Monday, August 27, 2007

GoFreelance.com fails AGAIN to keep Rob Palmer's promises

Several months ago, Rob Palmer emailed me regarding my blog posts regarding GoFreelance.com, formerly known as Freelance Work Exchange or FreelanceWorkExchange.com. I had complained about the possibility that Freelance Work Exchange is a scam, the annoying false job ads they post, and the change in the company's name.

Rob Palmer has commented on those posts, claiming that anyone with complaints can contact him directly. Back in June, when he emailed me, I asked if I could post his email address on my blog, so that dissatisifed GoFreelancers could contact him. He said I could, so you can find Rob Palmer's email address toward the bottom of this post.

Unfortunately, it seems like this attempt to repair his reputation was just as much of a scam as his company appears to be. Not to long ago, a disillusioned GoFreelancer commented that despite the fact that she had cancelled her subscription before the 7-day trial ended, she still was charged the full price the following month. She was going to try contacting Rob Palmer via the email address he allowed me to post.

Late last night, the disillusioned GoFreelancer visited again, commenting this time that she has received no response to her emails, despite using the email address Rob Palmer specifically told me to post for this purpose! She is now attempting to fight the charge via PayPal.

As far as I am concerned, Rob Palmer has burned his last bridge with me. I don't care what he emails me with from now on. He has proven to me that he is a scammer and a cheat, and has no intention of ever changing. My advice: Stay away from Freelance Work Exchange, GoFreelance.com, and any other potential scam this guy comes up with!

As a side note, my disgruntled GoFreelancer also mentioned that she is complaining to PayPal about the fact that they still do transactions for this guy. I think this is a great idea, and I'm thinking about doing it myself, using my blog posts and other links to back up my complaint. I'd like my fellow freelancers to take some action, too, so in the next week I am going to try to put together a form complaint letter to PayPal that can be copied and pasted from my blog. Look for it next Monday!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Continuing education

I am thinking of pursuing a master's degree.

I've been thinking about school for the past two days. Thursday night, I discovered that Metro -- the school from which I received my bachelor's -- is offering a class this fall that I had always wanted to take, but never got a chance to. Unfortunately, the deadline for fall application has passed, so it's too late to reactivate my student account.

This got me started thinking about school again, though. Since graduation, continuing education has always been at the back of my mind. The excitement of taking a class again -- and the disappointment when I found out I couldn't -- had me considering graduate school. Unfortunately, I don't like the programs offered by most of the graduate schools in Colorado. The only exception is Denver University, which offers a PhD (but not a master's) in creative writing -- if you are willing to sell your soul in order to pay for it.

When Michael and I were at the bookstore last night, I had just gotten done telling both him and my mom that the only online schools I knew about weren't "real" colleges -- that is, they weren't accredited by the standard agencies. Call me a snob if you want, but I am adamant about not wanting a degree that will be virtually worthless in academic circles. It turns out, though, that I was wrong.

As I was flipping through the July/August issue of Poets & Writers, I came across a full-page ad for writing programs at Chatham University. They have a fully online master's program: a Master of Professional Writing. And because it is a reputable, traditional school, I don't have to worry about obscure accreditation or any of the other issues with many online schools.

In fact, I think Chatham is very reputable on the East Coast, as it has been around since 1869. Moreover, my family has a history at Chatham -- my grandmother, great-aunt, and great-grandmother all went there, back when it was still called Pennsylvania College for Women. My mom even worked there as a librarian in the mid-seventies, when it was called Chatham College for Women. The campus is beautiful in the way that only an older school can be.

It turns out that Chatham University is comprised of three different schools: Chatham College for Women, which still offers bachelor's degrees just to women; Chatham College for Graduate Studies, for both men and women; and Chatham College for Continuing and Professional Studies, which offers online graduate programs for both the sexes. All three are accredited by the standard agencies -- they just happen to be one of the few traditional schools who have recognized the value of offering online programs.

The problem, of course, is the cost. I mean, YIKES -- that is almost as much as DU (though not quite). The degree would probably cost about $7,000 more than a master's from one of the state schools here in Colorado. I think it's worth it, because it is so specialized to my career -- but unfortunately, thinking it's worth it doesn't magically make money appear in my pockets.

What do you think? Is it worth the hassle of financial aid and student loans to go back to school (which I love) and get a master's (which would benefit my career)?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Newbie writers aren't the only ones!

Michael and I are sitting at one of our favorite indie bookstores right now. I was flipping through the July/August issue of Poets & Writers, when I ran across the article "Will Write for Free" by Steve Almond. Of course, since the Great Wage Debate for Writers is one of my pet issues, I read through the entire article.

