Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day weekend and my rant about the responsibilities of owning pets, part II

I spent my weekend visiting Michael's friends and family. First we went to Des Moines to visit some old friends of his there, and then we went to Kansas City to see his family.

Michael's brother lives "off the grid," out in the countryside where they can't just call the power company and set up an account. It's a large, beautiful lot with plenty of room for their horses.

Their neighbor also has horses, except that he doesn't have them for the usual reasons: riding, companionship, or simple love of horses. This guy thinks he's in the middle of some get rich quick scheme. He just decided out of the blue that he wanted to breed horses, and he knows nothing about them. His three mares look rather ill-cared for, although they are still obviously beautiful creatures.

The idiot with the visions of an easily-made fortune was planning on trading some cash and one of his mares for a pregnant mare and her one-year-old colt. The jackass selling the mare and her baby brought them over in a trailer with a jacked-up floor, and the mare got one of her back hooves caught in a hole in the floor. By the time they unloaded her at the neighbor's house, a two-inch-wide strip of flesh was gone, scraped away either by the trailer or by dragging on the ground underneath. The joint was fully exposed.

The mare eventually laid down, and after some shifting around, just stayed there. Michael's family called their vet, and he came out, despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend. In the meantime, the jackass that was selling her - and who was obviously running the equivalent of a puppy mill - started talking about shooting the poor pregnant horse. When the doctor came, neither he nor the buyer were willing to shell out the $1,000 to save the horse and her unborn baby, so they ultimately decided to put her down.

I cried, of course, but I refused to leave the horse's side. I sat with her, stroking her face, neck, and shoulder, through the entire ordeal. Her colt, who was not very comfortable around people, even came up to me a few times - I assume because I'd started to smell like his mom. The situation was sad, not simply because a good horse was losing her life, but because the entire thing had been completely unnecessary - not only could the trailer incident have been avoided, but she could have been saved even after the accident, had one of the men involved in the deal chosen to view her as a living creature rather than a hunk of money.

Her yearling colt, at least, is getting the care he needs. He had scraped ankles, too, and he is now in a stall at the vet's office - he, apparently, was worth the expense to the buyer. The vet roped and caught the skittish colt, and I sat with him while we waited for the vet to return with a trailer to transport him to the clinic. The yearling - a paint pinto, and fairly small - turned his head and put it almost in my lap while we sat together, leaning his forehead against my shoulder. He was so bewildered and sad, and I felt honored that he allowed me to comfort him.

However, even in the aftermath of the mare's death, nothing seems likely to find an acceptable resolution. Offended that we would dare accuse him of not taking the proper precautions in transporting horses, the jackass seller left in a huff when it became clear that his shit-talking was starting a fight he couldn't win. The colt apparently remains the property of the buyer - who had, after all, put money down already - but I have my doubts that he will be able to properly care for the little tyke, any more than the other guy.

The only good outcome was that the trade was not completed, none of the nonpregnant mares were required to leave the frying pan for the fire. At least, I hope that's a good outcome... Only time will tell if her owner - the foolish, get-rich-quick wannabe - will do right by his horses in the future.

What it all comes down to is a lack of good laws out here. Horses are not seen as pets, which allows owners to do just about anything they want. There is little that can apparently be done, either against the breeder or the wannabe. There is nothing to stop them from putting their horses down when the animals can no longer earn their keep.

As sad as the story is, the ending is bittersweet. I already mentioned that I sat with that mare through the entire ordeal, stroking her neck and trying my best to soothe her with my voice. I was even right there with her when she died. Much later that night, when I was in that limbo approaching sleep (but not quite there), I experienced a lucid dream, or perhaps a spiritual vision. I saw the mare in my mind's eye, healthy and happy and running free. I smiled, knowing she thanked me for the care I'd given her.

