Writers Deserve Respect

open-book-1378562978VkiWhen I recently lost both my primary clients due to financial issues, I did what I really did not want to do: began searching the job boards for listings. Yes, I knew these were not the best paying gigs, but I needed something to tide me over. I needed something quickly and couldn’t just sit back and do nothing while I rebuilt my database of active clients. I found a few very good paying ones, but didn’t have any luck with those–I had signed up with one in May and still haven’t received any offers (apparently the same is true of many writers according to their forum), and the other one actually turned me down for two categories in which I have extensive experience, so I gave up on that possibility.

Reviewing some of my newsletters brought some possibilities, but one possibility called HireWriters.com was a complete joke. I filled out the information, sent in the sample, the entire works, and when I got their response they had me listed as “Beginner.” Really, I thought? I’m not trying to brag, but if you go to my website and read my bio, you will see I have been writing full-time for the past eight years! That means I am in no way a “beginner.” As if that isn’t insulting enough, they thought I was going to write for $1.18 for 500 words I think the job posting said. Do you know what you going to get for $1.18? If you’re really lucky, you might get 50 words (if I’m in a good mood), but in all likelihood you’ll get a maximum of 25.

I’m not quite sure I can begin to understand the line of thinking of these job boards–a/k/a content mills. What makes them think writers have all the time in the world to write for such horrid rates? I’d have to write for 24 hours straight without any sleep in order to make enough money to help with the household bills, and my last two clients paid me way more than that–10 articles a week gave me enough to buy groceries, pay the electric bill, pay a credit account I have AND have money left over to help my two daughters who are struggling financially. Now am busy networking and trying to get back into the swing of writing on a regular basis again.

It’s very disheartening when you get so little respect as a writer, and there are so many people who think you will work for a pittance. I had another response that offered a penny a word! I can’t remember the last time I worked for that measly amount–I have one occasional client remaining who pays me .02 a word but that’s only because he is a long-standing client and never asks for more than rewrites thus no research involved.

I have to admit through all this I am beginning to learn how to recognize scammers and those who truly have no respect for a writer’s time. It is for this reason I invested some cash into setting up a new website, one that is inexpensive but not free. Perhaps this step will put me in touch with some clients who have respect for my time and writing skills. Yes, I will brag about my writing ability because if I don’t have faith in myself, who will? The effort we take to write and write well is important, and we cannot let anyone take advantage of that.

Revisions: the Key to Success

This blog is a guest post by fellow writer, Mark Hopkins.

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During the spring of 2010 I submitted a short story to a local academic literary journal for release in a publication that coming fall. The editor thought the story was “excellent,” but he insisted that some revisions were necessary. Naturally, I didn’t object.

The most unexpected yet flattering offer he made, however, was that he would be willing to meet me for discussions on how to revise the piece. This is very unusual for an editor to do, especially when it comes to writers they don’t even know. The story must have left quite an impression on him.

In any case, we met at a Java Hut nearby two days later. We dissected and analyzed that story backwards and forwards. I agreed with much of what he had said but disagreed on other minor points. No impasse developed between us; he and I got along great.

“So, this is a matter of when and not if?” I asked, and he concurred. Of course, I knew that, but I wanted to confirm it anyway. He even said if I refused to make certain changes, he would work with me. That told me he was determined to publish the piece.

The revisions took me several hours throughout a week’s time to do, which I expected because revisions are always time-consuming when they involve story changes and/or rewrites. That said, I enjoyed the work, and I must say the story turned out better in some ways. That was a real learning experience for me.

Revisions for Every Writer in Every Context

The above account should serve as reassurance for those submitting manuscripts (and many writers now are doing that on a regular basis) that imperfection does not necessarily lead to rejection. It does show, however, that revisions are both inescapable and very important in the writing process.

