Monday, September 29, 2008

Writerlance update

Quite a while back, I blogged on a complaint about Writerlance. Writers were having their account balances disappear, and one writer reported that her account was deleted after she complained. Then the site went down. When I tried emailing Writerlance, my emails bounced.

Later, after the site came back up, I read on a discussion thread that the site had changed owners.

Six months later, the new owner of Writerlance has finally deigned to email its members:

Hello Writerlance user,

This is Michael Santiago the new owner of Writerlance.com. Durning the past 3 months we had some major issues with the previous owner still having access to our site and causing major problems.

We have finally regained total access to writerlance and can now resume business as usual. There are several members that have NOT received their writing fees and or been able to deposit money.

This needs to be straightened out asap so members can get paid for the work that has been done. We are reviewing pending payments now and will send out payments as soon as we can.

If you have any questions at all, please email:
websmartpro at gmail dot com

All other emails related to the site aren't currently working.

Thank you and we hope to serve you better in the future.

Best Regards,
Michael Santiago

I'm glad Writerlance has finally fixed the problems and sent out an update, and I sympathize with the problems they were having with the former owner, but come on — don't you think it would have been good business policy to email members a little sooner?

In any case, if you lost your account balance with Writerlance, use the email address above (disguised to make it harder for spammers to pick up on my blog) and see about getting your money back!

Lights, camera, ACTION!

After two weeks of trying to negotiate a payment plan, my deadbeat client failed to pay so much as a dime by the deadline, which was on Friday. Therefore, my biggest item on my to-do list today is to start filing reports and complaints.

It's a tedious, intimidating task, and I don't think I'm going to even try to get it all done today. I'll lose my drive if I allow myself to become too overwhelmed.

More on the subject soon. Right now I need to focus all my energies on writing these complaints.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blowing off steam

I was really upset earlier this evening over some emails my deadbeat client sent (the deadline is now two days away and I think he's feeling the pinch, so he's stepping up his intimidation efforts).

Unfortunately, I have a lot of work over the next few days — some end-of-the-month deadlines for one of my bigger clients — so I couldn't afford to not work, even as upset as I was.

As it turned out, though, my anger actually helped me to get more done (usually it's just the opposite). In fact, I felt so invigorated that I worked quite late (as you can see), and got quite a bit done. And working, in turn, helped me to blow off some steam.

I can't wait to be able to tell you guys about my deadbeat client. Stay tuned — he doesn't seem like he's going to pay up, so I'm sure I'll be telling all very soon!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Desk, what desk?

It occurred to me that when I get tired of working from the couch, I might have a difficult time returning to my desk, which has turned into a paperwork dumping ground in my absence:

My messy desk

This is after just over a week of doing all my freelancing work from the couch. My cats have figured out that I'm not using my desk regularly anymore, and have taken to sitting on it to look through the blinds (something I normally discourage them from doing).

I'll have to reclaim my desk soon, I suppose, before my cats take up permanent residence there...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My new place of employment

One of my favorite things about being a freelance writer is that I can work wherever I want or need to at the moment. For instance, right now I'm eating lunch, so the kitchen table is my workstation of the moment.

Although I have an office and a desk, I tend to get tired of that setup pretty quickly. Next to my desk I have a comfortable vintage rocker that I sometimes work from, but lately I've been rejecting my office entirely to work from the couch.

I don't usually choose to work from the couch, but right now I'm really enjoying it. It's not as comfy as my overstuffed rocker, but I have more room to spread out — I work with my feet up on the coffee table and my papers on either side of me. Add in a comfy knit blanket, a snack and a water bottle crammed into the cushions so that they stay upright, and the blinds open so that the sunlight streams in the window, and maybe you'll see why I find my new place of employment so appealing!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A lazy day of freelancing

Today was a rather lazy day of freelancing.

First of all, I slept in rather later than I had intended — until about 11:00 am. (My mother-in-law and I had gotten on a later schedule while she was here, because we'd be up late talking and then we'd both sleep late the next morning.)

When I got up I really didn't feel like doing much, so I hauled my laptop to the couch, wrapped myself up in a blanket, and parked myself there. I also worked in my pajamas all day — something I haven't done in a long time, although I used to do it all the time.

Whereas I usually would have ridden my bike up to visit Panama in the afternoon, I decided to stay home and work until Michael got home. As a result I got a lot of work done, despite my lazy attitude!

After about two months of having horse responsibilities to attend to every day in addition to my freelance work, today felt like a vacation — even though technically I worked. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy those lazy freelance days!

My first deadbeat client fights dirty

I blogged Monday about my first serious deadbeat client. (Not editor — that was bad terminology on my part. The owner of the magazine is the deadbeat, and he isn't paying the editor either!)

Today I have more news: My deadbeat client is fighting dirty! Today in an email he threatened to intentionally not pay us if we report him. (On Monday we sent an email stating that if we were not paid in full by September 26th, we would report him to a whole list of organizations, including WritersWeekly.com.)

Considering he is also admitting to near-bankruptcy in his email, I'm not sure what he thinks is different about that, unless of course he wants the additional bad publicity of having threatened us.

