Monday, December 28, 2009

Preparing for Resolutions

I'm trying to come up with some new New Year's resolutions, even though it seems like it's only been a few months and therefore I should get a few more months before I have to think about this. Anyway, I thought I'd look around first and see what writing sites are posting as writers' resolutions.

First I found this one. Wow. No. Just- no. Every single one of the 10 is the opposite of what I want. I want fewer income streams, less going outside my comfort zone and less online networking. I also don't foresee enjoying the journey just for the sake of doing so. Enjoyment comes from seeing results.

Then I found this one. Just for disclosure's sake, this was written by my editor, but if it sucked I would still say so. This one is a lot closer to what I generally do each year. I always write out my goals longhand and really consider them before committing to allowing them to hang over my head for a year. It also breaks down the resolutions into the real categories they belong in- personal and financial.

Then there is this one, which seems kind of written for hobbyists. If my biggest problem was that I didn't take the time to read more, I would be a pretty happy cog.

So far, I haven't come across any New Year's resolutions for hardcore content writers who have to slog through keywords for hours at a time and sit in on meetings where no one listens to a word they say and then the non-listeners wonder later why their online strategy didn't work and what to do when insanely ruthless people are content to stab you in the back just to get a bigger piece of the pie when you know that the pie is always expanding and there are never enough people to eat it all so there's really no reason to even do that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gifts for Writers

This time of year I get a lot of hits from people who are looking for Christmas gifts for writers. Since last year's links seem to have evaporated for some reason, I'll make a new list.

Most writers want a Snake Wine Holder.If they don't care for wine, they may enjoy a nice Sack of Snakes.If they don't care for snakes, they may like a box of Conversation Cardsso that their conversations about wine will sound more scripted.

For weirdos who don't care for wine or snakes, there's always Uranium Ore,which is FINALLY in stock. For writers who don't appreciate radioactivity, there are Yoda Lights.If you know a writer who doesn't like Yoda lights, do they really deserve a gift? Really?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Questions Answered - No Problem

I get a lot of questions emailed to me through this here blog. People don't feel the need to leave me comments, but they do feel free to email. It's fine, though, I answer a lot of questions about freelance writing and "meet" some interesting people. However, I thought I might start answering questions here on the blog so that I don't get the same question a bunch of times, which does happen occasionally.

Here's the latest question:

How can I stay on track with my novel?

Answer: Beats the hell out of me. I am the last person on Earth who could answer this question. I have a list of about 14 novels that I've been working on for a long time. I have a sci-fi trilogy that I love, but I've been working on it for almost 20 years. It's all completed in my mind, but I never seem to have the time to put it all on paper.

So, I guess my advice would be to make a list of the novels that you have inside you, work on them piecemeal for a couple of decades and then one day realize that you will likely never have time to finish them all. You're welcome.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Disclose Your Stuff

The new FTC guidelines went into place at the beginning of the month, so if you're posting sponsored reviews, even if your payment is nothing more than a free sample of the item, you have to disclose it on your blog. I wrote a boring article about how it works and what you're supposed to do to comply with the new guidelines.

Basically, if you're giving a sponsored review, it's an advertisement. It's not about journalism or media law or what rights bloggers have or any of the rest of that. It's about complying with the laws that every other advertiser has had to comply with for decades. It's an ad. Disclose it. It's not the end of the world, like a lot of bloggers have decided. It's long, long overdue, in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Twitter Results

I had been adamant about not joining Twitter. It wanted me, but I didn't want it. Finally, it came after me and won. I really thought it would be a huge time waster and that basically more of my life would get sucked into useless stuff that takes away from writing time (thanks, YouTube).

But, after using it for a month or so, it really isn't that bad. I have never asked anyone to follow me, I have never put Twitter links on anything else that I do and I have never marketed my stuff through the site, so I think I've avoided most of the major pitfalls as I see them. I think that if you don't avoid those three things, you can get seriously caught up in and end up with less writing time and more stress. Here's why:

More followers = crap

Getting more followers means nothing unless you're just using the site just to market your stuff. If you're marketing, pushing your links onto "friends," etc., then yeah, go for followers. Otherwise, I have actually seen some poor, misguided souls bragging about having more followers than other people. It's worn like penis size or something. That's just a waste of time.

Twitter links = irritation

"Follow me" links are irritating, without exception. Ick. Want followers? NEED followers? Get therapy.

Twitter marketing = meh

Yes, I do have to write articles about how good Twitter is for marketing, and actually, it kind of is- if you have something great to market. If you do have something great, word of mouth is probably better, but Twitter is good too. If you don't have something great to market, tweeting about it won't make it become so. Tweeting isn't alchemy that will turn crap into gold. I think Confucius once said that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just Had to Share

If you haven't already seen this, you have to:

Why didn't someone think of this years ago??

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Email used to be something that you enjoyed getting, like a friend calling or a letter from your grandmother. It is no longer. Everyday the email battle begins first thing in the morning with the onslaught that comes from that first push of the Inbox button. That tiny button holds back a dam of email that then floods your inbox in wave after wave of subject titles that demand your attention.

On a good morning, that number is fewer than 50. On a bad day, it's closer to 100. Every one of them has to be looked at, classified, archived, answered or deleted. This can easily take half an hour or more to do properly, ensuring that no client is left without an answer, no receipt is left unprinted, no payment is left undocumented and no friend is left wondering why you haven't answered. If that were the end of it, that wouldn't be a terrible drag on anyone's time.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of it. The email keeps coming. It keeps coming and coming. If you run to the store, it builds up while you're gone. If you stay away for a few hours, you have it to come home to. If you should ever take a day or two off, you fear opening it and finding out just how much of it there is to get rid of. You may hit Inbox with your eyes closed, dreading the final tally.

If you work online, you may have come to hate the email, and I do about half the time. Sometimes it's to be tolerated. Sometimes it's a nice distraction from other things. Sometimes it has unexpected surprises in it (kaching, ebook sale!). Sometimes it's a burden that never, ever seems to be lifted.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I'm watching Beowulf right now. Somehow it has taken me awhile to see the latest adaptation. I think I have now seen every film adaptation of it and I will doubtless see any others that are filmed. I have always loved and been inspired by the great hall in which everyone slept. Imagine it- a dark night, no electric lights glowing outside, no 911 and no radio to find out what was going on outside. Absolutely anything could happen. I have dreamed about that great hall, wishing I could see it's stone floors and dark, silent nights, moving silently through it in the night as all those around me slept.

Writing that touches you is unparalleled by anything else. It's better than a day that's not too warm and not too chilly. It's better than getting great clothes at a superb price. And let's face it- it's better than sex. It lasts for a lifetime unlike just about any other experience you can have.

Here are a few passages that may bore you or inspire you, I don't know which. But, they have always inspired me:

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

-Frank Herbert, Dune

If the Scientologists worshipped Frank Herbert instead of the guy they worship, I would be first in line. This quote has gotten me through a lot of ordeals and it will certainly continue to do so.

"Everything popular is wrong."

-Oscar Wilde

My man Wilde was rarely wrong, and he was certainly not wrong with this little sound bite. I have always felt that the popular stuff was somehow wrong, tailored toward machinery rather than humans. Popular clothing styles, popular music, popular TV shows- all crap. Sorry.

"Be strong saith my heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this."


This Illiad quote is probably what I would get tattooed on myself if I wasn't scared of tattoos. When my dog died a friend called and quietly recited this quote to me. I am grateful for having heard it, and it continues to speak to me.

"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

This quote is so central to everything that I believe in that it ceases to be a quote and becomes more a a veil that I try to hide behind. All the things that prevent you from being your true self are useless, stifling problems that should be conquered.

The quotes that inspire people are often the ones that validate who they are and what they believe the world is like. I would welcome Grendel on a night like this, stepping carefully through the sleeping men as mystery lay in the black night ahead. Other people may find inspiration in, actually, I'm not sure. I'd love to know what inspires other people to be their true selves. There are doubtless other quotes out there that would speak to me if I had the chance to hear them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Insurance and Freelance Writers

Getting insurance is a problem for a lot of freelance writers. For my foreign friends, here's the picture: if you don't have insurance, you're screwed. A lot of doctors won't see you at all. You can't get into hospitals unless it's an emergency and the charge to see a regular doctor is usually ridiculous and unreasonable. I have been self employed for eight years now and have usually maintained some type of insurance in case of emergencies. This year, though, has been difficult we had a lot of problems with our COBRA, resulting in a large one-time payment for insurance that we weren't given, and I had to decline.

