Saturday, June 16, 2012

Some Free Association

 I’m writing this sitting on a bench in the sun in the park, and a crow just landed on a tree in front of me. (It would be so literature to be able to say “the Crenellated Hemlock in front of me,” but I’m a city boy and I don’t know one tree from another. Where I grew up you took the subway to get to where there were trees.)

Anyway, the crow started sounding off, and I discovered it had a number of distinctive calls. If you’re more rural than I am this may not be news at all. It may not even be interesting, but I go on.

The bird would first give out two short bursts, which I guess by general agreement we’ve translated into to our language as “caws.” It did that at intervals of probably half a minute, three or four times. I started to think it was maybe an invitation for friends to come around, because after those several times with no visible result, it gave out a single (and I swear, dejected) caw. And a little after that, it did what I can only describe as a gurgle. Then it left.  

I tried to think of what William Saroyan might have done with that. I’ve always admired his stuff. I read his “Time Of Your Life” all the way through standing up in front of the library shelf where I’d randomly picked it up. I was hooked right at the cast of characters: “Blick: A Heel.”

I have a little Avon Book, “48 Saroyan Stories,” from Avon Books’ 25-cent days. It’s like a medieval manuscript other people would keep in an air-conditioned room, handling the crumbly pages with white gloves.  The incidental stuff alone is fascinating: the publisher’s inside-cover introduction to the New Avon Library; the reviews from prominent newspapers (the New York Herald-Tribune and others); the terrific leftwing dedication; Avon Books Company’s back-cover paean to their little volumes’ format (ideal as gifts to the Armed Forces) signed off with a New York address that hadn’t yet even thought about having a Zip Code.  Maybe I’ll print some of that stuff one time.

Saroyan would have spun a wonderful story off of that crow. Me; all I could think of was morbid symbolism “That bird, cawing futilely – is that me, blogging into the wind?”  I thought of Poe and his raven, and found frightening parallels: the crow, the poor man’s raven; me, the beggar’s Edgar Allen Poe.

And remember -- nobody in a Poe story comes away happy.  “The walls are closing in on me” --  just an expression, right?  Not if you’re in a Poe story.  One of his guys barely gets out of the way of a falling house. Another one invites a friend over for a drink and even that turns out bad. Poe is depressing. I’m surprised there wasn’t a whole murder of crows in that tree.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Them Cheapo Jobs - 2

Your indulgence – this one elbowed in ahead of the "free association" post, and ran near 800 words before I could stop myself.

 There’s a superstition that bad news comes in threes. Check out these job listings I received all in the same week, and you’ll see why the idea persists.

From a recent post on one of the online job exchanges, looking for An Experienced Copywriter: Work is to include, among a list of other things, direct mail campaigns.  We’re advised that each piece of work should take no more than an hour to complete, and that “for an experienced copywriter it will take less.”  The listing then asks for the bidder’s hourly rate.

Maybe I’m misreading it, but if a direct mail campaign is one piece of work, a reasonable rate for completing it in an hour or less would have to be $1000. I’m more than reasonable, though; I’d discount that to $950 in view of the added note that I can hope for “an ongoing relationship.”

A second listing asks for An Experienced Blog/Articles Writer. The budget, $1,000 to $2,500, is pretty enticing, until you get to the end. The requirements are for “creative, compelling” 350-500 word articles and blogs. Plow though the cliché list of requirements -- native English, must-pass-Copyscape, and quick turnaround, plus a repeat of “compelling,” -- and you come to the payoff: budget is $10 per article. (It’s written $10.00; the extra zeroes make it look better.)

So, that good-looking budget is actually for 100 to 250 articles. If you were the Experienced Copywriter of listing #1 above, you could probably score the whole thing while holding down your day job, but for the rest of us it’s lousy pay.  Amusingly, at the end of the listing they invite you to tell them why you’d be a great fit. The temptation is to tell ‘em what might fit where, but it’s a family blog, so...

