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.