Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sign up for NaNoWriMo 2007!

Signups for NaNoWriMo 2007 start Monday, October 1st!

For those of you who don't know yet, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, all in one month: November. Unfortunately, you can't start on the novel until November 1st.

You can, however, outline, write character sketches, etc. Also, you can use an old project, just as long as you throw out -- and don't reference -- everything you'd written previously. The idea is to write 50,000 words (or more) in a single month, so no cheating!

I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2006. You can see all of last year's posts here. (Note: This link is different than it was, as I decided to differentiate in my labels between "NaNoWriMo 2006" and "NaNoWriMo 2007.")

I intend to participate in NaNo again this year. The only trick is that this year I have added obligations: Last year, I only had to maintain my regular freelance workload, but this year I also have the daily obligation of visiting and working with my horse. Since writing freelance and fiction monopolized my time last year, I'm not sure how it's going to work to throw another variable into the equation. However, I'm very excited about this year's novel, so I'm sure I'll make it work somehow!

Pictures of Panama

I just wrote a little post about my daily visits with Panama. Here are some pictures Michael took today. I'm going to have him start doing regular "photo shoots" with me and Panama, so stay tuned for more next weekend!

Daily distractions from writing: My stable schedule

My blog is beginning to me almost as much about my horse as about writing. I guess that's fair, though, since the same sort of shift has been going on in my life since Panama arrived in town.

I visit with Panama for at least an hour every day. Up until this past week, my visits always occurred mid-morning. This past week, I visited only in the evenings. However, I don't like that as much — not only is Panama kind of irritable around dinner time, but there is also more chaos, as the owner and the help feed the horses, muck out the stalls, etc. This week I intend to go back to visiting in the morning.

Anyway, my visits have fallen into something of a routine. Every visit, I do these things, though not always in this order:

1) Groom Panama. Currying and brushing Panama every day keeps him cleaner and prevents his mane and tail from tangling as badly. I'm also hoping it will eventually become a bonding thing...once I figure out how to stop tickling him with the curry, that is!

2) Pick up Panama's feet. This is an important part of my daily visits. Panama has trust issues with his feet, particularly his hind ones, thanks to the trailer accident that injured his ankles as a yearling. The daily attention to his feet is helping, though — he now lets me pick up his front feet with little or no protest, and has even let me pick up his back feet a few times (though that's a touchier issue).

3) Turn Panama out. Although the stables are supposed to be full care, the horses don't get turned out as frequently as I'd like. In other words, if I didn't turn Panama out for a little bit every day, weekends would be his only chance to get out of his stall.

4) Muck out Panama's stall. Again, although the stables are full care, this doesn't get done as often as I'd like — particularly since Panama is not letting me pick the manure out of his feet yet. Mucking out a stall is actually not as hard or as time consuming as you might think — though after a few more months of this, I should be in great shape!

5) Work with Panama on basic training and ground manners. I think I mentioned in a previous post that Panama is very impatient. I am working with him on this — making him follow my lead without crowding, standing still while being groomed, etc. — as well as doing some basic training. For example, I am starting to work with him on simple commands such as "walk," "halt," and "over." I've also gotten to tolerate a towel on his back — in fact, by the second day of working with him with the towel, he's comfortable enough with it that he doesn't spook even if I wave it in front of his face or shake it out over his back. He is one smart horse, that is for sure!

Although Panama is stubborn and can be fiery at times, the daily visits are paying off: He is starting to bond with me more deeply. In the last week, he has started nickering to me every day when I arrive. I can't even begin to tell you how satisfying that is!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Clients who expect you to read their minds

I have had a couple of problems lately with clients who don't tell me the full story of what they want, yet expect me to know it anyway.

Client #1 was someone who hired me to work on a personal letter. Aside from the obvious problems that arise when someone else is writing a letter that is supposed to personal, this client was continually unhappy with what I wrote, but gave me little or no direction as to why or what could be done to fix it. Usually, the client simply said, "This doesn't work for me."

As you can imagine, after going through both of the two revisions I include in my project rate, I was mighty sick of hearing "This doesn't work for me."

Client #2 has been an ongoing issue. They hired me many months ago to write some web copy for them. As they were a new client, I requested 50 percent of the project fee up front, and they agreed. I did everything right, yet they still have been a pain in my you-know-what.

First it was nonpayment. The project stalled at 80 percent completed, because they were supposedly waiting for keyword research they'd ordered in order to complete the remaining web page. I clearly stated that I was willing to wait a few weeks, but if it took longer than that I would need to be paid for the work completed so far. They completely ignored that email — no response whatsoever.

Some time passed, and with no word at all about the project, I emailed them again. And again. And again. Finally, I sent an email letting them know I expected payment for the work already done, and that if I did not receive it by a certain date (two weeks out, I believe it was), I would report them as nonpaying clients — and the first place I would contact would be the company they are affiliates of.

That finally received a response: I had an email from them within just a couple of days. They claimed they were "on holiday," and whined about why I had to be like that. They said they'd pay me when they got home, which was supposed to be in less than a week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't happen.

What is surprising is that a week or two later, they unexpectedly did pay me. I had been too busy to follow through on reporting them, so imagine my surprise when I received payment! It was in full, too — I had told them that, in light of the payment issues, if they wanted me to finish the project they would need to pay me for the remaining work in advance.

At last they sent me the keyword research and asked me to write the final page of copy. I did, as per what they had told me about what they wanted and the keywords they had given me. When I turned it in, however, they informed me that it was not what they wanted. I explained that there was no way to change the copy to what they wanted and still use the same keywords, as the two targeted entirely different markets.

This is when it gets really fun: They decided that they wanted to make the page a "double" page. Basically, they wanted to use the copy I'd already written and have me write what they'd originally wanted, and put it all on the same page so that they could get double the copy for the same price.

In hindsight, I could have refused. I could have stated that I had written the copy as per the information that they had given me at the time, and that giving me different information entailed a change in project scope. I could have charged them for the additional work, or refused to do it altogether. But I didn't. Instead, I told them I would write the additional work at no charge, but that any future work would need to be renegotiated.

Here's a big surprise: When I turned in the new copy, they didn't like it. They want me to rewrite it, but are only giving me vague directions on what it should include. They might be offering to pay me to fix it, but then again they might be demanding their money back — their English is so atrocious I can't tell. (The line says, "send me the pay for this page!" and in the context I can't decide whether they meant "payment" or "invoice.")

I decided to say NO. I really don't want to work with these people anymore, not even if they do pay me to fix the page. I had taken the job assuming — from their description — that it would be fairly quick and easy, and priced it accordingly. Months down the road, the job has entailed much more of chasing payment and waiting for the client than actual writing. A big fat NOT WORTH IT!!!

The moral of the story: Before providing a quote or accepting a gig, make sure you get complete details about what the client wants. Ask them to clarify anything that seems ambiguous, and don't take the job if they can't.

Furthermore, never assume a project for a new client is going to be "easy" — always build a "pain-in-my-a$$" fee into quotes for new clients. You can always adjust your quotes later if the work does turn out to be exceptionally easy.

Update: After receiving my email declining further work, Client #2 responded, calling me "moody and emotional." (Oh, is that what it's called when you "fire" a client who has been nothing but trouble?) With that in mind, I'd like to update the moral of the story to say: Never work with a client who patronizes you!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Halo 3

Halo 3 came out Tuesday, as you might know if you are the kind of person who follows video game news.

Personally, I'm not exactly sure how it is that my soul mate likes video games. Or, more specifically, how it is that I could come to be married to someone who would preorder a video game.

