Sunday, December 30, 2007

How Important are Status Reports?

I had a comment from a client recently that I hadn't sent any status reports during the course of a project. I don't usually send them for small projects because I just don't feel they're necessary. If you are dealing with a brand new web writer or one who isn't used to meeting deadlines, etc., I can understand asking for status reports just to make sure they are actually doing the work. But, from a professional with nothing but good feedback from countless clients, what's the point?

The only time I send status reports is when it's a large project or when the deadline is long or indistinct. For very large projects, a quick report is warranted to reassure the customer. For long or vague deadlines, I like to send one to tell them exactly when it will be finished. If it's a project consisting of five or 10 articles, um, no. I have my deadline. I have my instructions. I will write the articles and turn them in when it's time. There's no need for hand holding on either of our parts. I'd like to know if anyone else feels like they have to send constant, pointless updates for small projects.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Writing and Solitude

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that it's no wonder the greats were a little freaky. Shelley, Wilde, Poe- all of my guys were a little off kilter. The intense solitude of a long writing session can sometimes make you see how easy it would be to slip into a life like that, full of weird, broken relationships and possibly a storm-tossed sailboat that was foolishly taken too far out to sea. Ah, Shelley. Where are the Shelleys today? I get so sick of SEO sometimes, wanting to stretch out and try something, anything that could possibly evoke the feeling of the Telltale Heart or a Yeats poem. Instead, I write about colon cleansing. Such is life.

Shopping Cart Software

I’ve been looking around at various online shopping carts and ecommerce software for my PLR site. There are several that require a level of programming that I simply don’t have. But, for non-programmers, there are easier ways to get a shopping cart set up. ecommerce software is a big shopping cart software company, and the services they offer look pretty helpful for small-time sellers as well as bigger companies.

They have SEO shopping carts, which I have never heard of and still don’t understand. But, I suppose I don’t have to. They take care of stuff like that. They also have a free trial right now and a few other special offers. There’s a free site design right now, which I could use for all of my hideously plain sites. I actually consulted with a web designer and hired him to do some work to de-ugly my sites. But, he never showed up to do the actual work. Instead, he got a job working on a new B-movie called “Chainsaw Cheerleaders.” Seriously. But, I’m betting that the Ashop Commerce guys will be there for anyone who needs serious shopping cart software.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Important Lesson in Pricing

I ghostwrite a blog on a subject that I am very familiar with- one that is enjoyable and takes minimal research. I saw a posting on a freelancing site recently for blog ghostwriters to write about a very similar topic. Great! I inquired and was told that the rate was half the minimum rate that I charge for blog posts. But, there were no commissions and I could do the posts easily and at the same time as my ghostwritten blog. Fabulous. I accepted.

A few days later I was hanging around RentACoder looking at stuff, and there was a posting there for someone to write blog posts about the same topic. I applied, at my usual rate for posts, and was accepted. The buyer then told me that she'd had a couple of other bloggers that had agree to write the posts for half that amount, and that if we continued after the project ended, that would be the price. Weird, but ok. I now had three blog projects that were on the same topic. What could be better?

I then got the information for the RAC project. If you haven't put this together already, and I hadn't, the two projects were for the same site. That's right- I actually underbid MYSELF. I was one of their first bloggers for the off-RAC project and apparently helped set the price point that the site was now looking for. Yes, I am an idiot.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Six Hours and 15 Minutes

They were a little slow today, but to fair it was a Friday afternoon when I posted. It's late evening now, so I think it's safe to say that they have more than one employee doing this. There's where your fees are going, folks.


I've noticed that every time I mention the word ELANCE in a post, an employee from Elance takes a look at my blog. Yes- every time. That means they have at least one person, likely full time, searching blogs to see what people are saying about Elance. You know what we're saying? We're saying Elance. That's right- Elance. And if you guys can afford one or more blog trollers, why was it that you had to triple our fees again?

I'll post back with how many minutes it took before an ELANCE employee sprinted in here to see what was being said about ELANCE.

If you want to experiment with this on your own, I'd love to hear back about this bizarre phenomenon. Just mention the word ELANCE once or twice (or nine times) in your blog. How many minutes did it take? Did they leave a message or just read the post? How fun was it to mess with them?

Smorty Paid Blogging

I had Smorty recommended to me by another web writer, and I just signed up for that. The site's layout seems similar to PayPerPost, and the posts pay similar amounts. What I recently found out about PPP is that Google is reducing everyone's page rank that uses them. I don't give a crap about page rank, but I know a lot of bloggers who do, so it's something to think about.

If you want to blog for money, Smorty seems like a safe choice. Google is not penalizing them and the projects look straightforward and simple to perform. If you're interested in blog advertising, Smorty can get your item and link on blogs in whatever categories you choose. And if you have a site to advertise, it isn't expensive to get started and pay bloggers to mention your site. So, with this site it's not hard to find opportunities to get paid for blogging or to advertise on blogs. Both can be done on Smorty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Using a Traffic Counter

StatCounter is such a useful, and fun, little traffic counter- and it's free. If you have a site that will take a little javascript, you just paste in the code and you're good to go. I have it on all of my sites, though the ones that won't take javascript just have the html version. If you can use the javascript version, it comes with a fun little link that let's you see where your traffic is coming from. This includes the city your visitors are coming from, and often the link they use to get there.

I love to see all of the international visitors that find it through Google searches, and the domestic ones who usually come in through a link somewhere. Using the StatCoutner, I saw that within half an hour of posting my last blog post, both Elance and the guy who stole work from me both visited my 'lil blog. Imagine that. Such a small world, isn't it?

Elance Fees

A lot has been said lately about the increase in Elance fees and how difficult it will make it for writers and translators to do business with them. I figured that since the new memberships come with a certain (small) number of "connects," I would go ahead and use them for projects that sent me an invitation. I've used them all for the month and I seriously doubt I will ever buy more. The amount they provide every month will probably be enough for my purposes.

But, the Elance fees that I've been the most concerned about are the over $50 in fees that have been taken from me for a job that was never paid for by the buyer. I sent several invoices, at the request of the buyer, and he never paid any of them. Of course, Elance still charged me the commission. Since I wouldn't pay Elance directly for the privilege of being stolen from, they took it out of the next few projects. But, today they actually refunded those fees! I am extremely pleased that, though it took weeks, they have refunded all of the fees I was charged for that nightmare of a project. This is the first time in a long time that I've been happy with Elance. They can act in a fair manner if you take the time to pursue matters with them.

Hotel Reservations

I've used Expedia and Travelocity before, but until recently had not heard about Hotel Reservations. The prices they offer are extremely competitive, and several of the destinations have special internet rates that are guaranteed to the the lowest rates available.

The site has more than just hotel reservations, however. There are also a number of vacation rentals available, which can be extremely difficult to otherwise find without going from site to site. They also offer deals on vacation packages, flights and car rentals.

The destinations that I've searched through, including New Orleans and London, brought up surprisingly low rates. The last time I went to London I paid a lot more than many of the rates available through the site. For the same price as my tiny room with a four-flight walk up, I can get a four-star hotel in the heart of London through In addition to the range of hotels available, they also include hostels, giving travelers a wider variety of price ranges to choose from.

This is a sponsored post.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Book Market

It's amazing how hard it can be for an unpublished book writer to break into the market, especially considering what's out there. Literary rejections on display is right on the money with its commentary about the current publishing climate. So many agents and editors turn down works that they like and think are useful, but that would not be commercially popular enough.