I was able to get insurance for everyone else in the family ,but not myself. I have no insurance now. I have a a health problem that all of the insurance companies that I have contacted have been unwilling to deal with. So, a big middle finger to them because I am far more awesome than they give me credit for. I actually told one underwriter, "Really? I go to the doctor twice year and you don't want to take my money every month? You're a sucker."

One bright spot in all of this mess may be the Demand Studios insurance that they have recently started offering to their regular writers. I have been a writer for them for about a year and a half and am hoping to get one of the insurance policies that they offer. I stopped writing for them for a few months, though, so I am not eligible right now. To be eligible I have to write like crazy for them this month to try to reach eligibility next month.

I am holding onto hope that this is a good opportunity to be insured. If it turns out to be a good deal, Demand is a fantastic place that should be praised and have a constellation named after it. But until I have seen the actual policies, I can't be sure that this is a good thing. EBay did the same thing years ago for its PowerSellers. I sold on eBay full time for about two years and was eligible for their insurance. It was crap. I actually got a better rate on my own than they could give. But, Demand is saying that their insurance is guaranteed, and with my health issues I do need a policy that can be guaranteed. Is Demand, the company that has hired so many disrespectful, nasty editors, my savior in all this mess? It remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Low Doesn't Even Describe It

I just ran across this today in a list of 15 high-stress jobs that pay badly. The pay is low, the hours are long and the stress is certainly high. It was the best job I ever had working for someone else. Web writing may pay a heck of a lot more, but there's nothing that can replace the rush of grabbing the news and seeing the town talking about the issues that you uncovered. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogs That Make You Think

I have several blogs that I'm reading right now, very few of which have to do with writing. But, if you read a blog and it says something to you, then it is about writing in a way. It's about how the message is presented to you and how those words affect you. Here are some cool blogs that always seem to have something interesting to say:

The Bloggess: This is probably the most kick-ass blog ever in the world. Seriously. It's taught me to stop censoring myself so much. People will be offended by things. It happens. But as long as you aren't malicious, it's all good.

NieNie Dialogues: I've been reading this one for about a year, and it's given me a better sense of everything that I should be grateful for. You may have heard about the blogger's near-fatal plane crash a year ago or you may have seen her on Oprah last week. She survived something that most people wouldn't and is still grateful for what she has despite a lot of physical hardship. I've also learned a lot about Mormons who I had previously thought of as just the guys on the bicycles.

The Sartorialist: This one highlights people on the street in different cities around the world who have an interesting style. The photographs are usually fantastic and the people look interesting- not cookie cutter. It reminds me that it's OK to have my own style. It's not a bit odd. People all over the world have their own unique style and are proud to have it.

Cake Wrecks: This is a fascinating mixture of geekdom, humorous pictures and witty text. It's also one that can be shared with the offspring 99.9 percent of the time. The writer has a great style and throws in the type of quotes and references that only a true geek would recognize.

Smart Passive Income: I read this one, but I'm still on the fence about it. Some of the information is extremely basic and most of it is redundant. But, he is ridiculously successful and promotes the crap out of himself. It's a good reminder that you do have to market yourself at some point, no matter how much the thought of it may make you want to vomit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Social Media, Marketing Messages and Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton recently tweeted something interesting (Yes, I am reading tweets now. Sue me.). He sent along a message that social media consultants are a waste of money and passed along this article as proof. I actually do know someone who works for a PR company that does this, teaching companies how to use different types of social media to promote their businesses. I think that she actually works in graphic design, but her employer has a full-time Twitter guy just to send out tweets.

Is that a great idea? On one hand, there is a lot to be said for social media and its role in marketing. It's become a very, very effective tool to use if it's done correctly. But, do businesses really need a social media consultant to help them to do it? No offense to the lovely young lady I know who works for the aforedescribed company, but I don't think it's necessary.

Social media is something that is pretty simple to pick up. Chances are, most of the people who work for a given company are probably using Facebook, Twitter or both to communicate with friends and relatives or just to communicate with the world at large. Those employees can probably be used to send out the occasional message to promote their business, particularly since it will take no extra training or expense for them to do so and they already have a vested interest in promoting the company they work for.

And, if you read the article that acting ensign Wil Wheaton posted, the use of social media for marketing purposes is usually pretty transparent. Social media messages aren't articles. The messages are more personal and are used to connect rather than simply to broadcast. As the co-founder of Reddit stated in the article, a genuine message is a lot more likely to connect with an audience than one that is is directed by a guru.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Print Publishing Woes

I came across this yesterday. I've been out of newspapers for a few years now, but it still pains me to see headlines like that. And, it's the second time in the last two years that they have cut 100 jobs. It's also coming on top of a pay cut that happened earlier this year.

The article mentions that the layoffs are because of lost advertising revenue, but it doesn't mention anything about circulation. Of course, advertising revenue is tied to circulation numbers, but that doesn't mean that the whole dynamic isn't changing. In the past, a newspaper or magazine could keep its advertising revenues high as long as it had a large enough circulation. Now, it's probably possible to keep circulation numbers steady and still lose ad revenue.

If you need to advertise, I can imagine that the value of print advertising is likely falling because of the easy availability of online advertising and the lower cost for an audience of the same size. I've written a number of articles that compare the potential audience number of a site and it's advertising costs vs. the same audience for a print publication and its cost to advertise. It's just no contest anymore. Publishing Web content is far less expensive than publishing print content, leading to a glut of online publications. Add to that the growing number of people who are online and you have an enormous opportunity for advertising while keeping those costs low. That may be part of what's sinking our newspapers and magazines right now. Or not.

But, even with circulation numbers going down, it's certainly possible that the ease and cost of online advertising is taking a lot of value out of spending a fortune for print advertising. Right now, the print and Web publishing worlds continue to butt heads to keep circulation numbers and advertisers. In the end, I have the feeling that print advertising will be a very different thing than it is now. I can see it someday evolving away from national advertising and becoming more valued for targeted local advertising. Of course, then national magazines would have a hard time surviving and would to come out with a number of regional editions in order to grab that local advertising. Arrrg, I'm way over thinking this when I have work to do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Confess: I Did It

I swore it would never happen to me. I tried to resist the dark side, but Wil Wheaton was there, so it wasn't always easy. I actually joined the rest of the herd and opened a Twitter account. I haven't really figured it all out yet, but there it is. I don't really understand why you do the @ thing before someone's username, and I don't really understand what that signifies or whether they know that you do it and how they know.

My Twitter thingy is LizzShep. I don't know what I'll do with it, but I was already "following" three Twitter users by looking at their Twitter pages to find their new tweets, so I figured this would just simplify things. I also keep hearing about how great it is for marketing, and I've been forced to write several articles about using it for marketing, so there are also possibilities there. We'll see. If it's just a time sucker, well, it will have a lot of company.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Great Demand Studios Controversy

First of all, I'd just like to say that I don't give a rat's about controversies. The only time that I pay attention to them is if they (1) either affect me in some way or (2) if they unfold in an interesting manner. The controversy that has surrounded Demand Studios in the past has been firmly in scenario one. It's been just an interesting topic that I could chime in about because I have written for them off and on for quite some time. Now, however, it's moved into scenario two.

Angela Hoy, a very well-known writer about writing and freelancing, regularly gathers information from people who have written for various companies and sites and creates long reports about what people's typical experiences are with those companies. She took on Examiner recently in a piece that I thought was a little biased. It included some good and some bad, but I do know a lot of people who contributed stories about the good and those were refused because they did not include specific dollar amounts, but it you read the article, some of the bad ones had no dollar amounts. I'm learning that being biased isn't considered a bad thing online, but I still would prefer a little more objectivity.

Within the last few days, Angela Hoy released this report about Demand Studios. it's an interesting read, and it does present a little good in with the bad. It exposes a lot of the problems that I've faced with Demand Studios as well as the types of horror stories that I've heard from a lot of other people. Of course, this is not at all unbiased and doesn't even pretend to be, as you can see from her ending comments. While I liked reading all of the opinions and I agree with a lot of them, I think that a lot of the bigger copywriters and bloggers don't really understand the role that this type of content writing can play. It's not super great pay per article, but then it doesn't really have to be if it's quick work. However, I pretty rarely write for Demand anymore because they changed their requirements to make the articles take a lot longer and made it tougher for them to be accepted.