Listing #3 makes #2 look good. I’ll say this much in favor:  This one tells you in the first line how terrible the pay is going to be if you win the contract. Most listings hold that out for the end, so my hat’s off to the writer of this one for frankness.

After that, though – the successful bidder has to be willing to work 7 days a week, 6 to 10 articles every day, 400 words each. (Not to worry – we’re assured the buyer isflexible when you want to take a holiday.” One wonders: Is the article writer expected to be flexible as well -- maybe preparing a backlog, doubling production to 12 to 20 articles a day for the seven days preceding what would  then be a badly needed holiday?) 

The writing should be great, of course, but on the other hand, it will have to be adapted to the buyer’s style, which must be better than great, we have to assume.

The kicker is that the maximum budget is $3 per article which, he acknowledges, “Some people may find low,” but – I’m not making this up – “but, I am giving you a lot of volume.”

In case you miss the implications, and the deal momentarily sounds almost sane – it’s the serious version of the old joke, “I lose money on every sale but I make it up in volume.” In the present case, if you’re a facile writer and can turn out 400 great words in 20 minutes you can average $9 an hour. That’s better than minimum wage, but not by much. If you can keep up that pace, do it six or ten times a day every day of the week, you still make $9 an hour.  (If it takes you a little longer to write great  -- or you’re a cautious type who feels the need to research a subject before you start writing -- discount your rate from there.) What the offer really says is, “You can have all the bad-paying work you want.” As long as you write great.

The question that nags me is this: Since the buyer seems to have a high opinion of his own writing – remember, the writer he hires will have to adapt to his, the buyer’s, style – why doesn’t he write the stuff himself and save three bucks on every article? Volume-wise, what a saving that would be!

Oh, wow; I've just finished making a case for the "comes in threes" theory of bad news delivery when here comes a fourth that blows all the others out of the water:

 Writers for 350-400 word articles and reviews; the usual "quality” and “Copyscape” crap; 150 to 200 pieces per month; then – per-article rate $1. Payment on complete approval of all the articles. “Non-payment if any one article gets rejected or failed.”

Believed to be translated from a work order issued by Reichminister Josef Goebbels, circa 1942.   

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is This a Great Language, or What?

You got words that combine to contradict each other. You got words that sound the same but would be awkward as hell if they ran into each other in the same sentence. 

What started me thinking about it was the question some wiseacre posed after seeing my blog: If a one-talent specialist knows many things within his specialty, does that make him a renaissance hedgehog?

Oxymoron! I didn’t say it out loud, of course, but that’s what we had: a couple of words joined together but forever at odds with each other, like in some marriages.  

The other thing -- homonyms –  I associate with my mother. In her later years, after my father died, she kept a notebook of English-language homonyms. I think it may have been her own immigrant background – Ellis Island, ’04 – that motivated her to compile something to help newcomers to the language. [That was 1904.]  

She had a highschool education and she did a lot with it. (Taught me to read, for one thing.) The collection started small – to, too, and two; hall vs haul – that sort of thing. By the time she died, just short of 102, she had branched out into words that confused in print (like carousel and carousal), and “New York homonyms” -- words that shouldn’t have sounded alike but did, where we lived (I give you farther and father, sorted and sordid, sauce and source). That made me wonder, had we lived one borough over, what she might have done with the distinctive Brooklyn accent. Sometimes she would just note oddities:  how “impugn” had nothing to do with “impunity.” Sometimes the words would be obscure (by my lights, anyway: try “pome” ) or archaic (when last did you hear anyone “keen”?). 

That started me thinking about language as I’ve encountered it, and what English must be for people who have to learn it.   

I struggled with a foreign language requirement in college. I’d studied Latin in highschool and would have enjoyed going on with it. I thought of a way to do it, too, but I couldn’t shake a mental picture of the Admissions Department at Gonzaga puzzling over my name on the application. It wasn’t taught at the school I attended, and I had to switch to a modern language. I chose Spanish, and almost failed it -- in part, I’m sure, because of resentment at having to start over. It doesn’t seem now like that hard a language to work with.  