And even though I rarely remember my dreams - and even more rarely remember a dream I had as I was falling asleep - the dream was still quite clear in my mind the next morning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Comments on contracts and getting scammed

Check out this week's issue of Writers Weekly for an excellent article highlighting the top ten ways to know you've been scammed! It is, of course, another of Angela's rants about writing without a contract. However, it is also a very important topic, and I'm sure there's tons of new writers who visit the ezine for the first time every day, who have no clue about the likelihood of getting scammed. Honestly, I worry a lot about getting paid when I don't have a contract. Obviously, I need to make more of an effort to get contrats!

One circumstance I've always avoided, however, is the "writing sample" ploy. There are so many scams that operate on a writing or editing sample that I've begun to take great care not to provide one at all, unless the employer is paying for the sample. Otherwise, I direct them to my online portfolio, which has all the previously published work they should need to make a decision on whether or not to hire me.

I never hear back from about half of those I direct to my portfolio. Maybe they were planning on scamming me, and maybe not, but as far as I'm concerned, it's safer not to know.

Gossip and warnings to writers still belong here

Even though I'm now reviewing Writers Weekly articles on my other blog, Reading for Writers, I still think any warnings, gossip, or other writing-related mentions go here - even if they are contained in the ezine. This forum thread, included in the weekly "Whispers and Warnings" section, particularly caught my attention: it's about a publishing company that is refusing to give writers contracts.

Now, I have to admit that although at first I was stellar about getting contracts for all my jobs, lately I just haven't been insisting. I have at least half-a-dozen jobs with no contract right now. So far I haven't had any problem with people not paying, but it's too early to tell on some of them...

I've heard that emails can stand in place of a contract, if they state the agreement, but I don't know that for sure - or if they would carry the same weight in court. I'm going to look into it. I'll let you know what I find out...

My Writers Weekly reviews have a new home!

I decided to start posting my reviews and comments on Writers Weekly on my other blog, Reading For Writers. I decided to do this because, even though Writers Weekly is not a book and my review blog was originally designed for books, ezines can be valuable sources of information for writers. I think Writers Weekly is particularly important for writers to read.

Please read my post on the newest online marketing article in the weekly ezine, and continue checking Reading for Writers for more good reads!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The shack, the bunny, and my rant about the responsiblities of owning pets

It's funny, the things you learn about a neighborhood when you're home all day - and when your desk sits right in front of a window facing the street. Although all of the residents keep pretty much to themselves, I get to watch all the crazies that walk through our neighborhood...

Anyway, freelancing meant that I was home today to meet our new neighbors - and experience the revelation that our nickname "The Shack" was a prophecy-come-true...

To explain:

Next door to our house is a little place we call "The Shack." The shack was built in 1915, possibly as a temporary house while our home was being built. It looks like a temp that has hung on too long... The roof bows a bit in the middle, the yard is unkempt, and the ceilings look pretty low. It's all the way back at the alley, and has a rather run-down, off-white picket fence around the entire yard. It has a garage and a storage shed that probably make together more square footage than the house itself has. The house and the garage are painted this ugly shade of green, with tan trim. Oh, and there is a clawfoot tub sitting in the yard on the side of the house, out by the alley - like they wanted to get rid of it, but that's as far as they could get.

Surprisingly, when I peeked in the windows about a week and a half ago, I saw that it's pretty nice inside - original hardwood floors, original wood trim that still has the original finish (not painted), and beautiful French doors with the old doorknob and hardware! The house also has a wood-burning stove in the living room - how quaint! It's tiny, though - the whole thing can't be much more than about 500 square feet.

The house is a rental, and from day one has promised to be a thorn in our side. The bushes along the picket fence on the property line we share are overgrown and hideous. They hang into our yard (but I intend to fix that). Some really crazy-looking people have come to look at the house.

Just a day or two ago, there were people there late at night. We quickly realized the house had been rented, and to a bunch of kids! They were moving late into the night, and with the music up, of course. First impressions of our new neighbors: not very good.

This morning, at about 9:30, I was awakened (yes, awakened) by a knock on the door. It took me a few minutes to get up and dressed, but I wasn't really intending on answering the door, anyway. Once up, though, I realized there was someone kneeling in our bushes on the shack side! I hurried out, and a young couple explained to me that they had lost their bunny. (And I mean young - the guy was this scrawny guy with no shirt on and tan lines from a wife beater, and the girl looks like she's about the same mentality.)

