to Web writing usually means a learning curve and a lower wage to begin with. But, if it isn't going anywhere, it's time to overhaul your markets.

If you can't afford to stop writing for the low-paying markets long enough to apply to better markets, then simply integrate it into your writing schedule. Spend one hour per day scanning through freelance bidding sites. Also check out legitimate sites like ProBlogger and MediaBistro for better markets. There are many people who get high-paying work from Craigslist, but it is often much more time consuming to do so than to go elsewhere for work.

After integrating this into your daily work schedule, you will eventually see the ratio start to shift. At first 90 percent of your work could be in the .02-a-word ballpark, then 80 percent, then 70, etc. Getting out of the rut is possible, however. I have seen too many people lately who are stuck and see no way out. Just keep plugging away and in a few months the transformation will be breathtaking.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

American Literary Tastes


I think that this says it all. Basically, if it says "Best Seller" on it, it's usually crap. Except Harry Potter. And anything by Kim Harrison. And Anne Rice.

Actually, what most Americans read is romance novels. I was shocked when I found out that they make up a little over 50 percent of the country's book market. I wrote a summary of the American book market's appetite for romance novels here. Yes, there really are NASCAR romance novels.

I think that the perfect story for American audiences is probably a handsome lawyer who falls in love with a beautiful but feisty woman and then commits a crime in a haunted house. That's probably the quickest road to being published. I have not copyrighted this story idea, so feel free to use it. Also feel free to send me a cut of the royalties.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Web Press Releases


It occurred to me the other day that I haven't written a press release in a couple of months. I think that's the longest I've gone in years without writing one. This wasn't really an accident, though. I haven't sought out any press release writing gigs in awhile because writing Web press releases can be extremely annoying. Here's why:

It's time consuming. I see more people wanting bad press releases than wanting good ones. That means cheap prices and little attention paid to actually getting the release carried. Sorry. I can't do it. It takes me at least a couple of hours to write one, and I end up with a result that is a balance of PR and newsworthiness that I believe has the best chance of being of interest to media outlets. I'm not writing a $5 special because it's a waste of my time and the client's. Of course, that means that $20 for a press release isn't going to cut it and I'm tired of looking for people who can actually pay for their releases.

Clients often don't know what they need. In the online press release world, I have found that many clients sincerely don't have any idea what a press release is or what it should contain. I've had clients tell me that a press release is "just an article in a different format," and other such nonsense. Clients like that really don't understand what goes into one and they don't know what aspects of a press release make it very different from an article. I'm tired of having clients ask me for a press release and then need me to tell them what one is.

Many clients think their topics is incredibly newsworthy, when it isn't. When I was doing online press releases regularly, I only took on releases when I knew I could make them slanted toward the newsworthy. Often that takes a great deal of creative nudging to make it equate to something that people want to read about. I did one a few months ago that publicized an online store that sold one specific type of product. That product is kind of antiquated and has never been newsworthy. However, I took it on because I remembered a news story two weeks before that could propel those products back onto the map.

I wrote the release with that in mind, slanting it toward actual news so that it would get picked up. The client said that the news story I had referenced wasn't "recent enough." Now, keep in mind that this was the only news story about this topic in at least 10 years, and the story had only been two weeks before. Now you may see why I'm soured on Web releases for the moment.

On the other hand, I've never had any problem whatsoever with print press release clients. They listen to my advice, understand my experience and trust my judgment. So far, I've never had one fail to get into the newspaper. Go figure.

Monday, June 2, 2008

How to Get Your Blog a Book Deal

Blogging is a lot of different things to the people who blog. I saw a recent post somewhere that said you are not a blogger unless you do research before you start a blog and figure out how to bring in traffic. I wish I could remember where I saw that, but I do remember that the blog itself was crap. It was dry, boring, offered no new ideas or points of view and was heavily invested in bringing in as many people as it could. It will never be like
Passive Aggressive Notes
. This site is funny and interesting without demanding anything of its readers. The blogger has just been signed to a six-figure book deal based on this blog.

Postcards From Yo Momma is a site everyone can relate to. Unfortunately, not everyone can relate to the book deal that the blogger will only describe as "comfortable."

The Julie/Julia Project was one woman's attempt to cook 536 of Julia Child's recipes in one year and to blog about the experience. It not only led to a book deal, the movie starring Meryl Streep is now in production.

Stuff White People Like is a weird blog that's about just what the title suggests. It's hard to classify exactly what the point is other than just to highlight weird stuff. The blogger started the blog as a whim to amuse himself. He was recently given a $350,000 advance from Random House based on his blog.

