Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Website changes

If you browse through my website, you may notice some changes have been made. For one thing, I got rid of my Guestbook and Getting Personal pages. This is partly because the guestbook was a Doteasy feature, and since I transferred hosting it wasn't going to work anymore. I'm sincerely sorry that I lost all of those delightful comments that people left, particularly after my article ran in Writers Weekly, but I'm afraid it couldn't be helped.

The reason why the Getting Personal page is gone, and why I didn't look for a way to create a new guestbook, is because I want to make my site a little more business-oriented. I rewrote a lot of the copy to deliver a little more of a sales push, deleted some of the superfluous stuff, and eliminated the poorer examples of my work from my portfolio.

My contact forms have also been replaced, since that was also a Doteasy feature. I'm trying out a free outside service to see how I like it - if you feel like sending me a message, I'd love to know what you think of the system!

The new debate about respect for writers

There seems to be a new debate brewing about respect for writers.

It started with a post on Carson's Content Done Better blog, about the Freelancers' Union and the differences between a freelancer and an entrepreneur. Unlike me, Carson doesn't get up into arms about low paying employers or issues of professional standards in the field, but his post struck a chord with me nonetheless. Carson says:

Have you ever met a “freelance doctor?” A “freelance mortgage broker?” A “freelance therapist?”

Not really. But at some point, our language begins to shift. We wouldn’t think of calling a heart surgeon a “freelancer” most of the time, but we have no problem using the term to refer to a musician. You wouldn’t call your accountant a “freelancer,” but “freelance writer” seems normal.

It was like being socked in the gut. Everything suddenly became clear: why writers are all too often underpaid and underappreciated, why we have such a hard time establishing professional standards for the field.

Too many of us think like freelancers.

In his post, Carson also linked to an article by Liz Strauss that offers a way to determine whether you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. I took the test and was unsurprised to find that I am both - and neither. As I commented on Carson's blog:

I don’t see a difference between the-work-supports-the-business and the-business-supports-the-work. To me, it’s an equal relationship - if you don’t have both you have neither. I also tend to divide my focus between the day-to-day work and plans for the future - when I’m super busy, I’m all about the day-to-day, and when I’m not as busy, I’m making plans to *get* busy. And although I love all the administrative stuff like planning my website, creating invoices, tracking income and expenses, etc., I have to say I still regret that it takes me away from writing.

I didn't start out this way. I think I've been trending more toward a business mindset as I add to my experience. For instance, I've noticed in the last couple of months that I've been starting to refer to the people I work with as "clients" rather than "employers." These are changes that have come about as my business has grown.

As if to feed to the debate, this week in Writers Weekly Pamela White published an article on the importance of business plans for writers. Her article also emphasizes the importance of running your writing like a business instead of a job.

But I'm still not purely an entrepreneur, and I don't think I ever will be. "Writer" comes first to me. I doubt I'm the only one, either - I have a feeling that there are plenty of writers out there who don't like to use the term "Freelance" in their title, yet still don't quite think of themselves as an entrepreneur either.

As I stated on Carson's blog, I think there is room for a third category there: writers who have the "client" mindset, but who focus on the writing as much as they focus on the business. But what should we term ourselves?

Personally, I don't think you'd call your doctor, lawyer, or accountant an entrepreneur, any more than you'd call them freelancers - but what would you call them? "Professionals" is what comes to mind. And I think that's what those of us are who focus on neither the work or the business, but a combination of both. Maybe if more of us start seeing ourselves as "professional writers" instead of "freelance writers," we will naturally start setting those industry standards so many of us crave.

Incidentally, though I agree with Kathy Kehrli's comment on Carson's blog: all of these titles, whether they be "Freelance Writer," "Professional Writer," or "Entrepreneur" are inherently boring. I think I'm going to put "Literary Goddess" on my next round of business cards...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Email is working!

GoDaddy fixed my email! The transfer is now fully complete, and everything is working properly! Hurrah!

Back at last: My domain transfer experience

After several days of being out of commission, my site is back! The domain transfer is complete, and my site is now hosted by GoDaddy instead of Doteasy. However, the situation isn't yet resolved - and the story will probably be quite interesting for anyone who is contemplating a domain transfer themselves.

Quite frankly, I hope I never have to do that again. It was a miserable experience. The GoDaddy site said the transfer would take 5 to 7 days, and they were right - sort of. Here's how it happened:

Day 1: I put in my order with GoDaddy and initiated the transfer. Later that afternoon, I discovered - oops! - I needed my website authorization code in order to truly start the process! I emailed Doteasy, my original hosting provider, to get it. Unfortunately, although GoDaddy has a very prompt customer service team, Doteasy's sucks.

I also manage to set up my outgoing mail to go through GoDaddy's server, thereby fixing my blacklisting problem.