Almond's article is very similar to an article I wrote last year for WritersWeekly.com: "How Society Supports Low-Paying Writing Jobs." The major difference is that Almond does more literary writing, while my article was talking about article writing. The message is the same, though -- our society takes advantage of (and even perpetuates) the "starving artist" ideal.

I highly recommend checking out this article. I wish it was online, so that I could link to it; but since it isn't, and I can't, I'll give you a little snippet to whet your appetite:

The reality of today's literary marketplace dawned on me rather quickly: There are no big-money offers. Unless you are a former president, a pro athlete, a movie star (or someone who has had sex with one or more of the above), none will be forthcoming. Which meant I had to start insisting on getting paid.

And the beautiful, quotable statement near the end of the article:

I am suggesting that your talents are worth something, and that those who stand to gain from them owe you a share.


Associated Content -- another update

Just the other day, I posted that I had heard from Mike Street regarding my Associated Content performance bonus. Basically, between his email and my records I figured out that the error was I was due two payments of $4.16, but they had only paid me one. He said he was going to check into it, and let me know "if" I was correct.

On Tuesday I received another email from Mike Street, saying Associated Content had "pinpointed the error" in their performance bonus payment system, and they were "working to fully correct it." I am supposed to received my missing $4.16 once they have fixed the error.

Nothing as of yet, though.

Click here for an update on my Associated Content performance bonus.

Email scams abound!

Back in June, I posted a couple of warnings about email scams that are going around. You get an email claiming someone sent you an ecard, only the site that you are directed to actually downloads spyware or malware onto your computer. At first, the scam was using a really hokey-sounding website. Then they tried pretending the email was from a real ecard site, but the link actually took you to an IP address.

Unfortunately, they haven't stopped trying. They changed their email to say "Your cousin [email address]" sent you an email address, but essentially it was still the same email. This morning I got an email claiming I had an ecard at wickedmoon.com, but again, the link connects to an IP address, not wickedmoon.com.

They (or someone similar) is also trying a different tactic. Just the other day, I received an email with fake account information and a link to "Poker World." Like the others, the link went to an IP address.

These email scams are becoming quite common, it appears. I still don't know how they got my email addresses, but basically it means that someone out there is selling email lists to someone they shouldn't be.

Be careful about following links in any emails you receive!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Associated Content performance bonus UPDATE

The other day I wrote a post about my recent experiences trying to get Associated Content to pay me my performance bonus. I have an interesting update I thought I should share with everyone.

As you can see from the comments on the first post regarding AC, at 8:25 I received a comment from "Anonymous," suggesting that I read the Associated Content performance bonus policies in order to clear up my "confusion." As I responded, I have read the policies, and I can point to exactly where the payment schedule and minimum payment is explained.

Perhaps, though, the "anonymous" commenter wanted me to reread the part under the "Beta Phase" heading:

The data presented in the Performance Bonus Beta may not be 100% accurate, and you should not rely on those numbers, as they may change during the beta phase. While AC will use its best efforts to report and pay the bonus payment accurately, and in a timely fashion, because we are in a beta environment there may be some errors and delays.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like putting that into the policy simply sets up an excuse to use when payments are late or wrong (as with mine). However, I find that rather ridiculous, because the program seems to have been in place since February (since that's when my earliest bonus is from). Isn't six months enough time to figure out how to keep good records and make accurate, timely payments? And furthermore, isn't it their responsibility to do so, regardless of what their policy says?

There's more, though. Only about half an hour later, I received an email from Michael Street himself. (Remember, this is the person several forum members recommended I contact regarding my payment issues. This is also the person that failed to respond to both of the emails I sent him regarding the problem.)

In the email, Mr. Street claims that I am paid up on my performance bonus. He then lists six individual payment amounts totalling $22.75. Unfortunately, as you'll remember from my last post on the subject, I only received five payments totalling $18.59.

Mr. Street then goes on to echo "Anonymous's" comment, and advises that I read the Associated Content performance bonus policies. He also specifically reminds me that the program is in beta.

Of course, I emailed him back immediately, explaining that I received five payments, not six. Just a few minutes ago, I received a response from him, saying that they are checking into it, and "if that $4.16 payment is missing we will send it right out to you."


Well, all I can say is that they had better find it missing, because I sure don't have it! Regardless, though, I will update my blog when I hear from them again.

Click here for the update on my Associated Content performance bonus.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


This afternoon we found out that Michael's mom's horse, Anna, had died at about 2am Saturday morning.

Several years ago, Michael's mom adopted an older horse whom no one wanted. Because Anna foundered several times over the years, the two of them went through some difficult times together. Anna could be very stand-offish, but the way she followed Michael's mom around left no doubt as to the strength of their bond.

