Aristic integrity versus the paycheck: the myth of art.

When you take a closer look at writing as a career path, there are literally dozens of branches to choose from these days. It used to be there were only a few clear-cut paths: journalism,  novel writing, poetry and writing plays. Then came the days of the silent film, and screenplay writing began its first little baby steps. Since silent films relied more upon stories told visually, novel writers were able to successfully write for producers because it was simply adaptations of their literary visions. Dialogue was not as important as the actual story, which was transposed onto the screen.

Then came the talking pictures. Novel writers began to fade back into their own little world and the industry found that screenplays were better written by journalists because they understood how to get the point across to an audience without a lot of flowery script getting in the way. They wrote clear, concise dialogue, because that’s what they were used to doing for their publications in the first place.

The industry continued to evolve. Enter the Internet, and suddenly dozens of branches split off the main trunk of the writing tree, spreading their boughs in all directions. There were no longer just a few branches; there was an entire tree, in full bloom.

These days there are any number of paths to choose from on the highway of writing. You can write screenplays, TV scripts, plays, magazine articles, work as a journalist for any number of publications around the world, write website content for yourself, for a third party, blog, write SEO articles, do rewrites for other companies…the list goes on.

But there are some – we’ll call them the Panicked Writers, or PW for short – who claim that all these various branches are diluting the quality of the written word and stripping the so-called “artistry” from the “craft”.

Let’s analyze this concept for a moment.

There are very few writers in this day and age who write purely for the passion or purely for the “artistic” integrity of a project. There are two different kinds of writers: those who are writing part-time aside from a real job because they want to see their name in print and enjoy writing (part-time writers), and those who are writing full-time for a living, and making an actual wage at their job, paying the bills and so on and so forth (professional writers who love their job even more than the part-timers). No one writes for the “art”. No one writes for the “passion”. They write to get paid, regardless of which branch of the writing tree they have scampered out upon. This is why you continually see rate debates not only in the freelance world, but also from the literary community and the fiction world. Everyone sends in their manuscripts/queries/screenplays/whatever to various publications in an attempt to earn a credit and a paycheck. Everyone wants to get paid for their words.

I am a professional writer. I do this for a living. It pays our bills, pays for our vacations, our hobbies, our investments, our lifestyle and our toys. To me, the most important aspect of my job is to bring a paycheck home so that I can put a roof over my family’s head and food on their table. Period. There is no other reason why I work.

Now, I love the written word. I’ve been chewing through novels and stories since I was a child, and I knew from the time I was still in my single digits that I wanted to be a writer. But here’s the thing: I don’t believe in artistic integrity. I don’t believe that writing has a “soul”, nor do I believe that there is anything to be diluted. There are only the needs of the audience or the needs of the client. In your quest to appease either the audience or the client you are going to be writing in a specific way to earn a paycheck and please the editors + readers. If this wasn’t true you wouldn’t be sending your work in for editors to look at and hopefully publish. You wouldn’t be querying. You would simply be writing in a journal for your own personal enjoyment, for your own artistic satisfaction.

Many of the artistic crowd claim that the Internet, and the rise of web content, has killed their baby, the written word. I disagree. The Internet didn’t kill the “art” of writing. The fact of the matter is plain and simple: artistic integrity is a lie. It doesn’t exist. It is a myth.

Now before you jump down my throat, actually look at the facts. Everyone wants to get paid for their time. Period. No one writes for free (or at least no one wants to write for free, thus the rate debate across the highways of writing and the continual attempts to get published). If artistic integrity was so all-important, there would be far more people writing purely for the “art” of writing, for the sake of writing the “perfect” prose, the “perfect” line of poetry, the “perfect” screenplay, the perfect sense of self-indulgence (which is all artistic integrity really is).

So now that we’ve gotten the fact that everyone wants to make money out of the way, we can move on. Literary works still exist, and there is still an audience for those works. For those individuals who want flowery prose to feel emotional over, there are literally thousand of publications on a worldwide basis that provide just that for their audience. But there is also another type of audience to think about, and that is the client/customer.

The client is interested in one thing: a product. Each client is different; each is unique. Each client has a different view on what they think is best for their business. Some want straight-forward content, some want rewritten Wiki content to simply flesh out their pages and to hell with the quality as long as it passes Copyscape, while others want SEO, which in some cases can read like it was chopped up in a meat-grinder before being hosted on the website if keyword padding is the only thing the client is after. Keyword density with some articles is so heavy that the articles read less like an actual article and more like exactly what they are…keyword-padded chunks of text. But, be that as it may, it is still a product that relies on the written word, which means it is technically still an aspect of writing. And since there is still an audience for it (see clients) then it still falls under the banner of actual, breathing words.

Anyone who works with the written word has the right to call themselves a writer. That means the guy writing keyword-heavy SEO articles has must as much right to call himself a writer as someone writing for The New York Times or some other publication. Both are working with the written word, and both are making a paycheck for their time.

So is there really any difference in the writer working on SEO and the writer who is authoring poetry or stories, or the more “artsy” projects?

Not in the least.

Which brings me to the crux of this article: should you be worrying about the PW (Panicked Writer) who claims you have no artistic integrity and are stripping the soul away from writing with your SEO content and other non-flowery-prose articles? Are you selling your artistic soul, or are you simply doing what every human being on the planet does: performing a task to earn a nut, which in turn provides for you and yours.