I'm not a video game player, and I never have been. We didn't even have a Nintendo when I was growing up, and although I can remember pleading for one a few times throughout my childhood, for the most part we didn't feel deprived. I spent most of my free time with my nose in a book, anyway.

Michael, on the other hand, is very much a fan of video games. And as a result, our house has been filled with the sounds of Halo 3 the last couple evenings.

On the bright side, although I don't much care for the sound (Michael likes it movie theater-loud), this has given me time to do things that I want or need to get done. For instance, I can put in some extra work hours without feeling guilty for ignoring Michael, or go up to the stables to visit Panama. This is actually a good thing, because the last couple of weeks I have found myself working at the speed of molasses, and the daily visits to the stables (which I will not give up) don't help at all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Harry Potter book auction on eBay

Remember how I blogged about the set of all 7 signed Harry Potter books that was going up for auction?

Well, here's the auction. It's already up to more than £6,000. Will it end up bringing in the £20,000 Books Abroad is hoping for?

I don't know about you, but I'll be watching this particular auction closely!

How to be the Anti-Blogger

Now this is a fun meme! The point is to give "evil blogging advice" guaranteed to make other bloggers hate you and avoid your blog like the plague. Thanks to Alicia for passing this on to me!

How to be the Anti-Blogger: An e-Course in 5 Steps

1) Be really offensive. Offend everyone you possibly can, from the entire range of the spectrum. Rail against pretty much every type of person under the sun. Market yourself as a misanthrope.

2) Blog about politics. Nothing pisses people off faster than politics. Be sure to keep #1 in mind while blogging, though. Don't just write about politics — piss all over everyone else's opinions and beliefs.

3) Humiliate your fellow bloggers. Make fun of them every chance you get. The worse you embarrass them, the better!

4) Complain ALL the time. Write 2000-word posts about each of your complaints. Five thousand words for more significant complaints. Then complain some more about how no one reads your blog.

5) Spam everyone else's blogs and email. Post your link in comments at least a dozen times on each blog. Email your fellow bloggers daily whenever you can harvest their email addresses.

If you follow these five simple steps, you will be sure that not only does no one want to read your blog, but also that they hate you with a passion!

I'm tagging: Deborah Ng, Kathy Kehrli, and Kristen King. I would apologize for double-tagging any of you, but...well, that would go against the "evil" spirit of this meme!

Monday, September 24, 2007

What do you do if your work is stolen?

The theft of intellectual property is a major concern for writers, particularly those who entrust their work to the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, many idiots out there believe -- or profess to believe -- that everything on the Internet is free, and steal other people's work at will. In other words, most writers have to deal with content thieves at some point in their career.

If your work is ever stolen, you do have options available to you. The first thing you need to do, however, is Google your name periodically. You can also Google unique phrases, in quotes, from work you have posted online (that you retain the copyrights to, of course). Although I have not tried it, supposedly you can set up a Google alert to automatically notify you when new pages are posted that meet your search criteria. As this would save you a lot of time, I recommend looking into this feature (and at some point, I will take my own advice and do so, too).

If your work is posted to a website without your permission, I recommend a no-holds-barred approach. Don't forget, this person STOLE from you, and deserves no lenience whatsoever. I don't care if they claim they thought it was okay. If you are going to have a website or an online business, you have a responsibility to know the laws associated with the work that appears online. No exceptions, and no excuses!

If you find your work has been stolen, these are the steps I recommend you take:

1) Get the website owner's full contact information. Whether or not this is listed on the website, I recommend doing a WHOIS search. The website registration information is legally required to be accurate, whereas the information on their site may be incomplete or false.

2) Screen print your work on their site. Save this information as proof of the theft.

3) Contact the website owner. Don't complain or sound uncertain. Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are using your work illegally, and that you have attached an invoice for the use of your work. Make this invoice professional and the fees fair.

4) If you're lucky, the thief will agree to pay up. If you're not, s/he may wheedle, beg, claim ignorance, or try any number of tactics to get out of paying you (or lower the amount). You don't have to negotiate with a thief! Simply tell her or him that these are your rates, and that they have already used the material (without permission!) so they have forgone the right to negotiate.

5) If they still won't pay, research their hosting company's terms and conditions. (You can also find out who their hosting company is using the WHOIS search.) Most likely it mandates that hosted websites must not be used for anything illegal. Once you verify this, write to the thief and tell her or him that copyright infringement is a violation of their hosting company's terms and conditions, and that if they do not pay your invoice you will notify their hosting company. Also tell the thief that you will contact WritersWeekly.com, Ripoffreport.com, their local police department, and anyone else you can think of. Tell them that if you don't receive payment by a deadline that you have set (a week or two, usually) that you will notify all of these parties.

6) Stick to the deadline. If you don't receive payment, follow through. While turning the thief in may not inspire her or him to pay you, at least you'll have the satisfaction of teaching one more deadbeat that stealing writers' work is NOT okay.

I've my work printed online without my permission once. I used the strategy I spelled out above, and although I never was paid, I did succeed in getting the offending web page removed. Moreover, I'm sure Joyce Svitak will think twice the next time she wants to use someone's work without their permission!

For more information and tips (and to see where I got my strategy), check out these links:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Writing conference schedule

If you have signed up for the Muse Online Writing Conference, don't forget that your event choices are due by Tuesday, September 25th. A couple of fellow writers have reminded me by asking what I'm signing up for.

Here is what is on my list at this moment:

How to Keep Your Book Alive and Selling for a Long, Long, Long, Long Time

Historical Fiction (and a long subtitle I'm not going to type)

Protecting Yourself and Your Work
Book Marketing for Shy and Frugal Authors
Funds for Writers

Improve Your Web Site Performance with Google Analytics
Going Beyond the Book Review: Getting Your Name — and Book — in the Media

Niche Writing for Pet Publications
The Shy Writer: Self-Promotion that Hurts Less

The Art and Science of Self-Publishing

Dialogue Workshop

Weeklong Workshops:
Becoming a Writer's Reader: How to Edit Your Own and Other People's Manuscripts
How to Write Your Author Biography and Compose Professional Press Releases
How to Publish a Novel Your Way

Obviously, this is an ambitious workload, and I may still have to cut few of these — particularly on Wednesday! I will probably take the week off of work — or at least work a light load — to help me fit all of this in.

What are you signed up for?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What constitutes plagiarism?

Occasionally I run across job ads where the client wants writers to simply reword existing articles. The idea is that they want to "borrow" these articles...without Copyscape or other copy-protect programs picking up their "loan."

Although some people — specifically, the clients that post these ads and the writers who answer them — don't consider this plagiarism or copyright infringement, I disagree. Even if you play musical chairs with the wording, the "new" article is still pretty much the same work, just wearing a dime-store disguise.

While researching an article for a client, I ran across a prime example: an article that was "borrowed" from two existing articles, both of which ranked on the first page of the search engine results. (In other words, the "writer" didn't spend very long "researching.")

Here are the two articles that were borrowed from:

Here is the plagiarism:

If you read through all three, you can see that the first article is copied sentence for sentence — if not word for word — in the third article. The second article is not copied quite so closely, but I think it is still arguably plagiarism, as all of the main points — and some similar sentences — are there.