A few years later I found myself immersed in Japanese, and started to study that. It was going well, but the government agency I was working with required my services at an artillery piece, and I had to drop out.  But in my short acquaintance with it, the language seemed learnable.  

But then there’s English.  The quirks! Help, helped; walk, walked; take, took?  Bring, brought?  C’mon.  


How does anyone learn this language?

Next: Some free association

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Adulterated Writing

My eighth post, and I’m still conflicted about a choice I had to make when I set the blog up. 

Going through Blogger’s opening steps, under “Settings” I came to this: “Adult Content, Yes or No?”  

Wow; a tough question already, and I’d barely started. 

I like to think my ”content” is written at adult level for people who can read accordingly.  I can reach back far enough in my memory to a time when I could have answered “Yes”  -- if anyone had thought to ask. Of course I had to check the “No” box this time, though, or be banned from polite blog society. (I assume that’s why they ask.)   

So where does that leave me? My writing is childish? [Oddly, that would have won me a job: the buyers wanted material for their financial advisory newsletter, but written at 4th to 6th grade level. Versatile though I am, I missed on that one.]   

The irony of it all is that my writing really is adult, while “adult” material is juvenile, or sophomoric if you’re generous. It was fairer when my stuff was adult and theirs was pornography, back in that earlier day when folks called a spade a spade and a vibrator a dildo.  
The really painful comparison, though, and I don’t often like to remind myself about it, is the relative success and pay scales involved.  Pornography is maybe the biggest business there is, worldwide audience, and here’s me: Len Diamond Writes. Eighty-seven  ”views” of my page the first month, eighty-four of them my own as I struggled with setting it up.  

What about equal pay for equal work? A joke! Porn stars make big money. Writers prostitute themselves all the time – think SEO articles -- but for four or five bucks a trick.  

But -- porn is off the table; so what’s the second biggest money-maker “content” you can write?   

If you think of gross, you immediately have to think about those SEO articles. Not quite as big as and a little less obscene than porn, for sheer volume of demand search engine optimization is a big industry. I mean, buyers order SEO ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred yards at a time. (Just thinking about all those words that could have been used better… ) But at the retail level where the writer works, earning money with SEO is all about that kind of volume. Word for word, SEO doesn’t pay well – in fact, word for word, SEO pays about a penny.  So if you hope to make money at SEO, you have to be able to stuff a lot of SEO into your SEO article. And do it unobtrusively. SEO. 

I’ll try to be fair; you can argue that this stuff is a training ground for new writers. You have to break in somewhere. But it’s not for me. I won’t do it.  Not at those rates, anyway. I’m gonna hang out on this corner and wait for a better offer.

Next: Oxymorons and homonyms

Friday, April 13, 2012

Them Cheapo Jobs

It's what got me started on this blog, and I have a feeling it won't be the last instance; I've come across (yet another) online job that embodies everything that’s wrong with too many online jobs. 

The listing runs almost 500 words to detail a scriptwriting job that requires expertise in an unusually arcane subject. To qualify, you must be able to show similar work. Must be a good paying job!   

It has all the usual formula stuff: the LONG TERM promise of more work; the plagiarism warning, but with the embellishment that you’ll be reported to “the proper authorities” if apprehended; the WORK FOR HIRE clause also in ALL CAPS, and in case you miss it it’s explicated for you: your name won’t appear anywhere in, on, or near the work and the buyer will own all rights including the right to make money from it.  

So far, though, apart from the overbearing tone, there’s nothing to find fault with. For myself, I’ve had bylines, but just about  everything I’ve ever written for money has been for hire. I don’t plagiarize, so while the warning is insulting, it’s no real problem.  

