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.