I actually come across these things quite frequently in my research for this client — I guess his topics are popular ones. I have noticed that one of the hallmarks of these "borrowed" articles is poor English. Often, the words are replaced with synonyms that are close in meaning but not exact, and the sentences are rephrased so that they don't quite make sense anymore. Sometimes an extraneous "a" or other short word is inserted into a sentence — seemingly a typo, but I actually think it is either 1) intentionally placed to fool Copyscape, or 2) an indication of how poor the "writer's" English really is.

My opinion is that, no matter how you replace words or rephrase sentences, if you are copying an article point by point then it is plagiarism and copyright infringement. In fact, I would say that if you only have one or two sources, then you are in serious danger of plagiarizing, even if it is unintentional.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 21, 2007

An ebook library? Who would've thunk it?

Yesterday while doing some research, I discovered that my library has ebooks that you can "check out." Some of the ebooks are through their system, and you actually check the books out -- and while you have the book checked out, you are the only one who can view it.

They also offer some ebooks through NetLibrary. I had to call my library and have them set up an account for me, but once I'm in I can search the database and access any of their ebooks. There's no limit -- I just put the ebook in my favorites list and log in whenever I want to look at it.

Although I've known for a while that my library offered the ability to check out ebooks, yesterday was the first time I had actually tried it. After a short call to the library to set up my NetLibrary account, I was able to browse the ebook and find the information I needed. Basically, I did library-quality research without ever leaving my rocker.

Ebook lending libraries are a great resource for writers (or even students, for that matter). I highly recommend contacting your library and finding out if they have a similar service.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

.docx files: Why NOT to buy MS Word 2007

Apparently files saved in Microsoft Word 2007 have a different file extension — .docx — and cannot be opened by earlier versions of Word.

Several weeks ago, one of my clients sent me a file another of her writers had emailed her with; my client wanted to know if I could open it. My poor, confused Office 2000 thought the .docx file was an executable file, so I didn't open it.

I did research it, though, and discovered that the extension was the new format for Word documents. There are several sites online that will convert the file to a regular .doc file — for a fee, of course. Otherwise, you are SOL if you get one of these and don't have Word 2007.

One of my favorite things about Word up until now is that files from different versions are always compatible with whatever version you happen to have. (For me, it's Word 2000.) Imagine having to always have the same version as your clients — when each one of them could use a different version! I think Word's new document format is no doubt going to cause problems for many writers — particularly those who follow the rule of always upgrading to the newest software versions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Brontë collection

In a post earlier today, I mentioned that I dabble in book collecting, and linked to a rare Brontë first edition that I would love to have. That reminded me of a promise I made to a fellow writer and Brontë fan: that I would post pictures of several Brontë books that I have.

Here is a picture of my Brontë collection. The set of four red books and the set of twelve green books are the sets I'm posting about. Between them is an olive green book of Charlotte Brontë's poetry, which is not part of either set (but still quite pretty — too bad I forgot to take pictures of it, too!). The fat green book on the far left is a Victorian book of women's biographies called Daughters of Genius, which contains a chapter on one or more of the Brontë sisters. The skinny white book next to it I will explain below. (The red book on the far right is not a Brontë book, but a first edition copy of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.)

The red books are a set of Charlotte Brontë's four books: The Professor (which was her first book but remained unpublished until after she died), Jane Eyre (her first published book and her most popular), Shirley, and Villette. Although the set is not dated, I think it is probably from the 1880s or 1890s.

This set actually took me a little while to complete. I originally found only three of them — it took me about a year to track down a copy of Jane Eyre for this set.

This picture shows the covers and the beautiful deep green endpapers, which are very smooth and slightly shiny. The paper is very thick, which makes the books quite thick as well — particularly Shirley!

The other set, the little green books, are a complete set of the Brontë sisters' works. All of their books and a bunch of their poems are included, with Agnes Grey in the second volume of Wuthering Heights (much as they were published originally). They are very small books, quite literally "pocket-sized."

The set was a birthday present from Michael — albeit one I found and asked him to get me! We got it extremely cheap — around $100 — I think because everyone thought Agnes Grey was missing. (I did too — imagine my delight when I realized the set was complete after all!) I have seen books from the set listed singly for around $15 each — and that's in rather poor condition — so I know these are a rare treasure.

Each book has an elaborate letter B embossed on the cover.

Each book also has a lovely frontispiece with a tissue paper guard.

The date on the set is 1901 (MDCCCCI). They are in good shape for being 106 years old!

Each book also has a pretty (but rather fragile) red ribbon marker.

This book is a story that Charlotte wrote when she was 13. It was published in the 1960s. Although it wouldn't be collectible to anyone but a Brontë fanatic, I think it's pretty cool.

There you have it — my antiquarian Brontë collection!

How much is Harry Potter worth?

We know how much J.K. Rowling is worth. But how much is Harry Potter worth?

Because I am an amateur book collector, the following story caught my eye: "Signed Set of Harry Potter Books Due for Auction." As a donation for a book charity, J.K. Rowling has signed a special edition of each of the seven books, and they will be auctioned as a set on eBay on September 24th.

The charity is hoping to get about $40,000 for the set. For that amount, I could buy this: an extremely rare, first edition/first issue copy of my favorite Brontë book, Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Before I go off to ponder why a set of seven signed modern books are worth as much as a pristine 150-year-old treasure, I should mention that Rowling's donation was to raise money so that the charity, an organization called Books Abroad, can provide books for children overseas. Although I am still indignant on Anne Brontë's behalf, I have to admit that it is a very worthy cause.

Getting rid of bad clients

I've gotten a couple of emails lately from a fellow Rich McIver, asking me to share his article with my readers. The first time I didn't mind so much (although I never got around to reading the article, I'm afraid). This time it is beginning to feel like spam. However, I think the article is rather worthwhile, so I'm going to put my mild irritation aside and provide the link.

The article is "Top 10 Ways to Fire the Client from Hell." It sounds funny — probably because anything with "hell" in the title usually is supposed to be comedy — but it actually contains valuable tips for getting rid of bad clients.

I have personally dealt with almost every type of client on this list, as I'm sure many of you have. However, I've found that my biggest problems tend to be with the clients who are overly demanding — either of my time (i.e. wanting a full-time writer at part-time contractor prices) or of my work (i.e. wanting more work for the same — or less! — money). I have also used the "I'm too busy right now" excuse with clients who have been problematic in the past, and I assure you, it is beautiful empowering to actually exercise your right to pick and choose your clients!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Robert Jordan died Sunday

I just found out that Robert Jordan (a.k.a. James Rigney), author of the Wheel of Time fantasy series, died yesterday.

As I was taking a hot bath, Michael suddenly said from the office, "Robert Jordan died." He'd read the news on George R.R. Martin's blog. After my bath, I did a quick search and found an article on Yahoo! announcing his passing.

I also found Robert Jordan's official blog, which has a post that was written yesterday by his brother. Just two or three posts previous, Robert Jordan himself had posted to reassure fans he was still alive. That was nearly a month ago. Reading those posts after his death, almost a month after he had written them, was erie and saddening.

Just a month or two ago ago, an old friend had told me that Robert Jordan had been pretty sick for a while. I hadn't known, but then, I don't always follow that kind of thing. This friend -- my very first boyfriend, actually -- had introduced me to the Wheel of Time series in high school. I read The Eye of the World back then, but didn't care much for it. About three years later, though, I reread it -- and all five or six of the other books that were out at the time.

I haven't followed the more recent books, more's the pity. I don't think I've read past book six, actually. I've been meaning to, but just haven't made the time. Robert Jordan wasn't finished writing the series when he died, but I am going to have to catch up and read the rest anyway.