The kicker comes toward the end (it usually does, doesn’t it?).  think it’s an attempt to induce a sort of long-range hypnotic state: the buyer tells you it’s a VERY EASY job for a great writer like you, and you should bid fairly.  "Fairly” is pegged at no more than $30 per script.  

So what have we got?  
(1) The job may be easy if you’re versed in the very specialized medically-related subject matter; anyone else (whom the buyer tells you he wouldn’t accept anyway) could have one helluva learning curve to climb. But   
(2) If you’re the well qualified writer in (1)  – why should you do it for 30 bucks? Plus which,  
(3) “No more than“  means less than; they’re looking for someone desperate enough to bid lower.  
(4)  Long-Term Relationship: The pay is lousy but there’s more where that came from. I guess like in the old joke, you make it up in volume.  

I’ve seen the “VERY EASY/bid fairly” mantra several times now on a couple of job exchanges. ”This is a VERY EASY 30-page report.” Keep looking into my eyes. “… twenty VERY EASY 500-word articles.” Please don’t ask to be compensated for your work. Even though we’re going to sell it for a profit.  It’s the cousin of the guy who says he could do this assignment in twenty minutes, and would do it himself if only something important didn’t have him tied up.   

This particular job above, they might have trouble filling it even at a fair price. But the other lowball jobs that don’t have that kind of specialized requirement must be finding writers, because the jobs keep coming. I take a little comfort, though, in that things go in cycles. Other types of jobs are starting to come home from Hong Kong and Bangladesh.  Maybe writing, returned from “content” to respectability, could begin to pay again one day. 

Next: Some adult material

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Icon Is Worth 500 Words

We used to communicate more with words, but a lot of it is done with cartoons today. People are pleased to call them “icons,” but that’s a helluva stretch; icons were originally sacred art, and they had a religious message.  

We get our messages from a different kind of art today; signs with pictures on them. We’re surrounded by signs trying to show us things we should do or not do. I guess you could call them pictographs; the dictionary does relate that to primitive writing. But I submit they’re all cartoons: “a drawing symbolizing an action, situation, or person of topical interest” according to the dictionary. What’s a cigarette in a circle with a red slash though it? It’s a drawing symbolizing an action you’d better take or you’ll find yourself in a situation. As for computer “icons,” the smiley face -- I rest my case.  

I’m a word man, so to me all this is a step backward, but at the same time I recognize the reasons for it. People come here from other places, and English can be a difficult language to master if you didn’t grow up with it. Even if you did, for some of us. I live in Southern California, where everyone drives, so it’s important that everyone be on the same page when, for example, you’re fighting your way home from work on Aviation Boulevard.  If the guy ahead of you is going to have to stop in traffic to think about what “No Left Turn” means, much better to have a sign showing a bent arrow with a line through it.    

I feel real nostalgia for the days when signs said things. Traffic signs were always models of two of the best attributes of good writing: clarity and brevity. “No Stopping.” Wow! Try to top that for effective communication. Especially backed up with a $50 fine. (By the way, what’s the icon for No Stopping?)   

Our freeways are among the few places you’ll still find word signs. That’s surprising at first blush, because you’re not going to get a lot of time to parse the message while going 70 miles an hour. Thinking about the alternative, though, you realize it’s necessity at work: how would you iconize “Long Beach Freeway 2 miles”?  (That illustrates a point I was making above: I’ve seen people slow down almost to a stop to read that one.)   

If your audience is such that you need to communicate through pictures, there are many skilled graphics people waiting to help you. I can recommend some excellent ones. However, if you use brochures or ads or manuals or articles or white papers and similar written things to advance your cause, there are at least as many writers out there, of whom I’m one.     

And if you’re thinking of trying that “picture is worth a thousand words” line on me – my answer is, Draw me the Gettysburg Address.

Next: Let’s deconstruct a job offer

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Before There Was the Blog, There Was the Newsletter

Some years back, in a fit of ecology, we ditched L.A. (and a good job) to go and live near Yosemite National Park.  We’d visited friends there a number of times and finally succumbed to the beauty of the place.  The plan was to produce handmade gift products and flog them by mailorder. I had some expertise in mailorder, and the other three partners had talent, so – we were in business. Why shouldn’t we succeed? 