Oddly, I think that the non-fiction work I've been querying is very marketable. The subject matter is popular on the shelves, and at least one large publisher is actively looking for titles on the subject. Not only that, but I actually found an angle that has never been covered by any of the current books on the subject. I found an agent that recently sold a book to the very publisher I've been eying, and he did ask for a book proposal. But, since he never got back with me, I'm assuming he's passing.

It strikes me as strange that it can be so hard to break into the market when there are titles like this book that are selling. Oh yeah- I went there. That's what publishers are buying right now, apparently. And, it's doing very well. Who knew?

Friday, December 14, 2007

No More Text Speak

Ok, so I'm old. Well, not super old, but I'm not a teenager anymore. I don't text message. I don't plan to text message. I don't want to get an email written in that cheesy text-speak language that teenagers think is their super-secret decoder ring language. And, I certainly don't want to read that stuff in forums or in blogs.

Only slightly less repellent is the trend toward extreme-conversational style full of slang. In other words, a style that screams "I'm an old person desperately seeking a younger audience- please like me!!" The problem with it is that it won't last, and if the website does, it's soon outdated.

Conversational writing is just a part of most web writing, and because the audience is likely to be all ages, it makes sense. But too many writing sites warn against formal writing- even in your own blog. If you're blogging about something serious, shouldn't the writing be formal? And isn't your blog your own space to write however you like? Silly me, I thought it was. And, these sites don't always take their own advice anyway.

If the subject matter and potential audience calls for formality- write formally. If it calls for a more conversational style- write conversationally. The truth is that there really aren't any rules etched in stone on any mountainside. This is true especially for blogs- until now, that is. I'm going to go ahead and etch a rule about text speak in stone today. If you're text messaging your friends about the homecoming dance and don't want old Mr. Witherspoon to catch you, have fun with cryptic speech. But if you've already turned 18, it's just never appropriate.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Terry Pratchett

I read this morning that beloved fantasy star Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's all the more shocking when you consider that he's only 59 years old. Terry Pratchett is quoted as saying that early onset cases of Alzheimer's are rare, but the stats I found show that 5 to 10 percent of Alzheimer's cases are considered early onset- starting before the age of 65. That's about 200,000 cases in the U.S. alone.

I am incredibly saddened, as Terry Pratchett is one of the best fantasy writers in the history of the genre. Like a lot of people out there, I have a family member with Alzheimer's and I know how awful the disease can be. Here's hoping for a few more books from Pratchett and a timely cure for Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I signed up for PPP!

I just got approved at Pay Per Post, so I hope I can justify continuing my blog now. A personal blog doesn't usually make any money, and it can take a considerable amount of your time away from paid writing. But, just about any type of blog, personal or business, can sign up with Pay Per Post and make a little extra for sponsored posts. I first heard about the site from someone on a writer’s forum who runs several blogs and uses Pay Per Post to make money on all of them. There are a lot of bloggers out there who make quite a bit each month with their paid posts. I probably won't be one of them, but a little bit now and again couldn't hurt.

Pay Per Post is an interesting site, and I've learned a lot about blog monetizing by reading the many post offers that are available to members. There are offers from a wide variety of sources- more than enough for just about every blogging category. The blog has to be at least 90 days old and you have to have at least 20 posts to qualify. It also can’t be a blog about illegal activities and/or porn. So, if you have a non-pornographic blog, sign up to get paid to blog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Don't Want to Buy a Vampire

"Wesley, werewolves buy vampires because someone is selling them. If no one was selling them, they wouldn't be buying them."

What the heck is that? I have no idea. That was the last line of a dream I had, and the only part I can remember before waking up today. I love those in medias res lines that you can sometimes remember when you wake up. If you keep a notebook next to the bed, you can record lots of weird snippets and strange ideas before they fade away. I have one, but unfortunately the pen wasn't working today. So, I had to repeat those lines over and over to myself as I raced down the stairs to find a pen. Thank God no one was home at the time.

If you have a bit of weirdness to start with, random lines and scenarios can be a starting point for short story or just a creative exercise to get your mind working in the morning. Just seeing what your mind is capable of coming up with is a good way to keep yourself unblocked and ready to write.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sitepoint, Non-Payers and Plagiarism

I saw an interesting discussion on Sitepoint the other day. A potential website owner wanted to run a news site but didn't have the budget to either hire writers to write news stories or to go out and buy the products that he wanted to talk about and write them himself. Of course, that's a clear indication that he shouldn't do it at all. Surprisingly, person after person told him to simply plagiarize someone else's work. After all, he wants the site and can't afford it.

This case isn't the only one that I've seen like it. Many people tend to get defensive about their budget, even if their budget isn't enough to pay for the thing they want. I'd like to own a Domino's, but I don't have the budget. Should I steal one? Um, no. I can't afford one, so I'm not getting one. For some reason, people can see this clearly when it involves a brick and mortar business. But, when it comes to an online one, many people believe they are entitled to have one even if they can't afford one. This leads to plagiarism, content scraping and people who outright steal other people's work and then refuse to pay for it.

So, what happens if they can't afford to pay their writers, or can't afford to populate their site with any content? They should go out of business, just like any other business person who can't get the capital together to keep going.

It's kind of the same way that I see the fast food industry and minimum wage. If minimum wage was raised high enough to give workers something closer to a living wage, fast food restaurants claim that they'd go out of business. Great! If you can't afford to pay your workers a decent wage then you should to go out of business. If the fast food industry disappeared, teenagers would stop spending half their week doing low wage labor and perhaps go back to their studies. Adult workers would be forced to look into some of the free job training provided by their county (just about every county in the U.S. has training centers free to low income workers) and stop working at a dead-end job. Customers would have to put some thought into their meals rather than buying the cheapest, fattiest food available just because it's convenient. You'd have less obesity, less poverty and fewer hideous fast food restaurants littering the roadsides. It would be better for everyone.

The same is true with websites. If the people who couldn't afford to go into business stayed out of it, the bidding sites wouldn't be littered with weirdos hoping to find someone willing to work for .01 a word. You wouldn't have junk websites hiring people to write garbage in the hopes of making .50 a month through AdSense. This too would be better for everyone.

Friday, December 7, 2007


It's been a wacky week in freelance land. The wackiest day of the week came when eBay sent me an email threatening to sue me for cybersquatting. I wrote a fairly short ebook about selling on eBay, which I sell regularly on eBay itself as well as having a ClickBank listing. I thought it might be nice to have my own site to sell it on as well in order to avoid the steep fees that I pay to both of those sites on each sale. Well, apparently they are going after everyone with a domain name that has the word eBay anywhere in it, and using the cover of cycbersquatting law to scare people into taking their sites down. The cybersquatting law was started to prevent people from buying domain names that are the names of existing companies and then offering to sell the domain to the company at an increased rate. Obviously I didn't do that.

They also said that someone might confuse my piddling little site with one that was owned by eBay, which was also untrue. I have no discernible web design skills and the site was extremely plain, consisting only of a page about the ebook and a link to buy it. I can't imagine anyone believing that it was in any way a part of eBay. The example they used in the email was their successful blockage of the domain "ebaysecurities." I don't have any proof, but I believe that was an attempted phishing site being used to trick people into giving up their personal information. I didn't do anything of the kind. I would have likely won in court if they had decided to take it that far, and I am incorporated, so I can't see them getting much more than my laptop, some office paper and possibly my giant box of Bic pens even if they won. But, in the end, I decided not to mess with it. In an uncharacteristic backing down, I erased everything from the site. I just don't need the aggravation and I don't really have the time to do much promotion for the site anyway. I may have an obnoxious streak, but I don't mean any harm to anyone and don't want any trouble.