I can't say Robert Jordan was the biggest influence on me as a writer, or anything momentous like that. He was, however, a talented and prolific writer, not to mention one that I took for granted and assumed would always be there.

It's not you, it's me: Writers and rejection

Rejection is one of the topics that gets revisited frequently in writer's forums and blog threads. With that in mind, I found this NPR story, about some of the famous writers rejected by Alfred A. Knopf, very interesting. The radio spot mentions now-classic works such as George Orwell's Animal Farm ("impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.") and Jack Kerouac's On the Road ("a badly misdirected talent" and "huge, sprawling, and inconclusive novel"). Sylvia Plath and Anne Frank (submitted by relatives or friends, I'm guessing?) are also mentioned as being among Knopf's rejects.

(As a side note, something I found interesting about this little radio spot is that apparently, against all rules of English pronunciation, "Knopf" is not pronounced with a silent "k". In fact, none of the letters in this publisher's name are silent. Repeat after me: "Kin-op-ffffff.")

Stories like these are always encouraging to writers, because it helps us weather those rejection notices some of us receive by the dozens. Maybe we're not the next George Orwell or Jack Kerouac — but if these literary geniuses received such scathing rejection notices, maybe the form rejections we receive don't necessarily reflect on our writing abilities, after all.

A run-in with my horse

I had a run-in with Panama this weekend — quite literally, actually!

On Saturday, as I was leading him past a few of the other horses' runs and into one of the pastures, a particularly nasty-tempered mare tried to bite him. I assume it was her attempt to put the new young horse in his place, but it scared both me and Panama — she snapped her jaw shut so quickly, and right next to his face, that we could hear her teeth slam together! Panama was understandably impatient to get past her, but I stopped to scare her off from the fence by pushing her shoulders and yelling at her.

Thirty minutes or so later, Michael and I brought Panama back from the pasture. I was leading Panama past the mare when she leaned over the fence and started trying to nip at him again. I leaned across to scare her off again, but at that same moment, Panama decided he needed to get out of her reach. Unfortunately, I was in the way; as he swung his head around and lunged forward, his nose hit my cheekbone with the force of a battering ram.

I dimly remember feeling the impact, but I don't remember falling. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on my butt in the dirt, and Panama was leaning down to sniff me apologetically.

Luckily, Michael was there, so he was able to lead Panama back into the yard while I regained my equilibrium. I wondered if my face would turn black-and-blue from the impact, but other than a little stiffness and soreness, nothing interesting came of it.

Michael told me that it was too bad I didn't stay on my feet, because if I had he would have put me in the (boxing) ring.

I'm actually glad to have sustained my first (albeit minor) injury from working with my horse. Although the impact stunned me more than I'd like to admit, I at least know what to expect now. Oddly enough, I think this has made me worry less about getting injured around Panama, rather than more.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fight Night

Michael and one of our friends are playing video games on Michael's Xbox 360. (I'm working, of course.) In honor of their game, I decided to post a really cute "music video" of the game that I found on YouTube:

Here's a nifty word meter!

When I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, I loved the word meter that was provided. It was linked to my NaNo word count page, so it always showed what I was currently at. I put the word meter in the sidebar of my blogs, and set it up so that it linked to my NaNo progress report. (Knowing HTML is a bonus if you do a lot of blogging and other online writing.)

I had thought that it would be pretty cool if I could find a word meter to use on projects other than NaNoWriMo, but until just the other day I had not found one. A day or two ago, though, I ran across another writer's website (albeit one that was apparently abandoned). Her website had a Zokutou word meter on it.

The Zokutou word meter is pretty simple, but it does what you need it to do. There are eight different color choices and a handful of different meter styles. The meter uses a colored bar to show how close you are to your goal, and posts exact word counts underneath.

These guys have also written what they call the "Zokutou clause" to NaNoWriMo. This is for previous NaNo winners who no longer need to prove that they can write 50,000 words of fiction in a month. If you would much rather finish a prior NaNo novel than start a new one from scratch, Zokutou supports your goal -- and they even give you buttons to display on your blog or website, just like NaNoWriMo does!

The deadline for the online writers conference is TOMORROW!

Another writer pointed out that the application deadline for the Muse Online Writers Conference is tomorrow!!!

This is a free conference, folks, so don't hesitate -- sign up before its too late!

Hey freelancers: Third quarterly tax payment due Monday!

Be sure to read the comments for additional advice from a reader!

Yesterday, I received a comment on my post about the online writers conference from Kathy Kehrli of Screw You!. In it she mentioned paying her third quarterly tax payment -- which, ironically, I was doing at just that moment, too. However, the comment served as a reminder to blog about the estimated tax and quarterly tax payments.

If you are new to freelancing, you may not have any clue what I am talking about. Basically, as a full-time employee you pay your taxes to the government with every paycheck -- but as a freelancer, you are self-employed, so you have to take care of that yourself.

By April 15th of every year, you need to not only pay your taxes for the previous year, but also fill out a form estimating your taxes for the current year: the 1040-ES (not to be confused with the 1040-SE, which is for determining the self-employment tax -- stupid IRS). You don't have to mail in that form, but you do have to make your first quarterly estimated tax payment by April 15th. The remaining three are due by mid-June, mid-September, and mid-January, respectively.

If you haven't been doing this, don't freak out -- yet. For one thing, you only have to pay quarterly estimated tax payments if you will owe more than a grand in taxes at the end of the year. If you started freelancing late in the year, you may very well not owe that much in taxes for 2007. So while it will be a pain in the a$$ to come up with that much money all at once, at least you won't get penalized.

My advice is to download the form, estimate your income for the year based on what you've already made, and determine whether you will be over the $1,000 mark. If you are, or if you are close enough for concern, you should look into finding out how to start paying quarterly tax prepayments mid-year (as I have no idea).

Another option is available to those who have "real" jobs (or whose spouses do). You can determine how much you will owe, and have your employer take extra out of your check each month to help cover it. That way you don't have a big expense and a bunch of penalties, and you don't have to mess with making quarterly estimated tax payments (which can still be a big expense all at once).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Muse Online Writers Conference

Last month, a tip from Kristen King over at Inkthinker got me interested in a free online writers conference taking place the second week of October. I signed up, and just the other day I received the schedule of online chats and workshops.

I can't even begin to describe to you how fabulous all of the events sound. I am seriously considering completely taking the week off from work, so that I can attend everything that appeals to me. There are multiple lectures and workshops on Internet marketing for authors, and I am having a hard time choosing between them. There is also something on protecting yourself from copyright infringement, finding grants, and a how-to on using Google Analytics. There are also quite a few fiction workshops and lectures, although I am more interested in the marketing side of things right now.

These are just the workshops and lectures that I, personally, am interested in. There is much, much more to choose from -- quite literally, something for everyone. I seriously recommend checking out the Muse Online Writers Conference. It looks like it will be downright fabulous!

The beginnings of fall

Fall is my favorite season in Colorado. After the hot, dry summers, getting cool air and plenty of sunshine at the same time seems like heaven.

Today is my favorite kind of day. Having grown up in Colorado, I am heliotropic, which means that sunlight (or lack thereof) can affect my my mood. In other words, overcast days make me want to stay in bed all day, or at the very least curl up on the couch with a book and do nothing else all day.

Today, however, is nice and sunny, but still with that autumn bite in the air. I've turned the heat on in the house, but it's not cool enough yet that I can't open the windows at the same time. I even worked out on the porch a little today, until my toes got too cold that is.

Really, I couldn't have ordered up a more perfect day.

