Crowdsourcing Writing Work

I get a fair amount of work through a site called Elance.com. Basically it is a crowd source site where those who need work done post their job and choose from the people that bid for it. Sometimes you get the right person for the job and sometimes you pick a loser. I have been fortunate and of the jobs I have posted (translation mostly but some content creation) I have discovered some excellent writing talent, but also a couple of losers. I have also had a couple of ‘employers’ who really need to wake themselves up a bit as to their expectations and what have you.

Elance, ODesk and similar crowd sourcing sites are good but you do need to get established as the more jobs you do and the more positive feedback you get the more likely you are going to win the bid, even be invited to bid by the job poster. What you have to watch out for is not selling yourself too cheaply just to get some runs on the board and break the ‘seal’. I have begun to collect job ads that I find particularly representative of the exploitative mindset of some of the job posters who want the world for nothing. I will point out that when I was looking for a translation to German and Spanish of one of my texts I had a very limited budget. I was inundated with bids for Spanish but actually got a couple of indignant emails from German translators about how I was insulting them with my low budget. All I can say is ‘es tut mir leid! Ich hat kein gelt.’ (I’m very sorry but I have little money).

No one is forced to bid for a job and maybe, like me, the job poster has been bitten in the past so they make the terms and conditions very specific. Fair enough but I think you can get too self-important here. I get the impression from some job posts the poster is still living in the colonial days of the Raj and thinks they are doing the writers from non-native speaking countries a favour. Then again, not all of these job posters are from the USA, many come from the countries they pitch their job posts at. Check it out for yourselves.

Social Visibility Online

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 12.48.53 PMI have signed up with a new service that I think will be a ‘must-have’ for anyone serious about making a living online. Social Visibility Online basically takes care of everything social media related. Today the search engine optimization (SEO) is all about relevance and influence. The content of the page has to be relevant, to the viewer (or searcher). How it gets ranked and thus whether or not it is found, is all about influence. If the content is very relevant then lots of people will like it, follow it, share it and so on. This helps the web crawlers decide whether your page will come up in a search on the first page or somewhere else. Of course if you are paying for advertising it should appear when the right keywords are used to look for it, but otherwise it is all down to the amount of social love your page gets.

Some writers are doing away with websites altogether and focusing on their LinkedIn or Facebook pages, or similar social media presence. They back it up with Twitter and YouTube and give ‘traditional’ web sites and blogs a big miss. I predict the day when WordPress and Blogger will no longer have the market share they once enjoyed. It will all be social media related because that is where the money is, that is where people are spending their online time and most importantly of all, influencing the viewing choices of their social media networks.

We have already seen big changes in how people interact online. I still have several Yahoo Groups I own or belong to but frankly, I rarely spend any time on them anymore. They are too limited and not sufficiently interactive and, roll your eyes if you must, Facebook is a more versatile tool and a better, far more interactive and immediate experience.

Do I have the time to properly engage through social media? Not really. I could spend my time online better, we all could but this is why I use Social Visibility Online. They do all the things i need to be done at very reasonable rates. I can focus on writing, publishing and prospecting while they do all the marketing and media maintenance I need to keep being found.

 

Self Publishing’s 287% Growth

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 8.58.45 PMThe American firm that controls the ISBN allocation, Bowker, reported that in 2012 there were more than 235,000 self-published titles, both print and eBooks in the USA. Of these, publishing services sites like CreateSpace, Smashwords, Lulu and Author Solutions handled most of the titles on behalf of independent authors. Fantastic! This is an increase year on year that comes in at 287% growth since 2006.

If you want to read a report on this self-publishing phenomena, specifically print -v-eBooks, you can buy a 7 page report from Bowker for, wait for it, US$199. I’ll pass. No doubt the big publishing firms can afford that but little independent publishers like me? I’ll spend the money marketing my backlist, thanks.

 

Writing Machines Are Here!

Writing Machines Are here!They have been with us for some time as this 2008 video clip attests. I found it interesting how he stated fiction is the least profitable form of writing there is, and he is correct. When compared to business reports and self-help books, text books and creative non-fiction, autobiographies and the like, fiction is pretty low pay. There is so much competition, basically.

This article looks at what the ‘book’ scene might be like in 2043. I think there is a lot of truth in the article and if we are not careful, the worst of the predictions will come true. We do expect so much content to be free, yet it cost someone time and effort to create and quite possibly a lot of money to develop their skillset to the point where they can create such quality work.