It did used to be a great way to earn money by writing about a lot of different topics, and you could even suggest your own. Then, they dropped the pay by 2/3 for articles that were written to titles that the writers came up with. Then, they gradually increased and increased and increased what was expected of us without increasing the pay for the majority of articles, though they did for one type. In the old days of Demand, I actually set my hourly wage by what I could make with Demand. I figured that if I couldn't make as much or more with another project than I could with Demand, then it was costing me money. However, with the changes, the hourly wage that I can expect there has fallen by about $10 per hour. It's no longer very cost effective for me to write for them, but many other Web writers are still going strong there. It's a hassle and things aren't always fair with them, but it's steady, plentiful work and you can make as much as you want and get paid very quickly.

The controversy that has sprung up since Angela Hoy's piece has been pretty convoluted, but now there are whispers of lawyers getting involved, so I've got popcorn ready. There are writing bloggers who think they are writers when they are actually just bloggers who blog about writing. Those bloggers are not people who should be listened to under any circumstances. Their goal is simply to make money off telling writers what to do without having the actual experience or knowledge to tell them what they actually should be doing. Angela Hoy is not one of those bloggers. She does seem to know a great deal about what she is talking about and does have a lot of experience in the field, but other bloggers don't, and some of those bloggers are causing problems. One of them is a, well, let's just say a person who stirs up trouble anytime there is a buck to be made. We'll call him/her the Jesse Jackson of blogging.

So, Jesse Jackson has run all over the Internet to cause problems between the people who write the opinions, Demand Studios, Angela Hoy and pretty much anyone who has chimed in about the whole thing. So now I keep hearing that Demand is going to try to sue Angela Hoy and/or subpoena her to reveal who gave the anonymous opinions and/or fire a bunch of people for talking to her. How does Jesse Jackson figure in? He/she is paid to go around and tattle anytime people talk about Demand Studios badly and is supposed to tell everyone about how great Demand is. So, now people are falling into ranks according to who they are backing, Jesse Jackson or Angela Hoy.

Insults are being thrown, wigs are being pulled off and undoubtedly reputations will be ruined. And for what? For opinions being expressed? For blind loyalty? It's nice to be loyal, but come on, people. Companies and bloggers are just that. They all have good and bad sides and they can be nasty or nice. Everyone, possibly even Jesse Jackson, has times when they are helpful as well as times when you wish they would meet a vampire in a dark alley, so why throw yourself into the mix just so that you can have a side to fight?

One of the secrets of growing up is learning that there is no black and white. Demand Studios is pretty good and it's certainly reputable, but it can be a huge hassle. Jesse Jackson will say anything at all that he/she is paid to say, but I've heard that occasionally he/she can be helpful to some people. Angela Hoy has done many, many great things for writers and continues to be a great source of information, but often she is not objective and I think she may publish reports about companies partly because she simply doesn't like them.

See? That's how you do it. Instead of taking sides, try to piss them all off. Is that really so hard?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Writing and Adversity

During any period when things are hard, when people are being difficult and the situation is sad, strange or just plain wrong, it is never hard for me to summon up the energy to write. I actually find that I go to that activity first before using any other types of coping mechanisms. If you are in the midst of an upheaval, it's soothing to make lists and write plans to make things feel more grounded and under control. If someone is being awful, it's nice to be able to escape into writing anything at all.

I have actually found that when things are going well, I don't want to stop what I'm doing to go and write. But with all of the troubles that have been going on around me recently, I've been getting a great deal of work done. Of course it wouldn't be ideal to have people making trouble all the time, but once in a while it might actually be the kind of boost that shakes up your writing and takes you in new directions.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Art of War

A few weeks ago I alluded to a big PR project that I have been working on. It's a good project, and a challenging project and it's been going quite well. I think I realized during the course of it that I've been taking on a lot of easy work lately that doesn't challenge me as much as it could. Easy work is great, but it's the challenges that make you remember what you're capable of.

Work isn't the only thing that can remind you of exactly what you're capable of. There are other challenges that can do the same. As a freelancer, most of my working time is spent alone. There are occasional conference calls, chats and even the occasional local meeting. Most of the people I come into contact with are family members, a few close friends and a few colleagues. While there are always people who can be slightly annoying, who do weird things that you can't understand or piss you off, it's rare for me to have a true enemy.

I have an enemy. The word enemy is tossed around too lightly sometimes. Someone who cuts you off in traffic is not an enemy. Someone who steals your lawnmower is not your enemy. When all of the annoyance, anger and frustration that you have floating around your mind concentrates itself into a narrow beam, focusing itself into the tiny crosshairs through which you view this person, that is your enemy.

My enemy is crafty and well protected, for now. Unfortunately for him, he has no idea who he has chosen for an enemy. He sees me as a 5'-tall woman who is out of shape and fairly loud. That may be true, but in battle, it's not a question of size. It's a question of scale. Attitude makes all the difference in battle, and those crosshairs are narrowed into knifepoints. There is no possible chance that my enemy will escape them with no repercussions.

While my work is now challenging my mind, modern vengeance is often the same. It's rarely a physical confrontation anymore. It often comes down to contacting the right people, keeping records and being persistent in filing complaints and asking for change. In this case, I have the feeling that this may go beyond the current forms of suburban warfare that most people are accustomed to. I've completely ignored my own physical fitness over the last few years because I've been busy and just haven't cared. I care now. I'm getting into shape in case I must defend my position with my own bare hands. And I can. Though I could take him now if he attempts to cross me again, it would be so much more satisfying to really do it right. I'm coming, enemy. I'm coming.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Warning: I Run Google Ads

If you haven't heard about this, you should probably study it. The same thing that's happened to a number of college students and families who have illegally downloaded music and been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars will inevitably happen to a few small-time bloggers who like getting free stuff and want to earn a little from their blogs on the side.

If you haven't heard about this and can't get past the guy's enormous head (I know-mesmerizing), here are the basics: you have to disclose if you're endorsing something on your blog and are being compensated for it, either in free items, money or both; and, you are just as liable for the things you say about those products as the companies are. You can't say they cure acne, make your head look smaller, etc., if you don't have proof that it does. If you're going to advertise, you have to go by the advertising rules that everyone else does.

As far as I've seen, people generally don't care for the new legislation, but I have to say, I like it. I can't stand how too many blogs are turning from informational or entertaining posts to more and more and more product promotions. I've seen at least two blogs that have gone almost entirely to sponsored posts.

I also hate to find out that the opinion of a blogger that you like is actually being routed directly from a corporation's mouth. It feels a little like a betrayal of the blog's readers. If you're doing paid posting, most paid posting companies require that you disclose all sponsored posts. They also allow you to write a negative post if you want, if that's how you really feel about the product. I did a little of this more than a year ago to monetize Ye Olde Blogge a little. I stopped doing it after a little while, but I have nothing against those who do it. When corporations step in and offer products directly, however, that's when things can get murky.

Disclosure is easy, and it keeps the blogger honest. If you get a few free products and the reviews you write are disclosed as being sponsored or in exchange for free stuff, I think it probably keeps bloggers from gushing about how great the stuff is in order to get more stuff. This means that fewer people will get a false idea about stuff and less money will be wasted. If you don't disclose, it's almost like you want the economy to tank. And then, of course, the terrorists win.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's Better Than Having Too Much Time and Too Little Work

Surfacing briefly... can't breathe... smothered in work...

The work load at the moment is fairly extreme with a decent-sized content project, a large-sized PR project and all of my smaller contract work and other freelance writing stuff that comes up throughout the month. I'm accomplishing some fairly big things, but it's still some of the smaller stuff that catches my notice sometimes. I noticed this week that is featuring one of my recent articles on their homepage, making the the traffic on it triple this week.

If you've never written for the site before, it's a fun little content site that gets a pretty heavy amount of traffic. It's an AdSense share site with writers getting 50 percent. There are a lot of AdSense-share sites out there, but most of them aren't worth bothering with. Sites that get good traffic, however, generally are. And, you don't have to be an American to do it, like a lot of content sites. It has its problems, like any other, but the hassles are generally worth the income that results.

My eHow blog is doing ok so far, especially considering sporadic updates, almost zero promotion and a lack of design. I'll have more time to post to it next month after things calm down a little and I can breathe again.

So, back to the PR project. I'm under an NDA with this one for now, but I will probably talk about it next week after the company and product have been introduced to the public. It's a biggie.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aaaarrg, It Be Talk Like a Pirate Day

If ye aren't knowin' about Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye be a scurvy dog. Ye need some vitamin C. I be talkin' like a pirate most of the time anyway, so this day be just like any other. Business meetings with this bilge rat never be boring!

A few updates since last I wrote:

Me crazy workload be driving me to walk the plank.
I may have been exposed to TB, so that be pretty piratey.
I got a pen stuck in my hair while bein' right the middle of a business meeting- no one dared laugh at the fearsome pirate with the bad hair.