Do freelance writers need business cards?

Just the other day, a newbie writer asked me if I thought business cards were a necessity. I thought it was a good topic, and decided to blog on it.

Business cards are part of the way you "package" yourself as a professional. Your packaging is what differentiates you from other writers. It tells clients and publishers that writing is your career, rather than a hobby.

For a freelance writer who works mostly online, I don't think business cards are an absolute necessity. There are other methods of packaging that are more crucial for a professional online presences. For instance, I think a beginning Internet-based writer needs to focus primarily on these aspects:

* Website
* Resume
* Cover letter
* Queries
* Professionally formatted submissions
* All other email correspondence
* Invoices

You get the idea. Basically, anything your clients or potential publishers might see need to have a unique, professional appearance. For instance, until you get to the point in your relationship with a client that you both are sending one-liner emails back and forth, stick with a business letter-like layout for your emails. I for one drop the "Dear..." line quite quickly, but I always end my emails with a professional signature and a link to my site.

Back to the business cards, though.

Does all of this mean that business cards are completely unnecessary? No, of course not. Like anything else that establishes your professionalism, business cards can be quite useful. You can keep a few on hand in case you meet a potential client in your daily travels. You can paperclip a couple to your snail mail submissions. You can include a few with snail mail invoices, too. (You should always give them out in twos or more, so that your clients or potential clients have one to give away if they decide to recommend you.) Business cards are great, because they are a hardcopy symbol of your professionalism that can be filed away and referred to again at a later date.

With more and more of the writing industry taking place online, there is less purpose than there used to be for little niceties such as business cards. So, no, they aren't really necessary -- and I actually would argue that a professional website has replaced business cards in many ways. However, business cards still have their purposes -- not to mention they can be a lot of fun. I still get a shiver of delight every time I look at mine!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How having a horse is changing my life

Being a "real" horse owner is quickly changing my life.

Although we rescued Panama in June of 2006, it was not until last Thursday that I felt I became a "real" horse owner. Although I love working with Panama, I am also finding that owning a horse carries with it certain necessary compromises.

These are the changes I am experiencing so far:

1) I have less time for writing. This was inevitable. I am trying to settle into a schedule, but still, visiting and working with Panama takes up a lot of time. This means that...

2) I am working more in the evenings. After my Big Project ended, I was supposed to have to work overtime anymore. Unfortunately, I wasn't taking into account the amount of time I would be spending on Panama once he arrived. I'm having to work a lot of evenings in order to make up for the work time I missed out on during the day. However, the real surprise is that...

3) I don't care about #1 and #2. Obviously, I still need to dedicate a certain amount of time to work, at least if I am going to continue to be able to afford my horse. I'd also like to be able to minimize the amount of catch-up I have to do when Michael is home. However, I am so happy about Panama being here that I am glad to make these sacrifices in order to spend time with him.

4) I am more active. I think one of the biggest challenges work-at-home writers face is how to get enough exercise. At least, for me that is true: Sometimes I sit at my desk for hours at a time without getting up. It's not good for me, of course, but it's a difficult habit to break when the only reason you have for getting up is going into the kitchen to get food. Which brings me to #5...

5) I eat less. It seems to me that when I am home, working twenty feet away from the fridge, I eat more frequently. Sometimes I seem to get hungry faster; other times I think I just need the excuse to get up and move around, and doing laundry doesn't do anything to relieve restlessness.

6) I feel more fulfilled. I love my work, I really do. But there is something so fulfilling about spending an hour at the stables every morning -- something my work can't give me. I think what it comes down to is that being busy doing lots of different things is very satisfying, while being busy doing the same thing all day long very quickly becomes tedious. Working with Panama gets me moving and changes up my day a little bit, and that seems to make all the difference.

Associated Content and my performance bonus -- I give up!

My regular readers are no doubt well aware of my beef with Associated Content. At first I couldn't get them to pay me my performance bonus, and then when they did it was short, and I had to fight with them to get the balance. The last time I posted, they had suddenly gone against everything they had told me so far, and claimed that they would only make payments once a month, even when they had skipped over someone's payment.

Seriously, how do you think your credit card company would like it if you said, "Oh, I only pay bills once a month. I guess I missed yours this time, so you'll have to wait until next month." That's pretty much what Associated Content told me. After they had already promised numerous times to fix the problem ASAP.

Now it's time to put an ending on this little story -- and it's anything but satisfying. On Monday, I received the following email from Mike Street at Associated Content (emphasis added):

Thank you for contacting us about your missing Performance Bonus payment. We will be sending it on Wednesday. We’d like to fully explain why the payment was not originally sent.

In order to remain eligible for the Performance Bonus program, you have to log in to your account once every 90 days. When you logged in on 6/5/07, it was the first time you had logged in since 2/27/06. You were actually not eligible to receive the February, March, April or May payments. We excluded you from the May payment, but you were accidentally paid for February, March and April. In light of this, we have decided to honor the May payment, too.

We appreciate your assistance in helping us identify this problem.

Just to reinforce my statement that Associated Content is ridiculously disorganized, I received yet another email from them 15 minutes later (emphasis is theirs):


Thank you for contacting us about your missing Performance Bonus payment. We will be sending it on Wednesday. We’d like to fully explain why the payment was not originally sent.

In order to remain eligible for the Performance Bonus program, you have to log in to your account once every 90 days. When you logged in on 6/5/07, it was the first time you had logged in since. The date is 4/27/2006, not feb 27. You were actually not eligible to receive the February, March, April or May payments. We excluded you from the May payment, but you were accidentally paid for February, March and April. In light of this, we have decided to honor the May payment, too.

We appreciate your assistance in helping us identify this problem. We are paying all the CP’s that might have been affected by this on the Sept. 12th payment date.

Interesting that this is the first time I have heard this in three months of dealing with this problem.

Actually, I did see in the performance bonus terms that you have to log in once every 90 days in order to remain eligible. However, I don't count how much time passes between logins! I assumed that since the amount was showing up on my account page, that meant I had logged in recently enough to be eligible for it.

Moreover, I was completely honest with them about not having logged in recently. The following is quoted from my initial to them regarding my performance bonus payment:

I logged onto my account today for the first time in a long time, and noticed that I have a little more than $15 in bonuses. I see from the contract that payments are made monthly, but I have no idea when that is! Also, are newly submitted articles only paid for once a month now, too?

Thanks for your time!

Katharine S. Leppert

Nothing was said to me about my comment about logging in "for the first time in a long time." In fact, here is the email I received in response:

Hello Katharine,

Thanks for contacting us, and welcome back!

Payments for the performance bonus are made once a month, on the second Wednesday of every month. So, you should be receiving payment tomorrow.

We still pay initial payments every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

As you can see, they did not say anything to indicate that I was not eligible to receive my performance bonus. In fact, they said I would be paid the very next day. (Obviously, though, I wasn't, or this whole ordeal never would have happened.)

Fast forward to today. Amazingly, I did get paid when Mike Street said I would. Amusingly, though, it was wrong. If you'll remember from the email exchange I had with Mike Street weeks ago, I was missing a $4.16 payment that they're records said they had made. Today, I received two payments: one of $3.79, and one of $4.67. Since the latter payment is for last month, I can only assume that they once again shorted my payment, this time by 37 cents ($4.16 minus $3.79).

But you know what? I give up. If Associated Content can't get it right after three months of emails, they never will. My advice to Associated Content writers is to keep tabs on your payments -- how much they are supposed to be, and how much you actually get -- and call them on any discrepancies. Even if you don't get anywhere with them, hopefully the barrage of emails from disgruntled writers will encourage them to do a better job of organizing and processing payments.

