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Hiatus update

I am living in Cincinnati now with my boyfriend Casper. I’m working now and then but am avoiding anything that has strict deadlines – sticking with Break Studios and Text Broker. I’m doing well and really enjoying writing whenever I feel like it for some extra cash instead of all the time to pay rent. Let me know if you have any writing questions as I still love to help people out finding online writing work!

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Hiatus

So it’s been about a month since I last updated. I was in the hospital for a week at the end of July and have since moved back in with my parents in Walla Walla, WA. I’m not currently working so this blog is currently obsolete. If/when I start working again, I’ll start posting again. As it is, I’m just resting and recovering. I’ve started a tumblr as a sort of meditation on beauty.

Gig and Life Update

Whew. It’s been busy over here. I went to Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation’s conference over July 4th weekend which I’ve gone to every year since 2004. I already run their website, but now I also run Fellowship of Reconciliation’s website! I also auctioned off my web services in the fundraising auction so will be updating a folk singer’s website, too. And the woman who was bidding against him approached me about having me do her environmental organization’s website for pay. I met a guy who also does web design and we talked quite a bit. He wants me to get into Drupal. I haven’t yet but am really excited to. It was also an incredible conference for me, both mentally and emotionally.

I came home for four days and wrote like crazy to meet a bunch of deadlines before flying off to Wisconsin for a friend’s wedding. It was an incredibly beautiful wedding and, in general, I had a surprisingly good time. I grew up out there and in the past returning to it has been mostly just stressful.

I flew home Tuesday and have been busy writing ever since. Over the past two weeks I’ve hatched a plan to drive across the country next year. I’ve been wanting to be a US nomad since I was 12 or 13 and figure now is the time: my lease is up in February, I have no close friends or community tying me down, and I work online. There’s a lot of saving that needs to be accomplished, but I am nothing if not a planner so I’ve already got all sorts of spreadsheets started to figure out how much I need to save total and how to break that down over the next 10 months. The best thing about this new plan is that it is something I can work towards. I haven’t had a goal in so long!
As far as work these past few weeks:

  • The thing about Elance is that you bid on jobs and then accept jobs before you really know what they are. I guess some people are more thoughtful, but I’m a versatile writer so don’t get too picky. I won a job at the end of June that said he wanted 5% keyword density on three keywords. I just assumed he meant a total of 5%…but I was wrong. He corrected me, saying he wanted 5% on each and every keyword! 15% total! Seeing as the keywords were nearly identical, I quickly realized I was in for an interested writing session. The picture here is what 15% looks like. Anything red is a keyword. It was actually pretty fun to write: I’d write it trying to focus on keywords, end up with abut 8%, and then go through it over and over replacing pretty much every noun with a keyword…
  • The Elance client I was writing marketing bios for fell madly in love with my writing! He said I’m the best they’ve found and offered me a whole bunch more work. I could tell he was serious so actually agreed to talk to him on the phone. He was a competent, friendly, and promising on the phone as he had been online! We decided to take it outside of Elance, which I prefer for long term jobs. Back online, he introduced me to his buddy who also wants me to write for him. His buddy is the one who seems most promising at the moment: I just finished two articles for him, he wants me to write two a week about California native plants, and he has also sent me requests for 12 other articles! Granted, these are more like blog posts at 300-400 words, but I’m getting 1.5 cents a word, which is great for me!
  • Just last night I finished up my third job for a great Elance client. She always gives me really positive feedback, not just official feedback at the end of a job but also when responding to my messages, etc and I really appreciate that. She also was totally ok with my timeframe on this job and set the job up with two milestones – seven articles by July 8 and the next eight by July 19 – that I had suggested. Plus, she loves my work! It’s fairly spammy stuff, but it’s easy, too, and involves researching products which I have a lot of experience with.
  • I’m also supposedly working on five natural beauty articles. I say supposedly because the deadline was two days ago and she never got back to me about the revisions for the first two (due last Friday). I submitted them Friday (finished the second one minutes before I left for the airport!) and she got back to me on Monday, I think, saying that she wanted to talk to me on the phone about revisions. I don’t like phones and for a $50 job? I don’t think so. I said no, just email. She asked if she could send an audio file (?!) and I said yes. That was Tuesday and I haven’t heard anything since. I was paid for the first two so I wouldn’t complain if this job just disappeared…
  • The woman who I originally found on Craigslist and wrote a ton of diet and bike profiles for? She wrote to a bunch of us writers last week saying she has a sentence variation job. It’s a fascinating, tedious job and I wonder what she is going to use all those sentences for… I submitted the first set two days ago and she said the job is temporarily on hold while they figure out logistics. It is, as usual with her, pretty good pay.
  • I saw an ad on Craigslist (“creative gigs,” “writing jobs” and “etc jobs” are on my morning bookmark list) for a newish site called Factoidz. While I feel using a Z to pluralize ought to be done sparingly, the website actually looks pretty cool. I applied not expecting to get accepted, but this morning they sent me a congratulations email! From the look of the site, I’m suspecting they will require a quality level similar to Constant Content, which I have yet to have luck with. Every other job I’ve had has required a lower quality level so it’s really hard to convince myself to write at a higher quality level. Doing so would require concentration and one of the reasons I’m a freelance writer is because I can’t focus on anything long enough to have a 9 to 5. But we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