Let’s be realistic. Artistic integrity doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t provide for vacations and insurance and necessities. Artistic integrity is a warm fuzzy feeling that rests within your stomach, letting you know that what you wrote stirred some emotional response from the readers, or was in some way “beautiful”. Sure, it’s a nice feeling, but does it provide an actual, tangible side-effect that you can use to make your way through life?

Most of you (the readers who follow this blog) are professional writers in some way, and most of you understand that there is only one thing that really matters: the needs of your client. Clients are what pays the bills. Not flowery script (unless that’s what your client is after) meant to provoke an emotional response in readers. Clients want to know that you can deliver exactly what they want, when they want it, for a price they find affordable. That is your job. It doesn’t matter if you are writing SEO, rewrites off a web page or Wiki, health articles, golf articles, overviews on how to get rid of fleas for dogs, how to boil an egg, the airspeed velocity of a laden swallow, or how many pickles can you eat in an hour.

Your job is to sell yourself.  The most important thing any client wants to know about you is whether or not you can give them what they are paying for the first time around. That’s how you earn your paycheck. Clients want consummate professionals who put one thing ahead of anything else: delivery of a superior quality product on time, every time.

The value of the written word is purely dependent upon the audience. For some, artistic integrity is in SEO. For others, it is articles on how to boil eggs. For others it is a literary piece. Some prefer political essays or writing plays and films, while others prefer crafting science fiction. Each individual determines for themselves the value of the written word.

Another way to think of it is the way that Stephen King referred to talent in his On Writing book. “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

The next time a PW or any other critic tries to tell you that what you do for a living is somehow less than artistic, pay them no mind. Instead, look at your paycheck. That, in and of itself, is more than enough proof to the entire world that you are a professional who is writing for a living. That, and that alone, determines your reality. It doesn’t matter if some random individual on the Internet thinks you are stripping the value away from the written word; they are wrong. The artistic value of the project is directly related to your client and/or fan’s happiness with the end result. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Or in this case, your bank account.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Survivability in the 21st Century: Needs Versus Wants

This morning I was inspired to write a post on survivability after I noticed someone had reached my website after Googling the phrase “I only make 80k a year, how can I survive?” The first thought that went through my head was, “You have got to be joking, right?”

By now, readers of my blog know that I have an obsession with numbers. In fact, it’s one of the primary “hobbies” that takes up what little spare time I have outside of writing, gaming, traveling and reading. Most of the topics on my blog deal with rates and numbers as they relate to writers on a global scale, and this post is no different. But rather than argue the merits of one style or another, or focus on rates as a whole, I like to focus on the little things that make the difference for writers around the world, regardless of which city or country they call home.

I’m assuming the individual in question who arrived at my website is living and working in the United States. Personally, I have to question the standards of living a person has if they are questioning whether or not they can “survive” on 80k a year.

Seriously. Think about it.

If you’ve read my other posts on the subject, such as Obsession with Numbers, What is Success and the finale to my Content Writing Experiment, you will see a continuing theme that echoes throughout: the concept of livable wages. Bearing in mind that the average wage of a U.S. Citizen is 18 USD per hour (as of 2009), that’s a grand total of 34-35k a year. Combined income of 70k a year. That’s the average income of a U.S. household.

Livable wages are determined by your spending habits and cost of living. While the cost of living is somewhat dependent upon where you live in the world, your spending habits are reliant upon one thing and one thing only: you. In my last post on the subject, I showed the average spending habits of the average U.S. household.

I am a firm believer in people taking charge of their lives. This is a global concept; it does not relate specifically to the freelance writer. Think about your own life. Do you:

  • Work 40 hours a week (or more)
  • Make up to the average wage of a U.S. Citizen? (18 USD per hour)
  • Feel apprehensive about the thought of taking a day or two off of work because you either cannot afford to lose the pay or are afraid of being fired
  • Feel apprehensive about the fact you need to take a personal day/sick day but your boss/employer might fire you because you are already over your limit
  • Want to spend more time with your kids/family
  • Find yourself continually stressed about the fact you are going to have to work your fingers to the bone for the next 30-40 years until you hopefully pay everything off and maybe get to enjoy some of your savings after you turn 60 years old

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you aren’t in control of your life. You aren’t successful…you are barely surviving.

Based upon the aforementioned post that details the average spending habits of the average U.S. household, people are spending excessive amounts of money on “entertainment”. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a huge believer in the value of entertainment. In fact, it was my love of life and entertainment that encouraged me to make the move across the pond with my wife when the opportunity presented itself. Location Independence, somewhat, although we don’t technically live on the move. We simply relocated to another country, rather than the U.S. But I digress. The point is this: people are spending excessive amounts of money only because they lack control. Someone making 80k a year should be more than capable of providing for an entire family (2 adults, 2 dependents) and still have money left over to spend.