If you have a site with any company name in it, you might think about checking with the current cybersquatting legislation just to make sure you're on the right side of the law. There are other companies shutting down domains, but so far none of them have been tiny sites selling an ebook.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How Words and Letters Effect Everyone

I think we all realize how words can affect us, from the words we use to the words we hear and read from everyone else. The PC notion was started with good intentions- to reduce the sexism and racism that was present in some of the everyday language that was common. No, "man" does not mean human anymore than "woman" does. Specific words hold strong distinctions that can affect us subconsciously, though the entire notion has gotten extremely out of hand. Merry Christmas!

But, I found out recently that even the letters we are attracted to are letters than have significance to us. The initials of our names create a preference for words that start with those letters. This has been found even in GPAs, with people with names starting with A and B getting better grades than people with names starting with C and D. People choose their brands with a preference for ones that start with their initial letters. Since reading that, I've noticed how many of the brands I'm loyal to start with an S- there are a lot.

That's how deeply words can affect us. We see the words around us as being personal and connected to us, even when we don't realize it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

More Queries

Since getting my rejections from a couple of children's book agents, I really believe that the project would better be pitched directly to a publisher. But, I am choosing right now to concentrate on a non-fiction book that I think has a lot more market possibilities. The question for this one, of course, is whether to query agents or publishers. I's rather try to get an agent to do a lot of this for me, but I think I might just query publishers right now and try to get somewhere that way. In the end, there is the distinct possibility that none of it will matter and no one will be interested in this book. My time would probably better be spent on seeking new freelance clients.

Will that stop me? Heck no. There's nothing like a book project to get me feeling creative and excited. Most of my fiction has been abandoned at some point because there's really no limit on what can happen in the book. I can go on for years with fiction, tooling and retooling a piece of dialogue or adding scenes that I thought of while in the shower. But, a non-fiction book has a much more distinct flavor. There's an actual stopping point with non-fiction. At some point, the topic has been covered to your satisfaction and the book ends. So, win or lose, this is my project and I'm going to try to get it noticed. I'll post when I start getting rejections.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Gush Over Fareed Zakaria

Anytime I read anything, and that includes cereal boxes, I always consider how I would reword some of it. I don't think I'm better than everything I read, I just always find passages that I think could have been better. Sometimes it's awkward phrasing, sometimes it's a cliche, and sometimes it's just a crappy paragraph.

The only modern writer that I can read without ever doing that is Fareed Zakaria. He's a Newsweek columnist as well as being Newsweek International's editor. He sometimes pops up elsewhere, but I mainly know him from reading Newsweek. One recent pop up was on The Daily Show, which really freaked me out. Who knew my hero was popular enough to go on The Daily Show?

Fareed Zakaria's writing is so superb and so nuanced that it feels completely effortless. It's like stepping into bathwater that's exactly the right temperature. Nothing in his writing ever feels forced. He uses facts and figures in the perfect places without ever coming across as aggressive or snotty. His complete understanding of what he's writing about shines through. He keeps his own opinions visible, though they aren't the driving force of the work.

He is simply the most amazing columnist I've ever read, and I would so marry him if he asked me. If I met him on the street, didn't know where we would live or whether he snored or smoked cigars, I would still marry him. Is there a Fareed Zakaria fan club? If so, I would welcome wearing a t-shirt with his picture on it and possibly putting a bumper sticker with his head on it on my car.

Here's this week's column, which is entirely flawless: A New French Revolution

Last week's was one of my very favorites, since he talks a little about his own experiences. At first it feels like he's doing it to start off in a conversational tone or to use a holiday reference to start the column out slowly. But after reading it a couple of times, it looks like he uses his personal experiences to establish himself as a outsider (born outside the U.S.) who understands the immigrant experience, but also as an insider who loves America and is therefore free to criticize it. Move over, Mark Antony.

The Seven Things Meme

I was tagged for a meme challenge by two people yesterday- same challenge. Those have always looked like fun- that's for the tags! The rules are to reveal seven things about yourself, link to the ones who tagged you and then tag seven other people and post the links to their blogs. Here goes:

I was tagged by Easing Chronic Pain and Anything Parenting.

1. I LOVE Beauty and the Geek and Project Runway. They are the only reality shows I can stand.
2. I usually write until about 3 a.m. and then take a nap in the afternoon.
3. When I get strapped for time I use voice recognition software and dictate my work.
4. I have a cage full of anoles.
5. I am a huge Anglophile.
6. I have big curly hair and look kind of like Bob Dylan.
7. I am a Trekkie to the point that I sometimes think- what would Kirk do?

I am tagging:

Web Writing Info
Geek Parenting
Drawing on Words
Writing on the Wall
Work at Home Mom to Five
Fiction Writing- The Passionate Journey

You've been tagged!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rejected by Two Literary Agents - Woo Hoo!

I've gotten two rejections from literary agents already, which I thought was pretty impressive. The first came the day after I sent the query. Since most agents I looked at advise waiting up to six weeks for an answer, that was an agent who definitely knew what she didn't want- me. I expect to be rejected by all of them, since the project I was pitching is very weird and there's nothing really like it on the market.

To get it published I would probably need to send it directly to publishers, and I have another book project that I would rather spend that time on. But, now that I've gotten my feet wet with agent queries, I expect to be much less nervous when pitching my much-more-marketable book. And hey, there are still six or seven other agents out there who haven't yet responded. There's always the chance that one of them won't hate my weirdo book. Isn't there? Maybe not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

At the End of My Rope With Cliches

Keeping cliches out of my writing has been a struggle that I think I am finally starting to win. I had a problem in high school and college with being heavy on the cliches, and it took a lot of awareness and editing to get myself out of the habit. For a long time I would skim over my writing and take out the cliches, replacing them with a phrase that was a more personal representation of what I was trying to get across. I think it worked well and I think I have cut them out of my writing in most cases.

The problem lies in what is considered a cliche. There are as many answers as there are writers, and some phrases that I never considered to be a cliche are considered by others to be so. I found this mega list of cliches, and some of them I certainly don't consider to be anything other than a couple of words that are often used together. And as for the one word examples- um, no. A cliche, in my opinion, is something that is an easy way of expressing something, and expressing it in a way that is far too common.

Sure, "asleep at the wheel" is a cliche. But, is baby boomer? That made the list, but I've used it several times to describe that specific generation, and I would not cross it out as being a cliche. What is the line between language that slows down the copy and language that is simply accessible? It can be touch and go to cash in your chips an call a spade a spade in these instances.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What Tone Should Your Writing Have?

I love it when clients give you the tone they want- conversational, highly technical, comical, positive, evil- whatever they want. But when they don't give you a tone, what should you do? I use one of two techniques, depending on the situation. I can either analyze what I know it's going to be used for and set the tone to what those readers will likely want to read, or I use my "magazine tone."

Figuring out the context can be helpful, but sometimes the client had something else in mind that you didn't now about. Normally, I don't discuss much about what a client asked for or told me, but since this guy never paid, I feel pretty free to do so. He contracted with me for a handout for office workers. Now, not being given a tone, but knowing that it was for office workers, I settled on a fairly straightforward style that was something that a high school senior could read easily. He ended up wanting it redone, saying that he wanted it at a 5th grade reading level. He then sent samples he had gotten from another freelancer and directed that it be written along those lines.