It turned out that the bunny was just a baby - they'd just got it, apparently. I commented that the fence isn't bunny-proofed - i.e. a little bunny can slip through ridiculously easily - and they said yeah, but they were supervising. I'm not sure how they though "supervising" would help with a creature who can run faster than them and slip into smaller spaces than them... Anyway, the girl admitted a little while later that the bunny can slip under a closed door.

We didn't catch the bunny. While we were looking, their cat darted in, chased the bunny around, and I'm not sure that she didn't hurt it. Afterward we were unable to figure out where the bunny had gone. The thing is seriously about four or five inches in length - rather small to find underneath eight-foot lilac and snowball bushes.

Meanwhile, they're telling me how they're going to get a puppy in a few weeks. Huh?! You just lost one pet, and you're happily talking about the next one you're going to get?! Seriously, have they no restraint? I commented that the fence will need chickenwire almost all the way around, and they agreed - but, in light of the bunny event, I have my doubts.

A little later on, I went outside to ask them if they'd found the bunny. They - and some friends - were playing soccer in the yard with the music turned up. (I watched that ball nervously every time it flew into the air above the reach of normal human beings. If it ever hits our house I'll have their heads on a pike.) The girl said no, that she looked under the bushes every once in a while, but that she thinks it's just gone. Such nonchalance!

They're like children having children - so excited to have their own place that they just keep getting pet after pet. I wanted to shake them and ask what in the hell they think a pet is - a toy?! In my opinion, getting a pet is like having a child that never grows up. Your pet's safety and health will be a constant responsibility. Evidently these kids either don't realize that, or are in no way ready for that responsibility. And a tiny baby bunny is going to pay the price for their negligence.

We never did find the bunny, although Michael and I are going to look as soon as he gets home. That bunny won't last long around here. Between our dog and their cat, it's sure to get hurt or killed - if it doesn't get run over or starve to death. (In my experience, domesticated bunnies don't know what to eat in a yard.) You'd better believe that if I find that bunny, I'm not giving it back.

And let me tell you, if that puppy they plan on getting gets out of the yard all the time, I'll complain to Animal Control or whoever else will listen...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A new site for writers

A little while back I blogged on problems with Freelance Work Exchange. A lot of the freelance job boards I check regularly have been pointing out recently that you can find jobs for free - probably the same jobs as are posted on paid membership sites like Freelance Work Exchange. And while I agree with that, I've started using a site lately that I think is a good compromise.

It's called Writerlance.com. The way the site works, you bid on writing gigs, and only if you get the gig do you pay a commission to the company. You see a lot of different people bidding on the jobs - everyone from beginners and low-ballers (you know, the wannabe writers that bid a few bucks for a project), to experienced professionals. You also see clients who are looking for those stupid enough to write a gazillion words for a couple of bucks, but they're offset by the clients who want good work for a reasonable price. I just got a gig on that site the other day; the project is already finishing and the client has paid me. Although Writerlance.com probably won't provide you with all your writing work, it certainly can supplement what you already get.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Writers Weekly's newest installment on online marketing

First of all, my apologies for neglecting my blog lately. I have been very busy with other work for the past week or so. It's a good thing, as it means steady income, but it can be kind of scary as well!

Today Writers Weekly posted their newest installment in the online marketing "course" - an article about scoring links to your site from other sites. Having written press releases for products related to online marketing - the kinds of products that guarantee improved search engine rankings, etc. - I'm well aware that the number of quality links you have pointing back to your site has considerable bearing on how your site is ranked by the search engines. In any rate, Writers Weekly is offering help on this subject for free, and without any gimmicks or ridiculous promises. For anyone wanting to improve their search engine ranking and site traffic, this series of articles is necessary reading!

Monday, May 15, 2006

When the size obsession goes too far...