The full answer would take too long. In fact I wrote a post-mortem (which becomes a cautionary tale by the time you reach page 30, nearly  7,000 words in, and has been suggested for a case study in failure at Harvard B School). For one thing, you can’t make it commercially in handcrafting without a lot more  hands than we could deploy or a machine that makes it look like handcrafting. And if you want to talk “underfunded” -- we re-invented the concept. However, the addition of a plant nursery gave us a shot in the arm, and we hung on for seven years.   

Seven long years. You have to understand that this was before the popularity of  the home computer (although computers might not have made a lot of difference where we were living – electricity wasn’t reliable, and the locals would have burned the infernal machines). But it was a kind of isolation you don’t run into any more.  I think seven is the magic number in some cultures, and it worked for us. We fled to L.A. and started over.   

If anything useful came of it, it was a series of newsletters we sent customers and prospects over the first four years. I’m usually pigeonholed as a technical and business-to-business writer, and I am, and that’s good for most situations I find myself in. But there are whole other worlds in the writing business, and I need to make my bones in those, too. The newsletters are my entree to the b2c market.  

You don’t sell handcrafted giftwares with spec sheets and application stories. But mailorder is selling at a distance. The assignment, then, is to give customers the nitty-gritty while maintaining a light touch; keep it conversational while telling them the doll’s innards are 100% new Kapok stuffing. So that’s what I did. Before it was over I had written ad copy for sunbonnets, patchwork aprons, caftans, sock dolls, cast iron pillows, enchanted frogs, boxed stationery, persimmon puddings, pinecone wreathes, wildflower seed, physocarpus capitatus, and our signature product, “Sierra Overleaves.”  You may have heard of them.  

If you haven’t, but you sell consumer products and need to advertise them, you might be interested. I’ve scanned the newsletters into jpeg files which, if I can avoid past uploading mistakes, I may be able to send you. Disclaimer if you get them: The products shown are no longer available, and sure as hell not at the prices we were asking back in 1968 and ‘71.   

Next: What we need is more iconoclasm

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Trouble With Acronyms

Acronyms are those convenient reductions of phrases to their initial letters. Shortening “Committee for the Advancement of Language Learning for Obese Undergraduate Students” to (CALLOUS) would obviously save significant space in a page-limited proposal, especially if you’re going to repeat if often, which proposals (in the defense business, anyway) tend to do.

There are schools of thought about how to introduce acronyms into a text, whether phrase-first followed by the acronym, or vice-versa. There can be good arguments for each. Sometimes the much-used acronym takes on a life of its own, to the point where the people using it will have forgotten what the actual words are. Called on in a pinch to define it for an outsider, the expert can’t, and finds his listener furtively checking his, the expert’s, badge to see if he really belongs in the building. This is the argument for the second variation above.  For the rest of us, who know the words and would like to forget the acronym, the first method works best.  

The convention is that the acronym, presented all-caps and in parenthesis, is defined with its full phrase the first time it’s used in the document; after that, the acronym appears alone. If it’s a huge document, has many sections, or different parts will be read by different people, you might want to refresh the definition at appropriate points. What you don’t want to do is keep repeating the phrase and the acronym together.

Somehow – that concept is almost impossible to put across to technical subject matter authors. They routinely persist in repeating the full phrase and its acronym every time. That doesn’t only defeat the purpose; it creates two practical problems. It expands the page count in what, 5 will get you 8, is probably an over-long document to begin with; and those capitalized,  parenthesized interruptions can disturb your concentration on what may already be difficult reading. 

