Sunday, May 31, 2009

Being responsible for what we say: Fredom of speech is not always cut and dry

We spend a lot of time here talking about our writing, specifically how to increase exposure and revenue. Today I am going to discuss our responsibility as writers whether we be freelancers, paid to write site users, or bloggers. Words are very powerful things as they have they have the ability to create images, shape opinions, deliver information, and uplift a person. They also have the ability to destroy a person.

Plenty of people are now aware of a certain situation which occurred on a paid to write site many of us are familiar with which surrounds, blogging, promotion, and quite frankly deliberate harm inflicted on another writer. No names nor links to any of this will be provided, but it is a prime example that we as writers in our zeal to up our personal brand and earnings need to be completely aware of who it is we deal with and how we look as a result of that. It is also a reminder about all that business about living in glass houses and throwing rocks and the such.

Suppose a person were to approach you saying they wanted to feature your article(s) on their blog or site to help promote your work. It would be flattering and exciting, no? What happens when that goes bad or they misrepresent their intentions? What happens when you aren't even asked and someone does this anyway?

In the case someone features your work with a byline and you can generate revenue with no negative imagery or words surrounding it, super! That is actually the norm, most people want to be courteous and cut deals where they give you a little something now in the hopes that later you may return the favor. We do that here even.

However in a recent case, a person simply chose a person whom the blogger viewed as living a life against "someones" own moral code. A scathing personal attack was written and then the person seemingly unsatisfied sought to share that attack within the community they both are active writing members within. The unsuspecting person was painted as an immoral seductress with overtones she may even do this regarding children which was patently false. She neither informed the person this would be done, cited the persons work in a manner in which a reader could easily find it (That means no link to it), and further did not allow the person to respond in the blog via comments. She simply deleted them if we are to believe what the person attacked stated.

Right away we all think the same thing hopefully which is in the following order:

1. "That is wrong from a decency standpoint."
2. "A person should be allowed to defend them self where they are attacked."
3. "There is the 1st Amendment thing."

On points one and two the emphatic answer is yes. On point three the answer is not so much as you think. If you post something, even in the name of "citizen journalism" you are still held to certain legal standards. Of course defamation of character is an issue, and bloggers are finding they are losing lawsuits over this left and right these days. Don't think so? Google "Sued bloggers", "Blogger lawsuits", or some variation of that and watch the pages of results scroll by.

If you choose to be, and I will be blunt here so cover any virgin ears, an asshole, and trash people in your blogs, articles, or even forum posts, you are leaving yourself in an actionable position. You have in effect attacked a persons character and perhaps even jeopardized their ability to function reasonably in society regarding any number of issues like housing, their career, their family relations, and issues too numerous to list fully.

You can reasonably criticize a persons work if you are discussing their writing. Hell you can trash their writing ability all you want. It is when you cross over to personal attacks, veiled or not, in which you are now held to a different standard.

An example is in 2002 a post appeared on a blog in which a person was cited by name in which a blogger called a person an incompetent hack and then intimated the person kind words a homosexual. They did this on several blogs and forums. Big deal you say? For the accussed it was. He was not homosexual, but he was an active duty member of the military. He was unaware the posts existed. In late 2003 when re-enlisting a routine security clearance check was conducted by ENTAC and SBI. Both found that post during their investigation, they can do that when they literally get thousands of dollars to conduct each check.

The person cited in the blog was not only denied re-emlistment after almost 16 years of honorable service, but was brought to trial under the UCMJ which is much stricter and has far looser standards of proof regarding this offense; basically they can find guilt based on "It sounds reasonable/probable" with no hard evidence. He was then kicked out under other than honorable conditions and left to fend in the world without his pension, and with that stigma attached to him forever.

During trial, the posts came into his custody as a part of the hearing. It wound up being a person he minimally knew who simply had an axe to grind. He sued in civil court and won. The person had no money or assets to cover the judgment. Vindicated to some degree the person in question tried to clean their military record of this and re-enter the service so he may finally finish his time and retire. He was denied. His life was destroyed by a person that wrote defamatory posts about him just to be spiteful.

So what is the point of all this? Pay attention to what you write. Pay attention to the blogs you link to and help promote. If someone offers to promote you on their site or blog, actually go look at it. Read what they have done in the past. Investigate the person them self, and go with your gut instinct if it seems even a little bit fishy. Make sure that no matter what is posted you have the ability to respond directly and publicly, not through some third party.