This reality pertains to everyone who writes—middle, high school and college students as well as hobbyists and professional writers like journalists—and it refers to all kinds of writing: research articles, books, novels, short stories, essays and even simple “what-I-did-last-summer” kinds of presentations. No student or writer should ever underestimate the importance of revising his or her work– the right choice can literally make the difference between failure and success.

With that in mind I put before you a brief but challenging exercise. Below are a couple of text samples that require proofreading and revisions. This will hone your self-editing skills for your future writing and be a fun activity. Use not only the knowledge and tools you gained in school and from others but also your instincts. If something does not seem right, chances are it is not.

Sample 1:

Bagleys trip too the story for some mllk was going to be a simple one. Little did he know that when he left home, that trip would change his entire life.

Little did he no that when he got too the store, he never saw the gun the man had pointing at the clerk. After getting his milk, he walked rite into it. Bagley was quickly taken hostage with the gun pointed at his head. He sweated up a storm as he was forced into the truck waiting outside. Bagly thought he would never sea his family again.

” Whadda ya gonna do with me?” he asked wit a tremor in his voice.

“Shaddup!” the guy snapped, “or I’m gonna end it fer sure.”

Sample 2:

The Titannic sailed on April 11, 1912 from Southampton Engeland wit 2200 people on board. The captain was too retire soon, an he looked forward to his last trip at see. Little did he know upon sailing that it would be his last trip in more ways then one.

At 11 pm Sunday 16th after five days at sea, the titannic colided with an iceburg, puncturing a series of holes and popping rivets from her hull. The forward compartments we’re flooding really very quickly.

The captain went too the wirless room and instructed the operators to send out morse code in an attempt to contact other ships for help. No one was close—the titannic was doomed

In a matter of two an a half hours the titannic gradually sunk. breaking in too an falling to the ocean floor. Fifteen hundred people died that night, many of them children

The world will not forget the loss it was such a tradegy that changed the way men sail. Their are now lifboats for all so that all on board can bee saved.

Final Thoughts and Other Considerations

The two samples above are different types of writing: the first is a piece of fiction, the second a research account. As an editor, you must use a different approach for each one. The obvious grammatical and spelling errors require attention, but both samples have other deeper considerations as well.

Explore other possibilities. What other means can improve the above samples? Are you able to use metaphors or additional foreshadows? Are there any redundancies? Are you able to condense the text without affecting clarity? In which ways can you effectively use vocabulary to enhance the color and dynamic of each piece? Are elaborations necessary? If this is the case, how, where and why should you do so?

Please keep in mind these pieces, or excerpts, are more in the nature of drafts, so a lot of applied work, both obvious and subtle, can improve them.

Go ahead, try it, and feel free to share your thoughts. Remember: all insight is helpful.

NOTE: Please do not construe the *obvious* errors in these samples as condescending. Many younger readers will find the grammatical and spelling issues a challenge. There are deeper issues that will appeal to older students and professionals alike. Thanks.

Do Authors Need Editors?

ImageI blogged about a similar topic a few years ago, and it appears some things never change. There are still many authors–and even those claiming to be editors–who insist hiring a professional editor is an unnecessary and frivolous expense. It amazes me these very people are making these statements in writer’s groups that consist of new writers who may have a great story to tell but don’t have the least idea how to put it together. Apparently there are still many people who think editors are no more than high-priced proofreaders!

One of the biggest complaints I see is the cost factor. Yes, editors can be expensive–I’m a copy editor in addition to be a writer, so I understand the concerns. However, if you want to make money from writing, you have to be willing to invest some money. For any business to succeed it is important to make an investment. What’s the old saying? “You have to invest money to make money.” That is true of not just retail business and other commercial enterprises but writing as well. If you want to make money, you have to be willing to invest some money into that venture. It may mean waiting a little longer to publish, but you will have a product that looks professional and has a better chance of selling.