If ye aren't already, I encourage ye to start talkin' like a pirate. The wench behind the counter who "doesn't know" if they have flu shots and "can find out in a few hours" be far less annoyin' if ye can tell her that someone should keel haul the lot of them. I be havin' a long list of wenches and scurvy dogs who be needin' to walk the plank.

Here be a joke:

A pirate walks into a bar and the bartender asks him, " Did you know you have a paper towel on your head?"

The pirate said, "Aaarg, 'tis true...I got a Bounty on me head."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I'm embroiled right now in a massive PR project that is pretty much consuming my every waking thought. We went out for ice cream last night and I blurted out "machine parts" for no reason when we got there. Seriously. I've had a few projects like this, like Giant Soul-Crushing Project from a year or two ago. But unlike GSCP, this one is a challenge that doesn't feeling crushing.

For the past several months I've been hesitant to take on anymore online PR because a lot of the call for online PR is from small companies who really don't know what PR is. They think it's just a little copywriting, and that's all they want to pay for. I'm just tired of seeing people who want to pay $30 for a press release and have no idea how much they are cheating themselves. A well-crafted PR campaign takes a lot of time and research, and I'm fortunate enough to be working with a company right now that understands that.

I'm actually considering changing my focus from Web content, small local PR projects and random press releases for online clients to larger PR projects for companies who actually know what they want. It's challenging, but it's far less annoying and stressful than high-volume content writing. To do that means actually trying to sell myself, though. That always makes me feel uncomfortable. That's the big choice that I have to make- feel gross and uncomfortable in order to make a needed change, or stay on this course. I'm not so sure yet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Create Your Own Pen Names

If you're interested in creating anagram pen names for some of your work, I just found a great site that will give you instant anagrams for your name. They aren't necessarily names, but they are good starting points. It actually told me that there weren't any for mine at first. But um, I beg to differ- I did find a lot of high-quality anagrams in an earlier post. After dropping one of the Z's in my name, I did get a few anagrams from the site:

Elder Shh Zip
Held Her Zips
Held Hers Zip
Led Re Shh Zip
Zed Re Shh Lip

Yeah. I'll definitely be using those. I wish better luck to anyone else who tries it.

I may not be posting a lot for the next few weeks. I'm involved in two massive projects, one PR and one Web content. I barely have time to breathe. Ok, I do seem have time to play with the anagram site. And, I may possibly have time to cut my dog's hair so that it looks like a Fu Manchu. Actually, I find that doing other things while thinking about a major project can be extremely helpful for organizing project tasks. Sometimes staring at a blank computer screen is the least constructive thing that you can possibly do.

While driving, I come up with press release ideas. While showering I think of ways to construct specific press kits. For anyone who finds a blank screen to be intimidating, I heartily recommend stepping away and doing other things. You can be working just as hard on a project while you're making your dog look funny as you can with a keyboard under your fingertips. Then, when you step back into the harsh light of the computer screen, you have something to throw at it to keep it from being blank. You win!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More Reasons to Hide

Other than being afraid of utter rejection and being guilty of some off-color content, there are plenty of other reasons to use a pen name for online work. One of the most prevalent that I have noticed is to hide gender. I started out using a first initial to do just that. I've had people read this blog and ask me whether I was male or female. I've been addressed as "man" and "bro" in blog comments and emails. I've also read a review of this blog that mentioned that they weren't sure whether I was a he or she.

I used to think this was a good thing. I figured that if people knew I was a female (I totally am! Surprised?) that they might pay me less or assume that I wasn't well qualified. I used to take pains to not mention anything on my blog or in my bios that revealed gender. A few sites that I wrote for require a picture, but most don't. Lately, I've been letting the gender question slide because I've noticed that most of the high-earning Web writers that I know of are female. So, now I'm out.

A lot of people are still using an initial or pen name for this reason, though. I had a funny incident occur about a year ago that had to do with this practice. A long-term client knew me as my initialed name, and I knew the client as an initialed name. One day the client wanted my name and info for tax purposes. The client was surprised that I was female, and I explained that I used the initial to hide gender so that I wouldn't face pay discrimination. The client then revealed that she was female and used an initial to keep from being thought of as an amateur. Well, I thought it was funny.

So, is it necessary to do this if you are female? Yes and no. I think that if you're presenting yourself relatively professionally and you do have some skill, I don't think that the discrimination is as wide spread as we expect it to be. But, there are some cases where revealing the name and some personal information is just not helpful. I see a lot of "mommy writers" that go on about their children and mommy status. Nothing screams professional like allowing people to imagine you breastfeeding.

While I have nothing against mommies, it's best to mostly keep it to yourself if your objective online is to make money. There is a definite pay discrimination against those who are seen as mommy writers or mommy bloggers. There are ebooks that circulate among Internet marketers that specifically tell them to target mothers for low-paid work because they aren't professionals. One popular Internet marketing ebook says that moms are just online to earn a few dollars to buy ice cream for their kids. It suggests offering them $3 per article.

To avoid this, well, just avoid it. Personally, I try not to write about parenting topics. Trust me- there are other things that you know about and can write about. If you take on a parenting blog or get hired for parenting articles, I suggest using a pen name for them unless you want that to be your niche. Keep your parenting status off your bio- stick to your skills. You might have more kids than the Duggars and live in a huge Manolo, but play it down it if you want to be taken seriously. Play up your strengths, write about diverse topics and practice your skills. This will get you a lot further than taking easy articles about potty training.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writing With a Pen Name

A lot of people wonder why anyone would want to use a pen name for any of their writings. Those people are freaks. What? No, they are just hideously misguided. There are a lot of reasons to go into writing, but fame just isn’t one of them. There are very few writers, and virtually no Web writers, who actually become famous for their work- even if the work itself is well known.

If you write online for money, a lot of what you do is probably not going to be what you want to be remembered for or what you want your clients to see that you’ve done. Some of it is just grunt marketing work, some of it is dull SEO work and some of it may be personal items that you just don’t want other people to know that you wrote. A lot of the time, it’s because you just get roped into writing weird things that you don’t necessarily need to have your name on.

There are also the generic privacy concerns that everyone online has that weirdos will hunt you down for your pelts in order to sell them at the local general store. Or burglary. Whichever. With a pen name, that’s pretty tough to accomplish unless you link that work to work with your name on it, which I accidently do every once in awhile.

To get Web writing gigs, you should have some items in your name, though it isn't absolutely necessary. If you use the same pen name on several sites and have a few good pieces to showcase to clients, you're fine. If you have showcase items online and you want a little veil of privacy for other things, it's nice to have a comfortable pen name on hand.

Most of my pen names are either Beaker or some dirivitive of that. I've been doing that for years, so pretty much anytime you see something written by someone named Beaker, Beakerwriter, etc., its probably me except for when the item is lame. That's someone else.

The other day I was listening to the Doors and heard the Mr. Mojo Risin' refrain. If you aren't a Doors fan (shock, horror!), that's an anagram of the name Jim Morrison. It occurred to me that I really should have created an anagram of my name instead of naming myself after an abused muppet. Hindsight. Here are a few anagrams of my name that I came up with:

Zil Zepshred

Hil Zezherdsh

Zerhi Dlepshz

Lesh Pidherzz

Shirez Pelhdz

Sherl Phizzed

As you can see, I quickly realized during the scrambling process that my name is both stupid and has far too few vowels.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Blog!

I started a new blog last week, mainly because I had a really boring project and anything else in the world sounded interesting. It's all about eHow, how to write for it, how to come up with ideas for it, how much you can expect to make when writing for it, etc. Anyone who reads this blog might have noticed that I've talked a lot about residuals over the last two months or so, and I may be getting fairly obsessed with it, actually.

That's because I've started doing fairly well with it, and I decided earlier in the summer to make a real effort to increase that portion of my income. I'm tired of working all of the $@&! time. I really am. I love my work, and I don't really care to do anything at all other than read and write, but I want a choice. I want to be able to take a project or not take it, knowing that I have money coming in anyway, even if I turn down some work that month. I want to be able to take a week off here and there to do other things.