Some of my longtime readers might remember my inclusion of a small laptop in A Writer's Best Friends, a post I made back in December. My laptop is everything I think a writer needs: small enough to take anywhere, yet large enough to type easily. I can't imagine a writer owning one of those super-sized laptops that you normally see - how on earth do you whip out a 7-pound laptop and start working at a moment's notice?!

However, it seems that the "size obsession" - that obsession that motivates men to want their dicks to be bigger and everything else to be smaller - has gone too far. Behold, the Ultra Mobile PC: a laptop so small you can't do anything with it. It literally has no keyboard or trackpad - just a touch-screen with a pop-up keyboard. Speaking of the screen, it's so small that you can't see whole windows or even what you're typing when you have the keyboard pop-ups up! It's slow, too - probably the first computer with a processor under 1 gig that's been marketed in at least a year. And for all this, it's not that much smaller than my own computer: compare 9" by 5.5" (the Samsung Q1) to 10.5" by 8" (my Averatec). Moreover, it'll cost you a grand - the same price tag that was on my Averatec. The size advantage is definitely not worth everything that you lose.

Realistically, who is going to want one of these? Gadget geeks, probably, and that's about it. They're no good for working on - can you imagine trying to type using a pop-up keyboard on a touchscreen? Even sending a quick email would take far too long.

The critique on the New York Times is definitely well-deserved. The tongue-in-cheek video about Ultra Mobile PC is quite funny, too!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reading for Writers: The book review blog!

You've probably noticed that I tend to review a lot of books for writer on my blog. I've decided to call this "column" Reading For Writers, and make it into its own blog. You'll notice I've already added this new blog to my list of links on the right.

For the most part, Swan's Blog is what you might call "writer's soup." Some posts are tips for writers, some posts link to interesting information on other sites for writers, and some posts are journal-like entries about my writing life. Then there's also the more personal stuff - posts that link to politically charged articles or issues, or simply narratives of my daily life. Even though much of this content is only loosely related, I thought my reviews had become common enough that they deserve their own blog.

Thus was born Reading For Writers. Please check it out. Right now it's in the beginning stages, but for a while I plan on posting reviews fairly frequently, both because I want to build the blog's content and because I have a lot to review at the moment. Once the blog is fairly established, I'll start posting once a week.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Online marketing and eBay

Another week, and another installment of Richard Hoy's lessons on internet marketing. This week's lesson is about the difference between search engines and directories. The information contained in this article is invaluable for those like me who are internet savvy but nowhere near being "expert." For instance, I had no idea that Yahoo! was a directory, not a search engine!

One of the main points of Richard's article is submitting your website to the directories and search engines. I have to say, out of my own experience of having a website, that you really don't have to do anything - eventually they'll find you on their own. For instance, if you search either Google or Yahoo! for "Katharine Swan," you'll come up with my website homepage, top of the list. However, my website has been online for about a year now. I've heard that it takes as long as six months for a website to start appearing in search results; for my website and my blog, I think it was only about three months, but still - that's a long time if you need traffic to find your website for sales purposes.

Another interesting part of this week's Writers Weekly issue was the Letters to the Editor section, where my email to Angela appeared! I wrote to Angela in response to last week's article about selling self-published books on eBay. Being a long-time eBayer, I knew what she was talking about when she advised authors to list their books in the category that the book was about, rather than the books category. I've bought and sold books (albeit not my own) on eBay, and I know from experience that they don't get much attention - which is good news for buyers (i.e. good deals) but not for sellers. I have no doubt that it's because of the size of the book category - people don't take the time to look through it all! At best, they'll do a search if they're looking for something in particular, or browse through a specific category (i.e. Antiquarian and Collectible). No, if you want to sell a book on eBay, you're much better off listing it where people will see it: in the subject that your book is about.

Monday, May 08, 2006

It's not natural

If you think that femininity is instinctive...

If you think that being nurturing is a natural part of being a woman...

If you think that efforts to exercise reproductive choice is a phenomenon that occurs exclusively in humans...