Watch the video clip, read the article then invest some of your precious time in thinking, just thinking about what you have read and watched. Then ask yourself which medium you preferred. I think many will prefer the audio visual moving video to the static visual article and I see video being the way to go in the future. Consider how popular animated video presentations are, you know the ones where someone is drawing cartoon like images to illustrate the points spoken by the narrator. More and more people are also using infoDNxvjgraphic posts that present the information visually with drawings, charts, visual fonts and such.

Makes sense given the greater percentage of information taken in visually compared to the other senses.

Getting Paid To Write

One of the things about writing for a living is that you have to get paid for your writing or else there is no living being made. Many people out there who want to be clients of a writer forget that they are purchasing your services. They are hiring you for your expertise, your creativity, capability and skill. You deserve to be paid for what you know and what you can do for your clients, do you agree? Of course you do but do you really?

If you do agree with me, why do I still find myself in discussions and email exchanges with eWriters who fail to get some portion of their payment up front? A ‘Commencement Fee’ is vital to setting the tone of the arrangement. It demonstrates you are a professional whose time is valuable and that you are an equal partner in the transaction. You will expend time and focus getting started on the client’s  writing project and that needs to be paid for. You see, too many clients change their minds, suddenly find other priorities in their busy schedules or simply lose interest. They have no idea you have spent hours of precious time communicating with them to arrange the project, read what they send, draw up a plan or outline and give some serious thought to the job. All of which takes up time and requires you to use your skills and experience on the client’s behalf.

If the client changes their mind for whatever reason then that is not something you should be penalised for. They should have been given sufficient examples of your writing to know if you are the style of writer they are after before they sign the Letter of Agreement (you do send them a Letter of Agreement, right?). If they discover this after you send them the first block of writing for their consideration then fair enough, that happens, but you still worked for them up to that point and you should be paid for that work. This is the nature of and the risk run with work of a creative nature like writing, sculpting, painting and so on. If they wish to cancel the project then you should have been paid enough through the ‘Commencement Fee’ to cover yourself up to the point where you send them that first draft of the first block of writing. Some writers even charge, and get, a ‘Kill Fee’ if the job is cancelled.

Recently a client asked if he could cancel a project we had begun and for which he had paid a Commencement Fee. I realised while I could argue the point, there was no point in doing so as it would ruin what had up to then been a good working relationship. Basically, after reading my massaging of his first chapter and despite loving my work, he had realised he didn’t want a ghost writer, he had to write this book himself. Fair enough. He asked if the ‘unused portion’ of the Commencement Fee could be refunded to him and he would, of course, give me positive feedback on the crowd sourcing site he had used to solicit for my services. Quite frankly, there was no unused portion. I checked my time sheet and found I had easily used up the fee value in time, reading the previous books he had written that he had sent me asking me to read to get a handle on his writing style and so forth. I had spent over an hour on a Skype call as well as other exchanges of correspondence and on top of that a couple of hours arranging and organizing the project, producing a scaffold for him to follow and so on. I had well and truly earned every cent of the commencement fee. I explained this to him in detail and he cancelled the job, I accepted the cancellation and gave him fair and very positive feedback and I am sure, one day, maybe one day soon, he will do the same for me as he said he would. Then again, he might not because people do tend to change where money is involved.

The moral of this story is that you need to be professional, get it in writing and get some commitment off the client up front in the form of a commencement fee. I usually ask 25% on jobs over $1,000 and 50% on smaller projects. No doubt with the matter over with, my client simply forgot to honour his promise to leave feedback and as I have more than enough there already, it won’t harm my prospects of winning the next job but one would be forgiven for thinking that sometimes people are all very nice, until money is involved and especially when it is their money. Had I not obtained the commencement fee before beginning the job I believe I would be out of pocket and have spent several hours working on his project for no pay. This is without considering the loss I am carrying at the moment for the hours I set aside for his project and now have to use to find a new client. I had actually knocked back a job because I felt I had too full a schedule with the now-cancelled project and I never want to take on too much, promise the world and then fail to deliver.

Commencement fees soothe some of that hurt and I am always glad I ask for one these days. Too many times in the past clients have simply not respected my professionalism and treated me like I’m doing them a favour, mostly because ‘well it’s only writing and everyone can write and besides, you said you love what you do’. Well, writing is what I do, I do it well and I deserve to be paid and if you could do it then you wouldn’t need me, right? Get paid, people. It is your right.

