Thursday, April 24, 2008

It worked for Faulkner (or did it?)

In college, one of my favorite English professors used to advise us around term paper time not to follow William Faulkner's example — that is, writing while under the influence of alcohol.

I don't drink much, and when I was in college I never did so with the intention of doing homework afterward. So it wasn't until I met Michael, who is something of a wine connoisseur, that I discovered that alcohol and writing doesn't really work.

Whenever I'm planning on working more in the evening (which is more often than I'd like to admit), I opt not to join Michael in a glass of wine. At the very least it makes me sleepy, and more often it makes me just tipsy enough to make working difficult. (Yes, I'm a lightweight.)

I'm actually writing this while a little tipsy, and there's no way I could have written anything more involved than a blog post. I mean, it took me several minutes to think of the word involved...

And yes, I had my glass and a half of wine because I didn't plan on working anymore tonight.

As it turns out, though, my English professor may have been misinformed: According to several sources online, it seems that writing while under the influence didn't work for Faulkner, either. Too bad — it would make a better story (at least from the college student's perspective) if it did.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not enough posting

My apologies to everyone for not having posted to my blog much recently. My week started off on an interesting note, to say the least. Besides that particular experience, I've also been splitting my time between client work and enjoying the lovely spring weather.

I'll return to regular blogging next week. My birthday is Saturday, so understandably I'm going to try (emphasis on "try") to take a couple of days off for it.

Happy belated Earth Day

I can't believe I forgot to blog on Earth Day! I remembered when I saw this great reminder in Kovels Komments, a great free antiques and collectibles newsletter I subscribe to:

Collectors are living the "green" life every time they buy an antique. Using an old chair saves trees and energy, and avoids the toxic fumes that come from new furniture. For Earth Day, find a damaged cup, old shoe, wheelbarrow or chipped vase. Fill it with dirt and plants and put it in the garden.

Freelance writers have plenty of opportunities to be green, too. Here are a couple of quickie suggestions:

1) Reuse paper. Some writers like to proofread from a hard copy. If this is you, be sure to save old manuscripts and print on the blank side next time you need to proofread something.

2) Unplug everything when you shut down for the day. Modern electronics draw power even when they're turned off. Unplug them when you're done working, or plug everything into a power strip that you can simply shut off to stop the flow of power.

3) Use a PDF writer instead of printing online receipts out on paper. If you're a good little writer, you religiously maintain a file for expense receipts. Instead of printing out receipts for stuff you buy online, use a free PDF writer to make an electronic copy. Just be sure to back it up!

4) Plan errands in advance to minimize driving time and gas consumption. Since freelance writers work from home, we don't contribute to air pollution with a daily commute. However, we still have errands and other things to do. If we plan these in advance, we can get several days' or a week's worth in one trip, limiting the damage to the environment... and our wallets.

If you have any other easy tips for freelance writers who want to go green, please feel free to post them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Feeling refreshed

I'm sure you noticed that I've been posting sporadically lately. Part of that is because I've been quite busy launching and maintaining my new blogs and websites, but another big part is because I took some time off last week.

Michael had taken the entire week off, and although I had intended to continue to work, it didn't quite happen that way. Instead, we did things such as visiting a horse rescue and walking the dogs a lot. We didn't work in the yard or take a day trip to the mountains as we'd planned, but mostly just hung out instead.

It was really nice to do virtually no work for 9 days in a row. When I sat down to work on Monday, I noticed a very clear difference: I felt refreshed and eager to work, rather than the project-dread and desire to procrastinate that I had apparently become accustomed to.

I guess a vacation now and then is good for the soul. It's something to keep in mind, because I don't often take breaks from work — my laptop even goes with me on trips. From what I hear, I'm not the only writer who approaches work this way, so this is a good reminder: Give yourself a break every once in a while!

Plagiarism Plagues Potter

I saw this headline today on NPR: J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, is suing over a Potter encyclopedia that is supposed to come out later this year. She says the encyclopedia sounds too much like her own words and doesn't contribute anything new, making it more or less just a rehashing of her books.

The story makes a big deal of how much of a fan the author of the encyclopedia is, but I agree with J.K. Rowling's spokesman: Fan worship doesn't excuse copyright infringement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

GoFreelance.com's new scammy tactics

Thanks to one of my readers, I've discovered one of GoFreelance.com's new scammy tactics: Posting writers' resumes on their site, without the writers' permission and regardless of whether the writers are actually members.

The possible scams perpetuated by GoFreelance.com, a.k.a. Freelance Work Exchange, has been an ongoing topic on my blog. You can read the saga here:

1. The very first post about Freelance Work Exchange's possible scam
2. A rant about FWE's habit of spamming the job boards
3. An announcement about FWE changing their name to GoFreelance
4. An email from Rob Palmer about my blog posts
5. New information about a potential GoFreelance.com scam
6. Rob Palmer's failure to keep his word

Last night, I heard from a fellow writer with some new information: Apparently she Googled her name and discovered her resume on GoFreelance.com. She has attempted to contact them about having her resume removed, but has not yet been able to get anything done, so she emailed me for information about contacting Rob Palmer.