Think again! Read this article about maternal instincts - or the lack thereof - in nature.

Another of my articles published!

Savvy Miss, an ezine for women that I've contributed to, launched today - and my article is in their first issue! Check out "Don't Buy a Lemon," by Katharine Swan.

Warning signs for freelance writers: Employers who can't write

Nothing makes me more wary - or more disdainful - than a potential employer who writes:

i am looking for article writers quality only please no plagarism

It's really tempting to think, Gosh, look how bad he or she needs me! Think again. These employers don't need a good writer... In fact, chances are they won't be able to pay a good writer.

Ads - or emails - like this simply indicate to me that the person posting it is sloppy. And sloppy isn't good for business...so where do you think they'll be getting the money to pay you?

Besides, would you really want to be associated with someone like this? Do you want their sloppiness - and possibly their dishonesty or fraud - connected with your name?

And finally, I personally think it's insulting when someone posts a poorly-written ad or sends an equally sloppy email telling me I'd better give them "quality" if I want the peanuts they are offering me. I mean, excuse me?!?!

I have turned down two such jobs lately. In both cases, I exchanged several emails with the person - theirs looking a lot like my example, above, while I took care to craft professional, curteous correspondence - before they threatened me with those words: i only acept quality work. (Yes, the misspelling was intentional, used to demonstrate the irony I feel is present in these emails.) I mean, by this time it should be obvious - if they paid attention to my emails at all, let alone the online portfolio I sent a link to when I first responded to the ad. Certainly they should notice that their own work is anything but quality.

Which brings me to the second reason why I turned down both of these jobs: not only were their emails poorly written and their hint that I would not turn in quality work extremely insulting, but their sloppiness extended to their own work that was posted online. In both cases, I looked at the person's articles or business site and was appalled that they felt they could bully me about "quality work" when theirs was such absolute crap!

I haven't regretted turning those jobs down, not once. They way I look at it, someone who could be so sloppy, offer such pitiful fees, and then be so insulting to their freelancers is not someone I want to be associated with, let alone work for. Furthermore, if they are that sloppy with their business, how can I trust that they will follow through and pay me?

My advice to other freelancers is also to stay away from these types of gigs. It's not worth it to work your butt off for someone who can't spell, capitalize, or put together a proper sentence, yet acts like he has to warn his writer to produce quality work. Nor is it worth risking that this is also the type of scoundrel who will neglect to pay his contractors.

Before taking a job, do the research. Look at the person's emails and site; Google his or her name; make sure he or she is a legitamite employer, not to mention intelligent enough to operate a business. An obscure employer or a failing business are two sure ways not to get paid for your work.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Writing is synonymous with marketing

This week, Richard Hoy presented us with his second installment of online marketing information. As before, it's really good, useful information - even for writers!

Or, should I say, especially for writers. He definitely addresses his audience's needs, by discussing the benefits of online marketing to an author who would like to sell his or her books online. With this goal in mind, he explains the principles of building a web site, spending a good deal of the discussion on creating copy that will pick up keyword searches. The article includes an excellent link that will help anyone develop SEO materials, whether for their website or not (I bookmarked the link, myself). And he also focuses part of his article on blogging.

Speaking of his section on blogging, I have one comment on what Richard Hoy has to say. He claims that free blog services don't allow you to publish the blog on your own site's URL, but I know that actually isn't true: I use Blogger, a free blogging service, and it did give me the option to publish the blog to my own URL. So, even if you want the blog to appear on a URL of your choice, you can still save your pennies by working with a free blogging service.

Now, as for the marketing thing - I imagine some of you newbie writers are wetting your pants at the thought that being a writer might require marketing. It's such a stereotype: the shy, almost hermit-like writer, hiding behind her pen and her books. Well, in these days, it would be her computer screen and her books; and, also in these days, it might seem more possible than ever, given the fact that the internet gives more opportunity for communication with less requirements for interaction.