The samples were indescribably bad. Really, really, really bad. They were nowhere near 5th grade level- more like 2nd or 3rd grade. Something like that would be insulting to an office worker. When I worked in an office, if I had been handed something like that I would have been pissed. I reworked the thing to make it as simplistic as possible, but it was almost painful to do so. When the client wants something that you know isn't going to go over well, you just have to bite the bullet and do it, even if you know that the tone and complexity should be something else. But, without a guideline or any direction, I had done the best I could. Usually simply looking at the potential audience works very well.

My magazine tone, as I call it, is for when I am given little direction and don't really know what the articles will be used for. That is a tone that is technical enough to give the work credibility, but is conversational enough so that it doesn't feel inaccessible. This tone is what most people end up wanting for their work, and it fits in probably 90 percent of the work I do. I think it's a good, readable tone that works for most web writing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Amazon Kindle

I had never heard of the Amazon Kindle until yesterday, but when it rains- it's constantly thrust into your face until you have to write about it. Heading to Amazon yesterday, I saw it proudly described on the front page in a letter from Amazon's founder. Then, later in the day, it arrived on the cover of my Newsweek. Today it still commands Amazon's full front page and it's being compared to Gutenberg's press in the media. So what is this thing?

Basically, the Kindle is a small, light book reader built to be ergonomic and easy to hold with one hand. It can hold hundreds of books, making it much easier to lug a lot of books around with you. It's also supposed to have lighting that reduces eye strain. It's not backlit, and if you view the demonstration of it, the lighting looks pretty pleasant- not a blinding white but not dim enough to cause strain. The Kindle is brand spanking new, but it's already sold out and Amazon is now taking advance orders. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, seems to have a lot of hope for the device, as do the many customers who have jammed the site with orders.

At first, I frankly thought it sounded stupid. I like the tactile experience of a book. I don't care if the book is worn, I don't care if it's heavy, and I don't mind lugging a separate bag of books on a trip. I don't know if I can ever convert to some type of electronics over a physical book. But after viewing the video about it, I have to say it does sound pretty cool. It isn't just books- you can get a newspaper sent to it, and carry around as many books as you like anywhere you go. I don't know if any of that is necessary- the newspaper still comes to your house and a book can still be put in your purse or pocket, but it's a neat idea.

It's kind of the iPod for books- have access to hundreds of books anywhere you go, just like iPod people have access to their thousands of songs. Neither of these is a pressing need, but could be fun to have. The price is a but high right now, but it does come with a few perks. New-release books for it are $9.99 apiece, which is a lot less than most new releases, and the books get stored in your computer as well in case anything happens to your Kindle. On the downside, of course, it's a lot of cash. You could buy yourself a room full of used books for what this baby costs. It all comes down to personal preference- do you need to have your books with you all the time, or do you travel a lot and hate carrying lots of books? Or, are you the low-tech type who always has a handful of paperbacks nearby and wants to keep it that way? I'm definitely the latter, but if the price should ever fall by a few hundred dollars, I might be willing to give it a try.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sending Query Letters

This week I've been working on sending queries to agents, among other ongoing projects. The thing about query letters is that no one can really tell you how to write one. I went through about 10 websites and read about how to write one and then read the sample letters. It sounds simple until you notice that every site has a different set of instructions and samples that are completely different from each other. My Writer's Market came on Saturday, and that has additional information about query letters. I tend to trust them more than a lot of other sources, but many of these sites have letters that actually got them an agent or a publication deal.

Most of the resources I've seen have a paragraph-by-paragraph plan for putting together a query letter. But, is that really wise? As long as the basic information is there- the name of the book, the basic contents and the writer's credentials, does it really have to follow a specific paragraph order? Is there no room for creativity? The point is to generate an interest in the work, so I'm hoping to do that, even if the result is simply what I think works best rather than a four paragraph clinical analysis.

I haven't sent query letters in years, so the biggest surprise this week is that many agents will now accept email queries. That makes it easy, perhaps a little too easy, to send queries quickly and to keep track of them. I worry now that the ease may have resulted in my sending queries too early, before I have perfected the letter itself. Having agent email addresses in front of you is a lot like having left over birthday cake. It's a lot of temptation, and thought and care should be taken before giving in.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Elance Changes Redux

Elance has made some changes to their changes, a play that may or may not have been choreographed in advance. The raise in prices now doesn't sting quite as much as it did when the price hike was even higher. It's a great psychological ploy for the writers, who are having their prices raised more than other providers and who have been the most vocal complainers.

It remains to be seen how high the prices will really be, as the main hike will be in what it costs to bid on projects, and many providers are leaving the site. It may be that with fewer providers, fewer bids will have to be placed and the price won't be as bad as it now seems. It may also be that they will use the increased fees for marketing, bring in more providers and the cost will continue to rise for providers. I am not taking on new Elance clients right now, so I am not as worried as I would have been a year ago. But for the people who make most of their living through Elance, and there are many of them, this must be a nasty blow.

If anyone were to create a site that had the customer service and free bidding of RAC and the range of projects of Elance, they will have created a super-site with the potential to drive all other sites out of business, take over the world and colonize new planets.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Women Writers Around the World

I have been looking for an agent for a short children's book, and looking through the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market listings. Every one of them that I saw was a woman. Taking a look at the book publisher listings, I found that most of the editors and founders were also women. My Writer's Market came yesterday and I perused it briefly just because, well, I'm a geek, and many of those listings also listed female contact names.

That got me thinking about all of the lovely writers who have been kind enough to give me advice over the past couple of years, and all but one of those has been a woman. The ladies at the WAHM writers' board are of course women, but then so are most of the writers at Absolute Write. I used to think of a writer as some kind of Hemingway/Faulkner type, typing alone at a typewriter with a bottle of Scotch nearby. Now I think of a writer as a woman at home trying to write with kids underfoot.

Thinking that this must be some kind of new phenomenon that has made women dominant in the industry, I tried to find some stats. As far as I can tell, there aren't any. But, I found out a few startling things. The first is that the surge of women writers isn't limited to the West- women in Iran are writing books in higher numbers than ever before. The number of women writers in Zimbabwe are also rising. I thought this must be a new phenomenon, and in some countries it certainly is. But in the West, it's just business as usual.

Take a look at all of the British women writers from the Regency. From that era most people can name Austen and Mary Shelley, but there were multitudes of women novelists writing away in their corsets and empire-waist dresses. Perhaps I'll join them, though it'll likely be in sweat pants.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Freelance Roundup

I got accepted by Suite101 some time ago and just recently got the time to get an article up. A lot of freelance writers won't write for them because they don't offer any upfront payment- just small payments based on pageviews. It's certainly not ideal, but it's a neat site and the writers get creative control over topics and approaches. I don't know how often I'll do it, but it will be a lot more often if I end up getting any pageviews. So far, in two days, I have gotten one.

Elance announced today a major revamping of just about every aspect of the site. Bids, now called "connects," will cost .50 apiece, with some projects requiring several just to bid once. All quarterly and yearly discounts have been disposed of in favor of a monthly fee. The Select program, that I had paid about $350 for, is now gone. In its place is a merit-based system, which sounds great, except that they want to charge more than $200 extra for it. They also require two credentials to be verified to be eligible, and providers have to pay for those as well. The people in the Elance forum have reported that their fees will be going up anywhere from double to triple the amount they had been paying. And, we have been given less than a month's notice of the change. If I haven't said it enough before, I'll say it now- Elance sucks.