80k a year should be more than enough to pay for an entire family to live comfortably. In fact, in almost every country around the world the equivalent of 80k USD a year is definitely more than enough for an entire family to live like kings. If you look at the post I wrote regarding the cost of living in Italy versus the United States, you will see that an equivalent annual salary would allow you to live like a rock star. And, if you are a frugal individual, the same could be true in the States. If you know how to manage your spending habits.\

Writing from home is a blessing in and of itself because you eliminate transportation completely. No vehicle means no mandatory insurance, no vehicle maintenance, no car payments, no gas bill, no parking fees, nothing. I don’t know about you, but my last vehicle in the States was costing me around 250 USD a month in payments, 100 USD a month for full coverage insurance, 700 USD a year for tires, and another 1,500 a year for maintenance (minimum). That alone is around 2,500 a year, before factoring in gas. The last time I drove a vehicle was in 2007; I was spending upwards of 800 dollars a month in gas, but I also commuted a lot. For me, it was costing around 12-14k a year just to drive a vehicle.

12-14k a year.

Cutting a vehicle out of our necessary bills was a major bonus for our income. That’s 12-14k a year we get to stick in the savings now, because we don’t need it to get around. Think you do? Think again.

The average person can walk 3 miles in an hour, or cycle 10 miles in an hour. That means if you live within 10 miles of your office you could be getting a healthy dose of cardio every morning/afternoon (which gets you in better shape and out of the 70% of U.S. residents/citizens who are overweight, 30% of whom are obese, with only 8% of those having an actual hormonal reason for being so according to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic), and your commute time will be within an hour. Grocery store a couple miles from the house? That’s a 20 minute bike ride or a 40 minute walk, both of which are good for your health. As a writer, you don’t need a vehicle. You don’t need to transport tools to and from a job-site; your tools are in your office. And unless you are physically handicapped in some way or live out in the boonies, you really don’t need a vehicle. Sure, it’s convenient, but is it a necessity? Not in the least.

This is just one of the many ways you can add bonus money to your annual spending capabilities.

Do you want to live the life you want to live, or do you want to barely scrape by? I’m not going to make up your mind for you, but I can say this: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to make the right changes to have a successful career/life. Scrutinize your own survivability and determine whether you actually need all those little things that continually drain money out of your account.

Posted in Being a Green Freelancer, Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Marginal Boundaries, Issue One now on sale!

After three months of hard work, the first issue of our new speculative fiction ezine, Marginal Boundaries, is now on sale.

Head on over to the main site to read some excerpts and purchase your copy today!

Buy Now

Posted in Uncategorized

The latest spending trends of the average U.S. Household

So, as you all know, I have a fascination with numbers. Some might call it an obsession. You’ve seen it in many of my past posts, including Obsession with Numbers as well as the entire Content Writing Experiment throughout its 4 week period.

Here’s the latest gem I stumbled across today.

$38,000 is the average amount a U.S. family spends. That’s not the cost of living, according to the report. That’s how much they spend above and beyond their cost of living.

Remember that post, Obsession with Numbers? If you recall, the average cost of living for a single U.S. citizen was $24,000 a year. That’s cost of living folks, not money spent. If you recall, the average cost of living for 2 individuals who are married, without children, is around $50,000 per year.

Let’s just take a moment to absorb that, shall we? $50,000 before children. That’s 2 adults. Add a kid into the mix and that number only goes up exponentially.

Now, I haven’t dug into that article with any serious depth yet, but from a skim glance I’m assuming they mean “family” to be 2 adults + 2 dependents (see children) under the age of 18. So, cost of living aside, the average family is spending $38,000 a year. Assuming a $50,000 a year cost of living for 2 adults, and let’s just say an additional 25k a year for 2 children, we can assume that the average cost of living for a family of four is around $75,000 a year. Possibly $80,000 a year. As I recall a few years back when Hillary Clinton was running for President she was suggesting that anyone making less than 80k a year should qualify for assisted living from the federal government.

So, assuming that you are the “average” family, and you make an average of $18 an hour according to the U.S. Department of Labor (the median wage for 2009) per adult in the house, that’s a combined income (before taxes) of just over $69,000 dollars a year for a family (2 adults, 2 children).

Now, looking at the numbers presented in my other posts, the cost of living for just two adults was around 50k a year, leaving just under 20k a year for “spending”. Add 2 kids into the mix and you are looking at upwards of $75,000 a year in costs of living alone…based upon an average median income of 70k for two individuals. And we haven’t even started talking about taxes yet….

Where the hell are people getting an extra $38,000 a year to spend when their median wages don’t even cover the cost of living?

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to get into the addiction to credit that most U.S. citizens have when I was writing that Obsession with Numbers post?

(Insert long rant about addiction to credit here)

Just kidding :) I’ve already covered it in other topics, and intelligent readers can clearly see the writing on the wall. My urging would be to read that post, because it delves into some really interesting numbers. One thing I did come across was this (probably not entirely accurate) little tool for instantly calculating the cost of living between your city and another, based upon data input by users from various cities around the world. Bearing in mind that I used to live just an hour north of Denver, the nifty little tool over at Expatistan lets me know that Denver has a cost of living that is 105% more than my cost of living here in Sofia.

