Friday, July 31, 2009

Ad revenue tips for the casual blogger

Not long ago, a few exchanged comments on Lori Widmer's blog got me thinking about advertising revenue and blogging.

I started putting ads on my blogs about two years ago (I think). It took me an entire year to reach the $100 minimum for a check. After that, I started putting ads on more of my blogs, and now I'm getting on average about $30 a month — which works out to a check for $100 every three or four months. Not bad pay for something I would be doing anyway (I love blogging!).

I also have an affiliate account with Amazon, but I find that one's not very lucrative. I've gotten perhaps $40 in gift certificates over the past couple of years. I keep doing it simply because it's a good way to post an image for the books I review on Livre du Jour (which, again, I do simply because I like to!).

All this to say that I'm by no means an expert on earning ad revenue from a blog. I can, however, provide a few tips for others who want to make a little money on the side, but don't really care about turning their blogs into a full-time money-making endeavor.

1) Plan your ads. Google Adsense only lets you put three ad units on one page. That means you have to plan out your ads very carefully on your main page. Also, certain locations on the page are more desirable, and therefore bring you more money per click.

2) Left to right, top to bottom is the way most people scan online. So theoretically, ads in the top left will be the most successful. I'm not too careful about this, but I do like to use a header ad — an ad just under the blog header, and before the text.

3) Make use of individual post pages. I also put a footer ad on my blog posts, just before the comments. I usually make this a rectangular graphic ad, rather than a text ad. (Graphic ads earn more per click.) I also change the "# comments" link to point to the individual post page instead of the Blogger comment page, so that more people see the ad.

4) Limit sidebar ads. Bloggers who don't want the ads to be intrusive often stick a few skyscraper text ads at the bottom of all their other sidebar stuff, and then wonder why it doesn't work. Actually, I think small, tastefully placed ads in other areas (such as the header and footer ads I just described) are less intrusive than having a ridiculously long sidebar. As a result, I prefer the small square graphic ad, placed higher up in the sidebar, as an alternative to the long rectangular text ads.

5) Don't expect much from AdSense search. In my opinion, it doesn't work. I have it on one of my blogs as a courtesy to my readers (the template doesn't allow me to use the regular Blogger search bar), and I've only gotten a couple of clicks on that in about a year's time.

These tips aren't much, and like I said I am no expert, but there are still a few things I've learned from running ads on my blogs. I hope this will help at least a few of my fellow writers who would like to earn a little extra cash from their writing blogs!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The experiment: Day 10

Tuesday was the final day in an experiment I've done to see if I can increase my productivity, and therefore my income. As a review for anyone who hasn't been following the series, here is a list of the posts:

Day 1, which surpassed my wildest expectations
Day 2, in which I talk about how I maintained my increased focus
Day 3, when I found I was more productive at Starbucks
Days 4 and 5, in which my productivity started flagging
Day 6, when I didn't work enough hours but was pretty productive when I did work
Days 7, 8, and 9, a bunch of no-income days.

On Tuesday of this week, Day 10, I started out by sleeping in — the day was dark and dreary, and it's always difficult for me to get out of bed on days like that. My brain just doesn't believe that it's morning.

After getting up, I took care of a few final administrative things (primarily with my blogs) that I hadn't finished on Monday. Near the end of the day, I finally got some work done, but only about an hour's worth.

I had already planned on stopping the reports on my experiment after Day 10, but unfortunately the results have been somewhat inconclusive. I think I might have to try again in a week or so. The problem is that my sister is getting married on Saturday, so the rest of the week will be spent getting stuff ready on my end — I have to get her present ready and wrap it, and I still need to find shoes to wear for the wedding.

Possibly the other reason why my experiment seems to have failed is because I finished my work for the month pretty quickly, which made my slow period for the month — the week or so after the end-of-the-month assignments have been finished, and the next month's work hasn't yet been assigned — start a little earlier than usual.

Here's a small bit of success, though: Because I was so productive during the early part of my experiment, I was able to accept a small last-minute project my favorite client offered me a couple of days ago. So although the last few days haven't been as wildly productive, I did manage to increase my income for the month as a result of my experiment. It's not a total failure, then!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As part of my admin day yesterday, I made some long-needed changes to all of my blog templates.

On Swan's Blog, you'll find that I've ditched the Blogger profile, written a new bio, replaced my bio picture, and eliminated some of the clutter in my sidebar. I've also provided a link to the site feed (atom.xml), and made my copyright notice a little more prominent.