I've also started to realize how much I miss writing fiction. I have someone who wants me to edit some fiction for them, and that kind of smacked me in the face. Here's actual fiction, the thing that I have always wanted to do for a living, and I can't remember the last time I really sat down and worked on any of it. If I had more residuals coming in, I would have time to actually put some of that weirdness on paper. Imagine that. Do I want to write 10 article about hemorrhoids? No, I think I'll pass. I'm working on my novel and not starving. That's what my world may someday become.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Twitter Is Watching

I have been avoiding Twitter at all costs. I hide behind large objects, stay out of open meadows and try to stay in crowded public places, but Twitter is coming for me. I can feel it. There's virtually no escaping Twitter right now, and it knows when you aren't a member. It does everything in its power to make you join. It is touted as a great marketing ploy to those of us who must market ourselves. It's a great way to keep in touch with friends for the ear-stuck-to-the-cell-phone crowd. And now, The Man is out there, tweeting away to pull in those of us who haven't yet joined.

That's low, Twitter.

How much longer can I resist joining Twitter and wasting more of my day in useless Internet tasks? How much longer can any of us resist? I thought YouTube and Pac-man were bad. Now I can get up-to-date messages from Kirk himself? No! I will resist. I will not be assimilated. I can only hope that Wil Wheaton doesn't tweet. That may eat away at the very last of my resolve for good. No, Wil Wheaton! Resist!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Examiner Update

Well, if you didn't read my first impressions of Examiner, take a look here. I wasn't terribly impressed at first, but I have to say that my original impression has changed pretty dramatically. I'm actually doing fairly well there, surprisingly. For residual income I tried Bukisa and it was a complete waste of time. I tried AC and I make a modest amount every month from stuff I wrote ages ago, so it's fine. With Suite101 I make a reliable, steady income and get to pick my article topics within my category. With eHow I'm doing relatively well. But with Examiner, well, I may have finally found a site that agrees with me.

Most residual sites take a couple of months before the traffic builds and you make the payout amount. After that you can usually count on ongoing revenue even if you stop writing. With Examiner, I made the payout before the first month was over. This month, I've already made well over the payout. In fact, I've almost made the payout just with today's revenues. Today is a total freakish day, but a weird article that I wrote for them in the wee, boring hours of the morning has gone completely insane and has brought in thousands of views already. I'm not complaining.

So, here's a basic pro and con list for Examiner based on my month and a half there so far:

With a PR of 7, it's indexed quickly and well.
There's no bitchy editor to deal with- you can write whatever you want for the most part.
The income seems to be building more quickly than most residual sites.
You aren't dependent on ad clicks- it's based on page views and how long people stay on your pages.
There is no minimum length for the articles- having 150 words is perfectly acceptable.
You can delete comments. A couple of crazies have commented, and I got rid of that stuff pretty quickly. Crazy is actually fine, but crazy directed at me is just wrong.

There aren't any upfront payments- it's residuals only.
It isn't exactly prestigious. I don't give a rat's about that much anymore, but some people do.
You have to update often to keep traffic steady. They want three to four articles a week, and I've found that it takes that many to keep traffic coming in steadily.
They make you submit a picture of yourself, and they post it at the top of every article. That was a major con to me and I almost didn't accept because of it. No one needs to see that.

So, it's been pretty decent so far. Even my lack of enthusiasm for the site and my bare minimum of effort has produced decent results, so that's a pretty good sign. Of course, it could all take a left turn and end up like Shiver.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bubbles and Bursts

Last week was a very mixed week in my freelancing world. On the bright side, I was invited to write a guest post for On the Money, and I enjoyed doing that. I don't know if I've done a guest post under my name before. I do a lot of ghost blogging, but a guest post was nice to do.

On the dark side, well, there was a lot of it. I write quite a bit for a large content company, though I'm careful not to be tempted into making it too much of my income. I think perhaps that I've gotten too dependent on it, though. The company is infamous for its editors who send small things back for edit requests. Usually those edits come back with, "Can you add X?" or "Can you change this part to X?" I'm used to it, and even though it's a pain, it pays ok and the work is plentiful. Occasionally, though, the dark side shows itself and that annoyance turns to something else entirely.

Instead of the usual "We'd like you to change X," last week's edits came back as "This sucks and you should pretty much just die." It was actually so bad that the head of the editorial department contacted me personally to apologize. However, the damage was done. Being dependent on freelancing is a lot like laying on a big bubble. As long as you have the confidence that the bubble is strong and sound, you don't worry about it bursting. You can move around as much as you like, confident that the bubble will be there. But, every once in a while, someone will come along with a needle and remind you of how vulnerable it really is. Once you remember how thin the bubble is and how vulnerable you are, you become too scared to move around for fear of bursting it. I haven't had the confidence to write a single word for them since and I'm not sure that I will again. I spent a lot of time starting at the screen and wondering if I had any idea what I was doing.

Relying on content companies for a lot of your income seems safer to a lot of freelancers. Unlike private clients, a content company won't run off with the merchandise. A company won't stall payments, and it won't be hard to contact. I know of many people who feel much safer when working for them. And on the whole, they do feel safe. They're not. Sometimes they can hit you a lot harder than the clients who run off. At least those guys only take your money.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Tale of the NCA

Last year I found myself in a real quandary, wondering about the right thing to do. I won't mention the company names out of politeness, though I think a lot of Web writers may recognize them. Here's what happened:

Early last year I was working for a Web content company that supplies articles to a large and popular website. You've heard of it. I had been working for this company, Company X, for almost two years and liked them fine. They were fair with their writers, though the pay wasn't stellar, and the work was plentiful. Then, after almost two years, Company X asked us to sign a non-compete agreement. A few months before that, the company that owned the popular website, Company D, was starting to hire its own writers for 50 percent more per article. I had applied to them and never heard back. I assumed that they weren't going to hire me and forgot about it. Some writers were accepted and started writing for both.

Now, the non-compete agreement request came just after we were told that Company X had just been assured a two-year contract with the popular website. Two years! That's unheard of in Web writing circles. Two full years of unlimited work? Wow, I was certainly interested in staying with them. Meanwhile, many of Company X's writers jumped ship, refusing to sign the NCA and going off to write for Company D. I figured that even if I got in at Company D, they weren't offering that type of contract. And, they limited the number of articles per week that you could write. Even for less money per article, a two-year contract sounded like the way to go. I signed the one-year non-compete agreement. Fine.

The situation rapidly unraveled from there. Very soon after the NCAs were signed, Company X informed us off-handedly that they did not get the contract after all and that they had only two more months of their contract left. I searched the NCA and found that it didn't mention the contract at all. So, we had two months to write as much as we wanted and then the relationship between Company X and the popular website would be severed forever. The website was bulking up Company D and would be hiring all of their own writers for the popular site. That meant no chance of another contract for Company X to supply articles to the site. None.

A month later, I received an acceptance by Company D. It had literally been about six months since I'd applied, so I was extremely surprised. I was accepted by Company D for 50 percent more per article and under the NCA to Company X for another 11 months. So, I didn't write for Company D and focused on writing for Company X while I could. Their contract with the website ended. I had no work from them and another 10 months of a NCA. Odd.

After two months I really started to wonder about the NCA. Was it even legal? Especially since working for Company D wouldn't take business away from Company X. More months passed. I found out that, in fact, NCAs are illegal in my state and in many others. That didn't concern me as much as the ethics involved. If I were to start writing for Company D, was that really ethical, since I'd agreed not to? It wasn't so clear. I had signed the NCA because we were told that Company X had a two-year contract. They didn't. The two companies were no longer connected, and working for Company D would in no way affect Company X. It wouldn't take business away from them, and in fact it wouldn't impact them in any way. So, to start writing for Company D or wait another five months to write for them because of the NCA? Hmmm. What would you have done?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yeah, I'm an Examiner Too

"Have you heard about Examiner? Maybe you should be an Examiner!" That's what is on the fingertips over every Web writer, both pro and amateur, these days. If you haven't yet heard about Examiner, you will. Actually, you just did. I wrote a general explanation of the company and sites that might clear it up.

I've been hearing about it for about a year pretty much non-stop. I turned down a national position from them last year because I didn't think it would amount to much. Remember how crazy people were when Bukisa started? Yeah. No thanks. But over the past month, more and more people have been saying that they're doing pretty well from it. All together I've heard results coming in about evenly- about half say it's very little per article over time and about half say they are doing great with it and are moving more and more of their time there. One person said she's has stopped writing for private clients and is exclusively writing for Examiner.

After all of the hoopla, I finally decided to try again and I got accepted for another national position. I actually suspect that as long as your writing samples are in decent English and you pass the background check you're pretty much in. Did I say background check? I totally did. They conduct a background check to see whether you're a criminal. I think that a criminal would likely know just as much, if not more, about my topic as I do, so I don't really see the point. But, that's the way it is.