That’s something I already know. I’ve talked extensively about the fact that our cost of living in Denver was upwards of 5ok a year for the two of us, yet here we have the exact same amenities and live for around $500 a month, or $6,000 a year. That’s right, folks. A whopping 6k a year in living expenses. Compared to 50k. For the exact same amenities.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not rocket science to me. There’s a reason I urge so many people to seek opportunities in other countries around the world as an expat. Living and working abroad is an amazing opportunity, with a ton of benefits, not the least of which is the ability to retain a vast portion of your income compared to living in a country that sucks your bank account dry.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my home country, but there are some serious issues with costs of living when you compare on a global scale, which is exactly why my wife and I made the decision 2 years ago to move out and head back to her home country of Bulgaria.

I don’t know the statistics regarding the addiction to credit, so I can’t say with any authority what things are really like, but I can remember from about 6 years back there was a news report that I remember which talked about the average U.S. citizen being roughly 40-50k in debt by the time they were in their late 20s after picking up a car + school loans they had to pay off. That’s before even getting into rent or mortgages or talking about marriage and kids.

What does any of this have to do with freelance writing? Well, in short…remember how I talk about only working 2-4 hours a day? My average work week is 20 hours, give or take. At least as far as contracts go. My magazine project is taking up a significant portion of my time, but it’s a hobby that I’m attempting to turn into a business, so it’s a little different. The point is, my job pays our entire costs of living for the entire year within a few months. Most people in the States are working a minimum of 40 hours a week for a median wage of $18 an hour against a cost of living that outweighs their income, forcing them to live on credit to make ends meet, much less experience anything above and beyond the drudgery of work.

It’s not rocket science. If you truly want to changes your circumstances, the entire world is at your fingertips. I was just having this very same discussion with one of our neighbors last night. He is a Bulgarian, whose daughter is my wife’s age, and he has been a friend of her family for years. He was talking about how even 10 years ago everyone’s dream was to find a job in the U.S. and get away from Bulgaria. Now, 10 years later, it’s the exact opposite, and he was expressing amazement at the fact that there are so many U.S. citizens living and working in this country.

The point is, so many writers complain about the rates and how it’s impossible to make a living in this day and age. Many writers claim that they need to raise their rates because “the cost of living has gone up”, but in the same breath complain that they can’t find work when they raise their rates because no one wants to pay such exorbitant fees.

And they are right. Why should a business be forced to pay 200 dollars an hour (random number) for something they can get from another writer who is willing to do the work for 40 dollars an hour (again, a random number used for the sake of the argument)?

I’ve talked a great deal about this in so many of my other threads, but the concept of livable wages and standard industry rates are 20th century terms. The entire world is a global pool of employees and opportunities now, and refusing to take advantage of those opportunities is like refusing a rope when it is thrown to you when you are dangling from the edge of a cliff, the rocks crumbling beneath your grasp and your fingers and wrist about to give out. There is an old saying about “your possessions coming to possess you”, and it really is something to think about.

The next time you start to feel the pressure of a rising cost of living or deal with jobs which are offering rates that you cannot afford to take because you have become accustomed to living at a certain level for so many years…think about it with a broader perspective. Look beyond your limited local view and look at the world through a pair of wide-angle lenses. Understand the issue is not that the “industry” is paying less, or that your “market” is taking a turn for the worse…it is the simple fact that the entire world has entered the workplace, and along with additional competition comes new workers who can do your job just as well as you can…for a whole lot cheaper because they live in countries like mine where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in the United States. Understand that thinking on a local scale is a limitation, and that the only person holding you back from success…is you.

You either want it, or you don’t. There is no middle ground. In the words of Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

(Please note that while my numbers from previous posts are based upon the U.S. Government’s own websites, the numbers presented from the thread which started this topic have not been “officially” researched in full as of the time of this writing, which means the numbers presented in this thread could potentially be off by a margin.)

Posted in The World Is Your Oyster Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

A busy month

Have you ever been so busy you don’t have time to post on your blog or update your social media sites?

Yep, that’s me. I’m literally so swamped with work and side projects that I haven’t had time to divulge any freelance writing tips for my global readers in a couple of weeks. I do apologize, but more than likely I won’t be making any posts until after the first of April.

Why? I’m booked full with contracts, I’m helping my wife’s sewing projects, and last but certainly not least I’m focused on launching our speculative fiction magazine, Marginal Boundaries, which goes live on March 31st. That includes story edits, art selections, organizing layout, managing the people beneath me who are helping make the zine a reality, and getting everything ready for press releases and the e-mail process of sending things out for reviews.

Needless to say…I’m not dead. I’m just freakishly busy. Which is a great place to be because it pays for all the trips I love taking around Europe :)

More when I have time. Until then…feel free to browse through what’s already been posted, and stay tuned for more information about our zine launch!

Posted in Uncategorized

Your Online Reputation

Perhaps this post should have more rightly been titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

The good: It’s awfully rewarding when you start seeing people Googling your name. That means you are building a reputation, in some way or form. When people are interested enough in who you are to research you, it means you are doing something right.

The bad: Are you ready for that level of scrutiny? One of the issues I have with being such a prolific writer is that I’m starting to build up a massive portfolio of work, and good or bad…it’s all on display. In some cases, where I have handed off an article to an editor who then makes a mistake before publishing the content, my name is still attached to that work, and I’m not going to catch every mistake that gets made, regardless if it was my mistake or an editor’s mistake. Not to mention, the things you say and do are more public than ever, and if you’ve ever made a comment on a forum, blog, or website…it’s there to stay.

