Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bidding on Elance: Here’s How Easily Freelancers Can Get Screwed

by Carol Tice
From my very first blog post back in 2008, I’ve advocated that freelance writers avoid mass bidding sites such as oDesk and Elance.

This past week, I learned in an unexpected way just how easily freelancers can get ripped off doing writing work through impersonal, third-party platforms like Elance.

Because I got ripped off, big time.

Here’s how it happened…

My first sign something was wrong was a series of emails I got from several different India-based SEO writers applying for “the post of content writer.” Asking if I would hire them.

I assumed they were interested in my writer’s guidelines for guest posting here on the blog, so I sent those over.

But something about it was weird. Just the way they were phrasing it didn’t seem right to me.

But I didn’t write anything for you…

Next, on the day after a religious holiday when I was out of the office, I got this odd email:


I assured her that I had never started article writing for her, and certainly wasn’t going to continue. I didn’t even have any idea what topics she was having articles written about!

When I asked what the deal was, I got this reply:


So there you have it, sports fans: An imposter created an Elance profile using my name, my photo, and my writer website, and was trying to get writing clients based on my reputation.

And if this one client hadn’t smelled a rat, who knows how long this might have gone on.

How’d they pull that off? They used a different, London-based Skype number and a different email address than my real one, thereby funneling responses to them rather than me.

And Elance was clueless.

Obviously, I was pretty steamed, given how strongly I’ve advocated for writers to avoid using places like Elance! I was quick to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and start spreading the word around that I am not really hiring writers on Elance, hoping to warn prospective clients that they weren’t really hiring me.

I was hoping that would help resolve the problem.

But instead, things got worse.

Writers get sucked in

If the news that I was being impersonated on Elance so that someone else could earn a few bucks made me mad, I can tell you I totally hit the roof when I saw the next set of emails and Facebook messages that came in:

 

The complete picture emerged: Someone was impersonating me on Elance, getting clients, and then subcontracting out the work to other writers.

The final insult? The rates! This impostor was charging $20 a post… I opened that spreadsheet the client up top had sent over, and that was the per-piece rate.

I shudder to think what this person might have been paying the writers they hired to do the actual work. If, in fact, this fraud paid anyone at all.

Will writers get paid?

I contacted Elance immediately about all this, and it took them several days to get back to me. They let me know the bogus profile had been removed.

I think it’s notable that there wasn’t even an apology made for the damage to my reputation here. But OK — I’m breathing and letting go here, because suing is not a positive way to spend my time.

Who was the impostor? Elance isn’t saying. But I know they’re overseas, which would make legal action difficult to pursue anyway.

What about the writers who went busily to work, thinking they were writing for me? Given that Elance allowed this fraud to take place, will they be compensating the writers for their work?

Elance’s security team wouldn’t tell me how the writers would be dealt with…but one of the writers responded to me directly, saying they were told Elance’s payment protection policies would cover them — IF they could document their work to Elance’s satisfaction.

Here’s hoping Elance does the right thing and pays all of these freelancers for their writing.

Elance did indicate that it reached out to at least one freelance writer to warn them to stop writing for the impostor. But at least one other writer told me they got the word to stop work from the impostor, not Elance!

I guess it’s nice that Elance alerted at least one writer it was a bogus account, but from what the writers had to say above, it seems like the damage had already been done. Several writers had already wasted their time writing dozens of articles which they may or may not be paid for.

It just makes me sick to think about how these writers were excited to be writing for me, and then had to find out it was all a scam. Even though I’m only an unwitting participant in this ripoff, it really rankles.

Fighting writer exploitation is the core of my mission here on the blog! And then, this mess happens. I run a Google alert on my name, but it never turned this up. Makes me wonder what more we can do to monitor our online reputations.

The bottom line

This whole experience was a sad reminder that when you go on platforms where it’s easy for clients to mask their identities, you really don’t know who you’re dealing with. Which means it’s easy for that client to disappear without paying you.

Just another reason to go out and find your own clients instead of hanging around bidding on Elance for gigs posted by clients who may not be what they appear.

This article originally appeared on makealivingwriting.com

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wordenfreude: GG Writers Weigh in on the German Ghosting Scandal

photo from Deutsches Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons
A German friend of ours recently tipped us off to the most intriguing ghostwriting story of the year so far—what we have taken to calling "three reichs and you're out."

According to the magazine Der Spiegel, Heribert Schwan, the writer who worked with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on his memoirs for eight years and two volumes announced that he plans to publish his research for the third volume under his own name, after Kohl severed the relationship.

