Wild Musing

Writing – Diary of a Budding Freelance

Guru Update- Employers Who Don’t Pay For Your Writing

Well I think Karma may have got me. After all my moaning about the quality of the work my first guru employer had asked me to do it now looks likely he won’t pay me. I am not going to get into the whole blame game thing, suffice to say, he was totally in the wrong. I said I could do 4/5 articles a day every day this week except New Year’s Day (for obvious reasons). He sent me three sets of four with a note acknowledging that I would not be able to do them all at once. I polished off the first set yesterday and returned them to him within twelve hours, with a note reminding him that as I would not be working New Year’s Day, one more set was probably the best I would manage before the holiday.

I got up this morning and did two more articles, then sent him an email querying a minor detail in the assignment and received a reply stating that as I could not finish the assignment he had given it to another writer. I am left to assume he mean the whole 12 articles. So what about my first four? Gentle emails prodding him for an answer have had no response, funny that as the longest he took to reply to any queries yesterday was about ten minutes.

So… I think I can kiss goodbye to my articles and my money. Where does this leave me with Guru.com? Not in as negative a frame of mind as you make think. I figure this can happen anytime to someone who provides goods or a service up front. Look at the amount of people who skip out on motel bills or drive away without paying for petrol ( no-one I know,obviously, but you see what I am saying). I will even stick up for this Guru employer slightly, he may actually pay some of his writers. His mindset may be to use the first sign of a problem to his advantage. Or he may be an out and out scammer. It is not really important at this stage.

The question is should I allow it to put me off Guru.com all together? I think not. I have had some quite promising emails from people discussing far more interesting and lucrative projects than this one which is very encouraging. I think I will persevere and see where they lead me.

Though I must admit that another experience like this and even my sunny, Pollyanna style optimism may become slightly tarnished. I will keep you up to date.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Elance, Getting published, Guru, Uncategorized, Writing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Moral Issues in Freelance Writing- Can We Afford to Care?

Yesterday I was pretty dismissive of a minor moral dilemma I had encountered in my day’s work. I still largely stand by what I said, there is nothing inherently wrong with writing articles to draw people to your client’s website. Clearly this is a legitimate form of advertising and just because it is a fairly recent development does not make it unethical. I did toy with the idea that having writers who know nothing about a product, sell it, may be deceitful but really, since when have advertisers known the ins and outs of their products? Over all I think we are on pretty solid ground morally when we accept this type of writing, so long as you undertake to research as best you can and do a thoroughly professional job I think you can sleep easy in your bed (I dare say that is a huge weight off your mind, worrying about my opinion on the matter has no doubt kept you up nights)

But what if as you are writing you start to get a small but persistent, sneaking feeling that the whole thing may be a big con? What if you fear, on a fairly educated guess, that the product you are selling is designed, largely to do people out of their cash without much gain for them? Do you stop? Can you afford the loss of income and inevitable negative feedback?

Again, I am not sure I can afford to care at the moment but if it is any consolation I would feel bad about it and I will care as soon as I have enough money to feed myself. Anyway, I may be wrong, maybe the product is making everyone rich. How does everyone else feel about this?

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Elance, Guru, Writing | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guru Update – Is It Writing Prostitution?

Forgive the emotive title, I have just finished my first Guru assigned writing gig. And I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it is, if everything goes to plan, going to bring in a much needed fast cash injection. On the other the work was very repetitive and not very exciting. The pay per activity was not very exciting either actually, or the topics for that matter. It basically entailed writing four articles on the topic of real estate and then spinning each one twice.

For those of you who have never heard of spinning, as I had not until today, it has nothing to do with Tony Blair’s labour party. It basically means going back and changing enough about your article so that it appears original to whichever site the client submits it to. The idea being to attract potential clients to their sites so they can sell their product. Apparently a 30 percent difference should be enough. You can get spinning software but clients are unhappy with that because it basically goes through the article and replaces random words with one of its equivalents from the thesaurus. I had a friend who used to do this to his high school English essays so I can well imagine the results, hilarious. Anyway, humans are much better at this process than computers (except my friend of course). Score one for us.

The work is not difficult I will say that for it. A tiny bit of knowledge on the subject is enough to generate a couple of articles and you can always research a bit on the web to find out more. But it is boring and not very well paid. If you can do an article and two re writes in an hour it works out at just above minimum wage (for this particular employer).

I did question the ethics of the process for awhile, until I decided that really it was just a modern version of advertising and the debate about the ethics of advertising has been going on around me ,unheeded, for decades. I don’t plan to start taking notice now. As for the ‘rewriting’ issue, I have made a decision, I will never re write another writer’s work, that is just wrong. But so long as the work I am re writing is my own I figure I am the only one getting ripped off and I can live with that.