What is the problem? Why do so many people have this line of thinking? It appears there are many who want to rush into things because they think they are going to immediately make money, and this just isn’t going to happen. I have writer friends who have been waiting for two or three years to see royalties from their work, and these are people who actually invested money in professional editors. In fact, many of them even hired professional designers and are still having trouble.

Another with this line of thinking in today’s market is the difficulty new authors have gaining the attention of traditional publishers. Apparently in today’s market agents and publishers want manuscripts that are almost clean; some are even asking for the name of the editor the author used. Do you want to be left standing in the rain in order to save a little bit of money? If you lack cash, there are ways you can afford an editor such as bartering services with someone who has editing experience. You don’t want to ask your next door neighbor who has never edited in his or her life, however; that defeats the entire purpose.

The other thing that is important here is not all editors charge thousands of dollars. There are actually some of us who have reasonable rates because we understand the situation other writers are facing in the current marketplace. Personally I usually charge about $2 a page for copy editing, and I tell anyone who is interested we can work it out so they can pay in installments as long as the full price is paid before I release the book. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can effectively self-edit your own work and save money on editing because the truth is there are only perhaps about one percent of authors who can do that. We are too close to our work, so what we will see is what we meant to write rather than what we actually wrote.

Look at your writing as a business, and you will not think of second-guessing your work. Understand that even the “greats” hire editors or are published by a traditional publisher who provides editing. It’s important to remember traditional publishers do not do the in-depth editing they once did, and anyone who tells you otherwise needs to document that (I’ve heard from hundreds and maybe thousands of published authors with whom I have come into contact that some publishers do nothing more than proofreading). You need an editor for more than typos and grammar corrections. There are things such as continuity, fact checking, changes in POV without transition, making sure the plot is strong, checking for a believable storyline and strong characterization. The average author cannot accomplish these tasks with a self-edit alone.

Romance Writers are Not Serious Writers? Really, Now???????

Romantic CoupleIn a discussion currently going on in LinkedIn I had the misfortune to read a post from another writer who is of the misconception that romance writers are not serious writers! Really? This person (whose name I will be good enough to omit) is also of the opinion that romance writers are not quality writers. Really? Mind you, I love romance and it is my writing genre of choice, and yes, I am a serious writer, and who is this person to judge the writing abilities of those who  choose romance, probably the highest selling genre available.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with those who choose not to read romance: after all, I don’t like science fiction or horror. I’ve said many times when the subject of Stephen King came up in discussions that while I don’t like WHAT he writes, I will not say he isn’t a good writer. Having never read his work, how would I know that anyway? He must be doing something right though, to make the amount of money he does and continue being on the NYT Best Seller’s List. My complaint is not with people who don’t like romance but who attempt to degrade it into a lower style of writing.

Do you prefer literary fiction? There is nothing wrong with this type of fiction, either–if one can even put a definition on it in the 21st century. What used to be called “literary fiction” may no longer exist, and even love stories from centuries gone by may not exist as they once did. For instance, Romeo & Juliet would not be called a romance in today’s market because it ends with a tragedy instead of Happy Ever After or even Happy for Now, especially elements in today’s romance genre.

Where does this leave those of us who enjoy reading and writing romance? We should be free to do both as we feel the mood. It is not up to other writers to say we are not serious writers and do not write well but the buying public. They are the most important elements, after all. If you can’t present a good plot along with a great romance you won’t retain readers. What should you do with naysayers? Do as I do and don’t pay attention to them or tell them to read the statistics and then get back to working on that wonderful romance novel.

Everyone Wants to be a Writer in the 21st Century

With computer access and self-publishing it seems everyone wants to be a writer now. Even worse yet, everyone thinks they have what it takes, and if they can’t find a publisher or agent, they resort to self-publishing. The problem is not everyone has the ability to be a good writer, and self-publishing makes good writing skills unimportant to many new writers.

Where Does the Problem Begin?