I signed up with Triond to see how well it works. I love the idea of residuals, and it pays writers a portion of the revenue for their articles every month. They accept pretty much anything not obscene or libelous- even poetry. I worked up four very quick articles on topics that I already knew a lot about and sent them in. All were approved, and all have gotten slow page views. Each has earned me less than a cent a day, so it may not be the best use of time ever devised. Of course, if the articles take only a few minutes to write and a person had hundreds of them, they could bring in a steady stream of extra money every month. The articles/poetry/stories don't have to be long- mine are 250-300 words apiece, but I don't think there is any specified length. You can also use a pen name, which I have done. I'll post further stats about it if they get better or worse. was a site that paid pretty well at one time- though they paid in gift certificates. After awhile they revamped the site to pay writers only with their own AdSense revenue. At that point, they added a place for writers to see how many page views their total articles had gotten on the site. At the time, about a year ago, my 49 articles had about 800 page views, which I deemed pointless to pursue new page views for Adsense revenue. However, I looked at it again yesterday for the first time since, and the page views were more than 45,000. Somehow in the last year they have revved up their marketing, and HTDT might just be a little more worthwhile. Hey- residuals are residuals.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer- Dead

It's been a big month for literary figures, and the events continue. Norman Mailer has died, having lived a long life full of literary creations of all types. The part that I thought was interesting is how little I had read of his work, and how no one I asked about it had ever read anything of his. Ok, I've never read anything of his at all. With literary figures of his caliber, they actually become more famous than their works, much like actors. How many times have you seen a picture of a famous person, knew their name and had no idea what they've been in? The same principle seems to have been at work for Norman Mailer. This is unfortunate for him, as he sounds like a wretched person. A few of the highlights:

  • He was married six times
  • He stabbed one of his six wives, almost killing her
  • He hated women's liberation and feminism, and once said that "all women should be locked in cages"
  • He was physically abusive to his fourth wife
  • He claimed that the women who didn't appreciate his misogynistic words were seeking publicity for themselves
  • He fought to get a felon out of jail, who then killed someone in a restaurant
  • He was married to his his fifth wife for only one day and got engaged the next day to someone else
  • He invented the word "fug"
I read once that people spend more time reading about famous writers than they do reading the works of those writers. In the case of Norman Mailer, I've read all I need to. I think I'll pass on his works.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wall Street Journal nod

I check my pitiful stats every day just to see how many people are wandering in here. I noticed this morning that a number of people were coming in from a link on the Wall Street Journal site. I couldn't access that link, not being a paid subscriber, but I poked around a little and found a page where I could access it. The site has a link to this blog at the very bottom of a story about Harper Lee and her Presidential Medal of Freedom. The link is near the bottom of the page under " Blog Posts About This Topic." I'm thrilled that they'd link to 'lil old me, but I have to wonder how they came across such a small, obscure blog. I don't yet have the best idea about how the whole blogosphere thing works, but it must work pretty well, since that post wasn't on any of the first 15 Google pages when I searched the title of the post. Thanks, WSJ!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harper Lee and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Harper Lee was just granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom for To Kill a Mockingbird. And what better a work to command such an honor? If you've ever read the book, and who hasn't, you know what an amazing work it is. It's so richly textured that you can read it again and again, further dissecting it and finding new aspects of it that contribute to the whole. The bird imagery, the use of light and dark to highlight the character of each of the players- they all add up to a masterpiece of observation and persuasion. There's just the one little thing...I really don't think she wrote it.

Rumors have dogged To Kill a Mockingbird for decades, but here's what tipped me off: she came up with such a richly-textured work as her first novel, and never wrote another book. Say what, now? Someone with that ability couldn't come up with anything else? Apparently not. She also never talks about the book and never gives interviews. Adding to the questions is that fact that she lived next door to Truman Capote, who wrote novels on similar subjects and with similar nature imagery. There's nothing that can be proven, of course, but I'll always have questions. Why nothing else from Harper Lee? Why never talk about a book that won her the Pulitzer Prize?

I live a few hours from Monroeville and poised the question to a native Monroevillian who had been in the town's annual production of the play based on the book, because I'm just that obnoxious. The reaction was swift and severe. No, Capote had nothing to do with it, I was told, and never say that to anyone from Monroeville. They take their native daughter very seriously, going so far as to never tell anyone from out of town where she lives. Apparently she lives there part time and has her main residence in New York. While she's in Monroeville she's treated like a queen and protected from any pesky reporters with questions.

Since the book, Harper Lee attempted a novel but never published it because she reportedly was having too many problems with it. It just doesn't seem to me that someone capable of To Kill a Mockingbird could have that much trouble writing a novel. After that book she probably could have published her shopping list in book form and been guaranteed a certain number of sales.

So, did Capote write it? Who knows? I think that if he didn't, he definitely helped her with it quite a lot. Where was he when I was trying to make that sci-fi novel work? Oh yeah- dead. But, Harper Lee is alive, and if any novel deserves the Medal, it's the one that has her name on it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Writers' Guild Strike

The Writer's Guild strike is an interesting turn of affairs, particularly for writers of all types. The entire affair has gotten melodramatic much more quickly than I would have imagined, especially with no writers writing it that way (sorry, I couldn't resist). The producer's group spokesman has called the strike "irresponsible," which really made me laugh. Irresponsible? Are lives at risk? It's pretty much a few weeks of Leno jokes, right? Yeah, pretty much. Strikes like this never last long, so I can't see all new movies coming to a grinding halt. Producers make a nice bit on the venues they produce, and actors make entirely too much. So, why drag their feet over the writers' pay? I don't remember any producers getting upset over the latest overpaid actor getting $20 million plus residuals. But since actors get them, why shouldn't writers get residuals? I'd much rather see writers get them than actors.

Imagine if web content writers went on strike. I tried to do that, but I can't see that many people agreeing about anything. I wouldn't mind a piece of those ad dollars that people are bringing in thanks to my content. Nah. Residuals are dependent on someone else's marketing, and I don't think they make anyone a better writer. Flat-fee writing just makes more sense. If you want royalties, write a book. But, that's just my opinion, and I'm not going on strike anytime soon.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Oh. My. God.

You will never believe how low some "business people" are going now to get their cheap content. Apparently paying $2 to people in third world countries to write horrid content in broken English was just too much trouble. Now I've found this. It has to be the laziest thing I've seen since, well, I can't think of anything right this second, but it's pretty freaking lazy. What kind of crap are they going to end up with by using this method? Is it really so much to ask for people to pay for their content? No one is going to read their generic copy, and their $67 is worth nothing more than a tax deduction. Sheesh. What exactly is the internet coming to?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Article Marketing

It's interesting how people try to get their backlinks in so many different ways. I've seen people paying for backlinks, I've seen them willing to do work in exchange for them, and then there's article marketing. The premise, of course, is that the articles have one or more backlinks within them, or they can be in the source box. So, how well does this work?

I think it works pretty well, depending on where the links are located and how they got there. The last I heard about it, article directories had been demoted in the search engine rankings, which makes those links much less valuable. I have also seen people on Digital Point bragging about the thousands of backlinks that they have. Those were likely gained form directories, so there's a limit to how effective they will actually be. On the other hand, I checked this site to see how many links a client already had to their site. The thing is, this person has never marketed their site, has never bought/worked for backlinks, and has never written or bought an article about their site. They had over 2,000 backlinks. How did they get them? Through quality content, perseverance and having information that people want. The site has been around for several years and it offers a genuine place to get information without pandering or over-SEOing. People link to the site because they like it and it will give their readers information.