But, realistically, being a writer does require a lot of marketing and interaction, and you're an idiot if you think otherwise. Someone has to promote your work, and unless you're sitting on a gold mine, who do you think is going to do it besides you? Yes, a lot of it can be done online - websites, blogs, emails, advertisements, and the like. However, there will still be times when you'll need to follow up with a reluctant contact with a phone call, interview someone over the phone or in person; and if the muses are kind to you, and you one day publish the book you've always dreamed about, you won't be able to just sit back and watch the cash flow in - there will be book signings, readings, and talks, all to sell that book that you became a recluse in order to write.

Trust me, this all doesn't - and won't - come naturally to me. I was painfully shy throughout my childhood, and I still can recognize my "shyness tendencies" showing through from time to time. But the way I figure it, my dream was to be a writer, and facing periodic challenges to my comfort zones is just part of the trials I need to endure to achieve my dream.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Attention all Star Wars fans!

If you grew up in any way like me, it was on a steady diet of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

And if you're still anything like me, you've hated those refurbished "special editions" since the day they were released.

I want to be able to see Star Wars as I remember it from my childhood! But VHS - the only widely used format the originals are available on right now - is quickly becoming obsolete.

However, it seems George Lucas has gotten his head out of his ass long enough to release the Star Wars movies, in all of their original glory, on DVD. It's a very limited release, so don't snooze - you'll lose out on the opportunity to relive your childhood the way it was meant to be!

"Chasing the interview" and other stories

Today's post is an amalgamation of issues...

First of all, I spent a good chunk of the day today "chasing the interview." I don't particularly like phones, and the company I wanted to interview hadn't responded to an email I'd sent, so I drove to one location. The staff there said they couldn't help me, and directed me to another location. The person who would be the person to talk to (so I've been told) was in meetings all day, and they wouldn't give me her email address, so they gave me her name and the main phone number. After all that, I didn't even get a direct line!

I realized the other day that I never posted an update on our plumbing problem. The plumber came Tuesday morning, as scheduled - and good grief, he was just a kid! He had to smash the cap to open the cleanout (he replaced it with a plastic cap when he was done). He sent the snake in, and sure enough - at just about fifty feet he ran into a blockage. After he punched through that, he went all the way out to the sewer, and then pulled the snake back. There were a good deal of roots wrapped around the snake; the plumber said that the neighbor's huge cottonwoods were probably the culprits. In any case, the plumber was here and gone again in less than half the time that it took my dad and I to snake the smaller drain; but I was able to do laundry and take a bath again, so I guess it was worth it - even though I couldn't fix the problem myself.

Finally, I have a note of warning for my fellow freelancers. Angela Hoy posted a couple of good heads-ups for writers in this week's ezine. The Girls' Life warning is particularly important, because it reminds us of the importance of knowing who we're submitting. Before sending out any work, read the recipient's site - yes, all of it! - and make sure that you're not inadvertently falling into a trap similar to this one, where your submission automatically becomes their property. Be wary of this with contests, too! Also, it's a good idea to Google the publication or employer before sending them your stuff - if they have a lot of complaints online, of money they owe people or mistreatment of their writers, you probably don't want to have anything to do with them.
And of course, don't forget to read yesterday's post, which has a very important warning about Freelance Work Exchange.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Is Freelance Work Exchange a scam?

This is a very long post, but the information contained in it is potentially very important, so please bear with me.

On Monday I read a very alarming post on Denver's Craigslist, by a writer who felt he may have been scammed by Freelance Work Exchange. For those of you who don't know, Freelance Work Exchange is a job board for freelance writers - they've been advertising a lot lately, particularly for a $2.95 trial membership. This writer decided to try it out, but quickly found that the site was not useful, and tried to cancel the membership.

So here's the catch: how do you make money off trial memberships? The dishonest answer to this question is, "Make it impossible to cancel before the trial is over, of course!"