What is it that makes everyone today want to be a writer? One of the biggest problems seems to be money, and this is where the self-publishing industry is partly to blame. Writers in the 21st century do not feel there is any need to have a traditional publisher–in fact many are not even attempting to obtain an agent or publisher. What is this happening? Some of the reasons you may hear include but are not limited to the following:

  • They are afraid of rejection–a common reason is “I know no one will publish my book.” Maybe that should be a clue that either you aren’t good enough to be a published writer or need to polish your book some more first.
  • They want complete control of their manuscript. In other words they don’t want a publisher deciding on what the book will be titled, what kind of design will be on the cover, the typeface of the inside or the price of the book. Apparently the days of the publisher knowing what sells is lost to the self-publishing industry that lets writers make their own decisions, ones that are seldom based on research and marketability.
  • Self-publishing offers a higher “return on investment” according to many self-published writers, but this is a fallacy in my opinion. There are many other things to consider such as the number of books you are likely to sell compared to traditional publishing. There is also the loss of one sales outlet: the brick and mortar book store since very few book stores carry self-published books. Those that do make it into bookstores are there only because the writers make some kind of agreement with the bookstore, quite often meaning the store accepts the books on consignment. This means the author must literally purchase their books and provide them to the bookstore and hope they sell. Some small stores might be willing to take a chance on a local author, but this is not the normal process.
  • Writers tend to think they know more about the publishing industry than agents and publishers or they develop a mindset where they don’t care what sells as long as they can publish their manuscripts and receive “royalties,” which are really not royalties but rather the difference between what the author paid for the book and the sales price.
  • They fall for self-publishing companies that say they is “no cost” to publish thinking that means they don’t even have to proofread or edit their work. This makes the author look bad and gives self-publishing the stigma it still retains.
  • They think being traditionally published eliminates any type of marketing and are disillusioned when they find out differently. They figure if they have to market their own material they might as well self-publish. the reality is traditional publishers are doing less marketing than they used to do, but this should not discourage writers from choosing the traditional route if that is what they really want to do.

Everyone Wants to Write a Personal Memoir

Another problem that has developed with the advent of self-publishing is that everyone thinks they have a unique story that will be interesting to the reading public. I am amazed at the increase in the number of people who want to write personal memoirs thinking everyone will be interested. For those who wish to self-publish memoirs so they can give copies to friends and family members, I say go for it, but the problem is there are too many writers–or writer wannabes–who think they have a special story that the public will find interesting. Even if you think your story is unique chances are someone else already told the same story and/or went through the exact same trials and tribulations.

Self-Published Authors Are Another Problem

I also see self-published writers as being a problem because they encourage new writers to self-publish without knowing whether the writer has writing ability. They also do so without telling both the advantages and disadvantages or know if the manuscript is ready for publication. We have to reach a point where all writers have enough pride in their work to make sure it is polished before they put it into the public’s hands. In addition, potential writers need to understand not everyone has what it takes to be a writer, and just because you have a computer doesn’t mean you should be a writer.

Writers Need to Research Publishers First

It completely amazes me the number of newly published writers who will brag about being “published” through vanity presses! I fail to understand the joy they feel when they have to pay sometimes thousands of dollars. Even worse is the fact they use companies without conducting proper research. I belong to several groups on LinkedIn, and the topic has come up on numerous occasions–some writers will have enough insight to ask before using a publisher. Two such examples are iUniverse and Author House. In spite of the insight of some to question the integrity of these vanity presses, a week or two later someone else will post they actually have a contract with them! Why do they belong to writing groups if they are not going to take the time to read posts, especially those that relate to a topic of such importance?

The Importance of Researching First

One of the big problems with vanity houses is they exploit unpublished writers, even to the point of telling them traditional publishers will see their book in bookstores and offer them a contract. They are so excited about the offer that they don’t take the time to weigh the facts.