On the bright side while this type of work is common on Guru it is not the only type that is available, there are other better paid and much more exciting projects on there. When you can afford to be choosy it is a very good resource. Just for the record (and for the benefit of Guru employers I point this way) I can’t always afford it. So I will continue to accept project like this and complete them to a high professional standard. Maybe that will reap rewards. Here’s hoping.

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Elance, Getting published, Guru, Writing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Get Your Article Published – First Five Steps

1. Buy a copy of whichever market guide is the most respected in your country.

In the UK this is the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. It is packed with good advice and more importantly the names of loads different types of places that may be willing to publish your work and pay you for it. The magazine section for example lists magazines that accept freelance contributions. It usually gives you the name of the editor, and some sort of contact details. It may give you a more specific idea of the type of freelance material they are seeking, and what type of rates they pay. It is the first stop for any freelance.

Hot Tip: You don’t have to stick to just the market guide for your country. There is no rule that says you can only write for magazines or publishers in your own country. Try finding the best example from a few countries. It will help broaden your market. Check out the Australian Marketplace Online for a start.

2. Make a list of the kinds of things you know about and also those that you are interested enough in to research thoroughly. You don’t have to know everything about the subjects or topics you put on your list but it will make your life much more enjoyable if they are something you would like to learn more about. This is never stressed enough; you are likely to lead a miserable life if you choose to write about something you are not terribly interested in, as well as the fact you are unlikely to do it well.

3. Go through your market guide carefully and make a note of all of the magazines that may be interested in publishing something on your topics. A bit of organisation now is likely to save you lots of time in the future. Try dividing your subjects into categories and noting down contact details of the editor or whoever is responsible for freelance content.

Hot Tip: Something useful you can do at this stage is to mark up your market guide. Try assigning a different colour to each of your categories and marking pages with contacts that might be interested in that subject with a colour post it. It will save you lots of time later when you have a great idea and don’t have to comb back through the book to work out where you should submit it.

4. Start thinking of article ideas for each of your categories (this is actually the hard bit but ,unfortunately, there are not many tips for how to improve your imagination, just try to keep abreast of things happening in your subject areas.)

5. Pitch your ideas to the contacts you have found at the magazines that may be interested in your article. What no one really tells you is that there are, broadly speaking, two types of pitch. The first is a very brief outline that should be enough to hook your editor if he/she really likes the sound of your idea. The advantages of this type of pitch are; most editors are busy and may not look at anything longer, it saves you time because if the editor is not interested you have not invested too much in the pitch. The disadvantages are: it is sometimes hard to get across the essence of your article in such a short pitch, if you are relatively unknown you risk just being ignored because the editor can’t see anything of substance. The second type of pitch is much longer and outlines the shape or structure you see this article taking, includes the first paragraph to give an idea of your writing style and even a few coverline ideas, you might want to include a short blurb on why you think the article would fit into their magazine. The risk you take with this type of pitch is that the editor will see all the type and decide he/she can’t fit reading it into their day and if this is the case you have wasted a substantial chunk of time. On the other hand it looks very professional and gives the editor more of an idea of who you are. The choice is yours.

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Pitching Your Article:Template for a Detailed Pitch

This is a follow up on the article pitching blog from last week. I  needed a bit of help with my first detailed pitch so I thought I would share my formula with new writers in the hope it helps them.I have changed the name of the magazine and the person involved but you can probably see it relates to my horrible interview blogs. Still the reason I was holding the interview was because the pitch succeeded and that is the main thing.

If you do decide on a long, detailed pitch as the way to go for putting forward your idea then it is important that it is still concise but informative at the same time. It is also important that you are familiar with the readership of the magazine and the style. Below is a example of the kind of structure such a pitch could take. It may also be an advantage to include a paragraph from the article.

Successful Woman Interview- Your Magazine

Synopsis

The focus of the article written from the interview will depend on which magazine I am writing for. For your magazine I would propose to concentrate on Ms Taylor as a successful woman who manages to juggle family and hugely busy career with aplomb. As well as her work with children and in the field of child psychology, she also wrote a successful TV which was very well received.

As your magazine is directed at women 25-45, many of whom will have children, I also propose to spend some time on her latest achievement The Internet Used Well- a book she has written on how to assist children to get the best from the internet and video games. I believe this area to be of huge concern to mothers and the report has some good, practical advice on how make sure your children are safe on the internet and how to help them get the best out of video games(it is not all bad news, if used wisely video games can be beneficial for children).

Structure (largely dependent on how much room I am given)

A 2000 word article on Ms Taylor”s life – home and work. Some focus on how she manages to ‘have it all’, kids, successful career and marriage. In this section I would include her reasons for refusing to do anymore of her popular parenting shows and her work with on the successful TV series.

