Saturday, December 30, 2006

More marketing plans and a website change

I skimmed through a fantastic little book this afternoon on Internet marketing, called Lucrative List Building. You can read more about Lucrative List Building on Reading For Writers. In any case, it gave me a few more ideas.

One idea in the book led to me finally following through with a website update. I updated my portfolio with a couple of articles that I have published recently. I also - after reading Lucrative List Building - decided to include a "Tell a Friend" button on the site. You can see it on the main page.

I am toying with a couple of other ideas, as well. I might start a newsletter for potential clients, probably containing information on writing Internet copy, and start building an opt-in list in association with that. I'm also thinking of trying out some paid advertising (such as AdWords), although I haven't made up my mind on that yet.

In any case, I am feeling very motivated to start selling my services a little more actively in 2007.

Only a slight decrease in website traffic

Although the crazy number of hits I got on Wednesday (the day my Writers Weekly article was published) has not continued, I am still enjoying a healthy level of website traffic. Today (Friday) my number of total hits was 466, with 142 unique visitors - not far below yesterday's numbers. I also have several new entries in my guestbook, which I am going to go answer now...

My new marketing plan

It's kind of ironic: although I write marketing materials, such as keyword articles and press releases, for my clients, I have never used that kind of marketing for myself. Tonight, however, I started thinking about it, and before I knew it I had come up with an online marketing plan.

The focal point of my plan is that I have decided to write and submit a few press releases to some of the online publishers. I am also considering writing some white papers or articles, both to submit to outside sites and to offer on my own website. And finally, I decided to start advertising regularly on Craigslist.

All of these are free options - advertising on the Denver/Boulder Craigslist is free, and there are several free article and press release submission services. All they will cost is a little time, which I am hoping to put in this weekend. I would love to have worked on it a little more tonight, but I have a deadline to meet first!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Another snow day and long holiday weekend!

As promised, the snow storm dumped a good deal of snow on us overnight. We haven't tried figuring out how much, but I would estimate we got about a foot. We made national news again, as some parts of the state got another two feet or more. This is supposed to be a double storm, too - another wave of snow is supposed to come tonight and tomorrow, although it sounds like it might be focused more to the east of where Michael and I live.

In any case, Michael didn't go to work today, so we have another extended holiday weekend. Sort of - I still have one more article to write before my week is officially over, but I'll most likely do that late tonight, after Michael is asleep.

Website traffic update

Well, my site visitors count wasn't as record-breaking today as it was yesterday, but it is still far above the norm: I had 511 hits, from 174 unique visitors. Keep 'em comin', guys!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Our next snowstorm

Our next big snowstorm started today, only a week after last week's blizzard. I've never seen two huge snowstorms come so close together in Denver before, and the weather man in a clip I watched online said the same thing. Our roads have not even recovered from the last snow, and in Colorado - where the snow usually evaporates in a couple of days at the most - that says a lot. I fully expect we won't be going anywhere for a few days, particularly because it sounds as if the snow will continue all weekend. (So much for everyone's New Year's Eve celebrations!)

At about 10:15 this evening, we peeked out back and saw that the power line to our house was hanging extremely low, with snow wrapped around it like insulation. We were really worried that it was going to fall, but of course you can't just go and knock the snow down, so instead Michael tossed a couple of snowballs gently at the cable. He hit the line once toward the end nearest the house, and a little snow fell. Then he moved down and tossed a snowball toward the lowest-hanging point of the line. When the snowball hit, the line bounced up, flinging snow everywhere! The line is all clear of snow now, although it is most definitely hanging lower than it used to be.

This snow is clearly much wetter and heavier than last week's snow was. I hope we don't lose power. I can live without the TV, stove, or even the microwave, but I'll be lost without my computer! Of course, as long as I keep my laptop battery charged, I'll have nearly four hours of battery power to fall back on, but I'll be without Internet, as the DSL modem plugs into the power outlet.

So let's hope I don't lose power - I have a couple of articles I need to finish tonight and tomorrow, and for that I need my computer and the Internet!