Vanity Press – Still The Vampires of the Writing World?

I have no issue with vanity press publishers; many great authors self-published their work including Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The term ‘vanity press’ is itself somewhat pejorative, suggesting the writing is not good enough to be accepted by a mainstream (or traditional as some say) publishing house and so the author must pay to have it published themselves. Not true. The reality is that traditional publishing houses are inundated with manuscripts and must choose those they feel are commercially viable, it’s simply economics.

Vanity press is not a social stigma, more so these days that anyone can publish their own work or the work of others and many independent publishers, like me, can do pretty much what thebig boys can do. We just don’t have the marketing department, the many connections and the money behind us but then we don’t have the overhead either. POD or print on demand publishing companies like Lulu.com and CreateSpace.com (and others such as Lightening Source et al) have levelled the print playing field while KDP.com and smashwords.com have done great things for electronic publishing. What was once considered the ‘hippy land’ or New Age of publishing is now as mainstream and respected as any of the Big Six (or Five).

Yet the traps are still out there waiting to catch the unwary and the naive. I came across one the other day and have written about it in more depth on a page all of its own titled ‘Vanity Press’ to make it easy to find. Make no mistake, what they are offering is not illegal as far as I can see and for many it will offer a worthwhile solution to their publishing dilemma. It is simply not worth it in my opinion, but then I do this for a living and have learned things most first time authors don’t yet know (much as I was pretty clueless when I published my first eBook in 2003). Even for those who are time poor or haven’t a clue about how to self publish, this is not the great option they might think it to be and I explain why. In detail and I drill down the numbers to show there is nothing to be gained by the writer and everything by the publisher. Check it out.

The Funnel Of Success

Sales-funnel_newWhen I was in Sales I learned a concept called the Funnel of Success. Imagine you have a funnel and in the top you pour all your leads and calls and bids and what have you. Out the bottom drips the sales. The more effort or actions you pour in the top, the more they convert into sales and drip out the bottom. If you don’t pour anything in the top then of course, nothing is going to drip out the bottom.

I use this funnel analogy when talking about freelance writing to my classes on the topic at community college. You need to be looking for work all the time, allocating set blocks of time to chasing jobs and bidding for projects, even if you are flat chat on work at the moment. Next week, when that writing project is done or that ghostwritten eBook is finished you will be needing something to do so why not take a short break from the current job and keep filling up the funnel? You can’t write 24/7 on anything; you need to recharge the creative batteries so while you are ‘resting’, be productive and prospect for new projects!

You need to pour in three or fours times as much work as you could handle because the odds are you won’t win every tender. Just last week I bid on about 8 or 9 jobs on Elance and scored two small jobs; one was writing a short ebook of about 15 pages for $120, the other writing some blog posts for $75. All up, including bidding for them, doing the work and liaising with the clients it took about 6 hours of my week, averaged out at $32.50/hour which isn’t bad coin. This week I have a manuscript to edit and proof and at 40,000 words the $250 fee is pretty cheap but the work came to me, I like the client and I am confident I can do a great job in 5 hours, thus hitting my $50/hour target. Even if it takes a few hours more there are no major overheads to cover.

Of course $445 in two weeks isn’t enough to keep the wolves from the door but there have been two community college courses completed this week that I can invoice and it is the end of the month so my tutoring invoice is going in too. The week before last I deposited a royalty cheque from Amazon.com that will clear soon and I expect another from them next week. All in all we will be back ‘in funds’ and cashflow positive once more. Nonetheless, I am prospecting again as soon as I publish this blog post. That funnel needs to be fed, constantly.

Don’t Take Vacations!

Along with the freedom and what have you of being a freelance writer, comes the reality that you don’t have paid sick leave. At the moment my back is ‘out’ and that means pain, restricted movement, inability to sit and work for long periods and pain. My vacation didn’t cause the back issue, that was a week after our return while vacuuming the car. The real problem is that on coming home you have to hit the ground running and get back into the work schedule as quickly as you can. I was home from the airport at 2:30pm and out to teach this term’s Creative Writing class at 6pm. A week later, I had to hobble in with a walking stick so hopefully next week I will be 100% again.