The ugly: I recently saw another writer who had failed to live up to the expectations of their client, at which point said client went on the Interwebz and started posting some fairly horrific comments about the writer, referencing their dissatisfaction on their blog, website, and even going so far as to mention the writer in their newsletter and Twitter, furthering the damage caused.

I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the intricacies of the real world Human Resources departments, but as a general rule if a potential employer calls your previous place of employment and asks about you, all they (your previous employers) are allowed to give is generalities. Yes, you were let go, no we can’t go into any intimate details. Yes you quit. Etc.

For those of you who are not familiar with how slander/libel works, it basically means that no one, regardless of how upset they are with your performance, is allowed to spread libelous information about you which could potentially jeopardize your lifestyle in any way, shape or form, at least not publicly. For example, if I were unhappy with an employee’s performance I might complain to my wife or my close friends over beers, and I might even fire that person for performance-related issues and mark that down in case someone calls to ask about them, but what I am not allowed to do is post a newsletter saying “Employee X is one of the worst employees I’ve ever seen. He was consistently late, he smelled like poo, his face looked like a squirrel’s armpit, and I’d rather see him ran over by a bus than be allowed to work in this profession again.”

The latter is exactly what this particular client did after the writer failed to live up to their expectations. Needless to say, a libel/slander lawsuit followed. I don’t need to tell you the outcome.

However, this points to a growing problem with online reputations. Did you know the IRS–for example–is now checking people’s Twitter, Facebook and MySpace accounts to keep tabs on whether or not they are/are not paying their taxes? This is just the smallest tip of the iceberg, and while some might argue that the IRS has every right to use any means necessary to get their chunk of your paycheck, there are others who still believe in basic human rights and freedoms. One of those being the right to keep people from spreading libel and slander about your character or work-related abilities.

Anyone can Google your name. Some of us, like myself, are fine with that, as long as the information showing up is good. What happens if you come across someone who is not 100% satisfied with your services and decides to strike to the airwaves with blog posts and website posts about you, your business, and otherwise? Or even worse, what happens if you run into a blogger or fellow writer who has a difference of opinion with you and then proceeds to post comments about you on their website ?

While the actual laws vary state to state in the US, and country to country around the world, as a general rule no previous employer is allowed to give a bad reference. The basics of this are closely tied to libel and slander laws around the world, where a company cannot spread damaging information about someone for fear of a defamation lawsuit if an individual finds him/herself in a position where the information a previous employer gives out was less than stellar. Obviously there are exceptions to these rules. If you were taking drugs on the job, for example, that’s probably going to come up, and no amount of fast talking will get you away from that fact. But if it’s simply a matter of performance or expectations, there is a line that should not be crossed, and in most cases it won’t be.

In the last couple of years I have seen people’s blogs used as actually references for lawsuits regarding defamation cases. Digital signatures are now binding in a court of law. Things you say on the Internet–regardless if they are on your personal blog or not–can in some cases be actionable in a court of law, which leads to some fairly sticky situations regarding freedom of speech. Or does it?

The thing to remember is that your personal blog isn’t really personal. The moment you chose to host something on the Internet you entered into the public domain. A personal journal is just that…a journal you keep in your drawer that no one else but you can read. It’s personal. You cannot call a blog personal. No matter if you have set the permissions to only friends and family allowed to read, it is still public reading material.

Defamation lawsuits are serious business. No one has the right to harm your chances of finding future work, and if you find yourself dealing with a client who is potentially unsatisfied with the final product, you need to understand that it’s just an unfortunate situation, but one that does not necessarily have to reflect upon your future job prospects. That client may not be 100% satisfied with your performance, but what you need to understand is that everyone is human; at some point or another in our lives we are going to come across people who we have a difference of opinion with. The line between professionals and the non is being able to accept those differences of opinions and move forward regardless, rather than being stuck on the difference of opinion and allowing that to motivate you to overstep the bounds of the client/clientele relationship.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101, Freelance Writing Tips, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

The importance of diversity

When you look at the truly successful people in the world, they generally have several virtues in common. Dedication. Aggression. A work ethic. But most importantly they have a sense of entrepreneurship that drives them beyond simply being satisfied working for someone else in one specific job. Successful people are defined by their ability to adapt to multiple markets and make the most out of every single opportunity that presents itself.

I recently had someone tell me that the measure of my success was based purely upon luck. Said individual (I’m not going to name names) is someone who wrote for a fairly well-known third party broker in the global freelance community, and their post was referencing how they had recently been fired from their “freelance” position where they had been writing for the past 5 years, and that all of their hard work went up in smoke because the company who fired them owned their content, and the writer in question had essentially been ghost-writing for them for 5 years, drawing a paycheck. This writer complained that it was unfair, that they were being forced to start over from scratch because they no longer had material to present to potential clients because it was all ghost written.

For the record, this is not related to the recent b5 Media thing. Totally different company, and this was a few weeks back, although the recent fiasco with that company is yet another reason why diversity is so important.

In any case, I left a comment on their blog post to the effect of, “You make your own path in life. You either choose to succeed or you choose to fail. With a global pool of job opportunities to choose from there is absolutely no reason why you should be struggling to find work.”