Day 2: I finally get my authorization code from Doteasy and give it to GoDaddy. In the meantime, I'm trying to find out how to set up my email to go through GoDaddy before the transfer takes place. Somewhere around Day 2 or Day 3, I requested that Doteasy change the MX and CNAME records on my site so that I can start using my GoDaddy email accounts without any ridiculous interruption of service. You'll see in a minute how that turned out.

Day 3: I think this is about when my site goes down. It's still being hosted by Doteasy, since the transfer hasn't completed, and my traffic quota has been exceeded. Right about now I think it pertinent to mention that for about half of what my Doteasy hosting cost, GoDaddy gives me 125 times the traffic quota I was getting.

Day 4: Doteasy sends me a form email saying that they've received a request to transfer my domain. The letter says to contact them if the request is not genuine; otherwise they'll approve the transfer in three days. If I might point out two things here: 1) I'd told them on Day 1 that I was transferring my domain, so this ridiculous form letter wasn't even necessary, and 2) it took them three days to send out the form letter after GoDaddy contacted them for approval.

Also on this day, I find out that emails others send to me are bouncing back intermittently. I contact GoDaddy, who I believed was now handling my email, to find out what the problem is.

Day 6: Email still problematic. I find out from GoDaddy that my MX and CNAME records have in fact not been changed. I email Doteasy regarding the problem.

Day 7: Doteasy tells me that because my hosting plan went over, my email was reverting back to the original settings. They resubmit the record changes.

Later this night (Monday night), my email fails completely. I can send email out, but nothing gets in at all. This time, I think it's GoDaddy's fault - even though the MX records have been changed, my email accounts at GoDaddy still say "awaiting MX."

I also find out that my website is back up, even though the transfer hasn't completed. I think it's because my monthly quota at Doteasy was being reset.

Several hours later (about 2am Tuesday morning) the transfer completes. I spend half the freaking night uploading my site to the new servers, as well as working on changes to the site (which I haven't posted yet, not having finished them).

Email still problematic.

The end... Well, not quite. I'm still waiting (rather impatiently) for the email problem to be fixed. (Hel-lo... it's my livelihood, people!!!) I'm also still working on the changes to the site, which I hope to post later this week. And, having neglected my work all evening, I'm finally about to go to bed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Website transfer update

It sounds like my website should be transferred within a week from now. However, I've now exceeded my hosting limit with Doteasy, so my website could go down at any time.

In other words, if you get an error message when you try to load my blog, please try again in a couple of days!

The Query Challenge

I haven't written about it before now because I've been so caught up with my workload and email problems, but I'm participating in Kristen King's 2007 Inkthinker Query Challenge. The goal is to send off 120 queries or submissions in 2007 - 10 each month, basically. For a full-time freelancer that shouldn't be a problem, but it's more of a challenge than you would think - I don't consider responses to job ads to be queries, unless the "ad" is a call for submissions, and responses to job ads are the vast majority of what I send out.

So far this year, I have sent off five queries. The first one was a query to Write-From-Home.com, offering a reprint of my Writers Weekly article - and I'm happy to say that the query was successful. The next three queries were snail-mailed short story submissions, and the last one was a query for a real estate story. The last one didn't work out, as the publisher didn't want to guarantee anything and I'm too busy right now to write a very custom story and chance not getting paid for it, but hopefully at least one of my short stories will see publication this year.

I encourage everyone to sign up for the query challenge. It should be interesting, trying to come up with 115 more queries. Here are some of my ideas:

* More of my short stories: I have about half a dozen completed short stories that I would like to see published.

* My NaNoWriMo novel: Once I finish revising and editing my novel, I'll start making the rounds with it.

* Ebooks: I have ideas for several ebooks, and a couple of publishers in mind who might be interested in them.

* Articles: I have a whole favorites folder full of submission guidelines pages. My goal is to start going through that and querying for article assignments, in addition to all of the jobs ads I respond to on a daily basis.

This week's edition of Writers Weekly published an article on getting writing assignments that I think might be helpful for other interested in accepting the 2007 Inkthinker Query Challenge. The author has also published an ebook for writers who want to increase their business, which I just might buy.

Good luck to those of you who accept the challenge!

In the spirit of "Screw You!"...

In the spirit of Kathy Kehrli's blog Screw You!, I can't resist the temptation to direct your attention to a pathetic example of a low-paying client who expects the world at bargain prices.

I've noticed with Writerlance that if I post a bid - or a critique, as I did here - before anyone else, what I say or bid will have a strong impact on how people post after me. For example, if I bid a decent rate, fewer people bid in rock-bottom range; likewise, if I comment on the client's insultingly low budget, others will follow suit.

In this case, "tallyho" not only wants a professional writer for cheap (i.e. $5 or less per 700-word article), he also wants one with impeccable feedback. I thought that odd, since his rating was a 3 (out of 10), so I checked his feedback... And guess what? The only person who had given him any yet said she didn't get paid any more than a fraction of what she was owed! Her story was much the same as many other freelancers who find themselves in similar situations... He loved her work, continued accepting it, and then when it came time to pay, said it wasn't of a high enough quality.