Website traffic record and another snowstorm

I knew yesterday's traffic would set a record, but I didn't know how high that record will be. Goodness only knows how long it will take me to set a new record: yesterday I had 1,509 hits on my website, with 343 unique visitors. (In other words, my visitors were looking at a lot more than just one page.) I checked my Active Meter log occasionally throughout the day, and for the most part the traffic seemed to be coming from my article on Writers Weekly, although a few visitors are still coming over from Deborah Ng's End of Year Blog Plug.

Today looks like it could be similar: I already have 286 hits, with 81 unique visitors.

In other news, it looks like we're in for another big snowstorm here. The weather is predicting 12 to 18 inches, although they've been vacillating on when they think the bulk of it will hit. This time they started talking about it days in advance, urging everyone to stock up on food and prepare for several days indoors, and as a result the grocery stores were practically taken by force last night. In any case, it sounds like this storm won't be quite as bad, but still a rather major storm right on the heels of the last one. The streets hadn't even cleared up yet, so I don't anticipate going anywhere again for a few days.

Oh, I do love getting snowed in!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A thoughtful gift for breast cancer survivors

A client of mine has recently launched a really neat new site that allows friends and loved ones of breast cancer survivors to do something special for them. Survivor Posters sells posters with names and bios of famous breast cancer survivors, which you can customize to include the name and bio of the breast cancer survivor you know. As a femininst well aware of the devastations of breast cancer, I was so impressed by the site that I decided to mention it on my blog.

Breast cancer survivors should all be famous. They have beaten the odds, endured what most of us couldn't even imagine, and prevailed against one of the most devastating diseases known to women. Honor their quiet heroics with a survivor poster.

Website upgrade announcement

My website should not fail now, as I decided to upgrade my account after all. My decision was due to a combination of things: Deborah Ng's End of Year Blog Plug, which links to this blog and Reading For Writers, and the appearance of my article in this week's Writers Weekly. As a result of these two events, my daily traffic has gone through the roof - and I would hardly want my website to fail when I'm attracting so much interest!

Hopefully, the increased level of traffic will continue (hint, hint).

Monday, December 25, 2006

Web tools for writers: Website stats

For some time now, I've been meaning to blog about a handy new tool I found: website stats.

I started out a couple of months ago by looking for a way to track visitors to my myspace page. I already had a counter on my main website page, which was provided for me by Doteasy, but I hadn't yet discovered anything else. However, my search for a tracking device for my myspace page eventually led me to look for a free website stats tool for my website.

There are a lot of free counters available on the Internet, but not as many services that offer full website statistics. Moreover, some of the services that do offer full website stats suck. Finally, though, I found a couple that I liked, and tried both.

OneStatFree.com was one of the services I tried. I liked it at first, as the reports that it gives are pretty detailed and pretty easy to navigate. However, I ended up passing it over for a better, more convenient free service.

Active Meter is a free website stats service that is superior to anything else I found. For one thing, it is very convenient: it allows you to choose both your own name and password (whereas OneStatFree.com assigned you a user number, which is much more difficult to remember). For another, you can remain signed into your account on your computer, which makes Active Meter very easy to use.

Another benefit to Active Meter is that you can have two separate "projects" under the same free account. (Any more than two requires an upgrade to a paid account, which I think - at $9.99 a month - is really expensive. However, the free one is just the right price...) Also, Active Meter allows you to export the reports on your account as a Excel, XML, or CSV file. This makes Active Meter not only a very convenient and user-friendly tool, but also very useful for anyone who wants to know their website stats.

And finally, Active Meter offers a great deal of privacy to its users. You can choose not to have anything appear on your web pages - not a counter, not a logo, nothing that your visitors can see. Also, your website stats are not available to everyone (as some free accounts are) - Active Meter requires your user name and password in order to access your account.

There are downfalls, of course. For one thing, Active Meter's free account only holds information on 100 hits at a time. Because my website gets anywhere from 50 to 100 hits every day, it means I have to check my account daily if I want to see any useful information about my visitors, such as what pages they are coming to my website from, and what keywords my visitors use to find me. Other information that I can get about my visitors includes their location (right down to the city), their ISP address, and basic information about their computer system. The basic information - such as how many hits I get each day, how many returning visitors, etc. - does not seem to be subject to log size restrictions.