Anna started colicking late Thursday evening. When Michael's mom arrived and realized Anna was sick, she called the vet, kept Anna on her feet, did all of the things you are supposed to do for a colicking horse. She didn't leave her horse's side for the next 24 hours. Unfortunately, Anna wasn't able to pull through this time, and she died early Saturday morning.

I can't even imagine how hard this must be for Michael's mom. Anna was her friend and companion, more than a pet or a pastime. She never rode her -- out of concern for her foundering, but probably also because her relationship with Anna was more important than the desire for a riding horse. She visited Anna twice a day, regardless of weather or other obligations.

Anna was very lucky to be so loved.

Somewhere in time's own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.

~Stanley Harrison

Friday, August 17, 2007

Is Associated Content ripping off their writers?

A while back I posted a poll asking if any of my readers had had problems getting their performance bonuses from Associated Content. (Besides the poll, you can also see a few comments about the situation on this post.)

Today I am finally ready to pose the question: Is the Associated Content performance bonus a scam?

Before you read about my AC payment difficulties, though, you might want to read about my personal history with Associated Content. To sum up right here, though, basically I have had two very different encounters with AC: I once interviewed with them for a part-time editing position, and I wrote for them briefly before realizing that $10 for an article was a high payment.

The story of this post, however, begins on June 5th. You may know of Associated Content's performance bonus system. Basically, they pay you a flat fee (i.e. a few dollars) for an article, and then you make a performance bonus according to how many thousands of page views your article gets. I have some things to say about the performance bonus program, too, but that will come in a later post -- this one is dedicated to Associated Content payment problems.

On June 5th, I logged in to my Associated Content account for the first time in a while. Although I had not written for Associated Content in a long while, and only checked my account occasionally, I had decided that I wanted to publish a few of my marketing articles on AC for additional exposure (and a few extra bucks).

When I logged in, I discovered that I had accrued $15.58 in bonuses. Since I had not been very active in Associated Content, I hadn't even realized I was accruing bonuses, let alone what the policies were. Through a combination of reading contracts and policies and emailing admin, I discovered that anything over $15 was paid on the second Wednesday of every month.

The feeling was pretty much like finding $15 in your couch when you're vacuuming it out. You didn't plan on it, didn't need it, but it still is pretty cool to find.

Imagine, however, that as you're thinking of how you'll spend that $15, you suddenly find out you don't get it after all. Maybe a family member claims it, or maybe someone steals it from you while you're sleeping. You get the point.

The second Wednesday of the month came and went, and I didn't get paid. When I emailed Associated Content, I was told that maybe what had happened was that my bonus wasn't over the $15 minimum by the cutoff date (the 1st of the month, apparently). I emailed them back, asking if there was a way they could track bonuses and determine when I topped $15, but I never heard back.

As it turned out, never receiving a response from Associated Content was a frequent problem through this entire ordeal. I would say that at best, I got a response 50% of the time. But anyway, back to my story.

I decided to let it go; after all, by that point it was only a few more weeks until the next payday. But just to be sure, I planned to screen print my account page on the cutoff date, since that was the only way I could think of to prove what my performance bonus was at.

By July 1st, my account had accrued $16.70. In an email exchange with AC admin, though, I was told I might be getting even more than that, as they had not updated the amount for several weeks. Sure enough, before the second Wednesday of July my account was updated, showing that I had accrued $18.98.

Unfortunately, I didn't receive payment this time, either. When I emailed Associated Content, I made sure to explain the entire situation, so that they would know this was the second month something like this had happened. The first email I sent received no response at all, so I tried again. When they finally responded, they had apparently not read my email very closely, because they fired back the same basic response as last time:

It is likely that you hadn’t reached $15 minimum before the cut off date, which is why you weren’t paid for this month’s bonus. Since you are clearly over the mark now, you will certainly be paid next month.

"It is likely..." Ha. Don't you intend to verify that?

Of course, I emailed back to explain that couldn't be the case, and why. I requested that they confirm when they received the email -- because about half of my emails were going unanswered -- and confirm that they were going to do something about it. All I received in response was this rather abrupt response:

We have received your email and are looking into the situation.

Of course, that was the last I heard from them for a while. I emailed several days later to find out where they were on the situation, and got the typical lack of response. After a week, I tried again, complaining this time about the lack of communication as well. Their response was:

We are working on it, but we cannot simply flip a switch and make it happen.

Maybe it's just me, but these responses sound rather rude. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect updates and responses to my emails. Plus, what does "we are working on it" mean? I wrote back asking for more details about how they were handling the situation, and whether others were having the same problems, and again received no response to my email.