In my opinion, there's nothing worse than a client who thinks that complaining after the fact about a writer's work is grounds enough to refuse payment. Clients, if you don't like someone's work, end the project, but you are still obligated to pay your writer for the work he or she has already produced!

Actually, there might be something worse: clients who try to deceive writers. When I saw this project, I entered a fake bid. The bid was for $450, the absolute minimum I would have charged for 30 700-word articles (and even that was probably too low...). Of course, the entire point of bidding was to leave a scathing comment, which read:

Not only are you offering writers slave wages to work for you, you also have the audacity to ask for bidders with good feedback ratings when YOURS shows a track record of not paying! BIDDERS BEWARE!

An hour or so later I checked back, and found that several other writers had commented in a similar vein. However, I was appalled to see that the client's feedback had been erased - he was hiding the fact that he hasn't paid his last writer! I added to the end of my comment:


Of course, there are always those writers who see these types of situations as an opporunity to move in and "steal" the job from us self-respecting types. As a result, "tallyho" will get what he most likely is really after - a dirt-cheap writer who will turn in substandard work and enable the client to once again justify his refusal to pay.

What does writing mean to you?

Although I have not yet seen the movie Freedom Writers, this article made me think a lot about what writing means to me.

I've always been a writer, in every sense of the word, for as long as I can remember. I have boxes full of journals chronicling my childhood and adolescence. It's crossed my mind a few times lately that they are probably horribly sentimental, but that my kids and grandkids will probably be quite happy to have them someday.

That's not all of what this article is talking about, though. It's talking about what writing means, not what the end result means.

Writing is, quite literally, everything to me. It's how I earn my living, how I (attempt to) drive traffic to my website, how I celebrate the happy events of my life and heal from the unhappy ones. Writing is also how we create this online community of freelancers, how we communicate with our clients, friends, and loved ones, and how we relay valuable information to each other, such as warnings about nonpaying clients.

Writing is our way of life.

And, since all of life is connected, let me take this moment to remind you of one of my most passionate causes: to inform, remind, beg and plead other writers not to write for slave wages! If writing is everything to us, why should we give it away?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm transferring my website!

Well, I've had it with Doteasy. I received an email from them this morning stating that they thought Hotmail had fixed the problem. Well, for one, no they haven't - I checked - and two, it's not Hotmail's problem... It's Doteasy's problem, as it's more than just Hotmail blocking my emails!!!

That was the final straw for me. Instead of giving it until the end of the week, as I had originally planned, I initiated the transfer to GoDaddy.com. The prices are better (I got a whole year of hosting, two years of registration, and an upgraded email plan for about what six months of hosting alone would cost me at Doteasy). Best of all, according to what they told me they have a system in place to help prevent their servers from getting blacklisted, and to correct the problem quickly if it should occur.

With the transfer initiated, it's important to warn you that my website may go down temporarily sometime in the next five days. The transfer shouldn't take more than five days, however, and I will be monitoring the situation closely so that I can upload my website to the new server immediately upon completion of the transfer.

Once my website is transferred, it may take me a few days to reconfigure some of the special web forms that Doteasy provided, such as the contact forms. (Unfortunately, I'll lose the entire guestbook.) If anyone needs to contact me during that time, they can reach me at KatharineSwan -at- Yahoo.com.

See you on the other side!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Website hosting woes

I'm rather fed up with my website hosting company, Doteasy. I've had more email problems with them than I think I should have with a service I'm paying good money for.

For the last few months, I've noticed my emails are frequently getting flagged as spam. Now, when I'm selling something on ebay, there's an alternative way for the recipient to contact me (and let me know the problem), but it worries me that prospective clients may simply never be receiving my resumes.

I emailed Doteasy about the problem, and they basically told me that I should set up my email to go through my ISP's SMTP server. Excuse me? I'm paying you to provide me with email access... Now make it work!

I've been dealing with Doteasy for a couple of days now, and I haven't received a response since that initial one. In the meantime, I contacted MSN and AOL to find out whether my problem is because Doteasy's servers are blacklisted, or because my domain had a private registration. (I have since turned off the private registration, because both MSN and AOL's sites say that they will automatically block any email with a private registration.) MSN got back to me tonight with a message to give to my email provider. So, again, I am waiting on Doteasy to take the initiative and do their freaking job.

This might not be such an irritation for me if I hadn't have had the problem with Doteasy before. It used to be that my emails were bouncing back to me from Yahoo and Comcast email addresses. That problem was fixed, but only after several annoying months of difficulties communicating with clients.

My patience is wearing rather thin. Because my business is conducted primarily via email, I simply can't afford to have problems contacting people in that manner. So yesterday I started looking into alternative website hosting services. I found some that are less expensive than Doteasy, but realistically, that is not my first concern: I want (and need) my hosting company to be reliable.