I decided a little over a week ago to give it one month- one month of actual effort in order to see whether or not it's worthwhile. I've only been there for eight or nine days now, so it's hard to say much about the money you can make there. I think it has a lot to do with the topic chosen and how often you post articles. I chose a national position rather than a local one because I figured it would bring in a wider audience. Then I chose a topic that I already have useless knowledge about and that everyone is interested in for some reason in order to make the articles easy to write and the audience even broader. Foolproof, eh? So far, not so much.

The traffic has been extremely slow and at least one day there was none at all. It's a little after 5 p.m and my nine articles have so far gotten one page view today. I realize that I have only given it a week, and it was a holiday week at that, so I'm going to put in more effort to see what materializes. So far, the money earned with Examiner has not been worth it, but it is a residual site, so the effort put in up front could be worth it down the road. We'll see.

Actually writing for Examiner is about as easy as writing blog posts and easier than writing for an article directory. Their publish tool is a little awkward, but there's no annoying editor to harass you and ask you why you didn't use X phrase X number of times. You can pick your own topics and post more than their recommended number of posts, three to four a week, if you like. I do like jobs where there's little contact with other humans, as unsociable as that sounds. The creativity simply flows better that way and the annoyance stays to a minimum.

If you want to try Examiner, there are actually referral codes for joining. I'm not sure how I feel about that, since I think it might influence others to make claims of more money than they are making in order to refer others. I'm also not sure how it bodes for the site itself if they have to get their writers to recruit others. This is the only review I've done so far of writing for them and I don't plan to promote my referral code other than right here: 15559. If you want to join, you can use that as your referral code and I'll be rich and famous, or maybe they'll just give me a stick of candy or something. I forget which. Actually, I think you get a decent amount of money per referral but I haven't looked into it much yet. I do know that some Examiners make more for their referrals than they do for their page views. I don't know how long Examiner could keep that up, but it sounds good for the time being.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Safety When Using Wireless Internet

Whenever we go out of town I have to drag a laptop to do work, so having a secure connection is extremely important to me. Every time I have gone out of town I have people telling me different things about how to connect safely. All of the men in my extended family are either programmers or scientists, so I have access to a lot of information that I usually ignore.

I have been told by them before that plugging a laptop into the wall at a hotel or condo rental is a safe Internet connection. I have also been told that it's incredibly unsafe and that you might as well set your computer on fire. I've been told that tapping into a hotel's wireless connection is perfectly safe and also that it's the most foolhardy thing a human can ever do.

This time I made it clear that I wanted the most secure connection possible. With two weeks in the rental, I needed to do everything that I do at home, minus making fun of the redneck neighbors. I got the programmers together and got them to tell me what is safer. One answer. No double speak. No programming terminology. Just. Tell. Me. What. To. Do.

The answer is apparently to get your own wireless router and to use your own secure connection for your Internet forays. A wireless router is about 40 bucks and can be bought at Wal-mart, Target, etc. It's easy to set up, too. Here's how to set it up for the most secure connection when you're out of town:

Get a relative to set up your router for you. Read some Anne Rice while he sets it up. Ask him periodically if it's set up yet. Once it's set up, use the computer. And that's how you can set up your own connection and stay safe while on vacation. At least, that's how I did it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I returned a few days ago from two weeks spent beachside. Unfortunately, I had to work pretty much every day of the trip. The photo is the Mighty Mac in my makeshift office during the trip. What other profession allows you to take off elsewhere for two weeks and work just as well wherever you go? A few highlights:

I may or may not have told Rush Limbaugh to get his car "the hell out of the way." Spouse insists that it was him, I think it was probably someone who looked a lot like him, sounded like him and happened to drive a car with large "Impeach Obama" signs in all of the windows. It could happen.

I decided to try to take two days off near the end of the trip. I went down to the beach with the intention of getting some sun on my so-pale-as-to-be-see-through legs. After two hours I was burned so severely that one person in our group actually wanted me to go to the hospital. I was unable to walk during those two days and so went back to working. And that's what going outside gets you.

While everyone else was stung by at least one jellyfish, none of them would sting me even when I yelled jellyfish challenges toward the water. Cowards.

While I was gone I took on a new client and was accepted by Examiner for a national topic. I have no idea how it will pan put because it's a rev share site. I know of several people that do very well there and I know of some that do pretty poorly. I chose a national position because I am hoping that it will generate more traffic than a local one. I thought I had enough rev share sites going, but I'd like to increase that income to allow me more time off. Maybe eventually I can get outside enough so that I don't burn every time it happens.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Realistic Limits Have No Place in Writing

I often overextend myself, assuming that I can take on more work when I'm already booked. And I do. I just avoid sleep and do it. There are times, as I learned this week, when you have to accept that there are times when you have to take a little time off.

Earlier this week I had surgery to remove my last baby tooth. Yes, I'm sure. Every time I mention my baby tooth people ask me if I'm sure. YES. My surgeon said it isn't that rare. He may be trying to make me feel like less of a freak, but he did say it.

The thing with a baby tooth in your 30s is that they can cause a lot of problems. I opted not to have general anesthesia because that was a lot more expensive and because I didn't want to be out of it for days like you are when you have it. So, I had pills that would put me into a "relaxed state." I assumed that they would wear off later in the day and I would be able to work that evening. Why not? Surgery, a little rest, then back to work. Sounded reasonable.

However, the "relaxed state" actually turned out to be a "hallucinogenic state" that caused me to have to be wheeled out, waving good-bye to a lamp (seriously) and telling the doctor that he was "not threatening."

After on and off sleep that didn't seem like it went on that long, I got up to get back to work, horrified to find out that it wasn't Monday anymore. Tuesday! I missed out on work! Imagine my surprise a few minutes later when I discovered that it wasn't Tuesday after all. It was Wednesday.

Moral: There are times when you just have to take time off. Like when you have surgery, it really is ok to take a couple of days off. I should have cleared my schedule and informed clients or done this week's work early and actually planned for some down time. Who knew?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm a Mac, Apparently

Ok, so after being sick for two weeks, and yes, I think it was the swine flu even though I had assumed that my body would have rejected something that trendy, we decided to use our tax refund to get me a decent laptop. I think I literally glow in the dark from a lack of sunlight at this point, and laptops are far less expensive now that I had remembered. They are actually so inexpensive that we got two.

One is a MacBook and the other is an HP Mini. The plan was for me to try one computer one day and the other computer the second day and then to decide which one I liked best and to claim it. So, the first day I tried the Mac. It was weird and confusing and the mouse made me so mad I actually threw it once. I still wasn't sure about it when I tried the HP the next day. That thing is about $200 and runs pretty much exactly like my HP desktop. It's got the same speed and the same amount of freezing, but it will run Firefox and it has a mouse with two buttons, so I figured that it was probably the way to go. So, the next day I used the HP and it started dawning on me- the Mac never once froze up when I tried it. I never had to wait minutes for something to load and I never felt like smashing it as I often do with my desktop and the HP Mini.

I tried the Mac again and actually figured out how to use what they call a mouse and how to navigate Safari, the Mac browser. It's actually an extremely good computer for a reasonable price. It doesn't freeze, it doesn't take forever to load anything, and it doesn't slow down over time. I had to reboot my desktop at least once a day to keep it running at a decent speed, and I never never once had to reboot my Mac to make it run better or faster. I don't have to worry about the virus software getting in the way of my stuff because there isn't any. Viruses aren't a big threat with Macs, apparently.

I always thought Mac people were pretentious and/or hipster gadget lovers, but, um, I'm afraid I may be a Mac person now. I've only had the thing for a week and I really have no wish to use anything else ever again. So here's my question- why haven't we been told how much better these suckers are? Why aren't Mac people proclaiming this stuff in the streets? With something like this on the market, PCs should have been edged out of the market years ago. Nice going, keeping it all to yourselves, Mac people. You can only keep your secret so long before the world finds out. Be afraid.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Uh Oh

I've been horribly sick for about four or five days now. I've been in bed most of the time, coming out briefly here and there to stay on top of projects and write an article or two when I can. I figured this was another sinus infection, I get them from time to time, but it's just gotten worse and worse with no signs of getting better. It just occurred to me this afternoon that, um, I think this might actually be swine flu.

I haven't gone to a doctor because they've evil, so I'm not sure if I have to do anything. I know the CDC is tracking swine flu, and I seem to have all of the symptoms as mentioned on a site that won't hire me. If I get tested for it, are they going to put me in a tent and bring in the guys in chemical suits to spray our house? I'm picturing the scene from E.T. now. I think I'll just skip it.