What makes this episode especially juicy—and borderline Wagnerian—is that the collaborator claims he was axed because Kohl's current wife had it in for him.

That got us to wondering—if there were a long crazy German word (along the lines of lebensabschnittpartner) to describe this unusual turnabout, what would it be?

We asked our network of ghosts to chime in, and here are our favorite responses:
  • Brad Schreiber sent us the elegant and economical autobiografikaput.
  • Mary Jo Bohr came up with the contagious-sounding frauKohlitis.
  • Claudia Gryvatz Copquincoined kohlaxghoulenscribe. In case you need a breakdown: "Kohl/axed (got rid of) / ghoul - en - scribe (ghostwriter)"
  • Tom Teicholz suggested the slightly profane diefraugefuckedovermich.
  • Jeff Kreisler showed off his comedic chops with derwifencrazenwritersblach. Writer's block indeed.
  • Arthur Allen won the award for longest entry: Kohlsfrauverursachteghostwriterausgrenzung. According to his German friend, this literally translates to "wife-caused ghost writer exclusion."
Think you can top these submissions? Show us your edelwrites in the comments below.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Small Writers Group Nets Big Results

by Theresa Sullivan Barger

New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, FastCompany.com, Columbia Journalism Review, Family Circle, Parents, The Atlantic, Philanthropy, Poynter Online—these are just some of the places the bylines of our small writers group members have appeared for their first time since we started meeting 10 months ago.

We originally formed as a monthly accountability group, but soon evolved into much more. We set up a closed Facebook page where the eight of us could post questions and share the wisdom of the group. Our virtual newsroom replicated the days when we could slide our chair over to a coworker to ask how she would handle that day’s challenge. We soon switched to meeting every two weeks.

We’re each other’s support system, cheering squad, and sounding boards. The group is helping each of us advance our careers while addressing the isolation we freelancers face. We recommend each other to our editors and share links to helpful webinars or websites.

When we started, most people in the group had never met. I was the only one who knew everyone, and I didn’t know most of them well—but I knew them enough to know that we all shared a desire to grow as writers. We’ve become trusted colleagues who offer honest critiques, ideas for sources, and a gentle nudge.


Freelancers By Choice

Our members range in age, specialty, political views, and freelance experience, but that’s part of why the group works. We’re different enough to not be in direct competition. We have diverse strengths and weaknesses, so we learn from each other.

We come to our meetings with lists of stories we’re working on or thinking of doing, and the rest of the group offers suggestions on story approach and where to pitch. When we hear of editors looking for writers, we share that news.


Success Breeds Success

When one of us gets a “yes” from a prestigious pub for the first time, we’re all happy. Each person’s success propels the rest of us to aim higher and keep trying. If one of us can break into that coveted market, so can the rest of us. Our celebration of breakthroughs seems to be happening with increasing frequency.

Since rejection—or simply being ignored—is so much a part of the job of being a freelance writer, it really helps to have encouragement from writers whom you respect.

One of our members—a talented, experienced writer—had never pitched to a national publication. A challenge from the group propelled her to commit to a date for pitching. When she stumbled on an idea worthy of a national newspaper, she pitched it to the New York Times. When they passed, she refined the pitch and immediately sent it to the Journal, which said yes. We felt like proud parents.

(This post originally appeared on The ASJA Word)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest Post: The Biggest Mistake a Writer Can Make on Twitter

by Jonathan Rick

Don’t just tweet the headline. Comment on the article. Explain why you’re sharing it.
Don't create a Twitter crime scene. (Photo by Andreas Eldh)

Tweeting has never been easier. Just click that turquoise bird alongside nearly every kind of content on the web today, and a ready-to-go message presents itself. All you need to do is click “tweet.” The whole thing takes less than five seconds!

Yet there’s no decree dictating that you must use this prewritten gruel. In fact, you shouldn’t use the default text, which is tantamount to a robot announcing the Oscar winners: it’s generic and devoid of any shout-outs, styling, or personal commentary. After all, what you tweet is transmitted over your name and avatar, so it behooves you to stamp it with your own style.

What’s more, if you want to stand out, you can’t just put out what everyone else is typing. You need to offer up something new—even if it’s just your two cents. Indeed, with this little bit of extra effort, you can make each tweet count.

Consider the widely read post, “Facebook: I Want My Friends Back,” by Richard Metzger of the Dangerous Minds blog.

Bad

Here’s what happens if we click the “tweet” button:

FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back via @dangermindsblog


While the essentials are here—and, to the blog’s credit, the Caps Lock key is employed for emphasis—this tweet typifies the bare minimum. This is an opportunity lost.