The bottom line is this: you can either spend thousands over the course of years to get hundreds, or thousands, of articles that provide a backlink to your cheap copy; or you can spend a little up front to get high-quality copy on your site in the first place and let everyone else link to you and spread the word about the site. Article marketing definitely has its place, but it should never take the place of a good, professionally-written site full of relevant information.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2008

I received my Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2008 last week and found it to be a good time saver, but a little padded. The markets are not as plentiful as I would have liked, but that may be because I'm use to the enormous Writer's Market. There are simply fewer markets that cater to children, so the smaller number of markets is to be expected. However, the size of the book can give you a false impression of the number of markets it contains. The market sections are broken up, very frequently, by filler content that is so specialized that I found it useless.

Aside from the filler items, the book itself is a huge time saver for anyone looking to get into the children's market. It has extensive listings for agents as well, negating the need for two separate books. And, if you're an illustrator, there are book and magazine markets, and agents, for illustrators as well. The listings seem more or less evenly divided between those for authors and illustrators.

In all, I like the book and it's saved me hours and hours of searching through Writer's Market for listings that will accept children's fiction, and the agent information is invaluable. But, I would have liked it a bit better if some of the filler had been cut out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Print Press Releases vs. Web Press Releases

Beginning my press release experience as a reporter choosing press releases to run, there are numerous things I learned about getting a release carried. At every paper I worked for, press releases were faxed in daily, most of which were unusable. But, when we got the rare good one we would run it almost as is. The trick with those was to take out the PR speak and to convert it into AP style. Time after time I did this and finally wondered- why weren't they writing these in AP style? What exactly were they teaching in PR school that made them write press releases that had to be thrown out?

After leaving the newspaper industry, I put my ideas to work to help people around me to get the publicity their companies or events deserved. Every one of them was carried. Every single one. How? By doing what a PR writer should logically do when creating a press release. The object isn't to glorify the client and it isn't to create a ton of information that then has to be waded through and filtered down to its important points. Most reporters don't have time for that kind of nonsense. At least, I never did, so I assume that other reporters don't either. Then, I looked at the local market and considered what kinds of stories had been run lately, and what kind of slant they were usually given.

And lastly, I decided what kinds of markets the press release should be catered to, and how to cater the release to their specific focus. A press release for the city newspaper should have a strong news and/or human interest focus, one for the local entertainment tabloid should have more to do with what about the event will interest locals, etc. Then, I found the fax numbers for the local and regional media outlets that I wanted to utilize. That is ironically one of the hardest parts of print submissions, as many outlets make their fax numbers hard to find. I did find out that a PR book full of contact names and fax numbers comes out every year. That sounded pretty interesting until I noticed that it cost over $800. Without the book, the hunt took considerably longer, but it was accomplished.

Enter the online press release industry...
After changing careers and working in ecommerce for a few years, I came back to writing and PR, where I intend to stay forever. But, the trend now is for clients to commission online press releases. Great! I'll write press releases for the requested markets and email them instead of hunting fax numbers, right? Nope. Online press releases are an entirely different animal. The first few that I wrote confused the heck out of me, as there was no market to write for. So, the release is to be written to...nobody in particular? Pretty much. Many clients who want online releases don't really know who they want it targeted to, and they don't want it sent any further than PR Web.

The online press release is not, as a client recently told me "just an article written in a different format." It is still a press release, and should have many of the same hallmarks of the print release, some traits of the content article, and should come out as a sort of hybrid. To avoid having these releases being simply a resurgence of the useless releases that I once threw in the trash, I had to find a market to target the release to. The release can't be too generic, and must cater to a niche, as much as I hate that word. When writing an online release there is an analysis of the market, much like with print releases. What media outlet would do the company/event/person the most good? What are those outlets running? What are the people on those sites reading? The online market is fabulous because most media outlets display their most read stories, letting you know what their readers like and what they are likely to want to print.

To get the release seen my the right people, especially if the client just wants it sent to PR Web, it has to be SEO'd to the best keywords. If I'm not given keywords I check Overture and see what people are searching on that's related to the topic. You can't go too high, as those keywords present too much competition, and you can't go too low, as those keywords aren't searched often enough. Choosing some lovely words in the middle and getting them woven through the copy to ensure that it isn't too obvious is tough, but it's the best way to get that release out there.

Going back to my reporter days, I remember thinking about how valuable the free publicity from a carried release was. When you calculate the price per inch for advertising, the price of a press release is negligible. I did text ads for a local company last year, and while they got a response from the ads, they were not interested in commissioning a press release. It cost the company more than $800 a month to run ads in the paper- ads that likely didn't get the response that a press release could have gotten them. Getting carried isn't just free publicity- it's coverage that legitimizes the information and makes it more credible. An ad is an obvious sell. A news story is something else all together.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Competition from India

I see a lot of freelancers mentioning the competition from Indian writers and how that has made it necessary to write for very little in order to stay competitive. Many writers believe this, and I think in some cases it's true. But, I've never considered myself to be in competition with Indian writers. I am not competing against them, or Eastern European writers, to get the low paying, quantity-over-quality assignments. I am competing with other writers who are experienced, well versed in nuanced English and dedicated to high quality, and that's all.

I know that many, if not most, freelance writers get insulting offers like I often do. Sometimes they are aggressively insulting, often implying or outright stating that they have writers overseas who will work for less. It doesn't concern me what people overseas will write for. I wasn't concerned when a potential client insisted that he had writers who would write his blog posts for $1.50 apiece. He should be concerned that he's spending money on something that no one, anywhere, will ever read, but I'm not. Probably 80-90 percent of buyers are looking for the cheapest writers they can find- period. They don't concern me. My concern is finding the other 10-20 percent who will challenge me to offer my best work in exchange for reasonable pay. Indian writers can do what they do, circus performers can do what they do and cowboys can continue to ride across the plains. I'll stick to my own market.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing- Alive

There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.
-Doris Lessing

I was amazed today to hear that Doris Lessing was just announced as 2007's Nobel Prize winner for literature. I found this amazing first because I thought she was dead and second because apparently she's been writing science fiction for the past few years. Don't get me wrong, I love me some sci-fi, but it's rare to see the genre taken seriously as literature. I hope this signifies a change in its literary reputation. I took a creative writing class once, and the professor announced on the first day that science fiction was not allowed in her class. Really? What if a Nobel laureate was taking your class? Ha!

The thing about Doris Lessing, besides having some interesting short stories and essays, is that she has always been able to come up with these amazing quotes that sum up everything so neatly. Anytime you see a collection of interesting quotes, one of them is usually hers. Her ideas about writing and fiction are just as interesting as her amazingly accurate and sucinct observations about the world around her.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Uncharted Territory

It's weird, but I may be writing a screenplay. How did this come about? Funny you should ask. It's a long story, but it involves a bunch of people, some guy I've never met, a $35,000 camera and a new movie studio. The thing is, though, that I've never written one before and I'm not entirely sure how it's going to play out. Apparently there is screenplay software that can make it easier to get it all down. Normally I hate stuff like that, like novel-writing software that just takes a bite out of creativity. But a screenplay has to be in such a specific format, one that I'm unfamiliar with, that I'm likely going to use it.