But it’s the perverse nature of the acronym that, even used properly, it has undesirable consequences.  Occasionally, when conditions come together just so, an author can string together a whole series of acronyms triumphantly into a sentence-length jumble of letters and parentheses. This wins him the admiration of his peers and possession of the cup, but it makes it tough for an evaluator.  
Government evaluators, God love ‘em, must have to harden themselves to this sort of thing, I suppose. I’ve never been one, so it’s conjecture, but if I had their job I think the first time I was called on to decode one of those half-the-alphabet lines someone’s document would disappear quietly under the table.  I’m sure that doesn’t happen really, but they’re human; why not make it easier for them? 

If you win your new business with proposals, here’s a syllogism for you.
  • Everyone on the proposal team is a specialist.
  • Specialists in other specialties often don’t write well.
  • A writing specialist could improve your proposal.   
Next: Blog vs Newsletter; what’s the difference?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Introduction to Me

No sailing under false colors; I’m selling something here.

“Engaging”; “funny in a thoughtful way”; “subtly persuasive”; OR,  opinionated, carping, and florid – whatever way you find it, the intent of the blog is to advertise my writing business.  And it’s not just SEO articles. I write every way from technical to whimsical. I do documents you inform, instruct, and win business with, and written stuff you sell with. I write company and executive profiles for trade publications. Outside-the-box resumes. A novel, even, if any agents or publishers are listening.  Edging into online “content.”  Samples available. I also edit. I’ve done it for aerospace engineers, so I can do it for anyone. End commercial.

Segue-ing smoothly into Speaking of Engineers – I worked a number of years for Boeing, collaborating with engineers as an editor, on contract. The subject was new business proposals in response to Department of Defense Requests for Proposals for airplanes and similar military hardware.

The specifications you’re expected to write to for these things are prescribed at length, down to the type size for the callouts in your illustrations.  They’re huge documents, written under forced draft, usually on 45-  or, if you’re lucky, 60-day turnaround. Members of the team assembled to do it may never have worked a proposal before and can be scattered across the continent. That’s the good news. The other news – no offense, guys -- is that engineers are writing it.      

For starters, engineers (big generalization follows here) are inveterate improvers and will go on tweaking their answers for as long as they can. (It’s an attribute I fight against myself, but you can see where it would conflict with one of the requirements above.)

More to the point for someone who has to edit engineers’ work – they have a (big diplomatic euphemism follows here) unique style. Either it’s taught that way in engineering school and they all learn it there, or it’s a kind of virus passed from one to another on the job. The rules, near as I can codify them, seem to be (1) use lots of words, (2) use passive voice a lot, (3) use jargon a lot, (4) use acronyms, (5) use LOTS of acronyms, and (6) use them incorrectly.

Some editors are fanatically against passive voice, but I’m not; and I can live with jargon, in moderation. These devices serve real purposes: jargon can be a way of expressing an idea quickly, in few words, which I’m certainly in favor of; and passive voice deflects responsibility for an action from any specific actor – a valuable mechanism for those occasions when the test results don’t go the way you’d hoped.

Prolix verbosity is the origin of the most egregious inexplicabilities, but it can be cleared up with English.  That leaves only the subject of acronyms to deal with, and you don’t want to be around when I get started on that. 

That’s my next post, though, so if anyone is following this (!) you’ve been warned.    

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Introduction to the New Reality

It was like that iconic scene in “Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy steps from the black-and-white of her room into a technicolor world. 

For this writer, the transition from 40+ years of print into the bright world of online job exchanges was like that. Even to the part about finding myself surrounded by midgets. Piping voices were asking for things to be written for four and five dollars. 

I couldn’t figure it at first. I mean, I didn’t kid myself it would be four or five bucks a word; but $4 or $5 for a whole article? What had happened in the business I’d practiced 20 years before?

What had happened was that writing had been reduced to a commodity called “content,” and the business to a kind of linguistic delicatessen. “Gimme 500 words of that description there.” “I’ll have 800 of that noun and verb assortment, please. Throw in some keywords; the dog likes ‘em.”