Whether not I transfer my website will depend on how Doteasy handles the situation now that I've relayed MSN's customer service message to them. I'll keep you posted. If I have to transfer my website, hopefully it won't be down for very long.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Livre du Jour and other changes

For several of months now, I've kept a blog on myspace reviewing my "Book of the Day" - whatever I'm currently reading. As myspace is quickly losing its appeal to me, I decided to transfer my blog to Blogger. Livre du Jour will tell you what I'm currently reading, what I think of it so far, and provide you with a link in case you're interested in checking it out for yourself. If you like what you see, be sure to check back frequently - I tend to finish a book every 2-3 days, sometimes less.

I've also made a few changes to my existing blogs. I've put a picture and link in the sidebar of each so that you can see what I'm reading now without visiting Livre du Jour, if you'd prefer not to. (Of course, to see what I have to say about it you'll have to visit anyway.) Also, I'm going to try out the Blogger search banners - I don't usually care for them, but as large as some of my blogs have gotten, I think it might be convenient for my visitors to be able to search for a specific post.

I'd love to hear from you - please comment and let me know what you think about my new changes!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Writers Weekly 'Whispers and Warnings' needs your input!

This week's Whispers and Warnings section of Writers Weekly is asking for input from readers! The publisher of Haute Living Magazine is flat-out refusing to pay one of his writers, because he claims that her work wasn't good enough and she missed deadlines - yet he accepted the work, published it, and kept assigning her more! Angela Hoy has asked her readers to provide their input on the situation, since apparently this deadbeat needs extra convincing that if he uses a writer's work, he should pay for it.

Please contact Angela with your opinion - let's show this publisher that what he does to one writer, he does to us all!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Commentary on my Writers Weekly article

I was Googling my name last night, making sure I didn't find any unauthorized uses of my work, when I came across a few pieces of commentary on my Writers Weekly article. I decided it was worth compiling links all of the feedback I've found into one blog entry (and repaying them for their nice words by linking to their sites).

Alicia of WritingSpark.com talks about the low-paying writing gigs she started out getting.

In a discussion of writing gigs that earn the writer "experience only," K.C.'s Write For You mentions my article.

The Writer's Confidant Blog engages in a full-blown discussion of the issues I addressed in my article. (And she calls me "very cool"!)

A piece on Where I Stand addresses the issues in my article, and then provides some tips for staying out of the low-paying-jobs trap.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Unprofessional employers

Today, as I was searching for jobs, I ran across a troublesome exchange on the Denver Craigslist. On Sunday, a new Colorado automotive newspaper had posted a job ad, looking for writers to cover automotive events. Today, someone posted an ad containing a highly unprofessional response that they had received from the employer. Since I have no doubt the well-intentioned warning will soon be flagged down, I am reposting it here:

Here is a response i got from this "company". NEVER work with such a$$holes!!

Motorsports Marketing group wrote: You knowwwwwwww what, I HIRE & FIRE F#CKING IDIOTS LIKE YOU-HELL I EVEN HAVE A FLUNKYEEEEEEEE LIKE YOU TO WIPE MY A$$,,,, PR!CK. Is this all you have to do with your life. Do you even have a F#CKING real Life ?? You are pissed because you can't make it in the real world ? Do you have the Balls to come to my office & tell the owner that to his face ???? I doubt it You pimple faced f#cking idiot. This company has been around for over 20 years without you & will be here long after you F#CKING croak. & by the way, Does the SO in John so Stand for Sh!t head. So why don't you check the spelling here & write it down & then shove it up your a$$. You were not even invited to reply to this. And also the job has been filled with a reserve of over 40 applicants. so F#CK OFF. ----- Original Message -----

I'm sure most of you are in shock right about now, as I was after I read this. (I censored it myself, in case any of my readers view my blog from work; all those profanities were otherwise certain to get the attention of whoever monitors employee Internet usage!) I cannot believe any decent publication would lower themselves to this level. I can't imagine what the applicant might have written to earn this type of response, but regardless, the employer ought to hold himself in high enough esteem to conduct himself professionally at all times.

It is my opinion that the applicant probably commented on the ad's bad spelling and grammar, either as an attempt to demonstrate his superior writing skills, or just to be a smart aleck. The ad was rather poorly written, with "Writer's for New Automotive Newspaper" instead of "Writers for New Automotive Newspaper," and several capitalized letters in inappropriate places.

It is also quite possible that when this applicant sent in his resume, he found out that something about the job was questionable; whether that would be the pay rate or another aspect of the job, I don't know. He may have responded in shock and more than a little self-righteous outrage, and got this email in response.