Where I work

Yesterday, Deb of Freelance Writing Jobs posted about where she works. I liked her post and her pictures, so I decided to do a similar post.

I actually work in a few different places. The place that is set aside for my work is, of course, my office. Here's a picture I took a little while back. The desk is actually a little messier right now...

I like to work sitting at my leather-top desk (which I believe is from the 1930s, perhaps earlier) with the blinds open to let in some natural light. As you can see, I also have a couple of antique or vintage bookcases. The mirror above the big bookcase is a fabulous art nouveau piece.

Not too long ago, I bought a new desk chair. Although it probably doesn't look that comfortable to most people, I love it -- I'm working at my desk much more often now than before I got it.

On the other side of the desk, I also have an overstuffed vintage rocker, possibly from the 1940s or so. I often like to sit in the rocker with my laptop and a lap desk on my lap. My antique floor lamp casts a nice glow over me as I work, thanks to that beautiful lemon-yellow glass shade (which I pray I never break).

That's it for my office. However, I like to move around a lot as I work throughout the day. One of my favorite alternate workspaces is our large front porch, which is in shade until early afternoon.

My black cat, Cleo, likes to hang out with me on the porch as I work.

Another place I sometimes work is in the kitchen. However, I haven't worked here as much since I switched to an earlier schedule. When I was getting up every day around late morning (and sometimes early afternoon), I liked to go through email and search for jobs while I ate breakfast. Now that Michael and I go for walks every morning, I have started taking dedicated breaks for meals, so I rarely work in the kitchen any more.

(A note about those flowers -- Michael had them sent to me a couple of months ago. That was the first -- and so far, only -- time he has bought me flowers in the two years we have been together. So of course I took a picture!)

There you have it -- all the various places I work. I love hearing about where other writers work, so please feel free to either comment here or join the discussion over at Deb's blog!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Panama's progress

Panama is doing well in his new home. He's still a little jittery, but he is not panicked, so I have started working with him a little bit.

Over the weekend, I took Panama out of his stall and walked him around a little. This picture was taken on Saturday in the round pen (which is evidently never used, judging by the height of the weeds in there).

Yesterday I took Panama into the arena and set him loose. After giving him a chance to get used to his new surroundings, I worked with him a little bit using a mixture of ground training techniques. By combining training suggestions from Meredith Manor and Monty Roberts, I started teaching Panama not only to focus his attention on me and respect my presence a little more, but also to follow me around in the arena. All in all, it was a good start.

I was a little worried about how I was going to get his halter on him by myself, as so far I have needed treats and an extra pair of hands every time. This morning was my first time doing it all by myself. I had an inspiration, though: Instead of holding the halter with one hand and the treat with the other, or trying to draw the halter over his nose before he could pull away, I stood quietly with the halter held out in both hands and my head down, using much the same body language as I had used in the arena the previous day. Panama took a long time sniffing the halter, and after a couple of moments I drew it up over his nose -- and he didn't try to pull away at all. It was a huge success for both of us: me because I am learning how to communicate with him better, and Panama because he is learning to accept certain expectations of domestic horses.

Laray Carr (LCP) and Quincy Carr looking more like a scam...

I just ran across something that seems to indicate an even greater likelihood of Laray Carr (LCP) being a scam. Apparently, Quincy Carr is a proven scammer.

This also explains the company's connection to the address. In my last post about Laray Carr, I mentioned the confusing contact information writers had been given. A company address turned out to be a rental that was neither owner nor rented by anyone in association with the company. No one could figure out what the company's connection was with this address, and it was making everyone suspicious.

As it turns out, it's even worse than we suspected. Thelma Smith, the little old lady who rents the house, is apparently Quincy Carr's grandmother. Her name is listed in connection with another scam run by Quincy Carr.

I wonder what Hope Hunt's relationship is with Quincy Carr and Thelma Smith? Is she actually getting paid for her work with LCP, and is she knowingly helping with a scam? I guess we may never know the answers to those questions. However, it is looking more and more unlikely that any of those writers who worked with Laray Carr will ever get paid.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Laray Carr, a.k.a. LCP, and Hope Hunt

I have been active in threads on other blogs about Laray Carr (a.k.a. LCP) and Hope Hunt, but I have not added to my own blog about this potential scam. After reading the newest comments today, I decided to go ahead and post a warning on my own blog.

First of all, here are the other threads:

* Comments on Deb's Freelance Writing Jobs

* More comments on Deb's Freelance Writing Jobs

* A post and comments on Deb's Freelance Writing Jobs

* A post and comments on Writer Beware

* A post and comments on A Musing Scribe

Here are the details:

* LCP is launching 30-some magazines at once. According to those who have worked in the publishing business, this is not just impossible, but laughably so.

* A couple of weeks ago, Laray Carr was running ads asking for lots of articles on short notice. The deadline was something like the end of August, to my memory, and launch/payment was to be in mid-September.

* Although I haven't seen the ads myself, apparently LCP was advertising $50 for 500 words. However, many writers have reported being offered a different rate when they applied. Reports vary from $50 for 1,000 words, $50 for 1,500 words, and $50 for 2,000 words.

* Fifty bucks for 500 words isn't bad. Fifty bucks for 1,500 or 2,000 words sucks. To make it even worse, LCP reportedly was asking for fact sheets and contact information for experts, as well. That's an awful lot of work for gas money!

* From what I understand, the contract takes all rights until the articles were published. Thirty days after publication, resale rights reverted to the writer. However, the way it was described to me, it sounds like LCP can basically hold the articles forever and never pay the writers.

* Aside from the blatant unfairness of the contract terms, the contract did not state the company name or contact information. Writers who complained or asked for that information to be included were subsequently removed (or threatened with removal) from the company's list of writers.

* Laray Carr had no company website until very recently -- it was created a week ago, in fact, just about the time people started raising suspicions. There is nothing there, though, supposedly because they haven't paid the designers, so the designers haven't released the work.

* The fax number given to the writers is registered to a steam-cleaning company. Hope Hunt recently admitted in comments on Writer Beware that they're using her husband's business's fax number.

* Laray Carr is supposedly owned by a multi-millionaire ex-football player, but Hope Hunt and others won't say who the owner is.

* No one can find information on Laray Carr, even though companies are legally required to file their articles of incorporation, which would then become public record.

* LCP is apparently threatening writers and website/forum owners with legal action for voicing their concerns (or publishing writers' concerns).

Here are the issues.

Needless to say, writers who have signed on with Laray Carr are worried about the possibility of this turning out to be a scam. Here are my concerns:

* The records for tracing them are confusing, and maybe even dead ends. People are getting different addresses for everything: WHOIS records, the steam cleaning company, etc. Someone paid Intellius for a reverse address check, and the address they were given has someone else's name on it -- it's a residence. All of this means it'll be difficult to track these guys down if they don't pay as promised.

* They demanded lots of work all at once, before anyone actually got paid. Many scams will demand lots of work in a short period of time, so that by the time you find out you're not getting paid, you've already been drained dry. This sounds an awful lot like the same stunt to me.

