Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Writing it Real and More Criticism of Online Writers

They come at you from every conceivable angle. From well-meaning "oh, I wish I could sit at home and do freelance writing" to "write what you know" or even "make it new," volleys of advice track every freelance writer.

Naturally, it hurts more when a fellow writer stages a smackdown or lobs that most dreaded of bĂȘtes noires: hack. I won’t belabor this point here except to point you to last week’s version of The Hack Strikes Back, in which this writer takes on a NYT columnist.

Nobody Rides for Free, So Should Anybody Write for Free?
And yet, some criticisms of online writing are valid. Let’s look a moment at a column today by C. Hope Clark. Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and is a clips-to-the-hilt writer with credits in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and many other publications.

In “Why Working for No Fee is SOOOO Tempting,” which I strongly implore you to read in its original state here, Ms. Clark rightly takes writing for free to task.

“Writing for free builds clips. Listen. If someone can't afford to pay you, how is that a reputable clip?”

I respect Ms. Clark. I’ve followed her blog; dined on, digested, and dissected her words and articles; and subscribed to her e-newsletters for years. She is a flesh-and-words testimonial to “write what you know,” having worked in grants and parlaying that knowledge into schooling authors on grant-writing or having put her botany grow-how via Clemson University into writing for niche gardening and landscaping markets like TURF Magazine.

You're sensing a “but” coming on about now, aren’t you? If you did, you’re spot-on. I think Ms. Clark partly misses the mark here.

I’ll explain how with a few brief excerpts from Clark’s article, which should at the least be on the edge of your writing radar.

“When someone pitches to me and says they have 47 articles on Associated Content, Suite101, et al, I consider them uneducated in their profession. . . . I want someone who either has a phenomenal idea that's pitched very well, or someone who has been vetted in publications that actually reject people.”

Again, I’ll use a real-world example. I’ve written for much-maligned content providers. Specifically, I’ve written for Demand Media, including such streams as eHow and LIVESTRONG.

I’m guessing that Demand would be included in the Ms. Clark’s pillorization. However, it, like a few other so-called content farms, stands apart from the criteria she mentions. For instance, Demand does the following, to which I can directly attest:

1. It has a stable of writers and copyeditors. A writer is given 7 days to perfect his article(s), fleshing it out with a number of valid sources and writing to the specs provided by the company.
2. Demand even has a style manual of prescriptives to follow, largely based on the journalism world’s tried-and-true Associated Press Manual of Style.
3. Articles are tweaked by editors, and, yes, articles are rejected by Demand copyeditors. So, that litmus test box can be checked for this content farm that—again, this is some presumption on my part, because Demand is not so named in her article—has raised Ms. Clark’s ire.

Freebie Writers Might Hurt Everyone, But What About Low-Paying Gigs?
Clark continues. If people continue to write for free for online sites, she affirms that this makes the world that much more difficult for other writers.

I won’t quibble with the main contention that free writing has no place in freelancing. In fact, I've long thought of calling myself a "fee-lance writer," not a "freelance writer," to avoid the incorrect connotation of my work being cheap or worthless. So, there again, we have the Demand model—and this applies to other online portals that do pay their writers such as Skyword, Suite 101, Helium, and so forth, too. Demand rejects articles from its bevy of writers, but it also pays writers for the articles that do earn its editorial merits. The money is, frankly, not great, but it does provide an income to those who are unable to achieve full-time or even robust part-time writing. And it is paid promptly, pretty much without fail.

Lofty Earnings Goals, Meet Cold Economic Reality
Here is the crux of my argument and my bone of contention with Clark’s article. There are those who will tell you, fellow writers, that you shouldn’t write for free. Okay. Fair enough. We’ve all got to eat. When you see a bottom-feeder who won't pay you, just move along to something better. I'd be happy to point you to some potential markets, as would other excellent sources that I'll delineate in a later post.

But let’s say you’re a quasi part-time writer. I’m in that boat. See me? I’m the one in the blue-striped shirt who’s waving. I’ve got two young, not-yet-pottytrained-or-school-aged children there with me for whom I’m the main caregiver. My spouse works full-time and goes to school for his master’s.

So, let’s say I earn $10 or $15 when I write an article for Demand. Just a half-year or year ago, it was sometimes $20 or even $25, but, hey, the economy’s bad, so I’ve had to adapt just like you. Why begrudge me my pittance for doing something I adore? (Namely, writing.) Why pillory that full-time dad, but part-time writer who takes care of his kids all day while his wife works just so that one can do the important job of foundationing a family but still earn a few extra dollars through writing?

Even the writing world is not black-and-white, though newsprint used to be. And we all see what is happening in that realm.

Hate the Greedy Company, Love the Hard-Working Writer
I would only ask, as I’ve said and written before, that those who chide me for doing a decent to damn-good job of writing with the time that I have, would support me. Lambast the greedy company that wants to pay the writer nothing or $10 or even $25 for a researched and factual article while those who are able to pound the payment for niche markets and trade publications write their hundreds-of-dollars articles and reap the rewards. Pip, pip and more power to 'em. But don't forget the little guy or gal earnestly plugging along.

In short, write a mile in my holey shoes or in those of the moms or dads or disabled people or caretakers for aging parents who are in the home and who cannot, in some writers' eyes, be “educated” about the writing market. These people still help their families and do something they enjoy and respect and many of them do so with distinction. Their articles provide evergreen, actionable content that a reader can use in her own life to craft a widget or clean a thingamajig.

Go ahead; I dare you to try writing in these shoes. You’ll quickly see how many interviews you lose when your child is screaming in the background, though you have locked yourself in a separate room of your small house, or when you have to cancel them because Sally refuses to wear a shirt with buttons and pitches a gargantuan wobbler that you, and you alone, have to deal with. Or because your mother with end-stage renal disease needs your extra love and attention that day, so writing will just have to wait. Because that’s your job.

So, in short, I want to urge writers to be more empathetic to one another. If you think that everyone has the opportunity to write for dollars-on-the-word, please GET REAL. Get nitty-gritty, get down in the writing trenches with those who do online writing before you make unfounded assumptions.

In one of the animal shelters where I worked and volunteered, there was a particularly apt sign that I’ll paraphrase: “Be kind, for you can never tell what road someone else is traveling.”

And, finally, dear reader, for your voyage, please take this short list of four paying markets that I’ve dug up in recent days. Take them with my compliments. Three are contests, and so, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve a win there, but you never know until you try. Good luck and best wishes in all your travels. In your head and outside. Writing-related and non.

Glamour magazine; “Have an Amazing Real-Life Story to Tell?”; prize: $5,000, publication, and meeting with a “top” literary agent. Due 15 August 2011. More information here.

Family Circle magazine; 2011 Fiction Contest; prize: $750 for top prize and Media
Bistro goodies. Due 9 Sept. 2011. More information here.

Real Simple magazine; Fourth Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest; theme: "When did you first understand the meaning of love?"; prize: $3,000, publication, and a trip to NYC to meet Real Simple editors. More information here.

On the Premises magazine; Current fiction contest: Myths & Legends; cash prizes include first through third and honorable mentions. Due 30 Sept. 2011. More information here.

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