Unfortunately, the writer's post - which I feel contained some very important information for other writers - was flagged and removed. He posted again with the same complaint against Freelance Work Exchange, but no doubt the new post will be removed, as well, so I am going to copy and paste it (I have his permission) here:

"Here's what happened to me... www.freelanceworkexchange.com offers a trial of their web service for $2.95 for 7 days, with an "easy/no hassle" cancellation policy. I did not find the service of value - in my opinion, there's very little in the way of listings for freelance advertising copywriters. So on the 6th day I tried to cancel, but the website simply does not allow you to do it. When you make an attempt, it keeps sending you to different links, trying to convince you to stay. Finally you end up back on the home page with no way of canceling. It is so obviously set up this way so people get bounced around so much they become frustrated and give in. In my opinion and only my opinion, it is an out and out scam.

"I emailed the person in charge of their support department, Matt Corke and told him of the problem. He sent me back an email with the same link to try to cancel. I wrote him back and said that the link didn't work and I needed confirmation from him that I was officially cancelled. The next day I called and a woman named Tracy told me I would definitely be cancelled and no charge would show up on my card. Well, a few days later my VISA debit card was charged $29.95. The problem was that the charge put my account into overdraft and I was charged $30 from my bank on top of the $29.95 charge. I wrote Matt Corke back, but he did not reply. I called the next day and a woman named Stacey promised I'd get a return from Matt but again he did not reply. The next day I called a guy named Robert who gave me the same BS line. Today I emailed Mr. Corke for the last time, notifying that I would contact several consumer agencies if he didn't reply. All I asked for was the courtesy of a simple reply and a refund of my money. Once again, no reply. It is my opinion that this company is committing fraud and needs to be stopped. I have all my emails and all calls logged. People who complained on the various websites have been charged consecutive months and can't stop it. I had to go thru the trouble of canceling my debit card and applying for a new one."

I emailed this writer in response to his first post, and suggested that he email Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly. He sent out a mass email today; I guess I was not the only one who suggested this line of attack. And although Angela did not mention Freelance Work Exchange's name, this article was included in her weekly ezine: "Beware When Joining Writing Sites With Your Credit Card!" The article is a blanket warning to writers about joining sites that require a membership fee and request a credit card number in order to fill it.

The writer's mass email also includes quotes from other responses he has gotten, people who have had similar experiences with Freelance Work Exchange:

"I'm a fellow writer and I had the same experience with Freelanceworkexchange... and trying to cancel my subscription through them - to be honest, from the start I could never even log on, my password never worked and I never go an answer from my inquiries on that, let alone anything else."

"Oh boy, it wasn't just me then... They were a nightmare to deal with. I let them know the day after the trial started that I wanted to cancel, but to no avail (or response from them) I called numerous times, left messages, and finally stumbled on the link myself and managed to cancel, but only after $29.95 had been billed to my PayPal account. To date, I've not been able to get a refund."

"I wanted to let you know that I also fell for the Freelance Work Exchange scheme. I paid the 2.95 and found that the website was completely useless. I sent an e-mail to the customer service department, and had no response whatsoever. Somehow, however, I found a phone number to call about the $29.95 charge, and after waiting on hold for about half an hour, I was able to cancel my subscription. I did not go through the hassle you did, but I wanted to write and tell you that I agree with you that Freelance Work Exchange is a total rip off."

"Thank you for posting your complaint on Craigslist. I, too, have experienced, and am still experiencing, problems cancelling my membership with Freelance Work Exchange. I have now been charged for three or four months in a row, since I informed Matt twice that I wished to cancel... I didn't find the business to be helpful either; for one thing, I never saw ads on FWE that weren't listed on other freelance job sites that are free."

"Thank God I didn't give this company my credit card number! I am a writer, and I clicked on the post for this company last week; however, as I was looking through their site, I couldn't figure out why they asked for my CC, when in their original post it had stated FREE SERVICE."

"I initially signed up for the trial offer, with the cost taken out of my bank account. I got a bad feeling after the first emails they sent. I was not happy with them having my bank info. I cancelled and it was OK. But they operate like a scam. There enough resources for freelance writers that are free and that consumer watch for us struggling writers."