Regardless of what the applicant said or did, the employer's behavior is completely uncalled for. Interestingly, although the employer claims the company has been around for over 20 years, the ad's title reads "New Automotive Newspaper." In my opinion, neither the ad nor the response read like a company that has been in business for that long (or will be for much longer).

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, when I see glaringly stupid spelling and grammar mistakes in an ad, my defenses automatically go up - I've often found that's a sign that there is something less than ideal about the job, whether it's low pay or a possibility of a scam. And as far as I'm concerned, any employer who would respond with such fury (and so many profanities) is not apt to be a very good employer.

The moral of the story, in this humble freelancer's opinion: if you recently applied to write for a Colorado automotive newspaper (or - God forbid - got the job), you might want to reconsider your involvement with the company!


I posted on Craigslist to find out what the original email was, and I was correct: he corrected the spelling of the ad's title. Definitely not anything deserving of the type of response he received.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I finished my 2006 tax returns!

Earlier this afternoon, Michael started putting his tax returns together. This got me started, and I ended up completely finished my tax returns for the 2006. It took me about six hours, but they're all finished!

I've blogged about several income tax-related subjects before: tax deductions for freelancers, a basic overview of the process, the self-employment tax, and estimated tax prepayments. Because I have discussed all of this before, and because I am writing several articles on the subject on Write-From-Home.com, all I will do here tonight is give a brief overview. I feel I know the subject much better now that I've done it a second time, especially since it's fresh in my mind, so I just want to provide a few quick pointers.

Forms you'll need:
1040 Schedule C or C-EZ (Profit or Loss from Business)
1040-SE (Self-Employment Tax)
4562 (Depreciation and Amortization - for expensing business equipment)
8829 (Expenses for Business Use of Your Home - for claiming the home office deduction, which I don't recommend)

Important reminder:
If you pay quarterly estimated tax prepayments, the final one is due tomorrow, January 15th. However, you don't have to pay it if you are going to file your taxes by January 31st (and pay the remainder that you owe).

I was lucky enough that I estimated almost exactly what my income for the year would be, so all I owed was a tidy $16. I also learned a few new things about the categories that business expenses fall under - when I filed my 2005 return, I had not been freelancing very seriously for much of the year, so I didn't have a very exhaustive list of business expenses. This year I did. Also, last year I didn't have to pay a self-employment tax, which I did this year.

And...that's all I'm going to say for now. My articles on filing income taxes as a freelance writer should appear on Write-From-Home.com soon, so you'll be able to refer to them when you're doing your own taxes (unless you're like me, and have them done already). I'll post in my blog and link to the articles when they're live.

Post Script on Freelance Work Exchange

Yesterday I posted about Amy Derby of Write-From-Home.com, Freelance Work Exchange, and the folks over at WAHM. Today I have something to add that Amy told me, in regards to FWE and the annoying ads on Craigslist. According to Amy, the spam doesn't come from Freelance Work Exchange itself, but from affiliates who are trying to make money. Moreover, FWE does not approve of spamming the boards, and would most likely ban the offending affiliates from the program if they (FWE) found out.

Amy also explained to me that her site itself is not actually an affiliate of Freelance Work Exchange. She said she mentioned the service in an article once as a resource for writers, but that was it. She's considering removing the mention from that article so that no one else gets the wrong idea.

In any case, I wanted to pass on this new information about Amy Derby, Write-From-Home.com, and Freelance Work Exchange!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The continuing saga of the Freelance Work Exchange

I have posted before about Freelance Work Exchange. In a post back in May, I shared stories I had heard about the difficulty of canceling FWE a membership, as I thought it was reason for concern. More recently, I complained about the frequency of FWE ads on the Craigslist boards - ads which, according to the Craigslist Terms of Service, classify as spam because they are promoting an outside site rather than advertising a job that any Craigslist user can apply for.

Tonight, however, I have a rant of a different nature. I stumbled across this WAHM forum thread about Write-From-Home.com, and was astonished to see the WAHM members' reactions to Amy Derby's ad. They attack her for paying by money order, claiming her payment rates are "too good to be true," but their posts quickly reveal that her affiliation with FWE is the real issue.

Before I get any further into my indignant blog post, let me state clearly that I am currently working with Amy on several articles for Write-From-Home.com. She paid me before I even started, and there was no problems whatsoever with the money order, which I deposited two weeks ago.

Let me also state that I didn't realize she was associated with FWE when I first queried her, but that knowing it now doesn't change my opinion whatsoever. Regardless of her website's affiliations, the site is a fantastic resource for writers. She provides informative articles written by experienced writers, links to publications' guidelines for writers, links to job listings, and other resources. And - contrary to what the WAHM members claim - I looked through several days' worth of job listings, and didn't find anything that led me to Freelance Work Exchange (although there were a couple of ads that had been removed).

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still opposed to FWE. I don't need to pay a service to find me work, as I find enough for myself for free. And I still hate the way they spam the boards, with links to their sign-up page masquerading as genuine job ads. But regardless of what involvement Amy Derby has in this, that doesn't change the fact that she is providing an excellent resource for writers, not to mention paying healthy rates for other writers' work.