The final email I sent to admin was on July 23rd. Then a fellow writer suggested that I try visiting the Associated Content forums. I did, but I found precious little regarding to my problem. I posted in several threads that seemed pertinent.

After some initial flak I encountered from one of the forum members (which I suppose I'll need to explain later, but not here), I discovered that I was actually not the only one having this problem. In addition to the helpful readers who responded to my poll and commented on my posts, I talked to a handful or so of writers in the Associated Content forums who had also not received their performance bonuses, some of the for several months running.

Amid discussions and griping, someone suggested that I contact Michael Street, as he had resolved a payment issue for the CP once. I messaged him, but got no response; several days later, I tried messaging his other account -- still no response.

By that point, it was nearing payment time, anyway. On the second Wednesday of August, two things happened: our accounts were updated for the first time in nearly a month to reflect our total performance bonuses, and payments were made.

I am happy to note that as of August 9th, Associated Content finally paid me for my performance bonus. However, I noticed right off the bat that the amount was wrong. This is from the August 1st screen print (the cutoff date):

And this is from a screen print of my PayPal account page:

As you can see, the math doesn't add up: The payments made total $18.59, not $18.98. Perhaps it seems silly to complain about 39 cents, but think about how much money Associated Content can save if they short every writer a few cents! It is the principle of the matter that irritates me -- after all, I waited this long for my bonus, and then they couldn't even get it right?

As it turned out, though, the problem was bigger than 39 cents. This was what my account said my bonus was out when it was updated shortly before I was paid:

(Ignore the "Last Payment" line. The bonus said the same amount before the "Last Payment" line appeared.)

It took them several weeks to update the account pages after making payments, but they finally have. And this is what my bonus is supposedly at now:

Do you see the problem? $23.24 minus $18.59 equals $4.65, not $2.10. So now they are shorting me $2.55.

I can't help but wonder if this is all deliberate. Skip payments and make writers grateful for getting paid at all. Divide payment up into a handful of small amounts so that writers get confused about the actual amount. Delay updating the account pages so that writers forget to check the math. There are other potential problems, too, which I will discuss in a future post.

Either Associated Content is deliberately ripping off writers, or this is the absolute worse case of disorganization I have ever seen in a business.

It's not about 39 cents, or even $2.55. It's not about $15.58, or $16.70, $18.98, or $23.24. It's not about whether I write for Associated Content regularly (which I don't) or whether I intend to in the future (which I also don't). It's about clients keeping their word and paying writers when and how much they say they're going to. For if we let Associated Content get away with shortchanging writers now, how much further will they take it?

Click here for an update on my Associated Content performance bonus.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Poor Panama!

I haven't updated my blog lately because I've been so busy. However, there are some changes in the situation with Panama that I've been wanting to blog about.

As you'll know if you read my blog regularly, I've been planning to move my horse to Denver from where he's been staying on the in-laws' property. As part of that preparation, we had Panama gelded a few weeks ago. I was hoping there would be no complications, and that I would be able to bring him out here on time; unfortunately, while the gelding healed up just fine, we had other problems to contend with.

About a week ago (I think), Panama got tangled up in the barbed wire fence on the property where he's staying. It was overnight, so it sounds like he was caught for quite a while. When the wound didn't seem to be healing very well, we gave the in-laws the go-ahead to call the vet.

Two vet trips later, the healing sounds as if it is back on track.

Unfortunately, there was another problem. In order to be transported across state lines, Panama needed a Coggins test, so the vet drew blood at the same time as the gelding. The test was going to take a couple of weeks to come back, because it had to be sent off to the lab. At the end of last week, however, the vet came around to draw more blood, saying the lab had lost the sample.

Of course, that meant he wouldn't be ready to travel by the scheduled pick-up date. Michael and I scrambled to confirm with the vet and reschedule the transport. Only about four hours after we rescheduled, the vet called to say the sample hadn't been lost after all, and the test results had arrived.

Ultimately, Michael and I decided not to try to re-reschedule back to an earlier transport date. Panama's wound was still not healed (this was Monday), and we didn't want to risk it getting worse and wrecking the transport plans all over again. So as of right now, Panama will be transported several weeks later than we originally intended.

This is disappointing in many ways. First of all, we're paying for Panama's spot at the stables, whether he is here or not. But more importantly, this means that I have to wait several more weeks before my horse is close enough to visit every day.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No, you can't teach babies by parking them in front of the TV!

Some of you may already know of my background in childcare: I have been babysitting since I was little more than a child myself, and spent 6+ years working in a formal preschool/child care setting. (In fact, I still babysit regularly for a family that I've known for three years.) In addition, my minor was in psychology, focusing on child psych and development, and I have taken a number of early childhood education and children's literature classes.