So what's important about this information? Well, first of all, it tells me who is linking to my pages: Active Meter tells me my visitors' referring pages. I try to be relatively active in the online freelancing community, and my website stats reflect this.

Another advantage to having this information is being able to tell - from the keyword searches my visitors use to find me - what information they are looking for. For instance, I was able to verify that my wedding blog is quite popular, even though for a while I wasn't updating it very recently, and that a lot of my visitors to that blog get there from the search engines. Armed with that information, I made more efforts to update it, and added some posts with links to sites that I've found helpful in my own research... And whaddya know? My little wedding blog has suddenly made it to the top of the second page when you Google the keywords 1920s wedding!

Website stats also give me a terrific advantage in my job search. For example, when I send out a bunch of resumes, I can tell who actually looks at my profile by following the link contained in my email. (Unless the link is clicked on within a web browser type of email, such as a hotmail account, Active Meter reports these clicks as "Referrer not available," same as it does when visitors use a favorites link. One of the advantages of OneStatFree.com was that it specifically noted when the page was accessed from a saved favorites list.) I can also tell how many pages they viewed, which pages they viewed, how long they spent looking at my portfolio, etc.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that as a writer, you have no need for Internet gadgets such as website stats. Trust me - a good, free website stats account is one of the most useful website tools at your disposal!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A politically correct Christmas wish

Don't get me wrong - I care about other people's beliefs. In fact, I say "Happy Holidays" quite frequently around this time of year. But even though I am not Christian, I don't get offended when people say "Merry Christmas" to me. And yes, I celebrate the holiday.

As an agnostic, I celebrate Christmas - and say "Merry Christmas" - because it doesn't have anything to do with Christianity.

No doubt I've pissed a few people off now. But hey - where in the Bible does it say that December 25th is Jesus' birthday?

That's right. It doesn't.

In fact, December 25th was chosen as Jesus' birthday by the Romans, about 300 years after Jesus' death. And why did they choose December 25th? Because the people already celebrated December 25th as the birthday of the popular pagan deity at the time - Mithras, or Mithra, the sun god. That's right: Rome wanted the people to convert to Christianity, so they did a little jimmy-rigging to align Christianity's holy days with those of the religion the people already followed. (That's also why Christianity celebrates the Sabbath on Sunday, when the Sabbath is actually Saturday.)

And December 25th didn't first belong to Mithras, either... This day has been named the birthday of many gods throughout the ages, all the way back to Osiris, one of ancient Egypt's gods. So you see, there isn't anything special about December 25th, except that everyone likes it.

But what about the presents, you say? Aren't they reminiscent of those the three kings brought on the night of Jesus' birth?

Actually, the Christmas tradition of giving presents isn't original to Christianity, either. This tradition also goes back to ancient times. In Rome, the pagan god Saturn was believed to bring everyone gifts in December. And in Egypt, a deity named Bes brought presents to all the good children. Sound familiar?

That's right - there IS no Christ in Christmas, because all of the traditions that we have put together and called "Christmas" have been borrowed from other, more ancient religions.

This doesn't mean that Christmas cannot be a deeply holy day for you. Since we don't know the actual day of Jesus' birth, December 25th is as good a day as any. In other words, I don't really care how or why you celebrate Christmas.

I do care, though, when people start insisting, "Put Christ back into Christmas!" He wasn't the first one there, guys. To be perfectly fair, we should also then be putting Mithras back into Christmas. And Osiris. And Dionysus. And Thor. And... and... and...

Regardless of what religion you're coming from, though, the season is supposed to be about love and generosity, and I don't see anything generous about trying to deny other people their own reasons for celebrating. So whether you are celebrating Jesus' birthday, Mithras', or Osiris', or whether you simply are celebrating a season of giving, I wish you a...


Want more information?
Pagan Claus: The Real History of Christmas Customs
History of Christmas

Website failure possible

If you follow my blog or read my website regularly, please be warned: it may go down for a few days here at the end of December. I'm extremely close to exceeding my monthly traffic quota. However, I don't want to upgrade just because one month goes over - I did that once, about a year ago, when I exceeded my traffic quote, and never even came close to needing the higher traffic allowance again.