Furthermore, no matter how unnecessary or annoying I think FWE is, I don't think they are doing anything truly immoral. And therefore, I see no good reason to boycott their affiliate, who is providing a valuable (and free!) service to writers.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The problem with plagiarism

I ran across an article that explains, rather well I think, the evils of plagiarism. According to Meghan O'Rourke, the problem with plagiarism is not that one writer is writing something unoriginal, but that he or she is piggy-backing someone else's hard work.

I agree completely with that analysis. The last thing I want is someone using what I have worked hard to write as their own personal shortcut to fortune and fame. Well, maybe that's exaggerating it a little, but regardless I don't much like the idea of someone else taking advantage of the hard work I put into my writing so that they can take it easy.

Why I don't take writing tests

A few days ago, I posted a comment on another freelancer's blog about taking editing tests. I'm not sure whether she was complaining about having to take editing tests to prove her abilities, or stating a need for proof, but I suspect it's a little of both. As my comment stated, I don't do much editing because I have a policy of not taking tests.

That's right. I don't take writing tests or editing tests anymore. Unless I'm getting paid to take them, in which case I consider them more of a "trial run" with no strings attached.

My policy has evolved somewhat over the time that I've been freelancing. When I was working full time and didn't need the income from my freelancing, I took tests here and there. But you know what? I never once got a job from a test I took, and here's why: employers who send out these tests typically send them out to everyone who responds to the ad, usually without even reading the applicants' cover letters and resumes. (And, of course, a number of them are usually scams - someone sending a different "test" to every applicant, and therefore getting work for free.) So you're giving away a portion of your time for - what, a 1 in 300 chance that you'll be chosen for the job?

As I got more and more work - and became dependent on my writing as my sole source of income - I stopped taking these tests. I now have enough work to choose between what I want and don't want, and anyone who isn't willing to pay me for my time goes into the "don't want" pile. When I respond to a job ad and receive a request to take a test, I politely explain my position, and redirect their attention to my online portfolio. (Sometimes they didn't read my cover letter to find the link.) If they still want a test, I suggest a paid "trial run." It serves both of our purposes, I think - I get paid for my time, and the client gets to find out whether my writing skill and style will work for him, without any obligation of continuing a relationship with me.

Every once in a while, though, I run into someone who takes offense at my policy of not taking tests unless I'm getting paid for them. Today I dealt with one such case. In response to his request for a writing test, I sent my usual message, explaining the dangers for writers today with all the scams running around, and noting that I wasn't accusing him of anything - I just being careful. He sent a response back that contained three words: "Sure you are," meaning that I was accusing him.

I found that irritating. I wrote back, explaining that I was merely trying to explain the reasoning behind my policy. I then said that if that angered or offended him, I probably would not have wanted to work with him anyway, and (nicely - I hope) suggested that he rethink his attitude if he wants to find a good copywriter.

The email I received in response was even more insulting, yet laughably so. He said he was a copywriter himself, and mocked my attempts to protect myself: "You are naive. 'Be careful' of what? Spending 15 minutes to write a specific sample?" ...When most writers who are active in the online writing community know full well that the problem involves more than that.

He also said, "Refusing to take a writing test is not a 'right.' It is career suicide."

I beg your pardon. I have a definite right to do whatever I want with my career. And if I'm killing my career... Well, it's keeping me awfully busy for a dead career.

I'm posting on this partly because Kathy Kehrli has inspired me to voice a public "Screw you!" once in a while, and partly because I want other writers to know that you don't really have to take writing tests to be successful as a writer. In fact, in my opinion, you'll suffer more than you gain by taking those tests. Set up an online portfolio and use that to showcase the best examples of your work, and only work with clients who either can judge writing skill by looking at previously published clips, or who are willing to pay you for any time you spend creating something custom for them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Busy week

I am not entirely sure how it happened, but I suddenly have as much work as I had during my exceptionally busy period last summer. That is to say, I'll be working a lot this week, and likely won't have much time to blog regularly. I guess the fruits of one of my New Year's resolutions - to double my income in 2007 - are already paying off.

On top of the abnormally heavy workload, I have also been spending several afternoons each week scanning and organizing the family photos with my mom. Some of these photos are very old - in fact, more than just a few are nearly 100 years old, with a couple being even older - and they haven't all been very well cared for, so we are scanning everything on high resolution. Once we are done, we will put them all in acid-free albums, to protect them as much as possible from now on. I have to admit, although it takes me away from my work for 10 or 15 hours a week, it is enjoyable work - it's like reading a story (or watching a movie), except the characters in it are your own flesh and blood. I am particularly fascinated with my maternal grandmother's side of the family - where the Swan name came from - so my favorites are the photos of her in her youth.