This is a dishonest and scammy thing to do in several ways. First, Rob Palmer is using people's resumes without permission, which is technically copyright infringement. Second, and probably more importantly, he is misleading potential employers by making them think that these writers are affiliated with GoFreelance.com.

I suggest that everyone Google their names and make sure their resumes aren't listed on GoFreelance.com or Freelance Work Exchange. Please spread the word, too, and make sure that other writers you know are aware of the situation!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Copyright ignorance

I recently ran into the most infuriating example of people's ignorance regarding copyright laws and fair use.

I belong to several Yahoo! groups for vintage dolls (doll collecting and doll repair being one of my hobbies). In one of them, someone was talking about posting scans of the pictures in a doll book, as reference for the other members. She asked if everyone else thought it was okay, since she wasn't reproducing the pages for profit, and another member gave her the go-ahead.

Maybe I care too much about copyright infringement, but it seems to me that most people on the Internet don't understand copyright law, so I felt it my duty to speak up. I explained that profit is not the only determining factor in determining copyright infringement, and summarized the rules of fair use. I then asked for more information on the book, and offered to research the current copyright status for them. I also advised that they not post the scans if they were available to the Internet at large, but make the information accessible only to members of the group (which has all of 7 people in it right now).

To my utter shock and dismay, the responses I received varied from sheer ignorance to outright hostility toward me for speaking up. The moderator wrote to me directly and asked me not to discuss copyright issues because it would deter other members from uploading "research materials" (read: potentially illegal reproductions).

The other members' reactions represent almost every facet of copyright ignorance found on the Internet:

MYTH #1: Only published works are copyrighted.

"We are not speaking of a published work here - we are dealing with COPIES of old catalog pages similar to a Sears catalog..."

MYTH #2: Copyrighted works have to make some kind of statement to the effect in order to be protected.

MYTH #3: That out-of-print works are no longer protected.

"No where [sic] in this bound copy of the catalogues is there anything stated about copywrite [sic] --only thing ever noted is that copies are available from the Mme Alexander Company---I understand the concerns, certainly, but since one can't readily purchase this out of print edition of the reprints, does it seem as if we are infringing on anyone, save perhaps Madame Alexander, who nowhere states, in this catalogue, that copies may not be reprinted?"

MYTH #4: You have to make a profit in order for it to be copyright infringement.

MYTH #5: The reproduction has to actually be printed (on paper) in order to be copyright infringement.

"I sincerely think that because we have no intention of printing or distributing or offering for sale anything from this publication... " (stating why she thought it wouldn't be copyright infringement)

MYTH #6: Copyright law doesn't apply to me/If I don't understand it, I'm not liable.

"There is the teeny tiny copyright symbol at the top left of the "A" of Alexander Doll Company, Inc. which simply means (to me) that the name is copyrighted."

Of course, all of these myths are just that — myths:

1) Catalogs CAN be protected by copyright (any intellectual work can — and is automatically, these days)

2) Works ARE protected whether or not they make a statement to that effect,

3) Out-of-print works DO retain their copyright protection for the entire term,

4 and 5) Reproductions do NOT have to be printed on paper or generate profit in order to be considered copyright infringement, and

6) Stupidity is NOT a defense.

Now remember that I was simply making the suggestion that they make sure that the scans aren't available to anyone but group members (which, as it turned out, they aren't). I even offered my own time and effort to research the book's copyright status, yet the group responded with thinly veiled hostility — the moderator even deleted my message and all related posts from the forum!

This has been an eye-opener to me. I've always preferred to think that much of the copyright infringement on the Web is due to a lack of education and understanding of copyright law, but maybe that is too generous. Because it certainly seems that I've run into 6 people who would prefer to look the other way.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Writerlance complaint update: Site is back up, multiple complaints

I blogged a few days ago about a complaint against Writerlance, and again today to report that my emails to Writerlance bounced. Within minutes of publishing the latter post, I discovered a couple of new things:

1) The Writerlance site is back up, and

2) I was wrong about there being only one complaint.

This thread on LiveJournal indicates that there are multiple complaints against Writerlance. However, it also indicates that the site was recently sold, and the new owner is claiming the problems are because of the old owner.

Is this true, or just an excuse? I don't know, but it does sound like at least one of the writers complaining eventually was paid.

Writerlance complaint update: Emails bounced

I blogged the other day about a complaint against Writerlance, a freelance bidding site that has evidently shut down without paying writers monies owed. I also mentioned that I had sent an email asking about the site being down to all three of the Writerlance email addresses I had.

The email bounced back from two out of the three email addresses I sent it too — both email addresses with Writerlance.com as the domain. According to the undeliverable message I got, it appears both email addresses were set up to forward emails to another account, which is no longer there — hence why the email bounced back, I suppose.

The third email address I had for Writerlance was a gmail address, which is where the new project notifications have been coming from recently. The email has not bounced back from that address.

