Monday, January 27, 2014

Blog Fodder

Looking back over my earlier posts, I do seem to spend a lot of time and words carping about the status of the writing business. I think it’s because I’m stuck with the memory of what it was 20 and 30 years ago, when a freelancer could make a living working only 70 or 80 hours a week.

How to live with today’s five-dollar articles and penny-a-word product descriptions?

If you can do an article off the top of your head in half an hour, at five dollars per article you’re being paid at the just-above-minimum-wage rate of ten dollars an hour. That’s THE RATE OF; you have to do it again to actually earn ten dollars. And you have to do it all day every day to begin to turn it into a living. I’d be interested to hear from people doing this successfully.

I’ve conceded before that there has to be someplace for new people to break in, and you’re not going to be paid reasonably until you’ve shown what you can do.  But looking up the profiles of people I’m competing with, there’s some pretty heavy talent out there. I haven’t been bidding entirely against penny-a-word beginners. So how can prices be so low? 

I guess it’s possible, what with the economy as it’s been the past couple of years, that there may be a greater-than-usual number of hungry writers around, good ones among them. But another possibility is that buyers are going for the low bid, taking pot luck on the results; If I can get the message across, who cares? Sure, the mantra in work descriptions is “perfect punctuation, grammar, and spelling,” but so what? You can lose all the vowels in most written English words nd stll snd n ndrstndbl mssg.  

While I can remember something of the Great Depression,    I don’t want to re-live it, and I don’t feel I want to come down to 1930s pay rates. The result has been that searching the online job listings has changed for me since I came back to freelancing two-and-a-half years ago. It’s gone from actually looking for work to mostly collecting material for my blog about outrageously low-paying job offers. It’s a great source of material.  More to come.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Push Comes to Shove

It's finally happened: I've thought about pushing back at some of the lowball job board offers I've been grousing about the past year-and-a-half, and I finally did it.

Why now, and why this job? There have been plenty to choose from. Others have had the same laborious explanation of work-for-hire rules; almost all have the "Copyscape will be watching you" warning. I guess maybe it's because this one, in addition to having one of the longest lists of requirements I've seen, shows a price range of $20-$150. That's a helluva spread. What are the odds of it paying the $150?

So I used up a bid to post a reply. Notice I don't say  "wasted" the bid. Pursuing the job would have been a waste; this at least was good for some amusement.

The reply to mine was pretty venomous. All I did was ask a civil question and offer some advice. I don't expect unsolicited advice to be received well, but I must have struck a nerve. I suggested that paying better would attract writers who wouldn't need to be warned about plagiarism and lectured on the meaning of work for hire. My recommendation was called "whining drivel."

But the question was the more intriguing part.

The wording of the job description was virtually identical to a lot of other lowball job offers. There was one improvement: where earlier descriptions say the job is VERY EASY for a great writer like you so bid low, this one called it "trivial" for a great writer like you, so bid low. Much of the rest was boilerplate identical to that found on many other job offers. I asked if someone was selling a template to buyers.

I didn't get an answer to that part. That leaves me to consider the other possibilities. Discounting mental telepathy, either all these buyers are connected, or some of them are guilty of plagiarism themselves.

The thought of a whole network of bottom-feeding "employers" is frightening, and not entirely unbelievable. The idea of massive plagiarism on their part is amusing.

I must also say this for the reply I received; I do believe that the offeror has had no trouble hiring professional writers with her job specs and pay rate. (Anyone who is paid anything for work is, by  definition, a professional. Look what happened to Jim Thorpe.) And that's the pitiable part; I think there were something like 19 bids on that job -- people who didn't know if they were bidding for $20 or $150. But that's the mainstream of the business today. I'm not in it.       

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flogging the Novel

I’ve put myself out there for rejection again.

As mentioned elsewhere (my home page, a blog post or two), I’ve written a novel. It’s way different from what I usually do, but it sort of oozed onto the page over the course of a lot of years. I think it’s humorous, but of course I’m not in position to judge.

Literary agents are, and I recently picked up on an exercise I’ve followed intermittently, in which I pitch likely-sounding agents or agencies. Deciding on who’s “likely” for my material sends me, logically enough, to books and databases listing agents. But that’s where logic stumbles and the problem starts.

The problem is “genre.” Business/technical writers don’t think in terms of genre, or at least the ones I know don’t. But start researching literary agents and you’re immediately awash in the stuff. A listing of genres (I guess plural is OK(?)) an agent might admit he or she is receptive to might run to

                   Autobiography/Memoir, Commercial Fiction,
                              Graphic/Illustrated, Historical, Humor,
                     Journalism/Investigative Reporting, Literary Fiction,
                                                 Spiritual, War

Even weeding out the obvious mismatches, there are enough left that I'm no longer sure what I've written. Humor? Commercial Fiction? Literary Fiction? and what the hell is "Cross-genre"? Sounds vaguely disreputable, something I might easily have fallen into unknowingly. 

I haven't had any luck so far, but I've only submitted the book five or six times. From what I've read I understand you're not even in the game until your rejections hit the high double digits. (Recently I heard the figure 450, the author musing, "What if I'd given up at only 200?") The database I'm working with has 80-some agents' names, so  I'm in the right place.

Maybe it's apocryphal, but I cling to the story of the guy who discovers, belatedly but to his delight, that he's been writing prose all his life. Wouldn't it be great if it turned out I've been working in that nifty genre, Stuff People Like And Will Pay To Read?

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Same bench, same tree I wrote about in June of 2012, although no crow. I've since learned the tree is a Cypress. All its branches lean off east southeast, because the wind comes constantly from the west and the geography funnels it into this spot. That tree has been leaning into the wind for years.

Off to my right there are clutches of stubby palm trees, the kind with the leaves that glow silver in late afternoon light. Between these and some  others, I've discovered there's nothing more beautiful than green leaves against a blue sky. It's specially beautiful with our palm trees (what must it be like in Tahiti!) but the great thing about it is it works anywhere, with whatever kind of tree you have.

Just because I didn't bring any snacks this time, a squirrel comes down and almost stands on my shoe, making eye contact as he prods me for the peanuts I used to carry. I used to carry them in a little zippered compartment in a fatigue hat I had to wear when my hair left and my head would get cold.

For several months I didn't go to the bench at all, or do much of anything else, either.  It's only recently that I've begun again; I'm feeling better, and it's hard to resist our Southern California weather.

I wonder if the squirrel remembers me from those months ago, or if he solicits anyone who sits on that particular bench. If it's the latter, I hope I'm not responsible; it's not the healthiest thing for a small animal around here to be too incautious around people. We have some cranks here; people who don't like animals and resent the change in the law that compelled them to permit them. They'd banned them for the first 30 years of this senior development. Never could understand people who don't like animals.

We, by contrast, have just adopted a cat. He looks like one of  our previous cats, a longhair female, but this time there's beef under the fluff. Mollie felt more like a bird when you picked her up, all hollow bones and feathers; Squiggles (he came from the shelter with that moniker) is a solid welterweight.

It's my blog and I'm allowed to ramble, but there ought to be some kind of useful message buried in there if anyone is nice enough to read it. There are two:  (1) I'm open for business; but more importantly, (2) If you get sick, don't get discouraged; it can be beaten.