It doesn’t matter if you were ghost-writing for 5 years or not. 5 years of writing experience is still 5 years of writing experience, and even if you can’t claim the articles themselves you can still show on your CV that you wrote as a work-for-hire author for X company for the duration. It’s a matter of public record, after all. Paychecks were written, pay stubs and IRS statements prove that you did in fact provide them with services for 5 years.

At any rate, I was talking about my own success in the same thread, and the writer in question threw up a comment that I was simply lucky with my success, because their lack of success was apparently proof enough that since they were having a hard time finding work anyone else out there who wasn’t in the same boat as them was simply “lucky”.

There is no luck involved. There is only perseverance. No one but me is putting in the hours behind the computer desk. I am the one who writes the queries, makes the phone calls, answers the e-mails, handles the bookkeeping, writes all the content, edits all the content, moderates the blog, updates the website, makes the network connections, and puts in the time. I am not relying on other people. I am not relying on luck. I rely on my ability to get out there and make it happen. I rely on a multitude of different markets for my success. I write for print, I write for online sources, I write for third party content brokers, I write for traditional clients. In short, I have my eggs in half a dozen different baskets.

Are you lucky because you choose to work for a variety of clients around the world rather than put all your eggs in one basket? Is Richard Branson simply “lucky” because he chooses to spread his wealth between 10+ different companies around the world? Is Bill Gates “lucky” because he chooses to expand Microsoft in more than one direction, instead investing in search engines, IE, media player, MS Word, MS Office, and beyond?

The importance of diversity is that it keeps you from getting into the same situation as the writer I am discussing. They put all their eggs in one basket and when that basket finally gave out, they lost everything. They never planned for a rainy day. They never looked ahead, diversified with new clients, or got outside of their comfort zone.

I’ve referenced AIG, Enron, or the people who invested with Madoff in other posts, but the simple fact of the matter is that no matter which job you look at, no matter where you are in the world, there is always the chance that the company you are working with could go under, suffer through financial difficulties, change ownership, fire you, strip your life savings out of your 401k and leave you screwed after 20+ years of working for them, or so on and so forth. No job is truly safe, and the only way to plan ahead for such issues is to diversify.

It’s great to have a niche. Use it. Be profitable at it. But don’t limit yourself to one niche, because like it or not anything can happen, and if something does happen you need to have prepared for the worst in order to make the best out of a bad situation. Looking at my own success in particular, I am  not lucky. I am simply diversified, with my fingers in a lot of different pies so that if one opportunity fails I have several others to fall back on. I freelance write, I help my wife with her crafting business, I write fiction, and I just recently started a spec-fic zine with its first issue out in March. With my wife in particular, as you can see from her bio page here, she not only writes for clients, but she also does translations, owns a crafting/design company, works as a cosmetologist, and teaches TOEFL classes on the weekends. We also have plans for 5-6 other ventures over the next year or 2, including property, construction companies, a cosmetic clinic, a vineyard, and more.

Luck has nothing to do with success. If you truly want to succeed you will find a way to do so. Your success is the result of hard work, diligence, and motivation. It is not the result of other people or some magical, mystical force that parts the waters ahead of your footsteps. You are the one who is bringing in the paychecks. You are the one putting in the hours every week. You are the one making the phone calls, writing the e-mails, doing the PR, the HR, the editing, the cold-calling, the querying, the hiring and firing. And if you are successful, you and you alone are the reason for that success, no one else. And the reason you are doing so is because you are willing to diversify, to move beyond the 9-5 job at a single company, to work for many instead of one.

Whether you choose to write freelance and invest in real estate on the side, or write for print, third party content brokers, and do translations all at the same time, or any other variation you can think of, the only way to guarantee your success is to make sure you are diversifying your investments over several different sources, rather than putting all of your eggs in one basket. Should that company ever fail, you could be out in the rain with nothing but eggshells in your hands.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Looking for talented freelance artists

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this announcement.

Marginal Boundaries, a speculative fiction magazine edited by yours truly, is currently on the lookout for freelance writers. Due to unexpected circumstances, our previous artist had to back out, and we are currently looking for 1-3 artists to work with for our first issue.

You can read this post for more information.

Posted in Uncategorized

Obsession with numbers

I’ve always been somewhat addicted to math as it relates to freelance writing. I love using numbers to prove a point, especially when it can be used to educate people away from the tired old “omgz t3h content millz r EVIL” mentality. Perhaps it’s due to my enjoyment of the show Numb3rs, currently enjoying its 5th (or is it 6th?) season, or perhaps it’s just a perverse addiction to being right. Probably the latter.

Definitely the latter upon further reflection.

If you paid attention to my recent Content Writing Experiment, you saw me delve into the raw numbers as presented by the US Department of Labor. You also saw me touch on the concept of livable wage, which is a flawed concept that does not apply to a global pool of freelancers living in countries around the world where living expenses, taxes and other amenities vary drastically.

The obsession with numbers led me to take a closer look at what livable wages really are, and what living expenses are compared to median wages across the world. I’m going to use only two examples for this particular post: Italy and the United States.

The United States

In 2009 the median wage for an American citizen was just over 18 USD per hour. That’s around 35k a year. For a 40 hour a week job.

The median living expenses for an American citizen are around 2k USD per month, or 24k USD per year.