What do these blogs have in common? They were not thoroughly researched ahead of time. They did not cajole people into reading them and they were started in the spirit of fun and self expression. Those are the best blogs and those are the ones that get books deals. So, go out and do that. The Web has enough dry blogs that are calculated toward making a profit through keywords. Seriously.


Viagra, Cialis, Foreclosure, Male Enhancement, Work From Home, How to Network, Dog Training, How to Stab Yourself in the Eye

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boring Writing vs. Interesting Writing

By the title, I don't mean whether it's boring or interesting for the reader. Writing all day, every damn day makes you appreciate when a topic is just interesting enough to keep you from throwing things to keep yourself awake but not interesting enough to make you freak out. Why would something interesting be bad? Perhaps an explanation is in order...

I have ghostwritten a number of boring topics. If I told you the topics, just listed them, they would bore you. Now imagine writing on topics like that for hours when you know that Charmed may possibly be on or maybe there's still a Cadbury egg in the pantry that you missed. It's rough.

So, an interesting topic should be a lot better, right? Not remotely. A too-interesting topic can keep you researching way past the point that you should. That makes the writing process go on and on and on. This means less money, fewer opportunities for new projects and glaring spouses. I first noticed the glare this evening when I showed him the third giant insect native to a specific African jungle. I was already half an hour past the information I needed and was still going. That's what an interesting topic can do.

The ideal topic is one that is interesting, but not fascinating. It's easy to research, but the Internet isn't crammed full of information about it. And lastly, there should never be too damn many pictures of it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Travel Writing Tips From Paul Kilduff


Ruinair is a humorous travelogue around Europe - I have visited about 25 countries in Europe in the past 3 years and here are my tips for some pithy travel writing;

Don't write about the same old things to see and do in your destination. Instead find one theme or common thread. If I was writing about my home town of Dublin I would not go to Trinity College nor the Guinness Storehouse. Being me, I would only go see all the U2 sights in the city including a trip to Windmill Lane Studios, Bono's nice home in Killiney etc.

Don't try to make everything funny. Very often in vaguely humorous travel writing, less is more. Don't end every sentence with a bon mot nor every paragraph with a punchline. Try to leave the reader wanting more. Very often readers will find their own humour in different aspects of your writing and not everyone will share my own bizarre sense of humour.

Pray that something goes wrong. If everything goes to plan then it's not very interesting for a reader so hope for a missed flight, a wrong train connection, a lost wallet.

John Cleese once said that Fawlty Towers was only funny because everything went wrong all the time i.e. guests dying, loose rats, kitchen fires and a lack of Waldorf salads.

Use the tourist office. When I arrive in a city I make first for the official tourist office and I grab all the free literature I can. And I book an official city walking tour. It's amazing the amount of anecdotes and unique info you can glean over two hours from someone whose full time job is to know all about your destination. Ask them questions. Tip well too .....

Omit the boring stuff. No one wants to read about meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, rooms in hotels. People want to read about something new and different. I edit a lot. If in doubt I leave it out.

Don't write about the weather. First of all it's not very exciting and secondly it will jar at a later date. If you write about freezing winds in the Artic, chances are your reader will be on a beach on the Costa del Sol, or when you write about searing temperatures in Monaco, your reader will have received the book as a Christmas present.

Read extensively in the travel writing genre to see how others do it. I read Bill Bryson, Tim Moore, Pete McCarthy, Charlie Connelly, Tom Chesshyre and Tony Hawks.

Don't research destinations on the web before you go. This is not called travel writing. It's called cut and paste plagiarism and it does not lend itself to originality. Read one good guide book for a basic orientation of your destination. Check your facts out later on reputable web sites but only after you have been on your trip and written a first good draft.

Don't rush your writing. I make rough notes on loose A4 pages in pen when I travel (usually on the reverse side of my Ryanair flight itinerary which I dare not lose). I don't bring nor do I even own a dreaded laptop. When I return home I wait a week before I write anything on my home PC. If something in my notes no longer seems valid or relevant or funny then I don't use it. I keep only what I like seven days on. Maybe that's why some folks say that Ruinair works. Good luck.

About the writer-

Paul Kilduff
was born in Dublin, Ireland. He began writing fiction in 1996 and finished his first novel in 1998. Square Mile was published in 1999, The Dealer in 2000, The Frontrunner in 2001 and The Headhunter in 2003, which were published by Hodder & Stoughton in London and by Muelenhoff in The Netherlands.