My first strategy, however, is to study the way a written piece differs from the same item on film, since it's based on a work that I wrote years ago. That sounds pretty challenging, but basically I'm watching movies based on books that I've read and noting the differences. There are obviously many things left out of a book once it gets translated into film, but its amazing how pretty large plot points can be taken out, even when they are deeply intertwined with the main plot. Other things I've noticed:

  • Visual shorthand. There are numerous ways to make a point visually that time won't permit a deeper exploration of. One example is the latest movie version of Pride and Prejudice. In the book, the family wasn't poor, per se, they just had many components of the middle-class lifestyle that wasn't quite fashionable at the time. You can't very well annotate a film, nor can you spend 10 minutes describing how their lifestyle differed from those they were trying to impress. The visual shorthand was chickens. There were chickens and a few other farm animals running around, signifying that the family wasn't considered wealthy.
  • Tertiary characters. A book may have room for them, but a movie usually does not. I may keep a few tertiary characters in the background in non-speaking roles, or even give them a few lines, but there isn't room for a lot of background information on them. J.K. Rowling had a tremendous amount of background information on several of her bit players. She kept trying to find a place for them but there wasn't room for it even in her huge novels and they were reduced to extras in the films. To keep key plot points, these guys have to go.
  • Exaggerated settings. Books have a tremendous amount of room to let the settling subtly interplay with the plot and characters. Small aspects of the setting can be introduced throughout the book, making the tone of the setting and the tone of the plot become increasingly intertwined. In a movie, the setting is actually the first thing you see, and it's rarely possible to introduce aspects of that setting later in the work. The setting has to get attention right away and has to transmit a lot of the information. One of the guys has been going on and on (and on) about set design, and I'm probably going to have to listen to it eventually.
  • Movie people will want to expand the scope and add in a bunch of crap for different demographics. That's pretty noticeable in movies now that I'm looking for it. I've already been given a speech about adding in elements for different demographics, which is fine.
Before the thing gets written, I have to do a "treatment," which is just a long synopsis. If they like it, I get the go ahead for the long format. It's a little scary, but I've had scarier projects. I can do this. I hope.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The BellaOnline Classic Rock Site is Up

My BellaOnline site is now up! The site is going to be populated with information about classic rock- namely bands that I like. I set up an entire subject just for Donovan and began that content this morning. I think the Classic Rock site has a lot of potential and I just hope that people find music there that they wouldn't otherwise have heard of. Finding a "new" band that you click with can be exciting, even if that new band has been around for 40 years. Oh, and you get to see my ugly mug in bad lighting and in a weird sepia tone.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not About Writing

I wanted this blog to be about writing and the struggle to constantly improve writing skills while taking on an incredible variety of projects. But, what's with those wet wipes everyone uses now? I keep seeing these in people's bathrooms, and now they've appeared in two of my bathrooms. When did adults start using what are essentially baby wipes? Have I been too stuck to a keyboard to notice the technological advancement of the flushable wipe? I must have missed the general consensus that decided toilet paper is no longer enough. But you know what? It is. I am perfectly happy with toilet paper. If, in a few decades, I need Depends, that would the only scenario in which I would use those stupid wipes. Viva la toilet paper!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Niche Niche Niche Niche Niche Niche Niche

You can't go anywhere in the writing world these days without hearing that word incessantly. I am seriously sick of hearing about niches. Everyone wants to serve a niche, which is perfectly fine. I just wish they'd stop using that word. I am not a niche writer and I never will be. I'll write about anything and I'm proud of it.

I went into journalism because it meant doing something new every day. Being a reporter required constant exposure to new topics. I went out to a logging company and learned all about logs and the timber industry. I went to a factory that made grocery store freezer doors, learned all about them, and wrote an interesting article about those suckers. Even if you're a beat reporter, you learn so much every day and that's still the type of writer I want to be. An unfamiliar topic doesn't scare me. A client wants me to write about vacuums? Sure. Furniture? Absolutely. Fungal infections? Bring it on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Where to Get Freelance Jobs and Some Ranting

I keep finding more and more freelance writing job sites. There's one in particular that does very well among the freelancers I'm acquainted with- *nevermind, I hate this site*. It has an excellent reputation among freelancers for finding jobs and gigs that pay well and aren't morally questionable. The only problem I have with the site is that I've never gotten a thing that I've applied for through there. Some of them are great projects- ones that I am more than qualified to do, but for some reason am never chosen. I do have a theory about the reason, though.

Another interesting one is Writer's Weekly. Most of what I see there is for print publications. I don't write for print anymore, but I plan to again someday and love to see what the market is like. Their listings are a great reminder of how high the price is for print publications compared to web writing. Of course, so much of print writing is on spec, which I don't have the time or the finances to do right now.

The Writer's Resource Center freelancing pages are quite thorough. You can search by type of writing or even by which state you're in. The quality of jobs looks great, but there are so many that I can spend forever looking at them and then I rarely get around to applying for anything.

This brings me to one of my biggest issues with web writing- the first-come-first-hired mentality. When I look through Freelance Writing Jobs, Elance and some of the other sites I frequent, I've developed the habit of either emailing the job to myself to look at later or opening a tab for interesting projects and applying for them when I have time. What happens, almost every single time, is that the job is taken by the time I apply. Sometimes the job has only been posted for a matter of hours. I can't fathom hiring the first person who applies, but apparently that's the way people are doing it. I don't get it, and I don't see how it can get them the best work possible. Isn't that what they want? Sometimes not. All too often people just want content quickly and for as cheap as they can get it. That's what is populating the web right now- cheap crap. I see Elance projects that I wanted going to people with portfolios filled with the worst imaginable copy. This is copy written poorly, full of errors and with no discernible style of any kind. I may be going back to print quicker than I had planned to, now that I think about it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Time for Fiction

I'm making a living by writing, which is more important to me than just about anything else, other than offspring (and husband is running a distant third). But, I always thought that by the time this thing happened I would be writing fiction. There isn't much time for fiction these days, though I still have every intention of having a fabulous line of fascinating novels on the racks and a few hundred fan letters in the mail each day. And bagels. Fans send bagels, don't they?

I plan to eventually find a fixed, regular time for writing fiction. Someday. Eventually. But these days, the number of projects I take on has reached a dizzying pace, and none of it has anything to do with fiction. I can't seem to even get a gig editing fiction, much less time to write it. But on the bright side, I'm buying a new bed. What does that have to do with it? Nothing. Non-fiction, beds, offspring- my life in a nutshell.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Yesterday I was accepted by Bella, and today it was Suite 101 who came knocking. Ok, I had to apply to them. Twice. But, I'm in and that's what counts. It's a site as old as the hills that has some extremely interesting topics available to its contributing writers. They aren't limited to 10 or 15 or even 100 topics- there are 3,000 separate topics and subtopics there for the taking. The subject matter includes topics as diverse as archaeological digs, motorcycle repair and the paranormal. So what to write about? Shall I be good and write about Regency literature as I had envisioned, or shall I delve into that one time I thought I saw a ghost? The answer, so far, is unclear. Where's the Magic 8 Ball? Maybe there's a topic about that...

Monday, September 17, 2007


I have been hearing a few things about a site called BellaOnline recently, and everything I've heard has been favorable. They claim to be the second largest site for women on the internet, and the number of topics and readers is quite impressive. Yesterday I saw that someone who frequents a writers' board that I visit had been accepted to be an editor there. I decided to check it out and found that there were several interesting topics available- including classic rock. Now, I freely admit being a nerd, but I adore classic rock. I love doo wop, hippie music, the weirdness that was the 70's and the New Wave and punk of the 80's. I flipped at the thought of being able to write about those topics, and applied for the editor position.

This morning I was accepted and I have my own BellaOnline site! It is located at: As of right now, there is nothing on it but my name and the name of the topic. But, I hope to get it going into something that turns readers on to music they might have otherwise overlooked.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Trouble With Ghostwriting

I love ghostwriting- I really do. I like being able to match my tone and style to someone else's site and challenge myself to write something that fits right in. People take my ghostwritten items and use them as their blog posts, as content articles and as sales copy for their websites. When I sell the rights, they have every write to do that and to use it any other way they like.