How did that get by us? Other businesses and professions were upgrading their images and vocabularies, not trivializing them. Dentists don’t talk to their insurance companies about “cavities” and “fillings” today. When I was a kid you had cavities filled. (The memory is of a pair of large, hairy hands gripping metallic implements moving menacingly toward my mouth.) But Dr. Karpf only charged $3 per. Patching a hole in your tooth is a “restoration” now, and it starts about $100.

Well, it didn’t take advanced math to see that four (or even –whoa! – five) dollars for an article was lousy pay, but I penciled it out for that sample SEO article I told you about last post (which I can show you if you’re interested).

Half an hour on line, browsing the trade association’s newsletters to find the hook for the article. Two hours to write and polish it to the condition buyers demand: 500 words, 100% original, specified number of keywords inserted unobtrusively, something of value for the reader, conversational, “not run-of-the-mill,” perfect grammar and spelling, no typos, 48 hours delivery.  

It comes out $1.60 to $2.00 an hour. Minimum wage nationally is $7.25. I can’t park my car for two bucks an hour.

Some of the greats started out writing for the science fiction pulps for a penny a word, but it was the Great Depression. Ten words bought you a loaf of bread.  Only a note to a bank teller would do it today: “I’ve got a gun. Empty your drawers into the bag.”  You get what I mean. Even if you’re five times as fast as I am  -- you can research, think, write, rewrite, do the whole thing in half an hour instead of two-and-a-half -- you’re still underpaid.

I know there are still people who value writing, and jobs that pay. I’m just not meeting enough of them; that’s why this blog. I’m selling a service here.

Closing in on 500 words. Next: If anyone’s still with me, I make my pitch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Aging Newbie's Introduction to the Online World

Coming off 13 years of steady contract work with Boeing in late 2010, I found quickly that the freelance writing business had changed radically since my previous acquaintance with it. Among other things – some of which I’ll bitch about in later postings – there was something called SEO.  This in itself touched a nerve, because 13 years in the defense business had left me with a loathing for acronyms that can only be described as  – but I’ll get to that in later posts. 

Not wanting to appear uncool, I couldn’t ask what it meant, so I hung on the conversations of people in the business. My hearing had begun to fail, so it was a difficult time.  

Eventually I discovered that SEO stood for search engine optimization. Even in my unelectronified state that seemed self-explanatory: searching was done by computers, so if you could fool or overwhelm them with the pertinent words, you’d come up in the search. That discovery, important as it was at the time, was nothing alongside what I discovered about SEO writing later on, but that’s getting ahead of my story.  

I had made the acquaintance through friends of the owner of an internet marketing company, who had a client in the pool maintenance business. Not yet being established in the online world, I prevailed on him to let me write a sample assignment for him. 

The pool maintainers have a trade association, like everyone else, so I went online and browsed a couple of their newsletters to try to find a hook for the article. I got lucky; they had done a study on saltwater pools – just quirky enough for what I needed. The sophistication of the study and the reports thereof, contrasted with the mundanity(?) of the business itself, gave me the opportunity I was looking for. I could do something offbeat but still relevant -- informative yet entertaining -- while still enjoying my work. I do enjoy writing, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to give that up in this new freelance economy.     

Well, one thing and another, I lost contact with the marketing guy before I could get the article to him, but now I had a sample to show. I posted it with my profile on a couple of online job exchanges – and more about those later -- and started looking for article-writing assignments.

You’ve seen those cartoon doubletakes – the road ended a couple of feet ago at the edge of the cliff and the character, treading air, gives it that long stare downward just before gravity kicks in? That was me, early 2011, as I got the news.

Five-hundred-word articles,  keyword heavy, perfect grammar and spelling, no typos tolerated, 48-hour turnaround, 100% original because we’ll catch you with Copyscape were paying four and five dollars.

Next: Five-hundred-word articles,  keyword heavy, perfect grammar and spelling, no typos tolerated, 48-hour turnaround, 100% original because we’ll catch you with Copyscape pay four and five dollars???