Vindale Research: great; Columbia House DVDs: scumbags

Good morning! I recently received a compliment for this here blog so now I’m inspired to post most.

I want to write about my experience with Columbia House DVDs. If you’ve heard anything about them, let me just confirm that they are a scummy company. In my constant search to make money online, I have had quite a bit of luck with Vindale Research. I’ve used plenty of survey sites – Toluna, Quizpoints, Cash Back Surveys, Opinion Outpost, etc – but most of them aren’t worth the time I put into them. Vindale is, though. Instead of just doing surveys, Vindale Research is a product testing site, basically. You try out a service or product, take a survey about your experience with it, and get paid pretty well.

(Oh, man. Sorry if this sounds like copy…I’ve been writing reviews of popular marketing gurus so I’ve been inundated with spammy talk.)

The downside is this: you almost always have to put money out to get the product. So, for instance, I bought a coupon book through Vindale for $30. After doing the review, I got $20 back. Now, they let you know ahead of time how much you’ll be getting paid so I got into the coupon book thing knowing I wasn’t going to make a profit. That was ok with me because I like coupons and will save more than $10 with the product. And this coupon book was not the odd deal out: I would say most of the offers don’t actually pay you, they just give you a huge discount on a product. The rare few do give you a profit, though, but it’s tricky because you’re working with some pretty scammy companies.

And that’s how I make it worth it: I think of it as work. It’s not free money, it’s not even super cheap products, it’s work. Every time I sign up for an offer, I record when I did so and what the rules said would happen next. I keep my eye on every offer I do. I make sure I cancel every account before the trial date ends so that I get paid by Vindale but don’t get charged by the service.

Which is how, ultimately, this Columbia House mess did end up working on in my favor. On May 19, I filled out the Vindale Research Columbia House offer. I was supposed to get paid $15 for the $5.97 offer I was signing up for. I received my three DVDs as the offer said I would, but that’s where the good stuff ended. The problem ended up being that, somewhere in the fine print (and usually I read through the terms!), I had also signed up for buying several DVDs at $19.99 each! The next step was tracking down Columbia House; that was not a walk in the park.

Which is another reason I’m writing this blog: to tell you that, as of June 28, 2010, 717-918-3232 is a working phone number for Columbia House. They change it regularly.

Anyway, when I finally got through to someone and explained in forceful language that I wanted my money back now, I was instructed to ship back my three DVDs in the original packaging, with my account number written inside to be fully refunded and excused from my buying commitment. I shipped it back – spending money on postage I feared just add to my cost of dealing with these guys. I never use package tracking, but, having worked in customer service, I knew the importance of being able to prove that something had been sent back. So I tracked the package all the way out to Hanover, PA, where Columbia House is located. It arrived on June 15; on June 18, my account was refunded my original $5.97. Hurray! I’m still getting emails from Columbia House, but those’ll be easier enough to mark as spam. Oh, and did I mention that I still got the $15 from Vindale Research? So, really, all I lost was the return postage…

Was it worth it? Yes, I would say. It wasn’t worth the panic when I realized they expected me to put $60 down for DVDs, but it was worth the money because I live on very little and the benefit of working from home outweighs how much I make an hour.