500/1000 words on her book, the way information was gathered and a discussion of its findings and the implications for parents.

I also think a sidebar detailing the more important and relevant recommendations of the book in jargon free language would be of interest to your readers.

Possible Coverlines

Video games- it is not all bad news. Ms Taylor tells us how to keep our kids safe and have fun at the same time.

Your Magazine Reader’s Interest

Ms Taylor is an attractive, successful and intelligent woman firmly in the demographic of your magazine’s readers. She has a brilliant career, a long term marriage to a man who is successful in his own right and two lovely children. For these reasons alone I believe your magazine’s readers would find her story inspiring. Add that to the fact that she has a track record of giving parents sound, practical advice on child rearing and has written a very well received report on an area of concern for parents and I believe she is an ideal subject for your magazine.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Getting published, Interviewing, Writing | Leave a comment

Video Games to Blame For the End of The World (Blame Games Part Two)

I enjoyed writing about some of the crazy things people have said about video games so much I decided not to stop at one blog. 

1.The New Zealand Herald reported three Auckland teens were killed in a vehicle crash while attempting to outrun police in a high speed pursuit.

National’s transport spokesman Maurice Williamson says today’s young people think they are bullet-proof. He blames Playstations and X-boxes for making teens think they can drive stupidly and just push the reset button if anything goes wrong.

 I am pretty sure teenagers have behaved recklessly since the beginning of time. I remember pulling some stunts with cars that now, quite frankly, make my hair stand on end to think about and I have never been interested in racing games. I wonder if there has been an increase in teenagers leaping from tall buildings because if they die when they hit the bottom the can press the reset  button?

2.LONDON (AFP) — West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green has blamed the increasing popularity of video games among English boys for the country’s failure to reach the finals of the Euro 2008 football championships.But Green cited an economic cause as a reason for England’s failure.”We would have the best team if we could go into every household and throw away every PlayStation, Xbox and video game.

I read the whole article and I still could not work out what his reasoning for this was, but I think it is my favorite so far. Video games are to blame for English failure at sport. Beautiful. I presume this is because they are banned in countries where sporting success is more common place?

3.  In this week’s edition of the magazine, Adler reported on a new study showing our time in outdoors recreation is declining. He summarized: “So along with obesity and attention-deficit disorder, you can now, if you choose, blame videogames for the greenhouse effect.” 

I have a feeling that this may have been slightly tongue in cheek but still it does suggest that the only or main reason people stay inside is because of video games, I bet the TV industry is so glad games were invented to take the heat off them. Also, I included it because it shows video game bashing has reached its final conclusion, they are now to blame for the literal end of the world. My job here is done.

December 26, 2008 Posted by | Gaming | | Leave a comment

Video Games Are the Root of All Evil

I am presently writing a commissioned article on a recent report on the effects of video games on children. The report itself is very balanced and sensible and,dare I say it, quite pro games and the gaming industry. But in the course of my research I have come to realise that people try to blame video games for some amazing things. So I decided to make a top five list of the contentious things people say about video games and the video game culture.

1.”These are real lives. These are real people that are in the ground now because of this game. I have no doubt about it,” said Thompson, a Florida attorney and fervent critic the of video game industry.

To be fair this could have just been a list of the top five contentious things this guy has said in his campaign against everything to do with video games. This particular gem was in the wake of the Virginia tech shootings after some of the perpetrators’ friends suggested he may have played a bit of Counter Strike when he was younger, that was about as strong as the link to video games got. When his room was searched he did not even have a copy of the game or a single console. The comment is not that surprising coming from a guy who calls gamers knuckleheads and says playing games is ‘mental masturbation’.

2.ENO, Nev. (AP) — A couple authorities say were so obsessed with the Internet and video games that they left their babies starving and suffering other health problems have pleaded guilty to child neglect.“They had food; they just chose not to give it to their kids because they were too busy playing video games,” Viloria told the Reno Gazette-Journal.Police said hospital staff had to shave the head of the girl because her hair was matted with cat urine. The 10-pound girl also had a mouth infection, dry skin and severe dehydration.Her brother had to be treated for starvation and a genital infection. His lack of muscle development caused him difficulty in walking, investigators said.

I have no doubt that had there been no video games in the world these people would have been model parents! Video games are apparently so addictive that they can over-ride the strength of the bond between parent and child. Sure. Is it not more likely these people were defective units in the first place?

3.Children are playing a game that encourages them to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them,” the senator and former first lady Hilary Clinton, said.

No ,Hilary, it is really not. It is encouraging them to to have pretend sex, with pretend prostitutes and then pretend to murder them. It is not real, honestly. Anyway, these kinds of games are not directed at children, where are their parents?