Okay, you probably get the point -- I have experience. Anyway, I have also developed several little pet peeves -- things I see parents do regularly that drives me nuts. One of my biggest pet peeves is when parents buy into the idea that listening to Mozart or watching colorful shapes fly across the TV screen will make them smarter.

If you are a parent, you probably realize that I'm talking about products such as "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby." Well, it turns out that I'm not wrong for despising them. A study recently found that babies' language development decreases the more they watch these baby programs. In fact, a single hour a day of "Baby Einstein" means six to eight fewer words (on average) than other kids of the same age.

As far as I'm concerned, it's no grand revelation that parking kids in front of the TV slows their language development. Television -- even educational programs -- is a passive activity. Your baby isn't listening to you talk to him (which is infinitely more pertinent to him than what a disembodied voice on a baby video has to say), nor is he trying to communicate back to you. Chances are that he probably doesn't pay attention to that disembodied voice much at all -- all the visual stimuli is most likely monopolizing his attention. (Anyone who has ever tried to talk to a small child when they are watching TV knows exactly what I mean.)

My opinion is that watching educational programs on TV is never going to be as good as reading a book or learning about something hands-on -- language-related or otherwise. Baby videos about finger painting can't teach your child that fingerpaint feels cool and slimy and slippery, anymore than the narrator can teach her what the words "no" or "mommy" or "more" feel like to her lips and tongue.

As for the notion that playing Mozart for your baby will make her smarter... Well, that is the unfortunate result of a psychological study that the media reported incorrectly. The original study demonstrated that college students performed marginally better on spatial tasks immediately after listening to Mozart, as opposed to other classical music. This doesn't mean listening to Mozart makes you smarter. It might temporarily make your brain more alert -- or it might just mean that other classical music makes your brain less alert.

In general, I think the moral of this story is to take miracle products with a grain of salt. If it seems too easy for your kid to learn everything they need to know from a baby video, that's probably because it is.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

How much would you pay for safer bridges?

Like many others, I was shocked and horrified to hear about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis just the other day. The headlines today, however, are almost as upsetting.

The structural integrity of the bridge was apparently suspect before the collapse, and the tragedy has sparked widespread concern about the condition and possible design flaws of our nation's bridges. As a result, Congress is suggesting a raise in gas tax prices to fund bridge repairs.

And Bush opposes it.

Bush is claiming that the increased gas tax -- which, as I understand it, would be about 5 cents a gallon -- would hurt the economy. Never mind that gas prices are now more than twice what they were when he took office... He's going to pick a fight with the Democrats over 5 cents a gallon.

Would you pay 5 cents a gallon to keep further accidents like this from happening? I know I would. And you have to ask anyone who wouldn't (such as, say, Bush) whose side they are on -- the people's side, or the oil companies'?

Good days and bad days

As a freelance writer, I have my good days and my bad days: Some days I am extremely productive, and other days I can't seem to get anything done, for whatever reason.

Unfortunately, this week has been the later so far.

I was doing great, I really was. I have been quite busy, so I drew up a daily schedule to help myself stay focused. I've been getting up early (i.e. 7am) with Michael for the last three or four weeks, and the earlier schedule has enabled me to add several work hours to my day.

Nevertheless, this week feels like it's been on fast forward -- the days have seemed to go twice as fast as usual, because I can't seem to get done all the things I normally would. And then yesterday, I had cramps and some minor body aches, but basically it kept me from getting comfortable enough to stay in the same place longer than about a half an hour at a time -- and getting up every half an hour is not conducive to a productive day.

What about you? Do you have good days and bad days? What typically constitutes a good day (or a bad day) for you?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How much money do writers earn?

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware posted Sunday on several emails she exchanged with a wannabe writer. The writer's email, and his response to her advice, reminded me a lot of encounters I have had with similarly delusional writers. However, there are a few things Strauss has to say that I don't quite agree with.

Basically, an aspiring writer emailed Strauss for advice. The section of his email that she quoted stated that he wanted to earn a living from his writing. Strauss then goes on to explain that most novelists cannot live off of their royalties, referencing statistics to back up her point.

However, his response to her advice exposed him as a nutter. In a very condescending tone, he berated her for trying to discourage him, and then suggested that her lack of writing skill is the reason why she's found it so hard to succeed.

The tone of his response reminded me of how several writers responded to my advice about 8 months ago. After my article ran in WritersWeekly.com, I had a flood of emails from aspiring writers, asking for advice. Several of them seemed to think they could go from being a nobody to a bestselling author faster than the McLaren goes from zero to 60 (which, by the by, takes about three seconds). When I told them otherwise, and suggested that they start small before trying to break into the big bucks, I got very high-minded emails in response. If you want a few laughs, you can read all about it here.