Good

Now let’s tweak a few things:

HEY, @FACEBOOK! I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK! - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back via @DangerMindsBlog


Notice:
  • We used Facebook’s handle to ring its bell.
  • We separated the link by way of a hyphen, thus making the tweet easier to scan.
  • We capitalized @DangerMindsBlog in accordance with how the blog stylizes itself.
Great

And if we overhaul everything…

Is Facebook scamming you? Check out this eye-opening post by @RichardMetzger - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back (via @DangerMindsBlog)


… our followers benefit from:
  • A teaser (“Is Facebook scamming you”?) in sentence case
  • A call to action (“Check out”)
  • A shout-out to both the writer (“by @RichardMetzger”) and the blog (“via @DangerMindsBlog”)
In other words, we’re no longer mindlessly broadcasting. Instead of repurposing a headline written for a blog, we’re now issuing a call to action tailored to Twitter. In short, we’re explaining why whatever we’re sharing is worth reading.

Alternatives

As usual, sometimes you need to break the rules. Consider these alternatives, which play off key points in Metzger’s post:

How Facebook killed more than 50% of @DangerMindsBlog’s page views - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back

Don’t let Facebook get away with the biggest bait and switch in Internet history - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back

C’mon, @Facebook. You’re better than this! - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back (by @RichardMetzger)

An important analysis from @RichardMetzger: “Facebook has taken a pee in their own pool from quite a lofty height” - http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back

Best

So which publishers embrace the great model? Unfortunately, not many—with a few exceptions.

Here’s how Upworthy, the website known for making serious subjects go viral, masters the medium:


Article Headline
Tweet
You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate how amazing @StandWithFrank is.
This is why it’s good to have strange people like @timminchin give your commencement address.
Zach Sobiech: “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living,” by @soulpancake.
Watch this @getup video and just TRY not to be open-minded.
THIS JUST IN: @SirPatStew is a friggin’ amazing human being.

Similarly, as documented by Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent, Slate has woven this twin-titling into its content management system. A few examples:


Article Headline
Tweet
It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Stop Eating at Lunchtime.
Everything Electronic You Own—iPhone to Subway Card to Power Strip—Can Be Hacked. So How to Defend Yourself?
Doctors Spend 36 Seconds or Less Talking With Teen Patients About Sex. Grow Up, Doctors!
Yeah, it’s cold out. But wind chill is a lousy measure.

The bottom line (in less than 140 characters, of course):

Don’t be afraid to change the prepopulated, default text. Those 140 characters are yours—own 'em. Make each tweet count.

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, DC. Tweet him your biggest Twitter pet peeve at @jrick.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Most Reliable Source of Grist for the Speechwriter's Mill? The Obits

by David Murray

As I like to say, the obits are a great place to meet people. They're also a great source of ideas for speechmakers, speechwriters, and speech editors.

In one week late last month, I got to know the Chicago theater kingpin Sheldon Patinkin, got reacqauinted with Ohio politician Jim Traficant, and met the writer Alastair Reid.

From Patinkin—or actually, his friend, the actor Jeff Perry—I learned the true size of the job of criticizing a creative product. Directors and actors would beg Patinkin to give them notes on their work, because he was a "world champion note giver," according to Perry. "His process is gorgeous; like movements in a symphony or rules of comedy, it comes in threes."

First are the Socratic questions that lead you to this pleasantly shocked re-understanding of your intent. Then he continues with a great, blunt, nonjudgmental articulation of what he saw compared to what you intended. And finally, as you launch into a spin cycle of anxiety and self-justification about all the obstacles sabotaging your genius, he has the knack of being able to steer you, like a shrink, bartender and rabbi rolled into one, into the belief that the fixes are easy, they are absolutely in your reach, and there’s plenty of time to work them in.

U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant liked to make references to Star Trek, often ending speeches with a request: "Beam me up." Traficant wore an outrageous hairpiece, spent time in jail and had a lot of crazy ideas. But he got heard, with soundbites like this one, from a 1998 speech:

Mr. Speaker, the Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, the Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. U.S. regulations on the sale of cabbage—that is right, cabbage—is 27,000 words. Regulatory red tape in America costs taxpayers $400 billion every year, over $4,000 each year, every year, year in, year out, for every family.

Beam me up.