Finally, I fixed something that has puzzled me for more than a year. My footer looked wacky on my computer screen for some reason, but I finally figured out that was due to an unnecessary bit of code that hadn't gotten deleted for some reason when I last worked on my template. It all looks right now! Hooray!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The experiment: Days 7, 8, and 9

The last few days of my "experiment" have been a little less productive. As I mentioned in Day 6's post, I got started a bit late on Thursday (Day 7), and though I did accomplish the minimum I wanted to do that day, it wasn't the income I was aiming for.

Day 8, Friday, I decided belatedly to take off. My sister had her wedding shower on Saturday, and her wedding is next Saturday, so my mom and I were doing some shopping in preparation for the big event.

Today, Day 9, also saw no income. I really needed an admin day, and what better to do on a Monday, especially during a slow week? I had 3,000 emails in my inbox to go through (I've been very bad about filing and deleting emails lately), as well as a whole lot of blog admin and catching up to do.

Tomorrow, though, will be back to work with a vengeance — and hopefully Day 10 will see a revival of the awesome productivity I had going at the beginning of this experiment!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The experiment: Day 6

Yesterday — Wednesday — was an interesting day. As I mentioned when I blogged about Days 4 and 5, I was getting started on work quite late in the day, because of a horseback riding lesson I'd had that morning.

I ended up only working for a couple of hours yesterday, so even though my hourly worked out to be pretty decent, I didn't meet my daily goal.

I'm getting started a bit late today, too, for a couple of reasons: because I let myself sleep in, and because I spent an hour listening to President Obama's press conference on health care reform from last night. This is further complicated by the fact that I have plans with a friend later today. But I'm hoping that the limitations on my time will actually encourage me to be more productive, the way it did on Day 1.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The experiment: Days 4 and 5

So far this week has been a mixed bag. Monday went pretty good, about as productive as Day 2, even making time for a ride on my horse and some TV with Michael in the evening.

Yesterday, however, didn't go so well. I was at the barn all morning and into the afternoon, first with a farrier appointment and then with some trailer training I've been doing lately with my horse. By the time I got home I was starving, so I grabbed some Burger King. Bad move! Whether because I ate too much, too fast, or my system just isn't used to fast food anymore, it all but put me out of commission for the rest of the day. I was sleepy, achey, had a recurring headache up until the time I went to bed nine hours later.

So today I feel even more pressure to get back to being productive, since yesterday didn't go so well. I'm already off to a late start, since I had a session with my trainer this morning, but I should be able to work some this evening since Michael will be working on homework.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The experiment: Day 3

Friday was Day 3 of my experiment in productivity. Although it wasn't as successful a day as Day 1 or Day 2, it was primarily because I put in fewer hours and finished earlier. Hey, what can I say — it was Friday.

One thing I found on Friday was that changing the scenery worked really well to cure a lag in productivity. I felt like I was really struggling at home, lapsing back into my habits of getting on Facebook a lot and that kind of thing. So I packed up my stuff and walked two blocks to the local Starbucks.

I found that I was much more productive at Starbucks — particularly when my laptop battery started running low, and I had to really focus if I wanted to complete the project I was working on before it died completely!

Do you ever find that working someplace else for a little bit helps to jump start your productivity?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The experiment: Day 2

Yesterday was another successful day in my experiment in productivity. Not as successful as Day 1 if you look at just the paid work, I'm afraid, but largely successful if you look at everything else I accomplished.

I started out the day by checking personal email, Facebook, etc. I tried getting right to work, but found that I just couldn't wrap my brain around it right off the bat. However, I kept my piddling around to under an hour, so it all worked out all right.

Then I got to work. I worked for about two and a half hours total, with a slightly lower productivity than Day 1, but still making more than half my daily goal in those two and a half hours. Not bad!

After that I went to the barn — and this is what killed my earning potential for the day. But I can't regret it, because truly, this is one of the biggest reasons why I love freelancing: because it gives me the flexibility to spend time with my horse. If I can't allow myself to enjoy that, then what is the point?

Michael had evening plans with a friend, so after he left I worked some more. First I spent about two hours updating various blogs, and then I worked for almost another hour. My productivity in that last 45 minutes matched what it was on Day 1, which pleased me.

I promised an explanation of how I'm achieving this giant leap in productivity. I'm doing two things, really: applying sheer willpower, and using a technique I'd read about in a newsletter months ago.