Stay tuned, because the way this is looking I'll be broadcasting his name on a very public level soon enough!

Monday, September 15, 2008

My first deadbeat client

It seems I have run into my very first deadbeat client.

I've had a couple of clients try to stiff me in the past. One was over a paltry sum — a client tried to get away with not paying me the remaining 50 percent on a small project after it was completed. (I got the first half up front before I started work.) Another client claimed he wasn't happy with my work (a classic case of him not giving me information and materials on time, and then getting mad at me when as a result I couldn't meet deadlines) and tried to refuse paying me the last installment, until of course I threatened to report him to the propert authorities.

Both situations were brief, however, and were won out by my persistence. This time, I'm not so sure there will be a happy ending to the story. The owner of a small local magazine I write for is now more than two months late on a hefty payment. He has been giving me the run around for more than a month, but in the past week he started ignoring my emails altogether. I've been in touch with the other writers and the editor, and they are all in the same boat.

All of us conspired to write an email threatening to report him as a nonpaying employer/client if he doesn't pay us all within ten business days. Stay tuned for more information — if he doesn't pay (and I fear he won't), I plan to make sure the entire freelance writing community knows not to write for this guy!

Another thing I love about freelancing

There is very little I don't love about freelancing. Even the stress of meeting deadlines is far outweighed by the advantages: working my own hours, not having to commute, doing what I love for a living, etc.

Today is a good reminder of one of the benefits of freelancing. I am actually taking the day more or less off — I took care of some admin things this morning, and I am planning on spending the afternoon with my mother-in-law, who is visiting us for a couple of days. It was on short notice, but after my productive week last week, I definitely think I deserve an unscheduled day off to spend with family!

Of course, being the workhorse (ha ha) that I am, I will probably do a little bit of work this evening, while my husband and his mom hang out, just to make sure the unexpected day off doesn't set me back too much this week.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spam legalized in Virginia?!

I suppose this is good news for some of our clients, but for everyone else it's just a d*mn shame:

Va. Supreme Court Strikes Down State's Anti-Spam Law

And how did they manage to justify this? Well, the lawyer of the defendant (Jeremy Jaynes, "one of the world's most prolific spammers") argued that Jaynes's, er, correspondence was protected under the right to free speech.

I don't know about you, but I don't think the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to cover sales pitches such as "Increase pen!s size" and those selling stock market scams. Most importantly, the court is forgetting the fundamental premise of American freedom: that we are free only insofar as our actions don't infringe on others' rights.

A good day for a cup of hot cocoa

It's been raining pretty much nonstop since late yesterday afternoon. We don't get many days like these in Colorado, but we do get a few! Usually they make me just want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate or tea and a good book.

Today, unfortunately, I have some work to finish up, so instead I'll be curling up with my laptop. The good book part will have to wait!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to work as usual

After last week's difficulties, I am pleased to report that this week has been very productive.

Now that I'm no longer cleaning stalls in exchange for board, my work load — which I had reduced somewhat over the last month and a half to accommodate my stable duties — needs to be ramped up again. Although last week I was a little depressed and found myself unwilling to work, this week my outlook has changed: I am taking on more work, and actually find myself looking forward to my work again.

This week I also started riding my bike to visit Panama, as he is now a little closer to me than he was (about a 5 minute drive in the car — 20 minutes on my bike thanks to the big hill I have to ride up). It makes me feel good on several different levels: financially and economically, for using less gas, but also physically, as it replaces cleaning stalls as a source of regular physical exercise.

Of course, this also means I get to sleep in regularly for the first time in a couple of months, since I no longer need to take Michael to work so that I can keep the car during the day. Getting up at 10:00 am every day has definitely helped to improve my outlook as well!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

J.K. Rowling wins copyright infringement suit

A while back I blogged about a lawsuit J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, had brought against the publishers of a Potter encyclopedia. Yesterday NPR reported that Rowling won the case against the publisher of The Harry Potter Lexicon.

I found this story on NPR particularly interesting:

Harry Potter Encyclopedia Barred from Publication

An expert on the show discusses what qualifies as fair use and takes some questions from listeners. Apparently the judge in the case was careful to specify that this book qualifies as copyright infringement because of material it takes verbatim from J.K. Rowling's books. In other words, the ruling does not ban reference guides and literary commentary as a whole — it simply draws the line on how much your guide can depend on the intellectual property of the original author.

2008 third quarter estimated taxes due

This is just a friendly reminder that 2008 third quarter estimated taxes are due on Monday, September 15, 2008.

Remember, if you are going to owe more than $1,000 in taxes at the end of the year, you are required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. As long as you make your estimated tax payments on time and pay the same amount you paid last year, you won't be penalized come tax time if your estimate was off. However, if you don't make payments and you owe more than $1,000 at the end of the year, you will also have to pay penalties on what you owe.

I don't know about you, but it always seems to me like the months when estimated taxes are due are always the tightest — even before you figure in the tax bill. For instance, this month I had the unexpected expense of moving my horse to a new home on short notice.

Do you also find that the IRS has the worst possible timing?