Just as the links in our articles are judged by their associations, we as writers and people are judged by ours as well. The difference is a bad link can be easily corrected and pushed out of sight. As people, a bad association is far less understandable, far harder to forget or forgive, and far more damaging both personally and professionally.

Just think in the case of the above soldier and how a simple post on a blog from a person he barely knew ruined his career. As a freelancer we are judged by where we live on the web. We are dealing with web savvy people for the most part. Don't get fooled into thinking that if you freely associate with people who do nasty things to others, that you may not be judged the same even if you don't.

It is not only poor form as a person, but can damage your earning ability and standing in the writing community. Nobody wants to risk working with a person that has a reputation for that type of work or those who identify them self to those people. While it is a shame something happened to prompt the need for this discussion that damaged another writer's reputation, it is something we need to be aware of.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

It is a new world out there with social media sites and not just fun only. One of the fastest growing and nearly mentioned everywhere is Twitter. From Larry King to Allure Magazine to endless corporations all seem to have an address on this social networking site, so there must be something to it.

You too can be a part of Twitter. But is there any potential for using Twitter as a writer’s tool? Twitter can be found at and should be considered as a mini blogging tool. The service is free and you are allowed to enter a series of small text entries (140 characters), known as tweets.

The basis of your posts can be interactive with other users.You can create your brief biography, customize a background, add an image and link to your blog. It is a good idea to follow along and watch others when you start out. Then tweet away, as tweets will announce you, your ideas and projects.

Make the most out of your tweeting experience with the following tips. They should help you succeed in your quest of conquering the masses on Twitter.

1. Join the conversation and build relationships. If you are a travel writer, fashion writer, techie; follow those in the industry and send a request to follow you. They often tweet the latest and you can get first dibs on any story lines. Head straight to @freelance_jobs, @journalismjobs, @media_pros and @mediabistrobs and follow them immediately.

2. If you need assistance on something, tweet your question. Tweeting often leads to response tweets from your followers offering helpful suggestions and links to other resources. Writing is no longer a lonely profession.

3. Twitter Feed is used by Twitter users to broadcast writing gigs. The search engine at the bottom of the Twitter screen is the place to visit. Enter into search writer, freelance writer, blogger, etc, and see what comes up. Your next gig may be a click away especially perspective client is tweeting about job listings.

4. Post links to your latest work, Helium zone, blog or anything that helps promote you and your writing. Offer help and answer questions related to your level of expertise. Always respond to anything addressed to you.

5. This one will sound pushy, but as you gain more followers, just ask for a job. Begin to send your portfolio or website to all potential clients. You can establish your expertise with them and stand out from the crowd.

Are you a twitter and actively use it to promote your writing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Common sense when using adsense

Today we need to talk about something everyone needs to know about these days both for ourselves and for clients which is properly using google adsense to make money. Everyone should be familiar with the rules regarding spamming and fun things like that so I am going to skip over that. If you don't know their policy concerning that just ask and you'll get plenty of answers from the fine folks here. Also I'm skipping the how adsense technically pays part, as I get long winded anyway, again if you need to know, just ask.

The biggest misconception people have when using adsense most times is that it is worthwhile to chase down the keywords and phrases that carry the biggest price tag or cost per click. Everyone has seen plenty of stories floating around where someone testifies "I made $6,731.14 in one day on adsense writing about "selling structured settlements" (Which incidentally has or recently had a cost per click of $64.81 cents), or some similar claim. Is it true?

In some cases it can be true, however that is like catching lightning in a bottle. It is like posting an article to one of those communities like reddit and having it go viral. It does happen, it just doesn't happen anywhere near as much as people wish it did. If it was that easy we all have mansions and a pool boy name Pogo fanning us with palm leaves while we sipped frozen adult beverages and discussed the decline of Hollywood films with a topless Anjelina Jolie. Insert Brad Pitt and make him bottomless if that works better for you, we're open minded here.

The question is if the keyword is that expensive, why not pursue the big bucks using it? There are two very big reasons for that:

1. Everyone that can do a google search knows it is worth that much and chases it down looking for the huge payday.
2. Because everyone is doing that, and it really isn't that common a search phrase, your odds of getting a hit are a joke.

The hairy details are that phrase is so under searched that it only averages 0.1 clicks per day. That in reality means the phrase pays out once every ten days, or 36.5 times per year. What do you think your honest odds are of getting a piece of that pie without getting hit for click fraud, believe me they will check, especially if you are set to get paid on it a couple times a year. It's just that unusual.