"Something similar happened to me with that site. I signed up for the same 7 day trial and when it was over, I was automatically signed up for a membership and charged $29.95 for the next month."

"I, too, came across this Web site but wasn't willing to give them $2.95 for a trial. I expect FREE for a trial offer - when they charge, alarm bells should go off."

"The password I was issued didn’t work and I had difficulty contacting someone to help me.The experience was frustrating. Eventually, the password that I was issue worked, but only after a couple of days emailing, AND, after I had cancelled my subscription. That is what I did once I realized that I may be on the verge of being ripped off."

"I signed on for one of their services too because the ad I say said it was "free service". It was only after I got their confirmation e-mail that I saw anything saying you had to pay to join, just one more LIE."

"I had signed up for the 'trial' from Freelanceworkexchange.com as well, and did the cancel run-around with their 'unsubscribe' bullshit. After reading your post, I checked my bank account, and sure enough, $29.95 was missing."

The warnings contained in these people's words are alarming, to say the least. Moreover, it seems there are two scams here: the "free trial" offer ad, which immediately takes you to a page on their site offering a paid trial offer, and the difficulty (or impossibility?) trial members have apparently experienced in attempting to cancel their subscription.

I myself ran across one of their ads; I think it was at the end of last week. It was an offer for a free trial membership, much as others I have quoted have mentioned. I was confused as to why I was suddenly staring at a page that was requesting $2.95 for this "free" membership, but I didn't think about it long; I simply returned to my normal job search.

Since reading about this apparent scam on Monday, I did a little research on my own. At first, all my Google search pulled up was testimonials in the company's favor, but eventually I realized that it all seemed to be the same one or two testimonials, reprinted everywhere. Interesting. Then I ran across this: a complaint about Freelance Work Exchange on My3cents.com.

I don't know if this is really fraud or not, but it sure seems like it to me. I wanted to make all of the information I have available to other writers; it's your right to know what's going on in the freelance world and make the decision for yourself.

I have to say, though, in my opinion no one should ever charge a writer for work. There are, as one of these victims and near-victims pointed out, plenty of resources available for writers for free. Regardless of whether this site is authentic, it's still - in my opinion - a scam to charge someone for the same thing they can get elsewhere for free.

Regardless of what you think about Freelance Work Exchange, please take to heart the general warning that Angela Hoy and others are trying to communicate, and be very careful who you give your credit card information to, regardless what they are promising you!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Trouble in paradise: Our first hurdle as homeowners

We've only just begun to know the joys of owning our own home, but our house has made sure to acquaint us with the trials, as well: last night we discovered we have a plumbing problem. The emergency drain in the floor right in front of the washing machine had a puddle of standing water in it after I ran a load through the washer, and I was able to determine that the line that was supposed to drain the washing machine was backing up and leaking out onto the floor. (The drain in the floor doesn't work at all, but we don't know if it's the same problem or a different problem.) Later, when I took a bath, we discovered that the bath water also backed up into the washing machine drain line and leaked, which means that the blockage is farther out, after the washing machine drain meets the main line.

Today, my dad and I rented a 50-foot manual snake. We ran it all of the way out, and although it brought back plenty of lint and roots, the problem didn't get any better. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get the cap off of the main line cleanout - it appears that someone has sealed it with apoxy. We can't run the 100-foot snake through the small cleanout on the washing machine drain, so Michael just went ahead and called a plumber; they'll be here in the morning. So much for do-it-yourself.

I'm quite discouraged - not only did I blow off several deadlines to work on this all day, but it didn't get fixed. I hate not being able to accomplish something I set out to do - especially when it's going to cost so much more than it would have to do it myself. What's more, I won't be able to take a bath tonight or do any laundry, and I'll have to get up early tomorrow to accomodate the plumber. I'll push back my work further in order to "supervise" the plumber - which really means learning as much as I can by watching him - but hopefully he'll get the job done much more quickly than I would have, and then I can get back to writing.

Hopefully, the next time you hear from me, I'll be once again enjoying my hot baths and clean clothes...


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