Monday, September 08, 2008

New clip: WHY Magazine

With everything that happened last weekend, I completely forgot to let everyone know that I have an essay in the new issue of WHY Magazine. The essay is "Stable Condition," and it's about how having a horse has helped me become a better writer and work-at-homer.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Re: On Freelance Contracts

A good freelance friend and fellow blogger, Kathy Kehrli, blogged the other day on freelance contracts. She wants to know where her fellow freelancers stand on the subject. Although I left a relatively long (three paragraph) response in the comments, I had to rewrite it four times in order to make it comment-length, so I figured I would elaborate on my own blog.

The classic advice that most freelancers get (and give) is to never work without a contract. As a newbie I followed that rule pretty religiously, but I have to admit that I don't anymore. Here's what I do instead, and why.

1) Discuss everything via email. A written agreement is a written agreement, whether it's a contract or an email trail. And even if you have a contract, if you go to court chances are you'll be using emails to prove changes, additional requests, or even just that the client accepted the work. In other words, emails are considered proof, too.

Partly to maintain this paper trail, I typically refuse to discuss project specifics, payment, or anything else work-related via phone. Clients communicate with me via email. Period.

2) Require half payment up front for new clients, before I begin work on the project. Personally, I think a client paying half the money up front is more indicative of intention to pay than signing a contract. And even if you have that contract, it's not going to make it any easier to collect — you'll still have to jump through all the hoops (filing complaints, taking them to small claims court, garnishing wages if they still won't pay, etc.). At least if someone skips out on me, I have half the money already.

3) Follow my gut on whether to work with clients. Like I said, a contract isn't a guarantee that the client will follow through. It's just another piece of paper that claims they will. Since my approach is prevention rather than proof, I'll decline to work with any client who gives me a bad feeling. In general, I avoid clients who do things like:

* Wanting to discuss everything via phone (presumably so that there's no paper trail)
* Balking at paying half up front
* Producing an unfair contract, and then balking at renegotiating the terms
* Having no contact information other than email (i.e. WHOIS, business address, office phone number, etc.)
* Having a poor business plan (i.e. no evidence of income from which to pay me)
* Being really demanding
* Just giving me a bad feeling in general

All of this being said, I do recommend that newbie freelance writers work with a contract whenever possible. When I was still new at this, I almost always requested a contract. There is a certain type of "client" who preys on inexperienced writers, and you can ward most of them off by insisting on a contract. Also, it takes time to develop a sense of who will be a good client and who is out to screw you — so until you've gained experience and feel confident in your ability to sniff out scumbags, stick to using contracts!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Yay, I accomplished something!

I am so pleased — I actually accomplished something yesterday.

I blogged yesterday about my two unplanned days off. Well, it took me almost twice as long as it should have, but I did manage to write the article I've had on my to-do list all week. I feel much better having accomplished something, and hopeful that I'll be able to ease myself back into a normal (i.e. pre-stall mucking) work schedule.

I'm also planning on getting back into a regular blogging routine. I used to blog almost daily, but this summer my blogs have really suffered — first just because summer is a busy time for me, and then because I started mucking stalls on top of everything else. But I'm resolved — I will not neglect my blogs any longer!

In fact, I am off right now to update one of my most neglected blogs — Livre du Jour, my book blog. I have almost a dozen books to catch up on, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Unplanned days off

After blogging on Tuesday about my rough weekend, I have to confess I didn't get to work, after all. Instead, I took two unplanned days off.

Part of this is probably that I knew ahead of time that this week would be slow — in other words, I knew I could afford to take a couple of days off. I can't let the pattern continue, though, so today I intend to get back to work — even if all I accomplish is one assignment.

I do have a theory about my depression stemming from a sudden reduction in exercise now that I'm no longer mucking stalls. But even if less exercise is a factor, I have to admit that my strategy of reading, taking naps, spending time with my horse, and watching movies with my husband seemed to work: I am feeling a little less depressed now.

Hopefully getting back to work will finish the job and jumpstart my mood back to normal.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Working again after a rough weekend

This weekend was supposed to be really good. For the first time in a while, I didn't have any work to do over the weekend, and I was planning on going for several trail rides.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way I expected at all. In fact, some major changes took place, and I am having a difficult time bouncing back.

Remember how I said I was working off my board at the barn? Well, the new manager (with whom I had the arrangement) and I had been having some problems. That all came to a head on Sunday, when she gave me six hours to get my horse out. You can read more about it on my Pony Tales Blog.

I felt relieved and pleased Sunday evening and yesterday, knowing Panama was safe in a new, if temporary, home. Today, though, my mood matches the sudden change in weather, which is overcast after a warm, mostly sunny weekend. I'm starting to miss the routines and the friends Panama and I had at the old barn, and in general just feeling down.

It'll be hard to get to work today. I really don't feel like doing anything other than spending some time with my horse, and maybe reading for a little while. Unfortunately, I do have one assignment that needs to be done today, so maybe I'll compromise by allowing myself to take my time getting to it.

Have you ever had days like today, where significantly upsetting things in your life interfere with your productivity and your enjoyment of your work?


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