On the other hand truly profitable keywords are far more common but they fall into two categories:

1. Fairly high cost per click, but somewhat reasonable to chase
2. Low (by the the $64.81 high standard) and very reasonable to chase

An example of a category one phrase is "insurance." That word has a cost per click of $17.41. That sounds great, but again, how many times do you see that word each day if you regularly cruise the web? Enough to barf up a lung. The odds are that you wont get a click per day, but maybe one every two weeks if you're lucky. At that rate you can potentially make around $450 annually. Will you? Probably not, that is why the big word potential is in there. If you have a huge traffic blog or site, you could make far more, potentially.

"Insurance" gets about 49,900 clicks per day. You have to figure out in your mind how big a slice of that pie you really think you can grab when considering it against ALL the google adsense accounts targeting it. It pays over $17.00 so you know it is going to be highly sought after by tons of writers.

Lets look at a category two example like the keyword "free." Free gets tossed around all the time, but you'll see it is hardly free at a cost per click of $1.06. Here's what makes this a better word to pursue than insurance- it does more than triple the hits per day at 172,680.5. On average it pays out $183,041.33 while "insurance" pays out $868, 645.81 per day on average.

Now before you say "Hey Mandy, are you rocking the ganja? The math doesn't add up!" take off your school math cap and try on your web browser hat. If you open two articles randomly on the web and one has the keyword for insurance, given how often you see it, how likely are you to click on it? More than likely not much at all which is a part of why the clicks for that have to pay more. It is a word we have unconsciously added to our mental ignore list so the demand to get clicks on it carries a higher payout. It's hard to get people to want to click on that word.

On the other hand, if you see the word "free" how likely are you to at least give it a shot out of curiosity? The odds are pretty good because we all like free stuff regardless of the economy. As such, it can pay much lower because it is going to get far more clicks. You don't have to twist arms to give stuff away as much as to get them to read about insurance. Make sense?

But what about the math? If "insurance pays so much more than "free" isn't it worth chasing? Not really. People that make money on adsense that don't have high ranking sites and blogs literally doing thousands of hits per day just don't draw enough attention to make it feasible. In a sense you need to chase quantity over quality. You can be the K-Mart of adsense and make money rather than trying to be the Tiffanys and spend all your energy chasing it.

With all that said and done what does it mean for you? It means be reasonable. The most expensive adsense words in some cases don't even get hit enough to pay out everyday in some cases. Why kill yourself chasing them like Moby Dick? Scale down and look at words in the $0.50 to $1.00 range and aim for lots of small regular hits. Realize it is better to grab those little hits you can snatch everyday than it is to go for the big boys. It is easier to make $2/day on several low paying words people really click on than it is to make $15 on one word per week.

Also remember that the prices can fluctuate rapidly at or near the top. In instances where a phrase winds up in the news like "mesothelioma" the vast amount of people searching to see if they can jump on a lawsuit can devalue the word in the bat of an eye. The other piece of bad news is even with that increase in traffic, your odds of working it into something, getting page rank to grab readers, and then getting clicks is negligible. The little words stay consistent.

In summation, less is more! If you want to know the ten most potentially profitable (not expensive, but profitable adsense keywords), read this gratuitously placed link because I'm too lazy to copy it over here and I've already used up a pile space!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

To Diversify or Not to Diversify, That is the Question

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.
William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Many so called "experts" will argue that you can only write about what you experience or know first hand. However, with a wealth of research tools out there, a good writer can write about almost anything.

Blogger to magazine writers to authors of books never
seem come to a consensus of which works better; focusing in one area or diversifying in many subjects. Finding the right niche can offer you a success in writing, depending on the subject matter. But opting for diversification, it will open up more gigs for you.

Which ever you decide upon, remain versatile.

If you feel uncomfortable to venture in other areas, focus in a general area but move out a little in style and spin a new thread to your topic and writing abilities.

There are several advantages to having a specialty. By developing an expertise in a particular area and you will be in demand and your rates can increase. You expertise should have adequate demand. Google certain key words to obtain an idea is the competition is fierce or not.

The downside towards writing only about what you already have experienced is boredom. There may be numerous ways to write about toilet paper but after thousand and one times, the subject becomes stale and originality begins to wane. Sometimes you may find there is no market for your niche.

On a personal level, diversification is where it is at for me, although I have certain niches I tend to cling to. Declining an assignment or project that is offered just because I have never written about before is not in my DNA. "I’m just a girl who just can say no."

However, I must be honest with the client in advance so there are no misunderstandings if the work gets rejected. In a positive manner, I will also request their opinion on how the topic should be handled. If I never took a chance away from print, I would never have learned how to use Word Press, Blogger and other web software; thus giving me a more competitive edge.