* The way the contract is written, they can retain all rights to the work until they publish, yet publish the work elsewhere without telling (or paying). The way the contract is written is quite sneaky. From what I understand, if the magazine deal doesn't happen, Laray Carr still gets all rights until they've had a chance to publish the work -- and the writer doesn't get paid until it's published. Even if they're legit, they can simply hold the work hostage forever without paying the writer. If they're not legit, they can claim the magazine deal didn't work out, and then quietly publish the work elsewhere; if the writer doesn't know, and s/he is honest, s/he will be prohibited from reselling the work to anyone else (which would provide competition for LCP's content).

* They are using legal threats to try to prevent writers from speaking out. This is another thing you often see from scammers: They make empty legal threats to try to frighten writers from telling others about their experiences. When Micah started asking questions and voicing her concerns, Hope showed up on the thread and accused her of spreading lies. It seemed to me she was strongly hinting that what Micah was doing was wrong -- even though all Micah was doing was asking other writers for information and advice! Shortly afterward, I heard that LCP was threatening writers with legal action for speaking out.

Here is the problem with that. As long as the writers are either 1) stating the facts, or 2) clearly stating their opinion, they are entitled to speak (or write) freely. Despite what any company may tell you, as long as you stick to the facts and/or state your opinions clearly as such, you are not committing libel. Don't let LCP or anyone else scare you into thinking otherwise!

Conclusion and recommendations:

There has been a lot of debate over whether it can actually be said yet that LCP is scamming writers. As far as I'm concerned, as of this moment they are not proven scammers -- but I will not be surprised at all if it turns out they are. Some of Laray Carr's policies and practices make me suspect a scam, such as their refusal to put company information on the contract, their push for as many articles as possible in a short period of time, and the general lack of information about the company.

Even if Laray Carr is not a scam, though, in my opinion they are a bad deal for writers, and someone you should stay away from. I would never accept a client who advertises one rate, and then offers another. Likewise, you should never work with someone who keeps demanding more work without increasing your pay as well. But most importantly, never work with anyone who refuses to give you contact information -- you should always have a way (other than email) to contact your clients, just in case!

Please click here for an update with new information on Laray Carr, LCP, and Quincy Carr.

Panama's new home

Panama arrived yesterday at about 3:30pm. Despite his rough time loading up the night before, he unloaded pretty easily. He didn't want to step on the ramp, so he balked in the doorway of the trailer, and the driver had to pull on him pretty hard in order to get him to walk down it. However, once he was down he was as gentle as a lamb (which is good, because I think the stable owner was starting to think I had a crazy-aggressive horse).

All in all, everything went pretty well. The only major setback was that Panama had never been inside a stable before, so he refused to go in the normal way; the stable owner had to lead him in through the gate on his run. After the owner left me and Panama alone, I was able to get him inside the stall using a little coaxing -- and a lot of carrots.

Panama's wound does look pretty nasty. You can probably see it in the picture above; I'll post a picture of the other side below, too. Because he was wrapped up in the fence, the cut spirals all the way around his leg.

On top of it all, he now has an incision on his nose, too -- he went through a fence the other night when the in-laws were trying to load him up, in an attempt to return to the pasture. I don't think you can quite see it in this picture, but it's under the nose strap of his halter.

I spent several hours total at the stables yesterday. I was there for about an hour after Panama arrived; after picking up Michael from work (we're down to one car right now) and eating dinner, both Michael and I went back and stayed for another hour or two. I brushed him, and the poor thing was so tired from his long trailer ride that he just stood there in a stupor afterward -- I had to lead him by his halter to get him to move again.

This morning after taking Michael to work, I went back and visited with Panama. He whinnied as I was walking up, and seemed quite pleased to see me (he was out in the run, so I called to him). I brushed him again, although this time he was a little edgy -- the birds that hang out in the rafters make him nervous, as he is not used to that at all.

I went to the stables a total of two times this morning, with a few errands (buying horse treats, antiseptic spray, and a toolbox to keep his brushes and stuff in) in between. Later this evening, Michael and I are going to go up there together to wash and treat the cuts on his leg and nose. With Panama being a little nervous still, I want someone's help the first time I do this!

I didn't really get anything done yesterday, and so far half the day has gone without me accomplishing anything. I think it is probably going to take a week or so to settle into a routine; it'll be especially difficult until Panama's wounds heal, as they need attention twice a day right now. Once that is no longer the case, my plan is to go to the stable first thing every morning, in order to minimize the interruption to my day.

What makes me sad -- and what I am determined not to be like -- is how seldom some of the horses' owners come. The horse in the stall next to Panama has his lead rope and halter on a wooden shelf, and there are cobwebs all over it -- that is how infrequently his owners come to visit! There are several saddles in the shed, and all of them are coated with several millimeters of undisturbed dust.

I can't imagine not wanting to spend time with Panama, and I hope I never get to the point where I just don't care about my horse anymore.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Panama is en route!

Good news! Panama was picked up at the in-laws' place late last night. He should be arriving at his new home this evening.

Getting Panama into the van was apparently pretty rough. We got a call from my mother-in-law late last night -- after one o'clock our time -- saying that they hadn't been able to get him to load up. He kept rearing up and running away, trying to get back into the pasture. He must have known he was leaving the best home he'd ever known -- poor thing.

My long-time readers (or those of you who have followed Panama's story with interest) may remember Panama's first experience with a trailer. After getting injured on his first-ever trailer ride, and then losing his mom as a result of her injuries, it's no wonder he balked at getting into the van.

It probably also didn't help that Panama is not getting much daily attention -- and no training (which is why, of course, I am bringing him out here to be closer to me). He's pretty much just a wild horse right now.

At any rate, Panama will be arriving this evening. I am very excited, although I am a little worried about a repeat of last night's scenario when we go to unload him -- except that this time, he won't know of a safe place to run to. I am hoping that me being there will help -- he responds rather well to me.

I am very much looking forward to having Panama here. He will need some additional care at first, as his still-healing wound requires twice-daily hydrotherapy. (Fancy word for "washing it out.") I also am thinking I will visit once a day, or at least once every other day, to work with him and let him have some time in the pasture. It will cut into my work time quite a bit, I'm afraid, but should also make for an enjoyable daily diversion.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Associated Content doesn't keep their promises!

As my regular readers will already know, I have had an ongoing problem with Associated Content regarding my performance bonus. For a couple of months I didn't get paid for it at all (even though I was supposed to be paid), and then when they did pay me they messed up the amount! You can read about the non-payment problems here and here.

Another post provides an update: Two weeks ago yesterday, Mike Street told me that they had verified that they did, in fact, owe me money (duh), and that they would fix it soon. Two weeks later, I have still received no payment, and I am still getting the runaround.

Below is our entire email correspondence over the last two weeks. I have bolded the parts that reflect Associated Content's failure to follow through.

From: Mike Street
Sent: Tuesday, August 21, 2007 9:32 AM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Just wanted to update you and let you know that we have pin pointed the error in the system and are working to fully correct it. Thank you for alert us of this and will hope to have this problem resolved asap and any additional funds will be sent to you via paypal once the errors are corrected.

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Tuesday, August 21, 2007 9:36 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate the update!

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Tuesday, August 28, 2007 10:20 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

I have not heard anything more since your email a week ago, nor have I received payment. Can you give me an update or let me know when I should expect to receive payment?

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Mike Street
Sent: Tuesday, August 28, 2007 10:26 AM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Last I heard they are still working on it but it should be taken care of this week.

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Tuesday, August 28, 2007 10:29 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Terrific. Thanks for the quick response!

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 6:00 PM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

It's been another week and I still haven't heard anything. Can you please let me know where we stand on this payment? I would like this to be resolved before bonuses are paid out in a week, to avoid any additional confusion regarding my account.