He decided to write a travel book a couple of years ago and was extremely fortunate shortly afterwards to be abandoned in Malaga airport for ten hours, where he had the germ of an idea for Ruinair - an epic tale of human endurance on Europe's low fares airlines. Ruinair was published in February 2008 by Gill & Macmillan Ireland and entered the Irish non fiction bestseller list at no 1 where it has spent eight weeks to date.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Article Timer Report and Guest Post Tomorrow

The timer I reported about a few days ago is working very well now. It has increased the amount I'm making per hour and therefore per day. With the cost of groceries and gas right now, I think writers need all the help they can get. If you know about how long an article should take, the timer can keep you aware that the chosen amount of time is ticking. It took about two days to get used to, during which I nearly strangled it and I'm pretty sure I threw it once. Anyway, it is now working so well that articles are taking even less time than I'm allotting them. That gives me a minute or two in between articles to look through YouTube and The Onion.

Tomorrow I'll have my first guest post, from Paul Kilduff. He has held the top position on the Irish non-fiction chart for six weeks for his travel book Ruinair. As a fiction writer, he wrote a number of popular thrillers and now has transitioned into nonfiction travel writing. It looks like the topic tomorrow will be travel writing. Making travel writing interesting means writing about the most interesting parts of travel and of the destination. That sounds easy, but isn't. How do you find those interesting tidbits? Paul Kilduff's post tomorrow will tell you all about it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You Know You're a Writer When...

I've seen that discussion a lot. When can you call yourself a writer? Is it when you first get paid? Is it when you make a living writing? Is it when you just love writing? I don't know. I don't really have time to contemplate it much because I'm too busy writing.

Anyway, it occurred to me last night that one of the criteria may be writing all day for pay and then spending your free time writing stuff to amuse yourself. Yeah. That's how I have fun. Don't pity me too terribly.

There are a lot of little 'net corners where you can amuse yourself. And if you use a pen name, no one ever has to know that it's you. I've given up who I am on HubPages now, but I'm betting you'll never find me on Triond or, well, let's just say I get around. If you want to have a little fun, express something that isn't popular or just try to stretch your writing skills a little bit, try HubPages or Squidoo. You don't have to use your actual name on either one, unlike Suite101 or the like.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Journalism, Free Stuff and Ethics

In journalism school we were taught never to accept free stuff from anyone so as not to compromise our objectivity. At the first paper I worked for we were warned never to accept anything at all. We couldn't even allow anyone to buy us a soda for fear of becoming impartial or appearing to be so. Well, I'm not with a newspaper anymore- I got something free!

I write for BellaOnline, the second-largest site for women. One of the benefits of writing for Bella is supposed to be getting free crap from people who want the items reviewed. I've been happily writing for the site for eight months without getting anything free- until today. I was sent a free book to review for the Bella Classic Rock site. Ha! Does getting a free, pristine hardcover book mean that I have to review it positively? Hell no. I'll read through it and say what I think of it. I may be accepting free stuff but I still have a few journalistic ethics floating around in this little head.

In news that's probably a little more important than my free book, Thomson Reuters is downsizing 140 journalists. If you look at the article closely, you will see that Reuters has clearly gone insane. Papers and news agencies always think that the reporters aren't as necessary to the operation as the support people. They are cutting 140 jobs but creating 50 new ones in "web video." So I'm thinking, hey- they will probably do what my last paper did and hire tons of sales people because they think it'll boost revenue. Nope. They also cut hundreds of sales jobs.

Great. So they'll have fewer reporters, fewer sales people and will rely on "more commentary and analysis" for revenue. Personally, I'm sick of commentary. Everybody thinks they have to comment on the news all time. Can't we just have news without all the comments? Oh, I think I just commented on the news...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

StumbleUpon Brings Amazing Traffic

I check my stats a couple of times a day. They're always kind of sad, but hey- people are actually looking at the stuff I write so I can't really complain. Today, by the time I woke up, 135 people had looked at one of my sites. That particular site is not one that I market or really promote in any way and gets very little traffic. I mainly keep it to amuse myself. So how did it get so many hits in one morning? Well, you read the title, so you probably already know.

I checked the stumble through the url on my statcounter, wondering how many stumbles it had. It had just one stumble. One! That's pretty powerful social bookmarking. Reddit and the like have never done much for me, but Stumbleupon seems like it's actually worth the time. If the site had three or four stumbles, imagine that traffic that would be coming in.

Unfortunately, to sign up to stumble sites you have to download all kinds of stuff from the site. I'm not willing to do that and I don't think they should ask that of people. They should not be getting control of my computer just so that I can recommend sites. Bravo to those brave enough, though. It seems like a great traffic mover.

I don't usually admit that I write this site, and I might take this paragraph out of here once I come to my senses, but here's the one that was stumbled. It has a great review on stumbleupon, which made me smile. Yeah, it's kind of a mean site, but I mean every word of it.