Adapt to the voice of the editor or client of what they specifically are seeking. Do not write as a liberal if the publication or website has a conservative or spiritual tone. You will soon be able to adjust to their vision.

What option will you choose; diversifying or specializing?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So You Think You Can Write (A writers view of getting started)

Wow, I have been asking myself that question for some time. Talk about jumping into the fire with both feet planted on hot ground. OUCH!!! I think I burned myself.

There are so many different ways to approach Freelance Writing for a living and all of them require taking the time to know your level of writing skills. This involves implementing all those English classes, Writing classes and Spelling classes you took in school. Who the heck is going to hire you, if you don't know how to put sentences together and accurately at that! You might have an award winning Pulitzer Article, (I can dream) but unless you know how to pull it together it's going to sit on the shelf collecting dust. You wont be hired if you can't back up your pen's writing skills. Metaphorical pen here folks or literal whichever you use.

Okay, so I can write but what quality of writing am I putting out there? I mean my skills are pretty much limited to the mere basics of writing, included but not limited to Creative Writing. Does that qualify me as freelance writing worthy? Egad, thank goodness for my understanding editor and writing instructor supremeo (yes, I said supremeo) boss lady!

The desire and passion is there, so there's kindling waiting to be lit. I have accumulated knowledge on a plethora of subjects, so I write about different topics. I have the determination to see projects through, so I'm trustworthy. I guess it comes down to the quality of my work.

What to do? Well if I'm going to declare myself a freelance writer and I'm lacking in writing ability, then I suppose I could take night courses that will eventually hone my skills as a quality writer. Then perhaps I could seek out small projects to bid on, something that doesn't require a thousand plus words in the beginning. Maybe I could hire an editor, who has the patience of Job, to proofread and direct me in my weak areas of writing. I mean I want to always offer my best. The goal is to get the writing job.

Back to my statement, "So You Think You Can Write". Yes, I can write, but I need to work on the quality of work I'm putting out there. The freelance writing world is competitive. I need to be at the top of my game.

So to all you other freelance writers, struggling to get good writing gigs, ask yourself the same question and honestly explore the answer. Do what needs to be done to hone your skills as a freelance writer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Freelance Writer Contracts, Continued

Here is the aforementioned post on contracts, as per Daisy:

Here's a question that I have been kicking around for a while and I would like
to hear some opinions from the other writers here.

Do you peeps have a
favorite contract template? I haven't found one I like yet. The versions on
Elance are too wordy (4-11 pages) and are skewed toward the buyer's interests.
For projects under $1,000 a contract of more than 1-2 pages is simply not a
feasible option.

I have a lot of experience negotiating contracts in my
Purchasing job so I figure I will put together my own eventually. Maybe we can
put our heads together and brainstorm a simple freelance writer contract that
everyone can customize to their own needs.

Let me know who wants in on
this and we can start kicking around requirements and suggestions for a sample
contract in the comments section.


And the contract later posted:

Daisy said...
OK, sorry for being so late. Here is a sample of the work
terms I created for my Guru profile. This is the short version since I ran way
over the character limit with my original version. I guess shorter is better
anyway. Here goes:

We accept payment via ________. Buyers can pay upon
completion for projects under $_____.

Communication - We will
communicate with you regularly and respond to your inquiries via email within 1
business day (CST).

Delivery Schedule - For escrow projects, work begins
when the appropriate milestone has been funded. Please fund promptly to avoid

Revision - We consider a revision to be alteration of up to 20%
of content. 1 revision is offered free of charge for each of the first two
articles we write for you. Ebooks often include additional revisions in the bid

Rewrite - This is an extensive revision (such as 50% of content).
In the unlikely event that you require us to rewrite the content we submit to
you, this will incur a surcharge. You can avoid the need for rewrites by
providing clear and accurate instructions at the outset of each project.

Attribution/Byline - We offer discounted pricing to buyers who allow us
to publish work under our own names. This builds our web presence and makes it
easy to point future clients to online examples of our writing.

Copyright - If you are purchasing all rights to the work we submit, we
will not create a sample from the end product to post in our portfolio without
your specific permission.

Feedback - Your satisfaction is our highest
priority. The final feedback you leave on ____ has a huge impact on our
potential for growth. We also appreciate your endorsement since it helps us
build our business.

More thoughts and input? let us know how you worded your last project, and why!