I’m not even going to go into the whole addiction to credit thing that has almost every American out there believing that if they don’t make 60k a year or more they are “poor”. I’m simply presenting the raw numbers. The average US citizen makes 35k a year against living expenses of 24k a year. This does not take into account ANYTHING above and beyond the BASIC living expenses…rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, groceries, vehicle, taxes, etc.

What that means is that the average US citizen should be able to walk away with around 11k USD per year above and beyond living expenses, or around 30% of their total income for the year.

Italy

The median wage for an Italian citizen is 25k Euro a year. Given the current exchange rate 0f 1.4, that’s around 34k USD per year. Roughly the same as the average US citizen.

Here’s where the discrepancies start.

The average work week in Italy is 20-25 hours a week. Half of what the typical American works. In other words, Italians work half as many hours for the same amount of money.

The median cost of living in Italy is 700 Euro a month, or 950 USD per month. Let’s round that up to 1k a month, just for the sake of argument. That’s a total of 8400 Euro a year of living expenses, or rounded up to 9k, just for the sake of argument. That means the average Italian is left with 16k Euro a year above and beyond living expenses, or around 65% of their income.

So, Italians work half as many hours for the same amount of wages, and have half the cost of living expenses. And as everyone knows, Italy is one of the best European countries to live in. Their amenities are the same as every other developed country on the planet, and they have an extremely high tax rate. They have exceptional food, exceptional wine, and exceptional living conditions. There aren’t trailer parks scattered across the landscape, there’s no welfare system, and they aren’t suffering from an economic recession at the same level as the American people.

The raw numbers

Looking at those basic statistics, the average American is left with 30% of their income after living expenses to use for paying taxes, loans, and any and all amenities above and beyond basic living expenses. Meanwhile, the average Italian not only worked half the hours for the same amount of pay, but they are left with double the amount of expendable income used for the payment of taxes, amenities, and expenses above and beyond basic necessities for life.

Someone other than me, over in this thread, pointed out the statistics shown over at NationMaster’s website. Using the math (I haven’t delved into it much yet, but I will later on!) presented, Italy is only 12% behind the US in terms of total productivity of money per year as an entire country. What that means is the average Italian citizen is working roughly 76% more effeciently than the average US citizen in terms of hours per year worked.

In other words, for every hour worked, an Italian is 76% more efficient in terms of income. They are making 76% more money than the average American citizen. For the average American to achieve the same ratio of hours work against total living expenses, they would need a 76% pay raise.

Come again?

You heard me. 76%. And keep in mind that Italy is not the highest income bracket country in the EU.

Now, while these numbers are by no means conclusive (I’m not even delving into the average amount of money per year most US citizens spend on excess compared to those in Italy or other parts of the world, nor am I going to compare the average amount of debt, or the addiction to credit cards and the credit system that only exists in the US), nor have I looked at some of the poorer (or richer) countries in the European Union, it points out a fairly stark difference in livable wages between two “highly” developed countries.

When most people think of Italians they think of luxurious buildings, ancient history, villas, wines, cuisine, Mediterranean resorts, and some of the most amazing scenery in the world. And they are correct. And ironically enough the average Italian can work 20 hours a week, make the same amount of money as a 40-hour-per-week US citizen, and walk away with 60% of their paycheck in hand after the basic costs of living compared to the 30% that the average US citizen has in hand.

Livable wages are a myth. It is a term used by individuals who do not understand global concepts, global agendas, and global relations. Going hand in hand with livable wages are standardized wages. There is no such thing as an “industry standard”. Why? Because the same industries exist in both Italy and the United States, yet the costs of living in both countries is drastically different, meaning that the wages for employees can potentially be that much different.

Look at a person living in Seattle. They are required to make X per year to cover their living expenses. Compare that to a person living in Santa Fe. Now compare that to a person living in Mexico City. Rome. Athens. Sydney. London. Aruba. Any international city you choose to plug in.

See the pattern?

At the end of the day where you choose to live in the world can dramatically change your ability to access your hard-earned money. If you choose to live in a country where the cost of living eats up 70% (or more) of your income before you even get to paying taxes and amenities…well, let’s just say I don’t envy the people who are forced to work 40, 50, 60 or more hours a week just to make ends meet.

The next time someone brings up the great rate debate, educate yourself before you enter the discussion. It helps to be able to prove your point and show that you understand what it means to be globally aware and globally educated.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Content Writing Experiment Conclusion

Week 4:

At the end of Week Four we have a total of 38 hours invested for 2010 dollars. That comes to a grand total of 52.9 dollars per hour, or rounded up to 53 USD per hour. I could have put in the additional 2 hours and likely pulled out another 100 dollars or so, but I passed 2k USD before I reached 40 hours of invested time, which means I exceeded the overall goal of the experiment, which was 50 dollars an hour for the everyday, average Joe who can just walk in and write about anything at content sites.

Bearing in mind that my results are nowhere conclusive, it is however proof of how lucrative writing for third party content brokers can be, so long as you understand how to write such content.

There was no exploitation occurring. No one forced me to work slave hours for slave wages. I never once approached the federal minimum wage according to the United States. I put in a couple hours here and there, with the overall goal of showing people that you can easily walk in with a couple hours a night, no cold calling or querying required, and make an easy 2k a month.