At any rate, I am taking this week one project at a time, so I will blog again when I come up for air.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A new standard of site traffic

My article running in Writers Weekly has introduced a new standard of site traffic. With exception of the first few days after my article ran, during which my site traffic went through the roof, since the article's publication I have maintained a steady rate of about 300 hits on my site each day. In fact, although it's too early to tell for sure just yet, I may be forced to upgrade my traffic allowance yet again!

If I upgrade my traffic allowance to the next level, I will be forced to make an important decision: whether to upgrade my hosting plan as well. An upgraded hosting plan will require re-uploading my entire website, including all of the images and other miscellaneous files; an upgraded hosting plan will also mean having to learn new features or having a bunch of features I will never use. However, if I simply upgrade my traffic and storage allowances, I will be paying the same amount of money as I would for the upgraded hosting plan.

Definitely something to think about...

The trouble with (wannabe) writers

Publishing my article in Writers Weekly earned me a lot of emails, guestbook entries, and other attention. I have to admit this felt rather nice - most of these people assumed I was wildly successful, and more than just a few sought my approval. However, I also got a number of highly amusing emails from would-be writers who wanted me to confirm their delusions of grandeur.

One such writer wrote to me to tell me how she had also always felt wrongly discouraged from being a writer. Okay - that I can understand. She also talked about how she dreamed of being a world-famous novelist. I gave her what I thought was some perfectly sound advice for achieving her dream: start small. Most of today's successful novelists started out publishing short stories, newspaper articles, or anything else that allowed them to make a reliable income writing and earn a name for themselves. I told her the more you publish, the easier it is to publish more, so start with the easy stuff.

Her response was rather hoity-toity. I had the distinct impression that she thought of herself as a real writer, and was talking down to me. She started out by telling me,

It gives me great honor to inform you that I have completed my first suspense-thriller. It is a novel that took six years to finish, and I am currently searching for a literary agent... I feel confident that an agent will see my raw God-given talent, which has been polished from my education, and give this first-time author a chance.

Wow, is she in for a shock. I wonder how she'll handle her first dozen or so rejections.

She concludes her email with this unbelievable statement:

I strive to reach nothing but perfection as I compose each inspiring, meticulous word. Hopefully, after people read my thought-provoking words, they will view life rather differently and contribute toward the betterment of mankind.

The last statement in particular reminds me of the kinds of things you hear out of beauty pagent contestants, each with Barbie's smile pasted on her lips.

Another would-be writer wrote to me asking for advice on starting his career. He started out by asking - no, demanding:

What are the proper channels a writer needs to seek to become a high-paid writer? Does one need credentials? Define credentials? Out of the choices of having a book published, working on a team, writing for a paper, blogging, or movie screenplays....what's the best one?

He then continued on to describe his disappointment that his writing hadn't been "discovered" via MySpace. (That part made me laugh quite a bit. Does he think there are talent scouts out there combing MySpace for the next Stephen King?) Finally, he explained his goals as a never-been-published writer:

I realize there are several routes I can take to make a name for myself, but the only one that reall [sic] appeals to me, is either 1) getting a book published and/or 2) being part of a creative team writing for a movie or T.V. show that's already made a name for itself.

And therein lies the rub...

This guy also thinks he is not just going to rise straight to the top, but start at the top. I tried to explain to him the natural order of things, but I don't think he understood (or appreciated) my advice, because I never heard back from him.

Although it might seem like I'm making fun of these people (okay, I am, but only a little), I'm really posting about this for a couple of very good reasons. For one thing, I think other already-established writers will see the humor in a bunch of wannabes being rather too big for their britches.

However, I am also posting this because it reminds me of who I - and probably every other published writer - was when I was just a dreamer and a wannabe myself. Back in high school, when I wrote whole novels only to stuff them in a drawer because I so feared editing, I too thought that becoming a writer was my destiny. And in retrospect, I think I was right, but only because I got myself here. Writers aren't born or discovered; they achieve their dreams at the price of their blood and sweat and tears. And although I've only traveled a short distance upon this path, I am proud of every single step I have taken.

As for the betterment of mankind... Well, it's quite enough for me right now to know that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is reading words I was paid to write.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Complaints about jury duty aftermath and stupid employers

If you would have asked me a week ago, "How do I get out of jury duty?" I probably would have told you not to, because it's a worthwhile experience. Right now I'm thinking of changing my tune.

I got a call Wednesday from the Colorado Judicial Department. Apparently a business here in Denver (whose name I won't name) has the same EIN as my SSN. I called the IRS and verified that it is possible and legal for the numbers to match, since my personal information was in a laptop stolen from Metropolitan State College of Denver a little over a year ago, and identity theft is always a possibility. Of course, although the numbers being the same doesn't mean that they did steal my number, the fact that it's legal for the numbers to match doesn't mean that they didn't.