The trouble comes when someone posts a great gig writing about something that I have written about many times before. But, uh oh, all of that writing was ghostwritten. I can't link to it and point to it as being mine, and I can't show it to a potential client and tell them that I wrote it. I take the sale of rights very seriously and have never pointed out something that I have ghostwritten to anyone (except my husband). So how do I get any credibility as having experience in that genre? I wish I knew. I just don't have the time to write out original samples about every single thing that I have experience writing about. The only thing I can really do in these situations is to mention that I have ghostwritten items about the topic and hope they see that I am sincere. I don't think I've ever led anyone to believe that I am not sincere or that I engage in anything morally questionable, but there's really no way for most potential clients to know that.

The internet really is a double-edged sword. There's no reason for any client to know that I often like to listen to music and sing badly while I write. The internet offers enough privacy that I can do that and no one ever need know. You know, unless I happen to mention it in a blog or something. But, it also offers enough privacy that people can make claims about having experience in a field when they have none. The only thing that I can do is to be honest about experience when I have it and hope that clients will see that and respond to it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Holy #%$@!

It started to get very dark this afternoon, far before nightfall. Thinking there must be a pop-up thunderstorm on the way, I checked the local radar maps online. Um, no, it isn't a pop-up thunderstorm- it's a pop-up hurricane. Working on back-to-back Elance projects all day, I had no idea that during the night an entire hurricane had formed and then hit the coast. It's the fastest forming hurricane on record and is now an hour or two away. Very, very surreal.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Copyscape Miracle

I think Copyscape is an amazing site and a concept that is revolutionizing the way people write for the web. Instead of clients worrying that something they are buying might be stolen, either whole or in part, they can check it quickly via Copyscape. Try to wrap your mind round it- it checks billions of websites and lets you know where in the world anything you have ever written can be found duplicated.

I love that clients can use it to make sure my items are original. The miracle of Copyscape means that clients will know immediately if anything was copied. It gives clients confidence and lets writers know if their work has been stolen.

Case in point: here is an article that I wrote for How to Do Things:

Here it is reproduced by someone else who put their name on it:

If you will notice, the thief is far from crafty- the date that I wrote it and the date that he stole it are clearly visible. I wrote it three months before he says he did. Not too smart. Why do people even do this? Surely they are aware of the miracle that is Copyscape. And if they aren't, they are about to find out.

The Comma in Hiding

There was an interesting editorial in Newsweek about a month ago about the comma and its usage. Ok, most people wouldn't find it quite so interesting, but I thought it was fascinating that someone else felt the same way I do about the comma. No one seems interested in the poor little dear these days. The comma separates ideas from each other during the course of the sentence, and I think it's one of the most useful pieces of punctuation.

Reading a lot of web writing as I do, I see so many pieces that don't contain a single comma. The sentences are supposed to be shorter and less complex in web writing, hence the need to plow through each sentence as quickly as possible with nowhere to rest. No pausing. No time to pause.

When editing other people's work, I also find that the comma is misused often, and more often it's completely absent. I believe that as people get more accustomed to reading web writing, they begin writing that way instead of the way it is most often written in books. And that's fine, as long as they are able to tell the difference between the two. The short, get-to-the-point style that so many want online is probably the best way to quickly get across non-fiction such as instructional materials, and it's probably best for articles formatted with several steps for the reader to follow.

But is it really best for medical articles? Editorials? Essays? I don't think it is, though I maybe in the minority. I believe those who are seeking to read more complex material will likely be insulted by simple syntax that questions the intelligence of the reader. So, I'll keep my long sentences where I think they will be appreciated, and I will chop them into little pieces for the places where they won't be. But someday, I intend to write the most fantastically long sentences just because I can- think Virginia Woolf's two-page sentences from Mrs. Dalloway. Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Writing for the Web

Even after a year and a half, sometimes I am still struck by the differences between news and web content writing. I remember in one of my early journalism classes a professor was commenting with absolute glee about the leads in the NYT. They were so complex, the words so entwined together that you never noticed that the whole first paragraph was one sentence. It was all put together so skillfully that it never seemed too long or disjointed. And I agreed.

I spent the next few years striving for that level of intricacy, trying to weave thoughts and ideas together seamlessly into the whole without any part of it becoming awkward. And then I became a web writer. The pieces that people are looking to purchase online are made up of short, choppy sentences with only one main idea. Many times as I proof my web articles I have to cut my sentences in half to make them more suited to web writing. And that's fine- you have to write to the market, setting your own skills to the task at hand. I would like to find clients who are more interested in the way a work is crafted than how many keywords are in it. I have been fortunate enough to find that kind of work here and there, scattered across the web like spiders scurrying into the corners. I continue to chase down those spiders, asking them if I might be allowed to spin a web for them that will be to their liking.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Writing Schedules

As far as writing schedules go- can you really make one? Writing is a business, yes, but there is a large creative element, even in web content writing. Can you then set a schedule for it? Yes. I do it every day. If I have a week to do a project, and I know how many hours it will take me, I have to schedule for working on it that many hours during that week. I hear from so many writers who say they have to contemplate writing for a few hours before actually doing so. I don't get it. Would you contemplate doing accounting before doing it? Would you think for a few hours about using your nursing skills? So why do so many writers think you have to do that to write creatively?

When I was a reporter we had to write the best articles possible, keeping in mind accuracy, creativity and AP style. And it was all done at the speed of light. Sometimes you had less than an hour to gather information and write an article about it. I once had a paper held from the press so that I could wait for a phone call that would give me some vital information about the front page. Imagine if I got the information and then took a few hours to think about writing the article. I couldn't have- that's just not a part of professional writing. You have to see the story as soon as you see the title or subject, and then have it forming in your mind as you go. I learned to write professionally this way, and that's still how I operate. It doesn't mean that what I write isn't creative. I actually think it's the other way around. If you are a creative person, you don't need hours for creativity to come to you.


I am trying to get the hang of this blog thing, and apparently running to Technorati is the first step. So there it is, my grand profile. It consists of a link and a one-line bio. Woo hoo!

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Folly of Samples

There's one thing that irritates me a lot about web content writing. Ok, there are several things, but let's start out with one for now. It seems a little strange for so many potential clients to want a sample that exactly relates to their subject. Like, even if I don't have an article sample about vacationing in Sarajevo, that doesn't mean that I can't write one.

If someone is a reasonably talented writer, they can write about just about anything. My samples are samples of my writing style and ability. They are not a sample of my precise knowledge on any subject. And even if I do have a sample about a certain topic, it's a sample that I wrote on one aspect of the topic. If it doesn't have the exact information someone is looking for in a sample, that doesn't mean that I don't know more about the topic. It simply means that every article is different and every perspective is different. There is no legitimate reason for writing samples about every possible topic and using them to simply regurgitate every piece of information you can find. That's crap, not writing.

If someone can write, then they can write. Period. Another thing some potential clients do is to look at your samples, see that they look fine, and then ask you to write another sample about their topic. Um, no. My samples are there to show my ability- not as a proposal to do free work. I hope my samples show that I can do my job.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First Post!

There are so many things that go through your head when writing- and sometimes they take up residence for longer than you'd like. A certain phrase, a paragraph you wish you'd put in, worrying about having too many commas, it all collects there over time.

I'm hoping with this blog I can pour them out into cyberspace and get rid of them all. Well, most of them. Writing full time tends to take over your life. The use of any time that doesn't have some pressing immediacy to it gets sucked into the constant stream of "I should do an article about that!" and "why didn't I get that project? I was perfect for it!"