The technique was suggested in an issue of Steve Slaunwhite's For Copywriters Only newsletter some time back. Basically, he pointed out the phenomenon of how productive we tend to be in meetings, when we are forced to focus intensely for a short period of time. He suggested applying the same focus in your regular work, but for short bursts (45 minutes or an hour), allowing yourself to take little breaks (email, checking blogs, whatever) in between.

So that's what I've been doing. I've had a lot of work the last couple of days that is very easy to break up into short focus sessions — blog posts, marketing articles, etc. I haven't even been letting myself respond to emails until I've finished that focus session.

So far, it's working beautifully. I'll keep you posted as to whether it continues to do so.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The experiment: Day 1

Yesterday started out with a major setback to my day — right from the get-go. I woke up at 8am to Michael saying that his car wouldn't start. I was supposed to be taking him to work around 8:30 so that I could keep the car and run some errands, so this wasn't starting out well at all.

Fortunately, it turned out to be just the battery. Even more fortunately, his brother was able to stop by on his way to work and run Michael to the parts store. (It's actually close enough to walk, though not while carrying a car battery.) We got the battery changed out, and Michael's brother continued on to work.

Michael had already called in, so he decided to take the rest of the morning and just work a half-day in the afternoon. So we took the dogs for a walk. As often happens during our walks, we ended up talking about some pretty serious stuff.

This time it was financial stuff. We've been talking about buying a home with horse property, and we had just found out the day before that we probably wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage because we don't have enough equity in our current home, which we were planning on renting out. (There are other reasons why it's not going to work, but that is the main one. Apparently in the current credit market, if you can't cover both mortgage payments on your income — i.e., minus any rent you are paid — you have to have at least 30 percent equity in the rental. We don't, so we're not even going to try to qualify.)

Anyway, we started talking about whether I should take a part-time job (in addition to my freelancing) to save up some money and increase our income, so that we could try again when we're in a better position. Which got us onto the subject of my productivity. The past few weeks, I've been feeling like I'm working more hours than ever, but not actually doing any more. But I also feel that if I could get my productivity back under control, I could increase my income by more than I would make working a part-time job.

Michael was only going to work for about four hours, which would give me five to work while he was gone. So I told him I was going to try to focus as much as possible, and see how much I could get done in that amount of time.

Perhaps you already know where this is going, but the results were amazing! In the end, I worked fewer hours than I have in weeks (excepting days I've intentionally taken off), and made more in a single day than I've made in months without pulling an all-nighter. Not to mention, I felt damn good when I set down my work for the day. Being productive feels GOOD!

What started off looking like it would be a very unproductive day, turned out to be wildly productive. Who would have guessed? I'm going to repeat the experiment today and see what happens. I'll keep you posted — and I'll also give more details about how I've accomplished this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Slammed and spammed

I've been ridiculously busy lately, as you might have noticed from my lack of posting (again). However, one thing I noticed is that I have roughly the same amount of work as last month, but I'm taking more time to do it. My productivity has been gradually decreasing for a while now, so I've taken some action to remedy that — which I'll write about in another post.

I've also started getting a ton of spam. The thing is, I don't know from where. I've never had a major problem with spam, and sudden, wham — I'm getting a dozen spam emails a day. What the heck happened?

Anyway, I have several posts in the works, so check back periodically over the next few days!

Friday, July 10, 2009

FreelanceHomeWriters and Freelance Work Exchange are BFFs

Several years after I wrote my first post on Freelance Work Exchange, this is still one of the most searched-for topics on my blog. It amazes me that I still get emails and comments, at least one or two a month, thanking me for the warning — or, more often, complaining that they, too, have fallen victim to this scam.

Toward the end of last year, another site popped up on my radar that seemed similar: FreelanceHomeWriters.com. They have practically the same trial membership deal, and they too are spamming Craigslist with fake freelance job ads. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I responded to what I thought was a job ad, only to receive an email directing me to their stupid website.

Then on Wednesday of this week, WritersWeekly.com posted with a long list of complaints about FreelanceHomeWriters.com. It turns out I was right, and it's exactly the same scam as Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance: poor unsuspecting wannabe writer signs up for the trial membership, then attempts to cancel and can't, while FreelanceHomeWriters happily sucks $49.95 out of their bank accounts every month.

Although the owner of FreelanceHomeWriters.com is supposedly Charles Wellmore (sound made-up to you?) instead of Rob Palmer, I think this is rather too similar to be unrelated. I mean, the prices are exactly the same, right down to the $2.95 week-long trial membership, and of course the complaints are exactly the same too! I wouldn't be surprised at all if we were to discover that Rob Palmer and Charles Wellmore are actually the same person, trying the same scam under a different name now that so many people have wised up to Freelance Work Exchange.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

You get what you pay for...