Freelance Writer's Update

And here I am! I've been writing furiously, trying to meet deadlines and take care of my lil chilluns - all three of which have birthdays! Vivien Grace turned 10 on the 10th, Duncan Ray is 2 today (the 11th) and Chane Delaney turns 8 next week on the 18th. Yes. You counted on your fingers correctly. August in Texas is very, very hot, and an air conditioned bedroom is quite inviting! :)

Anyhoo. Here, albeit belatedly (this is my blog and I can use all the ten dollar words I want), is the update I promised. This past month the Hack Writers' Guild has featured a lot of wonderful posts!

In alphabetical order by first name, we seem to have quite a following already: The Baseball Goddess (our own outrageous Mandy); Daisy McCarty (my sis); Diane Quinn; Isabelle (Belle Starr); Jim Bessey; Kim Leah, Kristina (who just landed a VERY lucrative project - go Kristina!!); Lynn C; Margaret Merrill; Melissa Bickel (Missy, our creative writer and poet); Molly O'Shea, Shelley (who was just accepted by Demand Studios - Yay Shelley!) and Veronica, who posts to the blog every week faithfully and with excellent posts that make me VERY grateful to have her here with us! (Thanks, Veronica!!)

I see Alex, Carolina, Conny, Dawn and Leigh peeking around the corner - we will lure them in yet.

In recap: we have hammered home some points on the origin of the name of the Hack Writers' Guild, how to be a hack, getting started as a part-time writer, learning SEO, rules for writing 'good', when to break the rules, good freelance sites to find gigs at, how to frame a successful bid, finding a freelance writing project made for YOU, how to wease the link juice (thank you, Mandy and Pauly Shore), creative writing (from our resident poet, Missy), and sptting freelance writing scams.

The one post I want to pull up to the front so we can continue discussion is the contract writing one Daisy started, as this is VERY important. It will be repeated along with the pertinent info from the comments for the next post.

Thanks to every one who is contributing to this blog! We hope it will become a haven and resource for budding freelanceers from all walks.



Thursday, May 7, 2009

General Rules for Spotting a Scam

Sometimes writers become complacent and make the classic mistake of 'putting all their eggs in one basket.'

As a freelancer, an important rule of thumb is that nothing is permanent. Easily something can happen to the longevity of any assignment, whether through a change of management or a complete shut down.

This is not the time to panic, but carefully seek out other writing options as discussed in Hack Writers´ Guild. Even though you may be out of your comfort zone applying for new assignments; the good new is many editors are seeking fresh talent.

At times like these, it is easy to become more trusting and develop a "take a chance" attitude. The economic downturn breeds a feeding frenzy of scams geared towards writers. Many writers can easily become ripe for scams and cons out of sheer desperation. Now is the time you should be even more vigilant of who you are doing business with.

Don’t get caught in such webs of deceit.

Request free samples:

Unpaid writing samples are often a way for unscrupulous website owners to get free content. Almost any client should be happy to review previously published work as samples of your talent. If they request a short sample of thirty words to see if you meet their style in a particular subject matter, that is fine. Anything more requested is working for nothing.

Asking for money to set you up:

The basic principle of any job is that the employer pays the employee, not the other way around.
The potential employer’s websites can not be found:

Check the validity of their contact details and/or website. If the information given to you does not exist, it is certain neither does a legitimate job.

Will not discuss rates upfront and wants to negotiate:

This is not a Middle Eastern Bazaar: Get a firm offer and contract.

An ad states that a book publisher is seeking to publish first-time authors:

Established and legitimate publishers rarely take manuscripts from novices or unknowns. Many work through literary agents only. All though self publishing companies do accept unpublished authors, you may be responsible for printing costs and additional expenses. In other words, know all the details before signing any contracts.

If your intuition suggests something is amiss; just decline the offer:

With experience, you will be able to distinguish between the legit and scam offers. But even if everything seems on the up and up, you can still be taken advantage of with low payers. Know you worth. 1000 words for $2.00 is not the way to go with your experience.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thanks for the great advice so far!

Thanks to my new friends here on this blog, I now have a functional profile at Elance (user name Skishpaugh if anyone wants to look at it and give me feedback). I also put together a resume (thanks a ton to Kristina for all of her patient hand-holding on this) and just received an email that I have been accepted at Demand Studios!

I am rather excited to spend the weekend learning how to navigate these sites and will be putting some plan of action together for next week. I am certain I will soon have a million more questions, but I wanted to throw an update in here to let everyone know that this blog has already been extremely helpful to me, and I look forward to learning more from you wise people in the future.

Thanks a bunch!