  • Bookstores do not stock self-published books unless the authors contact them directly.
  • Vanity presses will publish any book when the author is willing to pay the price. It doesn’t matter if the book is any good or not–they are only looking for the money it will bring from the author.
  • Authors usually only get a few copies of their books for the price they pay–any others they must pay for although they might get a discount.
  • Vanity presses charge for every service they offer: printing, promotion, proofreading, editing, etc.

Learn to Follow the Advice of Others

While I am still working on my book, I have learned enough to know how to choose a publisher, and that includes conducting research. Whenever someone mentions I name with which I am not familiar the first thing I do is go to Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. In the case of both iUniverse and Author House you will discover they are listed by P&E as “not recommended.” I know they have been on the list of publishers to avoid since at least the turn of the 21st century yet novice authors get in such a hurry that they don’t take the time to research first.

In addition to checking out Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware, Angela Hoy has a newsletter she publishes that includes a section called “Whispers and Warnings.” She includes various publishers who have attempted (or succeeded) in scamming writers. While these are often publications, you can gain a great deal of insight.

Speak to other published writers to see what kind of experiences they had with their publishers or agents–yes, you should check out agents first as well, another feature Preditors and Editors includes. You can learn much more from other writers than you can from just online research. It can certainly take time, but you can save yourself a great deal of frustration and avoid making a costly mistake.

Do Not Pay Someone to Publish Your Book

This is one of the most expensive lessons authors need to learn because any company that wants up front fees is a vanity press. I have had self-published writers try to tell me the term is obsolete, that they wish to be called Indie publishers, but the problem is that can also refer to a small independent traditional publisher.

If you are insistent upon self-publishing choose an online source such as Create Space or Smash Words–other authors have indicated they take a percentage of the sales rather than charging an up front fee. Of course, the perfect solution is to work hard to find a traditional publisher–print or e-book–but the bottom line is avoid any company that has a bad reputation and is listed as “not recommended” on Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware.

Demand Media Has to Answer to Regulators for Accounting Practices

Most freelance writers are familiar with Demand Media, and some like myself have been exposed in the past to the way they treat writers with their stringent demands for such low pay. Demand Media/Demand Studios and all their other entities give a new meaning to the word content mill, and the information they recently disclosed to the SEC following their IPO filing in August 2010 should make all of us in the industry stand up and take notice.

Profit or Loss?

According to Demand Media’s IPO filing in August 2010 they had a loss of $22 million in 2009, $14 million loss in 2008 and a loss in 2007 of almost $6 million.  While this might not come as a shock to some people, the problem is that Demand Media’s CEO, Richard Rosenblatt, has been telling people in the media that the company is profitable.  Where is the problem? How can there be two separate answers to the same question? A company is either profitable or it isn’t, and quite honestly, I find it difficult to believe any kind of a loss because of the low payments they make to writers and editors who work for this content mill.

Demand Media’s Answer

The article that appeared in CNNMoney.com indicates that Demand Media treats payments it makes to writers and editors as a capital expenditure and expenses it over a five year period. Their reasoning is that they continue to make money from the articles writers publish for a period of 5.4 years, so they do not feel they should have to expense those payments at the same time they pay the writers. What this means for the writers that choose the flat $15 payment instead of revenue share is the company is still making money off those articles beyond the time covered by their payment to the writers.

Devaluation of Writers’ Needs

As a writer who once did work for Demand Studios, I have often said the way they treat writers is inhumane at best. While to novice writers, payment of $15 for a 400 word article may seem like a nice sum of cash, the reality is you have to work very hard to earn it, and in some cases it may take you more than an hour to research and write the article. Even if you choose an article on a topic you know well, you must still find at least one online source to use, and you must have at least five subheadings in each article.

Their required editorial reviews can also cause problems for writers who already have experience because they may assign you to an editor who treats you as though you are new to writing which was my experience. The combination of this dual accounting practice and their treatment of the very people who make them profitable is enough to make one question the integrity of the company and its entities in its entirety.

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