For the record, though, I don't necessarily agree with Victoria Strauss when she indicates that trying to earn a living off of your writing is overly ambitious. I have been able to earn what I need to get by, and I know many other writers who do even better for themselves. I think it all comes down to how you go about it. For instance, if you put all your eggs in the "novelist" basket, you will probably have a much harder time achieving financial independence. (Heck, even Stephen King took a long time to get where he is.)

The key to being financially successful as a writer is being willing to go where the money goes. Even if your dream is to be a bestselling author, to pay the bills you will most likely need to broaden your horizons. Web content, copywriting, newspaper articles, and magazine features all provide ways to earn a decent living while pursuing your other writing dreams. You may not be remotely wealthy doing it, but it is possible to earn a living by selling your writing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

To punish and protect

Want a good laugh this Tuesday morning? Check out this article about this Thai police force's use of alternative punishments to keep their officers in line.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Be careful what you pay for...

The internet abounds with scams to make you pay for information -- often information that you can get without paying for it. Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance.com are perfect examples of this: According to some things I have read online, many of the job ads on this paid membership site are simply reposted from Craigslist and other job boards, where you could have gotten the listings for free.

Here's another example. In doing some research for an article, I ran across an article with some information I wanted. Unfortunately, I had to pay in order to access the article. The prices were ridiculously high: from $9.95 (to access only the articles on my specific subject) all the way up to $99.95 (for a year of unrestricted access).

Following a hunch, I highlighted part of one of the excerpt's sentences and dragged it into my Google toolbar. And what do you know? The same exact article is available, for free, from another site.

I can't help but wonder what exactly is going on here. One of the two sites might be infringing on the other's copyrights. Or they might be run by the same company, on that is betting on people being lazy enough to just go ahead and pay their fees on the membership site...while making money off of the ads on the free site. Either way, it's a disgusting scam.

The moral of the story? Do your research, and beware of any site charging you money to access the same materials you can find elsewhere for free.

Should writers expect a steady paycheck?

A blog I sometimes follow, the Writer's Confidant Blog, posted last week about whether writers should expect a reliable paycheck -- and the message the blogger sent was a resounding NO. This irritates me, so I am going to blog about it -- but first, a little background:

"scriptgirl," as she calls herself, has been freelancing for nine years. More recently, she started working as an editor for a paper, in addition to her freelancing. It sounds like it has been stressful for her, but she has blogged a lot about complaints she has about her freelancers, some of which I have disagreed with somewhat.

Last week's post, however, goes too far. The paper she was editing went down, and a certain writer's work was never published. Apparently, the guidelines stated payment was two weeks after publication, so scriptgirl was not going to pay this writer -- even though she had done the work. She complained that the writer then "went over [her] head" and got the publisher to pay her anyway. When there was a mixup with the paycheck, scriptgirl then received a nasty email from the writer.

scriptgirl goes on to talk about how the belief in a living wage is "ruining the pool of freelance writers." She tells a story of another writer who was apparently just as happy not to receive payment when the paper went down because, as the writer said, she "just loves to write."

scriptgirl finishes up by saying, "If you want a regular paycheck, go to Wal*Mart. If you want a job you love, stick with freelance writing."

EXCUSE ME????!!!!!

I have SO many things I want to say about this, but I am going to stick with the more polite (and more logical) rebuttals.

First of all: While it was totally out of line for the writer to fire off an angry email over the paycheck mixup, I do think the writer deserved to get paid -- she just should have gone about it with a little more tact. It's not the writer's fault the paper went down -- she still did the work, and I think that counts for at least a kill fee.

scriptgirl's comment that expectations of a living wage are "ruining the pool of freelance writers" also angers me. It actually makes me think of the historical struggles to unionize workers, where employers want to keep the labor pool uneducated and powerless. I can see why editors who want to take advantage of their writers would be upset: The growing awareness that fair wages do, in fact, exist would make it more difficult to find writers willing to work for slave wages and unfair terms.

And finally, I find it highly insulting to suggest that working at Wal*Mart is our only other option. That implies that a company famous for mistreating and underpaying its employees is an improvement over what writers have a right to expect. Ridiculous! Writers have just as much a right to expect a living wage as anyone else (including, incidentally, Wal*Mart employees).

What is most irritating about scriptgirl's post is that she is buying into the whole myth that writers have to choose between doing what they love or earning a real income. That is simply not true. There are plenty of writers out there who earn "thousands of dollars" writing. There's nothing wrong with the fact that some publications don't pay writers top wages; there is, however, something wrong with insulting writers because they expect professional wages for professional work.