Of course, there is always the possibility that I'm just getting more traffic to my site these days. It's actually a pretty distinct possibility, since I've noticed the number of daily hits of gone up quite a bit. Therefore, if my traffic starts to go over the quota again soon, I will be sure to upgrade my account at that point.

In any case, if my website goes down this month, it should only be until the end of December.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Snow day: Part 2

The snow is still falling! Emma - our 75-pound dog, the size of a shepherd - almost disappears in the snow when she goes out. Our snow storm made national news - in the article they say we've gotten two feet of snow. I think it's quite possibly more.

Although the snow is supposed to stop today, the sun isn't supposed to come out until tomorrow. I have a feeling most of the city will be closed down well into tomorrow.

The bad part of this is that I wasn't done with my Christmas shopping - but by the time the snow melts enough to go anywhere, it'll nearly be the big day! I'm also hoping the snow doesn't delay Michael's biggest present, which is coming by mail. We didn't get any post office service today, and I'm rather doubting we'll have any today, either.

In a little bit, Michael and I are going to go outside and play around in the snow. We need to clear off my car again (and probably his, too), and then I'm hoping to make a snowman. I haven't done that in years! Hopefully the snow is moist enough - last night it was still quite powdery and resistant to packing!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Snow day!

I want to know who wished for a white Christmas this year... Whoever you are, you've cursed us all!!!

We knew last night that there was supposed to be a serious snow storm dumping two feet of snow on us over the next couple of days. However, we were still surprised at how quickly the snow started coming down this morning.

Michael woke me up at 6:30 this morning to tell me that it was snowing pretty bad. Over the next hour, I convinced him to stay home today (with the help of two failed attempts to leave the house). By eleven o'clock, his work had closed anyway, meaning that he only had to take a half-day of vacation time.

Early in the afternoon, we let Emma out to go pee and play in the snow. She seemed stunned when she fell knee-deep in snow, but she quickly rallied, peed, and bounded around the backyard for a little while. We noted how far the snow came up on her legs, and measured when she got inside: about 8 inches.

Now, even though I have work to do, I knew it wasn't going to happen this afternoon, with Michael home unexpectedly and the excitement of the snow day. So instead, we did about the only thing we could do: we watched a movie. About halfway through, we stopped the movie, and bundled up; we cleared off my car (so that the weight of the snow wouldn't crush the T-tops) and played with Emma a little. This was as it was getting dark, so we didn't stay outside long, although we're planning to play in the snow a little more tomorrow afternoon - maybe even build a gigantic snowman. When we came inside, we again measured the depth of the snow on Emma's leg: about 14 inches now.

In a little bit, we'll eat dinner and watch the rest of our movie. (It's a long one!) Later this evening, I should have a chance to catch up on the work I was supposed to do today. I don't regret leaving it for later, though - it's been a perfect snow day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wherefore art thou, O Christmas spirit?

I just can't believe that Christmas is less than a week away.

I'm not ready for this. I didn't even realize how much of my time jury duty had eaten up until I started thinking about getting ready for Christmas. We only put our tree up on Sunday, and although we've discussed putting lights on our porch, we haven't gotten to that quite yet - and I'm not even sure we will.

Christmas shopping is the real struggle. First of all, I only managed to do about half of it earlier in the season, and absolutely none of it during the two weeks I had jury duty. So here I am, with less than a week to go, realizing that I will have to brave the crowds of Christmas shoppers (which I hate).

Additionally, money is a problem. I didn't get much writing done during the two weeks I had jury duty, which means I didn't get paid. And although I do get $50 a day for jury duty, I won't see that check for a little while yet. (Someone at the courthouse said it would be before Christmas, but I don't know that for sure. It's usually supposed to take 2-3 weeks.) I'll be fine once I get paid for jury duty, but until then...

Being broke at Christmastime sucks.

Getting caught up from my two week hiatus has been difficult, too. I have a lot of work that I want to get done before Christmas - preferrably by the end of this week, so I don't have any work to do over the holiday weekend.