As a reminder, I am not one of the writers having problems with Writerlance. I have not gotten work through that site in a long time. I was alerted to the complaints by a commenter on my blog, and did a little research on my own. For more information, please read my blog post about the complaint against Writerlance.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Writerlance complaint: Owes writers money, gone AWOL

In a comment on an older post, I received a comment from someone who had some disturbing news about Writerlance, a freelance bidding site: Evidently Writerlance owes writers money and isn't paying up. Even worse, the site is down and the owners have gone AWOL.

I've won bids through Writerlance a couple of times, so I know how it works. Clients have the option of paying their writers through the Writerlance system; once paid, the balance updates on the writer's account page. Writers have the option of withdrawing the money from their Writerlance account via PayPal or check.

I haven't bid on Writerlance much in the last year and a half or so, because the site has become home to ridiculously low-budget projects — and even more ridiculously, writers who will compete to see how low they can get their bids in order to write for these jerkoffs. I rarely even check the site anymore, so imagine my surprise when a reader told me Writerlance has gone AWOL, still owing writers money!

I did a little research, and so far all I can find is this Writerlance complaint. Evidently the writer was paid about $675 to her/his Writerlance account, and when s/he tried to get Writerlance to issue a check, all s/he got was the runaround. Finally, the writer threatened to contact the BBB, and her/his account was subsequently deleted from the system.

The same person appears to have posted his or her complain all over the Internet, so I'm not sure if there are really others who have had the same problem. I did find this complaint, but it may be just a less detailed version of the original complaint.

Note: If you know of other (different) Writerlance complaints, please leave links in the comments to this post.

Of course, the fact that the site is suddenly down is highly suspicious. The Writerlance WHOIS information indicates that they still own the site until January of 2009, so that isn't the problem. Unfortunately, Writerlance uses private registration, so there's no way to get direct contact information for them via WHOIS.

I sent an email to all of the Writerlance addresses I have to ask when the site was expected to be back up, but I haven't heard anything back yet. I'll post again if I hear anything further from or about Writerlance.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Whoops! Here it is... Estimated tax time!

I've been so wrapped up in thing lately that I didn't even notice it was getting to be time to do my estimated taxes for the year. Getting taken unawares is no fun, especially when I'll need to figure my estimate taxes and shell out a large sum of money all in the same two-week period.

If you are new to the freelance writing scene — or even if you're not — you should know that you need to pay quarterly tax payments. If you don't, and you owe more than $1,000 in taxes at the end of the year, you will owe a penalty in additon to the taxes.

Basically, you won't be penalized as long as:

1) You owe less than $1,000 at the end of the year, OR
2) You paid at least as much in quarterly payments as you paid last year (and the payments weren't late).

If you haven't paid estimated taxes before, the form you need is here: Form 1040-ES. (Not to be confused with the 1040 Schedule SE, the self employment tax form... Who named these???) Even though I paid my quarterly estimated taxes in both 2006 and 2007, I still like to use the worksheet, because it helps me to see the figures and do the math on paper.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Livre du Jour has a new home

I've moved my book of the day blog, Livre du Jour, to its own URL: www.livre-du-jour.com. The link in the sidebar has been updated too. Feel free to check it out!

This is the last of my existing blogs that I needed to move to its own URL. I also have one more new blog, which I will announce soon.

Dealing with Revisions

I think I've mentioned before that I get Steve Slaunwhite's For Copywriters Only newsletter. Today's issue has some really good advice about dealing with unhappy clients and revision requests.

Slaunwhite lays out a six-step approach to dealing with revision requests without losing your cool... or the client. The one I liked best was Step 3, "Ask for specifics."

Have you ever had a client tell you, "This just doesn't work for me," without telling you why? I had a real nightmare of a client once that was constantly saying that, but not explaining what it was that she didn't like.

Slaunwhite's newsletter tells you to ask the client questions so that you can find out exactly what "doesn't work." His suggestions were:

-- Are all the facts correct?
-- Am I missing anything?
-- Is there any extraneous information I should delete?
-- Are there any awkward passages or transitions?
-- Did I explain all the features and benefits clearly and persuasively?
-- Does the style, tone and vocabulary fit the target audience?

In retrospect, getting more specific information is exactly how I should have handled my nightmare client. Unfortunately, I don't think she even could have told me what the problem was. She hired me to revise a personal letter for her (something I will never do again), and essentially wanted me to sound just like her, even though she didn't like the way she sounded when she wrote the letter herself.

Because of my own experience, I would probably add a "Step 7" to Slaunwhite's list:

Step 7. Learn from your mistakes.

If you do steps 1 through 6, and your client is still unhappy, he or she may be chronically dissatisfied. Make a note of this character flaw, and learn to recognize the signs so that you can avoid it in future clients.

Despite my little bout of sarcasm, I do highly recommend For Copywriters Only. It comes twice a month, which is less often than some other newsletters for writers, and it is (of course) Slaunwhite's way of marketing his teleclasses. However, each newsletter usually contains some pretty valuable information or tips, which both newbies and experienced copywriters can use.


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