500 a week. 2k a month. 24k a year. All for a total investment of 2 hours a day.

How much do you make in your 40 hour a week job at your regular job? If you are a freelancer, how much time do you spend on the phone, e-mailing clients, and trying to drum up work? How much time do you waste commuting to an office?

If you paid attention to Week 3, you will see a lot of hard numbers presented, according to the Department of Labor, the government’s Census site, and the Social Security website. 50 dollars an hour is upper management wages. In fact, it’s more money than the average branch manager makes for Bank of America, according to CareerBliss’ stats.

Some freelance writers will tout their 70-80k a year paychecks as if they are bragging rights. They aren’t, at least not beyond the first glance. Most of those freelancers are working far more hours than they ever care to put down on paper. They spend time cold calling, e-mailing, querying, interviewing, researching, marketing, and performing administrative tasks. When you get right down to it, most of the individuals making 70-80k a year as freelance writers are putting in 50-60 (and beyond) hour work weeks. They will try and make claims like “I made 500 dollars for a 500 word article, and it only took me 20 minutes to write it”, but what they fail to mention is the amount of time, research, phone calls, interviews, and other “behind the scenes” work that went into crafting that 500 dollar article. They might have written it in 20 minutes, but in most cases that 500 word article worth 500 dollars was either based upon 10+ years of experience in a given field, or based upon several hours worth of research, interviewing, and compiling the necessary information.

That’s not to say their way of doing things is wrong. 70-80 grand is still 70-80 grand, and if you can make that kind of wage working a 40 hour work week, you aren’t doing too bad by anyone’s standards. But the thing of it is, if you look at the amount of time put in to arrive at that 80k a year and break it down into an hourly format, you get a nice round average of 40 dollars an hour, assuming a 40 hour work week for 50 weeks a year.

The point of this experiment was not to discredit the viability of traditional freelance methods, but to prove that writing for third party brokers is not low paying, demeaning, oppressive, or in any way, shape, or form anywhere remotely close to slave wages or minimum wage. If you want to sit down for 8 hours a day and pound out content for a website like Demand Studios, you could. And you could be damn profitable at it if you have enough niches to reliably write at a decent pace.

If you can write 3 articles an hour at Demand Studios, you can make 45 dollars an hour. That’s not that difficult, as long as you are a reliable typist and have 3-4 niches in which you can write without having to do a lot of research.

The point is, while content writing might not be as brag-worthy as getting an article published in the New York Times or some other high-profile website or magazine, it pays just as well for those individuals who know how to write the type of content required by these third party content brokers.

Success by its very definition is whatever a person wants it to be. While some freelancers would have you believe that if you aren’t making 80k a year you are a failure, that’s not necessarily true.  If you are someone who is working a traditional 9-5 job for 20 bucks an hour and 2 weeks paid vacation a year, you could easily be making double that by simply writing about your hobbies at places like Demand Studios. Or, if you are a freelancer who is struggling to find clients amidst the bidding wars that go on at places like Elance where you are being asked to write 600 word articles for a measly 1 dollar, you should seriously consider places like Demand Studios, Bright Hub, and other sites that pay 10-15 dollars for those 400-500 word hobby articles that you could write about in your spare time.

Imagine making 50-60k a year working 20-25 hour work weeks. Totally feasible. I do it. So do many others. It’s not a fantasy. Content writing for third party brokers is not some back-breaking, labor-intensive job like many of the elite freelancers would have you believe. The fact of the matter is you can make just as much money writing for content sites as you can writing for traditional clients, and you don’t have to deal with the headaches and hassles of administrative duties.

It’s just another option in a very large world of global opportunities.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this writing experiment and understand that my results are by no means conclusive. They are just one writer’s example of how lucrative content writing can be, if you apply yourself, and if the right conditions are met. If you paid attention to the entire writing experiment, you will see my rates of pay ranged from 40 dollars an hour using lower paying sites, to 75+ dollars an hour using Demand Studios. It all depends on the type of content, the knowledge you have, and how concisely you write.

Stay tuned for round 2, coming later in 2010 when I will be specifically focusing only on writing for Demand Studios, and no one else.

Happy writing, and good luck!

Day 16:

8 blog posts @ 500 words each, 8 dollars each. Research included, 1.5 hours writing time.

3 x 300 word posts for 30 dollars, 30 minutes.

2 hours, 70 dollars

Day 17:

Repeat of Day 16, plus 1 Demand Studios article that took about 10 minutes.

2 hours, 85 dollars

Day 18:

6 articles @ 500 words @ 12 bucks apiece. Rewrite pieces for a web design company updating its services page. Took a whopping 1.5 hours. 72 dollars

3 x 300 x 30 for 30. 30 dollars

2 hours, 100 dollars

Day 19:

X6 articles @ 300 words each, 1 hour, 60 dollars

5 Demand Studios articles, 1 hour, 75 dollars

It should be noted that only 4 of the articles were accepted. I was requested to do a rewrite on the 5th, but I declined to rewrite the article given the fact that I did not agree with the CE’s interpretation of the title in question. This was my first rejection out of 39 articles written so far.

Day 20:

4 Demand Studios articles, 45 minutes for 60 dollars.

Posted in Freelance Writing Resources Tagged with: , , , , , , ,




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