There have been a few successes, though. I have been working pretty steadily so far this week, and I have almost caught up with my work on two of my quickest-paying gigs. And I finally thought of (and bought) the perfect present for Michael. That means I only have my dad left to shop for (aside from a couple of other little gifts for Michael).

I do my little blogging break is about over - I need to get back to work.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Becoming a writer again

I'm finding it's difficult to switch gears from juror back to writer. Perhaps because jury duty lasted so long, or perhaps because the case was difficult, it has taken me all weekend to start writing again.

Tomorrow is my first day back to working at home full-time. Although over the past two weeks I frequently thought of working from home and how nice it is, it doesn't quite feel real now... I keep telling myself that I'll be home during the day again, but I don't feel like I believe it yet.

My disbelief notwithstanding, tonight I was finally able to buckle down and get some work done - only a meager two content articles, but still, it's a start. I'm heading to bed shortly here - I'm still getting tired earlier than I used to, an after-effect of having such an early schedule for two weeks - but I'm looking forward to having a whole day all to myself and my computer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jury duty

I was called for jury duty a couple of months ago. I had to report last Monday, December 4th. I don't think I had mentioned it online, and I am glad I didn't, because I ended up being chosen for a 2-week trial. We weren't supposed to talk about the trial until it was over, so I didn't think it was a good idea to broadcast over the Internet that I was on jury duty for the next two weeks.

I'm still not going to say a lot about it, for several different reasons. One, I don't know that I should go blabbing to everybody about it; for that reason, only people I talk to on a daily basis will know anything more than the most basic details. Two, I don't want to encourage any type of retribution from anyone involved, so no searchable details (i.e. keyword phrases, such as names or places) will be mentioned. And three, I just don't feel comfortable saying too much.

That being said, I will say this: the case was a sexual abuse case. More specifically (and horrifically), a father had performed oral sex on his preteen-aged adoptive daughters. Naturally, the defense was trying to prove that the girls were lying. However, we (the jury) didn't think so, and found him guilty on all counts.

The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride - to say the least. Listening to the girls' testimonies and the initial interviews with them that were video taped during the early stages of the investigation was emotionally taxing, and simply paying attention to the trial every day was mentally exhausting. I have never been so tired before in my life, as I was at the close of every day.

And finally, I have to say that throughtout the entire trial my heart goes out to those girls. The maternal instinct in me wishes I could have taken them home with me and protected them and helped them start a new life. Naturally, though, I can't have any contact with them, for fear of giving the defense grounds for a mistrial. Therefore, my blog will have to suffice. The girls will probably never know who I am, let alone find this blog - but nevertheless, I want to say once and for all that my thoughts and my heart are with them. If I could give them more than just my thoughts - if I could help them to be strong and get through this - I would.

Unfortunately, as a result of all of this, I got very little work done over the past two weeks. I was incredibly lucky that all of the people who were expecting work from me were very understanding of what I was going through. I don't think I could have made it through this with my sanity if it weren't for their understanding - it was hard enough just to sit through court every single day.

Despite how difficult this was, however, I have to say that it was an incredible experience, one that I wouldn't change for anything. Witnessing a trial of this size and importance was an eye-opening event. (They say it's not like in Hollywood, but you'd be surprised how much it actually is like in the books and the movies.) Also, I feel good about being a part of such an important decision. I think it also helps that I believe wholeheartedly in the verdict we ultimately decided on. On my first day, I was fully aware that I was on the brink of a life-changing event - and even now, in hindsight, I fully recognize how much of an impact the experience has made on my life, my thoughts, and my experience - as a writer as well as a human being.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ankur Shah: Another name to blacklist!

In talking with one of my fellow freelancers, I discovered the name of another employer whom I feel should be avoided at all costs. His name is Ankur Shah, and it seems that he has a number of different websites and projects. Judging by the complaints, it seems that he tends to get his writers on bid sites.

My freelancing friend won a bid to work with Ankur Shah at the beginning of August. She was to write 20 dating site reviews for his website, singlesrated.com, at $5 per article. Below is part of his first email to her:

There are24 [sic] sites that need reviews. Each article can be from 300 - 400 words. They have to follow the outline structure found on the links that I sent to you in the previous email.