I think I am so upset about scriptgirl's post because I feel she is turning on her own. Just eight months ago, she actually commended me for an article I wrote for WritersWeekly. What happened to the writer who believed that "writing for a living can be quite fulfilling"? And why is she now claiming that if you want to earn a living, you'll be better off working at Wal*Mart than being a writer?

In another recent post, scriptgirl mentioned that she was burned out and backing off. I sincerely hope that stepping down from the editor position will enable her to reconnect with what it's like to be a writer again -- and remind her that, in fact, writers do have the right to expect a living wage.

Announcing a new children's series

I think I've mentioned before that I love to read children's and young adult fiction. In fact, some of my all-time favorites are for young readers. Although the idea of reading children's fiction may seem strange to some people, I urge you to think about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books -- living proof that books written for kids can often be better (and more popular) than those written for adults.

Just the other day, I found an article and audio clip on NPR about one of my favorite childhood authors, Ann M. Martin, who has recently started a new children's series called Main Street. is the creator of The Babysitters' Club series, which I practically devoured when I was younger.

(Incidentally, that series was my first source of information about diabetes, and one of the reasons why I was so freaked out when I was diagnosed. In one of the books, the diabetic girl eats a lot of sweets and desserts -- which she is not normally allowed to have -- and ends up in the hospital. When I was diagnosed in 2002, it never occurred to me that treatment might have progressed beyond where it was in the late 1980s, and I tearfully imagined a life without ice cream.)

Listening to the broadcast, I learned one thing that surprised me: Ms. Martin only wrote about half of the books in the series The Babysitters Club. I don't know why I was surprised, as I know about syndication -- that, for instance, Carolyn Keen (the supposed author of the Nancy Drew books) never actually existed at all -- but it never occurred to me that someone would create her own series and then not write all the books herself. A little later in the broadcast, though, the answer came: she had to produce a book a month.

The Main Street series isn't quite so strenuous -- Martin will only need to produce three books a year. The interviewer, though, seemed to think that was quite a lot. I was quite amused, remembering my stint with NaNoWriMo in 2006. If I wrote that novel in a month, which was longer than a children's series book would be, while keeping up with my freelance work... Well, producing a skinny children's series book a month would be cake in comparison. In fact, immersing myself in fiction like that would be nothing short of heaven.

At any rate, I think I am going to have to check out Martin's new baby, the series called Main Street!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why today feels like Saturday

Today has felt like Saturday all day. Michael was having a stressful week, and managed to get today off for a little R&R. (Why is it that I work for myself and I can't do that right now? Oh yeah. It's because I'm busy.) With Michael home today, I've had a hard time working, just as if it were Saturday.

In truth, though, my internal calender was off last night, too. Michael emailed me from work around 10:30 yesterday morning to tell me he would be taking today off. As a result, yesterday felt like Friday to me almost the entire day, and I think that made it even harder to convince my brain that today was not really the weekend.

It also doesn't help that I find it extremely hard to work when Michael is home. I almost always go into a weekend intending to work, and more often than not come out of it not having gotten anything done. It's not that he's trying to distract me -- usually -- but apparently my focus is undermined anyway. Today we had to spend two hours at Barnes and Noble so that I could get my work done.

It would have been really nice to just take today off -- and believe me, I thought about it. Unfortunately, I have too much work to do right now to take a day off, so I settled for working a couple of hours less than usual. (Okay, that was actually because I couldn't concentrate.) However, as soon as my big project is done and I can get some of the little ones out of the way, I am taking several days off where I'm going to do NOTHING BUT READ.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Catching up with favorite teachers

We all had our favorite teachers, people who we look back on fondly or who impacted our lives in a major way. Most of mine were high school English teachers: Mr. Stough my freshman year, Mrs. Stokesbury my junior and senior years, and a creative writing teacher whose name I can't quite remember right now.

I had a couple of favorite teachers in college, as well. The two I remember best also taught classes that had a major impact on how I have come to view literature: Dr. Farkas, who taught The English Bible as Literature, and Dr. Crater, who taught Nineteenth Century Women's Fiction, and whom this post is about.

Just a couple of days ago, I was looking up the "Bible as Literature" class for my dad -- as a senior, he gets to sit in on (or "audit") classes for free, and he has always been intrigued by my stories about that class. While I was looking up the class on Metro's website, I came across another class by Dr. Crater that I always wanted to take but never got to: Native American Literature. Despite the fact that I graduated almost three years ago, I'd enroll in a heartbeat if the class weren't full, but unfortunately it is one of those classes that fills up very quickly.

Seeing the class listed got me thinking about the Women's Fiction class again, though. I took the class in the spring of 2004, when I had several other things going on in my life -- specifically, the last few months of a bad relationship (and a very bad breakup). Having a women's fiction class with a feminist teacher was probably the best thing that could have happened to me that semester.