And then there was Alastair Reid, who only occasionally returned from reporting trips around the world to visit his office at the New Yorker (where the dope smoke often curled out from under his office door). What drove him him to travel all his life? Same thing that drives everyone to travel, to whatever extent they do. Here's Reid's poem, "Curiosity":

Curiosity

may have killed the cat. More likely

the cat was just unlucky, or else curious

to see what death was like, having no cause

to go on licking paws, or fathering

litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Nevertheless, to be curious

is dangerous enough. To distrust

what is always said, what seems,

to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,

smell rats, leave home, have hunches

does not endear cats to those doggy circles

where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches

are the order of things, and where prevails

much wagging of incurious heads and tails.


—DM

(This post originally appeared on Vital Speeches.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Writer Poll: How Do You Find Community?

Freelancers’ Union recently unveiled a new feature on their site called Hives. The intent is to give freelancers a place to connect, support one another, and discuss every aspect of the freelancing life. Freelancers’ Union encourages members to use the Hives to “talk, form groups, organize events, share videos and photos, and meet up with hundreds of thousands of freelancers.”

This got us thinking. Writing is notoriously a lonely job, and freelance writing can be even more so. So we polled our writers to find out what they do to build community, and we got some ingenious responses.

Unions and Workshops
Robert Woodcox is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as the Writers Guild, a writers’ labor union, which he finds is good for discussing political action, financial issues, and other writer-relevant topics that aren’t about the writing process itself.

Temma Ehrenfeld has run a monthly poetry workshop in her home for ten years, where she, a professional editor, and a grant writer read their own and others' poetry. She also has a friend who texts her most days telling her what creative projects he's worked on that day, and asking what she’s accomplished. She finds it’s good to be kept accountable: “Just having to report on what I've done helps,” she says.

Meet Ups
Sheila Lewis organizes “writing dates” with a buddy or two. “Barnes & Noble cafe is a favorite venue, and we reward ourselves with a break for novel browsing,” she says. Sometimes she’ll connect with others at a “destination writing” spot, like the Atrium near Lincoln Center. “Take it offline when you can—at the gym, the JCC, the Y, a school, church, synagogue, or weird hobby group. When you're with real people, something magical and synchronistic happens.”

Catherine Dold is part of a Colorado group called “Boulder Media Women,” which has been going strong for twenty-four years. The group, which started out as informal meetups of a few freelancers, has grown to more than 500 people who get together for Friday morning coffees, monthly potlucks, and Tuesday evening schmoozes.


Shared Space (Physical or Digital)
The Writers Room popped up several times, with several writers saying that the shared work space is where they go to find community.

Sarah Greesonbach stays in touch with other freelance writers and entrepreneurs through Facebook groups and blogs. “These groups give me a good opportunity to ‘check in’ with others throughout the day when I want to, and to not engage when I'm not in the mood.”

None of the Above
Alex Dwyer finds that he simply doesn’t interact with many other writers—and he’s fine with that. “Perhaps its the millennial work/life balancer in me, but I fully enjoy the four-hour blocks when I write in solitude. In non-writing hours, I do non-writing things and interact with all kinds of folks in other facets of life, but I relish and am protective of my solitary writing time.”

Do you have a different method for creating community? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Seven Books to Inspire Your Writing


Got a bad case of the end of summer blues? Or just feeling stuck in a writing rut? One of the best ways we have found to get re-inspired is to read some of our favorite books on writing. So for all of you laboring to dive into your post-Labor Day work-load , here’s a handy guide to seven of our go-to collections of words of wisdom.


Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
"Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. The land mine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now, it's your turn. Jump!"

This book, a collection of reflective essays, and is essentially Bradbury’s love letter to writing. It’s exuberant, joyful, and incredibly invigorating.


On Writing by Stephen King
This one is practically obligatory. Not just because it is penned by one of the most prolific and gripping writers of the last half century – but also because of how revealing King is about his own struggles with the craft.


Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
This book is a little more about the actual mechanics of writing, focusing on grammar and punctuation. Halfway between how-to and humor, this hilarious book will nurture your inner grammar nerd.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' …This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

The witty, insightful, generous Anne Lammott shares many incredibly useful pointers like this one about how to get through the day-to-day process of writing and living.


Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Kleon’s little handbook took off a few years ago – and for good reason. It boils a lot of thought down into some simple, applicable truths about the creative process. If you don’t feel like buying the book, take a look at the Ted Talk, which contains all the same information (and is free!).


The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White
A classic. Any writer worth his salt will have at least skimmed this beauty – it’s pretty much unavoidable if you’ve received an English degree from any accredited university.

Insert your favorite book here
There’s nothing like reading a piece of writing that you find truly incredible to show you what words can do when used correctly. Reading your favorite book can remind you why you started writing in the first place.

We hope these help! Let us know what books you find inspiring in the comments.