In other uh oh news, I have two clients who are pretty late with payments right now. One is a large company that should know better, and they're giving me runaround. When you hire people as independent contractors, you have to understand that they depend on the money they are making. They are self-employed people who need payments coming in on time in order to keep going. No company should shrug off when a check is coming, and no contractor should have to inquire about why their check never came. Any company that makes you jump through hoops to get paid should be struck down with the swine flu. And I have the means, baby. I have the means.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Elance Still Trying to Drive Me Insane

I haven't had to use Elance that much over the past year, but lately work has been drying up all over. I went back to Elance last month to start bidding on freelance jobs. I thought it would be an easy way to drum up some new work. WRONG. They are again trying to creating the most complicated site every known to man.

If you've never used Elance, you can probably imagine how it should work. You should be able to bid on jobs and then you should have an account area where you can see what you've bid on and what jobs you've landed. WRONG.

Bidding on jobs is easy. Finding them again afterward in your account, however, has been made difficult to the point of ridiculousness. There are so many statistics, workspaces, pages of portfolio options and other crap that it's impossible to actually find anything. I was actually in tears once trying to find a project that I was supposed to be working on but couldn't find.

Elance has also started some type of Sunday report crap that they never really explained. I keep getting emails about sending Sunday reports for projects that have been over for weeks. In addition, they put up a bunch of tests that they encourage you to take to show off your skills. I thought that did sounds like a better idea than just self evaluation. WRONG.

I started the grammar test, getting partway through before I realized that it never said whether this was for MLA, AP, APA or any other style. The questions were ones that you would expect in a high school English class, not from anyone working in any professional capacity. The questions were extremely style specific, so I thought I could just get the answer from the site. WRONG. I emailed, asking which style the test was for. No response. Follow up email. No response. Screw it.

As much as Elance bothers me and is increasingly treating its users like kids, I simply was not prepared for the email that came today. Here's just one quote from this masterpiece: "Elance is introducing a new way to display your activity in a section called "My Stats" (short for My Statistics)." I do have to thank them for clarifying that, though. I would have been up all night running Google searches trying to figure out what "stats" meant.

Now, because the site just isn't crushingly complicated enough, with rankings and ratings and placement based on about 10 factors, they are now starting a points system that will affect your placement in their search as well as your credit rating, your medical history and whether or not you get laid. I am assuming. The points are based on feedback, getting repeat work, earnings and other stuff that already affected your placement.

So, why all of this? Because they have too damn much money and no real reason to spend any of it. I have an idea. I need patio furniture. Bad. If Elance will pay for my patio furniture, I will plaster it with the Elance logo and give myself a point every time I sit on it. Then, I can test myself as to how long I sit and report back with pages of statistics about it. I will rank where I get to sit on it based on my points. Then I will create pages and pages of information about what it is used for and submit a detailed report every Sunday about its use. I am seriously thinking of submitting this idea to them. I don't expect a response.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Holy Crap

So, last night the big threat of the swine flu was that there was a big outbreak in Mexico and people are warned not to go there right now. Check. I wasn't going there anyway. Then a few minutes ago I got a call to tell me that all of the schools in the area are being shut down until next week because two kids that go to a school five minutes from my house both have swine flu. Seriously. So, we're pretty much going to die. Or take Tamiflu. Either way, I can see that I'm going to get much less writing done this week than I had planned. Thanks, pigs!

UPDATE: Ahhhhhhhh! I'm getting emails, phone calls and Gmail Chat pings about the swine flu. Thank God I don't have Skype. Schools, daycares and businesses that cater to kids are shut down and now other businesses are closing. My brother has to work from home tomorrow because his whole office is closed. Local museums and other things are announcing closings until at least next week. People are freaking out and sending me press releases about hand washing(?) and articles about face masks.

I'm pretty much thinking pandemic barbecue- let's all get together and roast the bastards that started all this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogs and Blogs and Blogs

So, I was a blogger for Today dot com for awhile. They eventually let me have two blogs and were paying pretty well for the posts. After awhile they started lowering the price for each post. Then it happened again. And again. After awhile, they stopped paying for them altogether and went to a pay-per-pageview model, though they never bothered to email me to tell me. I had to email them and ask why I wasn't being paid.

Since that time, I have heard from at least 30 or 40 other people that this has happened to. And like many of them, I am not being paid for the posts I made after the cut-off time, even though they didn't notify me about it ahead of time, because I didn't make their minimum payment amount during that time. The minimum payment is very high- far higher than on any other site I have ever written for, and I can't legally prove that the site knows that its bloggers will likely not reach it on the current payment schedule. No! They probably have no idea at all and would be shocked if this were called to their attention.

Ninety percent of what I do is ghostwriting. Most of the stuff that I put up under my own name was started so that I can show clients- "Hey, see that? I wrote that stuff and I can write your stuff too." I don't worry about rights that much because ghostwritten stuff is sold for full rights, and I don't call attention to it or anything because that's just rude. I hate it when ghostwriters do that- I see some who actually link on their sites to stuff they've ghostwritten, and I'm thinking, does your client know you do this? Maybe they want people to think they wrote it. Maybe that's why they bought it!

Anyway, the question of rights has really struck me now because the rights to that entire blog are gone. And, it's under my name. I can't keep building on what was there and expect anything in return, and they can do whatever they want to it like put bacon on it or unicorns. I'm seriously considering starting another Blogger blog on that topic just because I can. That way I could keep adding to it and create an impressive body of information on the subject, or, you know, a big ole wad 'o posts, that might actually bring in something. But I already have blogs that are neglected, and I lost the password to one that I love, so I'm not sure what will happen there. Taking on a new blog is like taking on a new puppy- be sure you know how much time it will take and how much whining will be involved.

If you are thinking about blogging for Today, I can't prove that the owner is a jerk. That's simply my opinion. I can't prove that he has been nasty to his bloggers in his own forum, since "nasty" is subjective. I don't whatsoever think that people should avoid the site like the plague until they treat writers like real humans. Writers are filth and should be treated as such. I've heard that the owner eats kittens, also, but I don't believe that whatsoever.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The insecurity that comes with writing, well, that I sometimes get anyway, has a few cures. Unfortunately, the only one that I know of is alcohol. I have noticed over time that when I've had a few I actually write pretty well. I have fewer stilted sentences and the whole thing flows pretty well. Too much of course, and you forget about what you're doing and wander off to see what's in the freezer. Cake! But just one or two and suddenly the fear of shredding a sentence is gone and you don't develop that stiffness that can sometimes occur with too much thought put into exactly where every word is going to go.

There has been the odd time, however, when too many did indeed occur and I wrote something that ended up strange and yet not as strange as you might think. I literally don't remember writing this. That's a weird feeling. You log into your Blogger account and think WTF? Have I been hacked? By someone who loves Shelley? Probably not.

Luckily, having a few too many only occurs during those rare recreational times and not when I have client work to do. I do love creating weird essays and Hubs for my own amusement, though, during those occasions. I think they're actually a lot closer to the type of writing that I'd eventually like to do. Don't we all get into this because we eventually want to write fiction? That seems to get further and further away as time passes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Freaky Sunday and Blogs

Ok, so you think you pretty much have the contingencies covered most of the time. You try to get your research done early in case a home emergency comes up. You keep an extra, crappy computer on hand in case your first one self-destructs, which has happened twice, and an even-crappier computer waiting for when the crappy one blows up. Check. You have steeled yourself to work through household commotion, screaming, the flu, strep throat, two bouts of head lice (What? When you have offspring, it happens!) and slumber parties.

So, I had a nice long list of stuff to do last night, all scheduled out nice and neat on a scrap of paper, and then a FREAK WINDSTORM blew up suddenly and knocked the power out for more than three hours. Seriously. Even a cat 1 hurricane rarely knocks out the power, but this sucker was merciless. I've never seen anything like it out of a hurricane, and it lasted just as long. I figured the gods didn't want me to keep my schedule- they wanted me to pace nervously for an hour and then read a book by candlelight. So, I paced nervously for two hours and didn't read a damn thing.

On the upside, I was able to interview the Fug Girls recently! I got their final responses back today and put it all onto a Suite101 article. I freaking love the Fug Girls. I actually sent them a fan email about a year ago, which they were kind enough to answer. I am also happy to be back doing a few interviews, which I have missed since leaving newspapers. Most Web articles come from Web research and perhaps your own knowledge on a subject.

Q: Why put it in question/answer format? A: Because like I said, most Web articles don't rely on original interviews. Putting a few quotes into a Web article, as is done with newspaper articles, can make it appear that the quotes are lifted from other articles or from press releases.

The article is part of a larger series of articles that I've been working on about bloggers who get book deals. I have a list of some of the blogs that have been turned into books and I have another blogger interview here.