Beyond that, though, the class was probably the most intriguing -- and the most fun -- I've ever had. There were only about a dozen people in the class, tops, and we had some of the best discussions I ever experienced in college. It was also one of the semesters when I was able to further develop a passion that had been taking root for several semesters: a strong interest (read: obsession) in the Bronte sisters. Looking back on that class, I can see the impact it made on my life, and the part it played in all the other changes taking place that semester.

I emailed my old teacher to say hi and to say I was thinking about signing up for the class next time it was offered. To my delight, I got a response this morning... and I discovered that she finally published the book she had been writing back then! She had spent quite a while researching the book, as I remember, and was quite disappointed when Dan Brown got The DaVinci Code out before she had a chance to finish hers.

At any rate, I plan to buy the book very soon. I've asked Dr. Crater where the best place is to buy it, as I know that certain outlets mean lower royalties for the writer. While I'm waiting for a response, though, you can read about it here: Under the Stone Paw by Theresa Crater.

My new morning ritual

The last few mornings, I've discovered something new: working on the front porch in the mornings.

Like most bungalows, one of the best parts of our house is a big, beautiful front porch. Here's a picture of it, taken when we first bought the house:

Because our porch faces west, I haven't spent much time working on it until recently -- with my late schedule last summer, it was always flooded with afternoon or evening sun when I was up. (In Colorado, late afternoon and early evening are the hottest parts of the day, because of the way the sun beats down on anything that faces west.)

For the past couple of weeks, however, I have been getting up early every morning to walk the dogs with Michael before he goes to work. I've gone from getting up at 10am at the earliest every day to getting up by 7am during the week, and 8:30 or 9am on the weekends! This leaves a nice, long -- and more importantly, cool -- morning for me to work out on the porch.

Our porch is so big that we have two patio sets on it -- one on each side. Here is a picture of my favorite place to work:

The view is quite nice, as all the houses across the street from us are older, like ours. If it weren't for the neighbor's car in the driveway (and the computer on my lap), you could almost imagine that it's actually 50 years earlier.

The other patio set is nice because it has a table, but as I am always more comfortable with my laptop on my lap, I don't work there as much. It suits the house, though, as it is vintage and rather quaint:

Oftentimes, one of my cat joins me on the porch. Both of my cats are kept indoors, but this one I can trust to stay on the porch with me while I work, as she has never been an outdoor cat (whereas the other one has, and would bolt).

So that's it -- my new morning ritual. Do you have any similar work habits or rituals?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

My best month EVER!

July was officially a great month: I topped my previous record for the most income in one month.

I've mentioned a few times that I'm working on a big project right now -- a never-ending project, unfortunately. Well, yesterday I received a check for completing the first major chunk of the project. Thanks to that little slip of paper, my income for July shot right over the record that I set last July.

Clearly July is my busiest month, because in almost two years of freelancing full-time July has been a record-setting month both times. This year, however, it seems August might be even higher, as I am anticipating finishing the big project this month.

Last year I experienced a period of major burnout when my "summer rush" ended. In order to prevent the same thing from happening this year, I intend to take several days off as soon as I can manage it, after which I will start dedicating an hour or two every day to writing fiction. My goal is to cut back my freelance work a little bit so that I have more time for several projects of my own.

UPDATE: First Chapters Writing Competition

Just yesterday, I posted regarding a book competition for unpublish romance novel writers, Gather.com's First Chapters Writing Competition. Although a representative of Gather.com had asked me to post on the contest, my biggest point in the post is the need for writers to thoroughly research contests before submitting.

One problem I've seen before is contests taking all rights to all submissions, whether or not you are a winner. I think contests like those are simply attempts to get a whole bunch of copy for free.

The other thing I was concerned about with First Chapters is the requirement of posting your chapters online: online posting can be counted as first publication, ruining your chances of selling first rights to your work. The exception is if the work is posted in a membership-only forum -- that's considered pretty much the same thing as emailing your work to a select group of friends or a writers' group. Fortunately, in this case the contest submissions are open only to Gather.com members, so I decided the contest was "safe."

However, I have an update on the First Chapters Writing Competition. While reading Writer Beware this morning, I noticed a post regarding the contest. While Victoria Strauss found no problem with the rules of the First Chapters Writing Competition, she did note that there have been some problems lately with Simon & Schuster contracts. Since by submitting to the Gather.com contest you are promising to give Simon & Schuster first dibs on your book until you are eliminated, this could be a problem -- after all, if they know they have you between a rock and a hard place, how willing to negotiate will they be?

Please keep this information about Simon & Schuster in mind if you decide to submit to the First Chapters Writing Competition!


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