And I've got another problem, one that is more immediate - and one that reflects more on the Colorado jury duty system. The reason I found out about this coincidence is because the CJD sent my check to the wrong place. When they put my SSN into the computer, this business popped up, so they sent it there - without stopping to find out why the name and address on the check didn't match that on my form! Idiots! So now they've told me that I need to wait another couple of weeks while they try to get the check back from the business, before they can issue me a new check. I'm furious - it's hardly my fault that they didn't have the wherewithall to notice that the information on my form didn't match the information in the computer.

Right on the tails of that experience, I get a response from a job ad I had replied to, and it turns out they don't pay up front - they pay their writers per hit on their page. That policy of "paying" writers really angers me, because it does not at all reflect the amount of work that a writer puts into an article or - in this case - an ongoing blog. (Ad revenue sharing instead of straightforward payment pisses me off too - if I wanted to get paid like that, I'd put ads on my own website and blogs!)

So, me being in a bad mood, this guy got a response that was slightly less polite than my norm:

Thank you for your response. Unfortunately, as a full-time freelancer I am dependent on my writing as my sole source of income, and as such, I do not take jobs that do not pay me for the work (whereas you are offering to pay me for the traffic). In my opinion, paying writers per hit is like paying your plumber for each time you flush your toilet after he fixes it.

I hope all my readers understand that getting paid per hit or via an ad revenue sharing plan is not sufficient pay for a writer!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Another rant about Freelance Work Exchange

Back in May, I wrote a post about Freelance Work Exchange. The post is about one particular user's complaints about the service, but since posting I have read and heard several other people's issues with the company, ranging from the near-impossibility of canceling their accounts (and stopping the monthly automatic charge from going through) to the fact that most of the jobs found on their site can also be found elsewhere on the Internet - for free.

Today I have a complaint of my own: I'm sick of seeing their ads. If you look for writing jobs on Craigslist, you know the scenario:

Looking through the list of Craigslist jobs, you see one that looks particularly interesting. You click on it, and find that there is no email, only a URL. When you click on the URL, you are directed to yet another site - which turns out to be Freelance Work Exchange. What you thought was a legitamate job ad is actually nothing but an attempt to get you to spend your hard-earned dollars on what some might call a worthless subscription service!

Yesterday I replied to just such an ad - there was an anonymous Craigslist email address, so I clicked on it and sent my cover letter and resume, without first looking at the URL in the ad. (Yeah, I know - stupid.) Today I received a response back from a "J.H." The short email says simply that they found someone for the job already, and then "Here is the site we used..." And that's it. I followed the link and discovered, much to my horror, that the site led to Freelance Work Exchange.

I rather doubt that the people who posted the ad - and responded to my email - were really the employers. More likely they were the FWE folks themselves, using a job posting as a ploy to market their services. If you ask me, that's downright dishonest.

So I would like to make a request of all my readers: next time you are searching for writing jobs and you see one of FWE's fake job ads on Craigslist, PLEASE FLAG IT. Let's send the message that we are sick of following false leads, and that they are no longer welcome on Craigslist!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Good advice for writers

This was originally a follow-up post to my article "How Society Supports Low-Paying Writing Jobs," which ran in WritersWeekly.com in December of 2006. In the original post I plugged a consulting service for writers. After I found out in 2007 that the consultant was spamming other writers, I decided to retract my referral.

Sorry if this decision affects you, but honestly I think everyone is better off this way!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Resolutions for 2007

Happy New Year's to everyone!

It seems a good occasion to reminisce about the past year. I am happy to report that I achieved both of my New Year's resolutions for 2006: to publish a piece of fiction, and to start work on a novel. In fact, I went beyond the original resolutions: I published two short stories, and wrote a whole novel.

Encouraged by my luck with 2006's resolutions, I have formed a few more for 2007. They are:

1. To revise my NaNoWriMo novel and get it ready for submitting,

2. To submit my NaNoWriMo novel to at least one publisher during 2007,

3. To start work on my next novel,


4. To double my freelance income in 2007.

The first two resolutions I am hoping to fulfill during the early months of 2007, followed soon after by the third. In fact, I am hoping to write two novels in 2007 - one by November and another during November, when I do NaNoWriMo again.

As for my income - my main goal is to start making enough extra a month that I can afford (among other things) to bring Panama out here in the spring or early summer. Stabling a horse in the Denver Metro area is expensive, and although I could find less expensive stables by putting him a 45-60 minute drive away from me, I want Panama close enough so that I can visit him and work with him daily. He'll be almost two years old by then, and I will need to work with him a great deal in order to make up for the lack of attention and training he has had so far. I don't want to have to worry about just barely squeaking by each month, either, which is why I want to double my income rather than simply making enough more each month to pay the stabling bills.

Well, there you have it - my goals for the New Year. If you would like to share yours, feel free to comment to this post. Best of luck to all my readers in 2007!


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