These guidlines include sections for grade (out of 5) review pros cons
Price of membership (if you can find it)

We would like to get articles in batches of 5. Can you give me a SERIOUS timeline as to how long it would take for this project? We don’t have much time for this small project. We have many bigger projects to concentrate and we hope to work together for many more projects if you will continue seriously in this beginning project.

My friend finished the work in less than a week, and submitted the completed articles and invoices to Ankur Shah. Along with the next-to-last batch of articles, she included this note:

I was researching True.com and when I visited your site I realized an article has been added to the site already. I also noted that there was another article added that I had already submitted to on the topic, however, the article on the site was not mine. Due to this new development I am holding other articles until I hear further from you, your intentions. 1. Are you collecting from various bidders and only paying for the articles you choose? 2. Were you satisfied with the articles you have received from me? Basically, I need clear communication from you of your intentions with this project. If I am to continue submitting articles with no compensation in return then there is no profit for my services. As I have stated before, I am willing to rework the articles to your satisfaction. If you have chosen another bidder - the professional thing to do is to inform me of those intentions so that I can pursue services for other clients. I do hope that your services received from me have been professional, reliable, and curteous. Please notify me promptly of your intentions so that all services can be met as desired.

It's important to notice here that according to her email, Ankur Shah was already publishing her work to his site, and he hadn't even paid her yet! Not that he ever would... When my friend completed the 20 articles as requested, he sent the following email:

I have send your articles to my client for verification and will contact you as soon as I recieve response from client.

About a week later, he sent her the following excuses:

My paypal account is not working fine because they have blocked my account due to credit card problem. They restricted my access to my account and I cannot transfer the money to you raccount but I will request my one friend to send money to your account. Will it be fine?


Also I have lost the articles which you sent please send once more the articles you did for me. I will be waiting for your response.

Of course, my friend never received payment or heard from him again. This was her final email to him (edited for brevity):

I hope this is merely an over site [sic] and that you have full intention of resolving this situation. I have made several attempts to resolve your invoice for the service I have provided you. I have patiently waited for payment on my services to you. I have graciously given you 2 free articles and have provided you with professional service. I have given you discounted articles at $5.00 per article, where as others would have charged between $20.00 - $30.00 per article. As per our initial agreement, I was to provide you with articles for you to review, if you were satisfied with my work, you were to pay $5.00 per article. As well as, in return, for use of the first free article, you would provide a professional reference with use of articles in my portfolio. I have not received payment, nor have I received your professional reference. You have published 9 of my articles on your site. ... Please contact me immediately to resolve this matter. Your business is important to me, however, a professional relationship is hindered when commitments are broken. Thank you for your time.

I suggested to my friend that she check out Writers Weekly as a possible course of action, and there she found another complaint about Ankur Shah. This one has to do with a completely different site, allpilots.com. However, it is clearly the same guy; even some of the emails are nearly identical. And he did the same thing to this writer: accepted the work, and then simply failed to respond to the writer's requests for payment.

In my opinion this "publisher" is a dirt bag of the worst kind. These two projects were run around the same time, so I wouldn't be surprised if he never intended to pay these writers at all. Be warned - stay far, far away from Ankur Shah and any of his projects!

Blogger problems and freelancing again

I meant to blog again sooner, but lately Blogger has not been showing the usual compose screen: the compose screen is HTML only, no one-click fancy formatting. I was waiting to see if the problems would get fixed, but so far they haven't, so I guess I'm blogging without the conveniences. All I can say is, it's a good thing I know HTML.

With NaNoWriMo finished (and won), on Friday I went back to freelancing full-time again. It took longer than I'd like to complete the work I did on Friday; it's hard to get back in nonfiction mode after writing about 8,000 words of fiction. I'll be working a little this weekend, as a result. Still, there's something nice about writing articles again.

As for my novel... After a short break, I plan to start the editing and revising process. The break is to let my brain rest after writing the whole first draft in just a month, because I intend to make several major revisions. Several of them, I knew I would want to make shortly after writing the sections, but in the spirit of NaNoWriMo (and for the sake of maintaining my word count) I just kept going!


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