Apparently, with the current economy freelance writers are not the only ones pointing out that you get what you pay for. NPR ran a story today on a new book called Cheap, in which the author, Ellen Ruppel Shell, talks about the hidden ways we pay for it when we buy things at discount prices. It's not about the dramatic reduction in quality — it's also about the risk of deflation.

This reminded me so much of the ongoing talk of writers rates' and that clients get what they pay for. The other issue is, of course, that writers' rates trending downward also downgrades the industry, and makes it more difficult to earn a living as a writer. If we aren't careful, and writers' rates fall too much, will writers from India, who speak English as a second language, be the only way to find a writer — kind of like how discount superstores like Wal-Mart and Target dominate the shopping scene now?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Plan D ... for "Dumbass" and "Desperate"

I've been hearing from many of my fellow freelancers that they are experiencing a shortage of writing work. That's not the case with me, but nontheless I thought of you guys when I saw this headline.

See, even if work is getting harder to find, you have something to be grateful for: that you're not as desperate as those people!

Trends in teen fiction

Any good writer knows that it's important to keep an eye on trends in the publishing industry. Whether you want to write articles, books, or anything else, it's important to know what is selling and what is not.

Here's a tip for anyone who is interested in writing young adult fiction, as I am: According to an article in yesterday's Denver Post, darker plotlines are becoming more common — and more popular — in teen fiction.

If you look at the most popular young adult fantasy, you can see this is the case: The Harry Potter series got increasingly dark as it went along, and then of course there was the seductive vampire world of the Twilight Saga. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials was pretty dark, too.

As one commenter on the article pointed out, dark subjects aren't exactly new to teen fiction — authors such as Robert Cormier and books like Go Ask Alice tackled tough topics long ago. But I guess the point of the article is that these books are becoming more common in young adult literature than they used to be.

The implication is that teens these days are more interested than they used to be in darker, more adult subject matter. Thinking back on my own teen years, I think they always have been, actually, but when I was in high school we just moved on to adult fiction earlier. Perhaps young adult authors are simply finally catching on, and giving teens what they really want. After all, young adult is still a fairly new genre, so it makes sense that YA authors are still learning how to get it right!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Well-written headlines: An all-American goal

Happy Fourth of July! Rather than celebrating in the usual manner, I spent the evening at the barn, making sure the horses were safe from fire and fright. Since I've also been working this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about how the important pieces of our lives influence how we celebrate — or don't celebrate — holidays.

An interesting subject for reflection, made all the more interesting because it seems our country's journalists took a break this weekend. Or maybe were just too hung over this morning to recognize the problem with this headline:

Fireworks explosion kills 3 in N.C., 1 in Pa.

Wow, that's a low death count for such a massive explosion.

I saw the headline late last night, when the article was just about the North Carolina explosion. Apparently when they revised the article, they forgot to make one small but significant change to the title: "Fireworks explosions kills 3 in N.C., 1 in Pa."


Friday, July 03, 2009

BookGlutton.com: Interactive online ebook reader

I spotted an interesting story on NPR today: an introduction to BookGlutton.com, an interactive online ebook reader that allows readers to leave comments/annotations and chat with other readers. You can set your profile to show others what you read last, follow other readers, and manage responses to your comments on your profile.

Basically, it's Facebook but with books. Social reading instead of social networking. You get the idea.

Of course, because of copyright concerns, they can only offer books that are either part of the public domain, or have been approved for use on the site by the author and/or publisher. However, this also makes for a really awesome promotional tool for authors. For instance, the current featured article is offering the first four chapters of her newest book via BookGlutton. The obvious goal is to get people reading and discussing the chapters, get the word out about the book, and get people hooked so that they buy it.

The only downfall that I see is that it doesn't work with all browsers. In other words, it doesn't work with my browser. I'm apparently a dinosaur because I still prefer IE 6. I did try to upgrade once, but IE 7 crashed my computer so many times just in the first day that I restored my system's previous settings and never looked back. Heck if I'll make the same mistake with IE 8. And I'm not really a fan of cluttering up my hard drive with downloads, so I'm reluctant to download Firefox just for this one application. (I'm not a fan of that browser either, I'm afraid, so I wouldn't use it for anything else.)

However, I thought many of you — as writers and, it follows, also as readers — would appreciate a social bookreading site. If you try it out, either for reading or for marketing your books, please let me know what you think — since I can't try it out for myself!


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