4.McDonald’s boss: ‘Games to blame for childhood obesity’

Yes, Mr Easterbrook and your fat laden food, aggressive marketing to children and encouragement of people to ‘have fries with that’ has absolutely nothing to do with it.

5. An interesting study confirming an effect I’ve experienced many a time: After playing a driving-based video game, 27 percent of drivers (ages 16 to 24) found that they were more likely to speed or take risks when behind the wheel. 

Oh come on! Now games are to blame for an increase in crap driving.

Oh well, one thing I will say for anti video game pundits, they have kept my research for this article interesting.

December 23, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Writing | , , , , | 1 Comment

When An Interview Goes Horribly Wrong

I am not claiming to be an expert on interviewing ,if anything, the exact opposite. I held my first interview on Friday. It is for an article I am writing on a fairly prominent expert in her field and TV personality. It went horribly. The story I wanted to write on this lady had been pitched as a positive one. I have a lot of respect for the lady and her professional opinions. So what went wrong? 

First of all a blinding revelation: some people are going to see you as a sneaky little journalist out to do a hatchet job on them, even if nothing could be further from the truth. They have been burned by writers before and they don’t trust you. This may sound obvious but it really was not something I had considered. I get on well with people, I thought this would be no different.

Another thing that sounds obvious make sure your research is spot on and only ask questions on things you are on very solid ground with. I really thought I had done my research thoroughly, I had spent hours but I was dealing with a two hundred page report and some pretty complex ideas. It went wrong when I decided to throw in a question motivated by personal curiosity that I had not really looked into.

In hindsight I also think it may have been a mistake to send her the questions in advance, this seemed sensible at the time but probably contributed to the situation. The question she had a problem with was the last one I asked, if she had not had prior warning we may have established a rapport by the time we got to it and she would have seen it more in context or we may not have even got that far in the time alloted.

Things were amicable in the end. Once I had managed to explain that my question may have been naive but it was certainly not designed to trip her up, she became less hostile and explained to me that the issue we were discussing was surprisingly contentious and had even resulted in people accessing her ten year old son’s social networking site to insult her. She offered to help me with anything I was unsure of, motivated I am sure by the fact that she now thinks I am a complete idiot but still, better that than believing me to be a malicious complete idiot. Hopefully I can change her opinion as we work on the article.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Getting published, Interviewing, Writing | , , , , | 2 Comments

History of Sex In Video Games

I received an email the other day from the editor of one of the gaming magazines I write for with a proposal for a new article. Could you do me, 2000 words on the history of sex in video games, please? A general piece on the ways it has been used, when it has been part of a legitimate storyline and when it is clearly just frap material for teenage boys. Mmmm, ok, sounds interesting, I have never heard of the word frap but I get the general idea. So I start to research it and all I can say is: who knew? There is a plethora of information out there on this topic and it really is highly interesting stuff. The way people’s minds work!

Hot Coffee (the incident that caused a huge scandal when game designers accidently left a hidden scene in GTA: San Andreas where the player could control the thrusting of the character as he had sex), Leisure Suit Larry ( the whole point of the game is to pursue lovely ladies and score to score, but big points loss for not using a condom) and usb devices that fit over the penis to provide stimulation, it is a wide, wide world out there. The magazine I write for is generally of the good, clean fun variety so I will have to tread carefully. I may leave out the bit about the usb device. And coverage in anything but the vaguest terms of the second life like sex game Sociolotron, may also be going too far.

I can see this is going to need a lot more research though, and blogging.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Sex in games | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Pitch Your Idea To A Magazine Editor

How to pitch your article to the editor of a magazine is actually a quite contentious issue. There are just so many things to consider and it is so vitally important to get it right. At the risk of popping people’s bubbles, decent writers are a dime a dozen. Brilliant,booker prize winning authors are rare but the rest of us are everywhere, all trying to get ourselves published and make some money from our passion. The pitch is often the only thing you have to impress an editor enough to pick you out from the crowd.

The problem is editors are extremely busy people and it is very important not to annoy them, as you really need them on your side. So, there is the dilemma, a short easy to read pitch that the editor will not have to give up much of her precious time to read or a long, detailed but professional pitch that the editor may not even make it past the the first sentence of? In general it comes down to the quality of the idea. If you have a blindingly good, fairly original idea for an article it will probably stand on its own. Just put a few short sentences in an email (after you have phoned to make sure you have correct contact details) and fire it off to a few magazines.

If your idea has, admittedly, been done before but you think you have a new take on it or your style of writing has something fresh to add then it is as well to set out a detailed proposal. A detailed proposal can include lot of different elements and often depends on what you want to showcase about the article. An idea of the structure you see the article having and a paragraph from the article are a good idea. Examples of detailed pitches in part two.

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Getting published, Writing | , , | Leave a comment