My point with these is to counteract the notion that you have to have serious subject matter or that your blog has to be informational in order to have a blog that is hugely popular. I was inspired by a particular blogger who continually tells her readers that you should never start a blog without carefully researching the subject matter first and then must engage in non-stop promotion of that blog if you want to be successful. The more I delve into the subject of popular blogs, the more I find out that this couldn't be less true. All of these bloggers start with an idea to amuse themselves, they never research it beforehand and they never engage in promotion. If you wonder about the success of your own blog, you may find some inspiration in them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pen Names and Privacy

I have been writing under a number of pen names for as long as I've been a Web writer. I didn't think it was that unusual at first. I usually choose Beaker or some variation of it whenever I can, and that's worked fine so far. Many times I choose Beakerwriter, which is my user name on Elance, RentACoder and Constant Content.

While a lot of Web writers were discussing using their name as their brand, I figured Beakerwriter was my brand. I even put pictures of beakers on my accounts instead of one of those gross business pictures that so many people use. On one site I wrote over 125 articles that are all attributed to a random letter combination that I came up with. The only time I've used my name has been when a site disallows the use of a pen name. That has happened with two sites that I write for, and one of those sites gave me permission to use my first initial instead of my first name. It's been fine.

Of course, that's the thing- it's been fine. It hasn't been spectacular, well, perhaps once in a while it has, but on the whole, I can't seem to grab those big whales. Is it the pen names? Is it that people are seeing my work and not connecting it to the cheesy person who comes knocking and asking for assignments? Are the pen names holding me back? I've seen people link to my blog posts and mention that they don't know whether I'm male or female. Is that wrong?

I sincerely don't know. I value my privacy dearly. I think that's it, anyway. Am I just hiding? Am I so afraid of people knowing who wrote something that I am keeping potential clients from seeing something that might be good for my career?

I've been seriously considering letting go of all of the pen names. Perhaps for some it wouldn't be a big deal, but to me it would be like parading down the center of town naked. Trust me- no one wants that. Or would they? Are our flaws really so terrible that we have to hide them in perpetuity? I may have a bad article here or there and occasionally espouse politically incorrect ideas. Does that mean that I should hide it all lest it be ridiculed and used as proof of my incompetence? Ick. I really don't know.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vacay, Email and Layoffs

We recently got back from a week of vacation, something that I wasn't sure I wanted to do, and indeed wasn't sure we could do since the L word was first spoken in our house. No, not that word. This one. We actually get an extremely good accommodation deal, sometimes completely free, through having connections. That sounds really Mafia, not that there is one, but it's just dumb luck on my part. Anyway, I discovered several things during my foray into Florida:

Being able to do actual freelancing work is a tenuous thing when you're out of town. Away from home, everything becomes infinitely more complicated all of a sudden. One of the offspring was injured during the trip and it took forever to find out what to do about it, What doctor to see, where to even find one, etc.

The main thing that you can generally count on being able to do is managing email. Even when I didn't have much time at the hotel to actually try to work, there is always time to read and respond to emails, which doesn't take that long even if you have a lot of them. Even just a few minutes in the morning and again at night is enough to manage email, stay in communication with ongoing clients and answer questions sent to you. In the end, that's most of what I could do while away this time.

A number of people really are clinging to the mid-80s idea that the tanner you are, the more attractive you are. This isn't the case.

Every part of the offline economy seems to be having problems. Even the place that I went, generally a hugely profitable place, is in the middle of layoffs. The shops, usually bustling, were empty. Virtually all of them were having sales, something I've never seen in all the trips I've made there over the past mhhmmmm years. There were items available as much as 75 percent off, and people weren't buying.

Upon returning, I was super glad that I work almost exclusively online, which numerous reports have shown to be a growing sector of the economy. And then I read this. So, the apocalypse is pretty much around the corner. This sucks on many levels, one of which being that I recently applied to be a Google Quality Rater, and now I won't be able to afford any of the pre-apocalypse sales.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Firefox and Misspellings

If you have issues with spelling, or you just want to make sure you don't have any, Firefox is likely the best browser ever because of its built-in spell checker. I'm not afraid to admit that I have a few spelling issues. Ok, I'm a little afraid because I actually make a living writing things for people. But, no matter how bad your issues with spelling are, no one ever has to know if you have the right tools on your side.

With a combination of Word and Firefox, none of my misspellings ever see the light of day. No one would ever find out how often I misspell things because I use both all of the time without fail. Well, thy might find out if I spilled it on my blog or something. Oops.

Anyway, one of the things that I do regularly is to go through my Firefox dictionary additions to make sure that I haven't accidentally added misspellings to it. Surprisingly, this is a common occurrence that many people are guilty of. I discovered one recently because I usually cross-check anything I've written by checking it in both Firefox and Word. That ensures that if Word is being weird, Firefox will catch it. And if something was added to Firefox by accident, Word will catch it. Here's a detailed explanation of how to do this. It's pretty simple to do, and if you use Firefox, you might be surprised at what you find.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Freelancing and Insurance

One of the troubles with freelancing in the U.S. is the insurance situation. I know a lot of Web writers who rely on their spouse's insurance to cover them, and I have periodically been able to do this. But since mine was laid off earlier this month, that insurance will run out at the end of February. If you're a freelancer who is unsure about the insurance situation, I wrote an article about finding insurance recently that sums up some of the companies that I have used.

That article was written only four days ago but there has already been a change that can affect a freelancer's choice of insurance. A new bill was signed two days ago that allows anyone laid off recently, going all the way back to September of 2008, to have the government pay 65 percent of their COBRA payments for nine months. Our COBRA payment was going to be over $900 a month, so I was about to sign up for a family plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield when the bill was passed. The subsidized coverage sounds great, and I was quite excited to hear that we could actually keep our policy after all. Unfortunately, there are problems.

The first problem is that no one will discuss it with me yet because it doesn't go into effect until March 1st, and no one is dealing with it until it does. Coincidentally, that is the same day that our insurance lapses. So, employers have 60 days after that date to send information out to laid off workers about the program.

So, during that 60 days, are we covered? Do we have to pay the full premiums? Will we be reimbursed if we do? What if we wait until we get the information to sign up and have to go to the doctor before the program is available to us? Will we be covered retroactively? The insurance companies aren't sure. The employers aren't sure. I don't know that even the government is sure. So far there are zero answers about any of it and I'm getting nervous. I don't want to be without insurance for even a day and I sure as heck am not chancing it for the two months that employers have to send out the materials.

If you're a freelancer waiting for COBRA coverage or looking for short-term coverage while you're looking for a job, I recommend Blue Cross Blue Shield's temporary policy. They have short term policies for up to three months that are dirt cheap. I'm going to sign up for a month of that coverage just to make sure I'm covered while the powers that be mill around and decide what they're going to do about the whole COBRA situation.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

News and Bacon

I haven't been around Ye Olde Blogge in awhile, but anyone who reads it may forgive me when they hear my so-sad tale of woe. Actually, I'm not all that sad about it and I don't really have any woe. Sorry. My spouse was laid off since last I posted and I have had to keep us all afloat with my freelance writing.

I've been earning a good percentage of the family's income for a year now, and before that I was earning most of it. Unfortunately, spouse works in an industry that is no longer what it once was in this country and this is not the first time there's been a layoff. I don't think I expected it this time, though, even with the bad economy. But, a freelancer must press on. If you are freelance writing and don't think you could pull it off, you might be surprised by what is possible. Here's what I did as soon as I heard the word "layoff" (redundancy, for my Brit friends):

I bought a very tiny vacuum. Now I can giggle as I vacuum my desk with its retro hideousness. No kidding. First thing.

I made a layoff budget to keep things we can't live without (Netflix!) and to get rid of things that we can (McDonald's).

I figured out exactly how much that I need to earn per day in order to meet that goal. I usually work seven days a week anyway and I already had a daily goal of what I had to make before in order to meet bills, pay off debts and buy stuff we want. The new daily goal is more than double the old one, but it's still doable.

I figured out what the most lucrative gigs are that I have been doing lately and started concentrating on those more than my millions of side projects. That has increased my income and I'm really not working many more hours than I did before.

I started adding bacon to random websites to amuse myself.

If you're a freelancer and are fearing the economy, it is possible to keep going online and to earn a respectable income. Business on the Web is actually increasing, according to the latest figures. I have heard that PPC rates have gone down a little, but people are buying online, setting up websites and hiring writers just like they did before. I suspect that the Web content business is staying afloat because as people lose their jobs they are attempting to set up businesses online to replace their income.