As a freelance writer you must accept that if you don;t work, you don;t get paid. Short of passive income in the form of royalties building up thanks to sales of my books, I only eat when I get paid for something I wrote or at the end of the term for teaching. Cashflow is a major concern for all businesses and no different if yours is a writing business, online or off. Sometimes demands on your cash can come in banana bunches and if you just spent most of your money on a vacation, this can be a problem. A week after returning I had my first car accident for 25 years and now look like having my car written off as unrepairable, simply because it is not worth much… to anyone else. To me it is worth as much as a new Land Rover Discovery4! If I clear a grand from the insurance, what will I replace it with that is as reliable as the old ‘Ninky Nonk’?

Car accidents, back injuries, an oncoming cold and some serious pressure to get some work in, done and out and paid for it all takes its toll. If you can’t handle these kinds of pressures and times, think very carefully before you tell the boss where to put their job! If you have so much cash in reserve these problems aren’t problems, you are probably not a freelance writer or, you are one of the very few, well established professionals with good contacts and clients and lots of work lined up plus money in the bank. It is doable, but make sure you consider these possibilities (vacations, injury, accident etc) when you plan your break into freelance freedom.

It Does Build Up Over Time

One of the things many eWriters discuss with me is how long it takes to build up a decent online writing business. Basically ti takes different lengths of time for each of us as we all do the marketing differently and we do the work differently too. I can say I have been doing this full-time since September 26, 2009 and I am only now, April 12 2013 really feeling it is picking up and doing fairly well. Of course I still tutor and lecture but I am getting more and more eWriting assignments.

I have recently completed an eBook for a US client on budgeting and good money management practices for small business professionals and freelancers. I also won a contract to ghostwrite and autobiography and I am chasing several other jobs. One came through but then the client fell off the wagon and hasn’t been heard of since. It happens. It is not a job until the money is in escrow (Elance etc) or they have signed and returned a project agreement and the deposit is in your bank account or PayPal account.

I must say, since increasing my fees and insisting on them I have had no problems with clients either accepting my bids or choosing others. When I get the job I am happy because I am getting paid a fair amount. If I miss out due to bidding too much for their taste or budget then that is ok as we would not have been happy. They would begrudge the ‘extra’ money they would pay me if they paid my asking rate and I would begrudge them having to do the job for such a low rate if I had to discount to win the work.

Right now we are less than three weeks off our vacation to Singapore and the Philippines. A working vacation for me but one I will love. Having the family with me this time will be fantastic. I will get the chance to update my StreetWise Philippines series of self-help eBooks and spend some great time with the family. So how can we manage this on a freelance writer’s pay? Well, first of all we took advantage of special low fare deals and adjusted our dates to suit. We saved up and had cash ready to go to take advantage of the deal when it surfaced, and it was quickly sunk by the rush of buyers! We have said ‘No’ to the kids for all non-essentials and most ‘wants’ for months and gone without ourselves but all in a good cause. You see, it is how my parents taught me and my wife’s taught her: you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get the thing you really want.

So you can make a living as a freelance eWriter and take your family overseas and pay all your bills. I do and while we don’t live in a McMansion, we are happy with what we have. That’s another secret for success as a freelance eWriter: adjust your expectations to match your reality, then look to the work and the rewards will follow.

Charging More Is Working For Me

Funny thing how when you value your time and your talent more, others follow suit. Putting a higher value on my services was a major decision on my part. It has paid off, even if there was a short ‘bare patch’ with work being rather thin on the ground, so to speak. Now I am humming along steadily and have a ghost writing eBook 60% done and a stack of web content to produce for a good, long standing client. I won another contract but the client seemed to have trouble working out the time difference between here and the USA and has faded off the screen, for now. It happens. Usually for the best and if it happens this early on then that has to be a positive thing for both parties.

I still haven’t done anything with my novel but I have had a lot more lecturing work and some new tutoring clients. I am hoping to also get some time to look at my backlist and maybe push some of those titles before I have to upgrade the StreetWise Philippines series following our trip there next month. So basicaly I have never been busier and that is of course, a good thing. Next term I will be teaching a new, updated version of my ‘How To Make A Living Online’ Course. As you might note, I have dropped the ‘As An Online Writer’ part of the title as most attendees don’t want to be online writers as such and I have no doubt scared off a number of potential students. I will make it more generic to making a living online and should have full classes. Stay tuned for more updates!