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Mike Street
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 9:35 AM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

OK so they will send your owed payment on the 12 when we send out the next round of performance bonus payments.

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 9:45 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Is there a way to get the payment made before that pay date?

I am concerned that if the payment is made on the same day as the regular payments, the person making the payment may deduct it from my unpaid performance bonus balance (the amount shown on my CP account page), which it should not be. (i.e. It was already deducted last month, it just wasn't actually paid.)

Please let me know.

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Mike Street
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 9:47 AM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

No, we can not pay you that amount before hand. But the payment person is well aware of the situation and will make sure you receive the correct amount.

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 9:52 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Why can't you pay me beforehand? This has been an ongoing problem for quite some time now. Two weeks ago you said I'd be paid soon, and last week you said it would be by the end of the week. Why could you have paid me beforehand last week, but not this week? Or have you just been putting me off?

Katharine S. Leppert

From: Mike Street
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 9:53 AM
To: Katharine Swan Leppert
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Payments related to performance bonus are only paid out on the second Wednesday of each month.

From: Katharine Swan Leppert
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 10:00 AM
To: Mike Street
Subject: RE: Your Performance Bonus

Even if you make a mistake?

It is not my fault that on the Wednesday of LAST month, your staff made a mistake and did not pay me the full amount. Furthermore, you have been telling me for two weeks that I would receive the missed payment soon.

I will be posting our emails in full on my blog. The online writing community has a right to know that AC does not follow through with what they say they will do.

Katharine S. Leppert

I have not received any response to my last email.

As you can see, Mike Street has been telling me for two weeks that Associated Content would make my missed performance bonus payment soon: In the first email, it was "asap" [sic], and in the second email it was "this week." Today, though -- with the scheduled performance bonus payments due to be paid next Wednesday -- he suddenly changed his tune. Suddenly, they "can not [sic] pay that amount before hand," and performance bonus payments "are only paid out on the second Wednesday of each month."

It seems to me that all of the emails claiming they would get to it "asap" or "this week" were merely to put me off until the scheduled pay date. Why they think that they should only have to correct their mistakes on payday, too, is beyond me. That would be like your full-time employer saying, "Well, we screwed up your check, but payday is only once a month, so you'll have to wait for the next one." That would never fly at a full-time job, so why should it be an acceptable way to treat contractors?

Besides that, I still have some doubts as to whether I'll actually get paid on payday (which is next Wednesday). After all, I had to harass them for two months before I even got a partial payment! We'll see if I actually get paid on the 12th, but I won't be surprised if I don't.

In my opinion, Associated Content is showing quite clearly that they don't keep their promises. This is the same runaround that I was getting during the two months when they weren't paying me my performance bonus at all. Ulimately, by the end of this -- assuming I get paid next week, that is -- I will have had to harass them for more than three months... Just to get a measely twenty bucks!

Associated Content's low pay is insulting enough to professional writers. Just the thought of someone thinking $3 and $4 is appropriate pay for a 500-word article makes me mad. But to add insult to injury, then they don't even make payments on time -- and when they finally do, they're wrong? I can't help but wonder -- what would have happened had I not called them on their non-payment? Would they have just never paid me? And think of all the money they would save (aside from the fact that they are already paying sweatshop rates) if they simply didn't pay every writer who failed to demand it!


In my posts about my working Labor Day and my unsuccessful attempts at a vacation, I mentioned my Big Project. I think I mentioned this a little while back, but I had a big project that I accepted over the summer. I had done the same project last year, and found it way more tedious and exhausting than the pay justified. By the time they asked me in March to do the project again this year, though, I had completely forgotten how miserable I was last summer, and I accepted.

This project has been a thorn in my side since June. The paychecks have been hefty, but still not enough when you consider the amount of work I have put into earning them. I figure if I would have focused solely on this project, it would have been a month's work of work, easily -- but the client wanted it in two weeks, initially. Ha! And even if they had been reasonable and given me a month, I can't just go and ditch the rest of my clients for an entire month!

Ultimately, the project took three months to complete (while maintaining my other clients), and that was with a lot of weekends and evenings worked. I've been looking forward to having it done for a long time now, but since I didn't finish Thursday (my self-imposed deadline, but one I shared with the client), I felt I needed to continue working over the weekend. Then, to make matters worse, the client contacted me around midday on Monday with revisions he wanted the same day.

By the time yesterday rolled around, I was so burned out that I took all day to do something that should have taken only two to three hours. As a result, I was depressed and lethargic for most of the evening. Michael suggested we celebrate, but I couldn't even bring myself to do that -- somehow, I just couldn't shake the feeling of the project looming over me. After all, that's where it's been for the past three months!

Realistically, I should have at least a few days off now that it's over, to allow myself to recover before I launch myself back into other client projects. However, it doesn't seem like that will happen, as I still have plenty of work to keep me busy -- probably for several weeks.

Vacation? What vacation?

Do any of you find that it is virtually impossible to take vacation time? The busier I have gotten in my job, the more difficult it seems to have become to take time off. Most of my clients are totally understanding when I say I need a break, but unfortunately all it takes is one demanding client to ruin a vacation.

Sometimes I think the only time I actually get my scheduled time off is when I go somewhere and make myself physically unavailable. Taking a vacation on my couch just doesn't work, because certain clients seem to think that I'm home, so I might as well be working!

I had grand plans to turn my Labor Day weekend into a vacation. Michael took Friday off of work, so my goal was to finish my Big Project by Thursday evening. I was also going to take yesterday and today off. Unfortunately, none of that worked out.

At least I had today off... Or so I thought. Then it occurred to me that my horse may be arriving Thursday evening or Friday morning, which means I'm not going to want to work on Friday. So instead, I think I'll be working today and tomorrow, and taking Friday off.

It's still a day off, and the nice thing is that it will be attached to a weekend. However, there are two problems with this plan:

1) Work almost always has a habit of spilling over onto a day off.

2) It won't be the day of lounging around and reading, which is really what I've been dreaming of.

However, I already know that if I take today off, I'll end up not wanting to work after my horse arrives, and probably having to work yet another weekend to make up for it. I want this weekend to be completely work-free, so I think I'm just going to have to suck it up and work today after all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day: So much for a day off!!!

One of my regular clients is based in Taiwan, and so has different holidays than we do in the United States. Last week, I remembered to write to tell my contact there that I'd be off today for Labor Day. She asked about the holiday, so I looked it up -- for most of my life, it's been a day off of school or work, and that's it.

It turns out that Labor Day was started in the late nineteenth century by the unions. It was supposed to be a day off for working class folk, who in those days often had to work six days a week, twelve hours a day (or more!). Even children were subjected to this. Labor Day was started as a reprieve for these workers.

The irony is that Labor Day is now primarily a professional holiday. The only people I know who observe it are professionals -- business people and teachers, to name a few. (Students get Labor Day off because their teachers are professionals, though to them it's simple because it's a end-of-summer holiday.) Although factory workers may still get this holiday, the biggest group of low-income workers -- retail workers -- still have to work on Labor Day.

The masterminds behind the holiday are probably rolling in their graves right now.

My Labor Day wasn't the day off I had intended, either. I've been working to finish up my Big Project, and although I thought I would be done by the end of last week, I ended up working off and on throughout my holiday weekend. I should be able to finish tomorrow, after which I am taking the rest of Tuesday and all of Wednesday off, but I'm still disappointed about the weekend.

Wish me luck finishing my project in the morning. The sooner I get it done, the sooner I get to start my own holiday!


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