All that said, Vindale Research is a really legit, useful service. I’ve made $100 there over the past few months which is enough for me to keep going back.

Another Update and More Complaints

Me and Garrick in Placerville

Hi there! I went to Placerville, CA, for a week to see a friend and then when I got home my family came to visit. I’m exhausted and worn out and really glad that the next two weeks are going to be much slower. This post got to be sort of sad and whiney so I threw in some photos to keep y’all entertained. Or something.

Work-wise, things are slow, and that is not desirable. I’m really short on money and all I can do is wait. I have 38 bids in at Elance, 15 of which are from June. I have this horrible hunch that the next two weeks, during which I am doing very little, are going to be very slow work-wise and then, when I’m headed to a conference and out to Wisconsin for a wedding during the first two weeks of July, I’m going to get, like, ten million jobs.

I am not looking forward to this.

In good news, I was immediately rehired by one of my last clients for a second job. She really loves my work, even saying that I’m “much better than most Elance writers I’ve dealt with.”

And that praise meant a lot to me since the job I was doing simultaneously – the picnic one – turned out to be a disaster. The instructions were vague, her revision suggestions were even more vague (suggesting linking to parts of her

My sister and dad eating Venezuelan food from a food cart

site that didn’t exist, etc) and ultimately the feedback she gave me was “Every article written was unusable. Massive revisions are needed to salvage them.” I’ve been being really careful not to dodge blame on this one, but every time I review what I wrote they seem fine to me. I had my friend in Placerville read each one before I submitted it, and he assures me they were as good as any of my other writing.

One client says I’m above average and the other says my writing is unusable. Go figure.

Since I don’t have any active gigs at the moment, I visited a Break Studios today to see what they have in their content pool waiting to be written. I was, unfortunately, unimpressed. When I first started writing for them a few months ago there were tons of good articles to write, but in the past month or so there’s been hardly anything of worth. It’s a strange system they’ve got going over there: each time you submit an article, you also have to come up with three titles for other, related articles. Those titles, from what I can tell, go straight into the content pool. To write an article, you claim an article title out of the pool and then write 250-750 words within a certain format made for the specific type of article, i.e. Top Ten, How To, Best Of, etc. While I usually really like this set up, these days it seems the pool is full of titles that don’t quite make sense. For instance, there’s a few article titles available about how to remove the backseats of certain models of van. How is that something folks at mademan.com want to read?!

I’ve stopped in at Text Broker some, too, but haven’t written anything. Both these sites pay less than Elance gigs up front, but when you factor in research time your realize they pay even less. With Text Broker, I would have to research and learn about a topic that I will ultimately make, say, $5-$10 on. With Elance, I can research one thing and then make $50-$100 on it. Text Broker requires me to focus hard on a particular topic for half an hour and then move onto a brand new topic. Elance gigs let me focus for longer, so it’s more fun, easier and pays better.

Bitch, moan, etc.

In other news, I’m plotting some fairly large life decisions at the moment and am really excited about these things.

Update and Complaints

It’s been a while. Things were boring. Horse tweets and nothing else.

I won an Elance gig for 14 spammy web content articles last week and just submitted them today. I also just won another Elance gig yesterday, this one for writing about picnics! I love that traveling is not an issue with my work! This Saturday I’m flying to Placerville, CA, for a week and if I don’t get these articles done in the next couple days, it’ll be super easy to finish them up there.

Constant Content has not been going well. My article on eco friendly wedding ideas, which is my first attempt at fulfilling a specific content request, has been rejected two times at this point. The first time was completely my fault: I didn’t put it in the right font and font size that the guidelines specifically state. The second time, though, is what is baffling me. I have never had a complaint from any clients about my grammar or punctuation, but this article was rejected because:

In short, it was rejected because I had written: “These ideas, taken from eco brides and wedding planners, are a testament to if there’s a will, there’s a way.” Yes, their rendition is better, but is it really grounds for rejection? Apparently. I’ve resubmitted it with that correction. We’ll see.

Plus, while they’ve managed to reject that one requested content article twice now, they have yet to review the three other articles and one photo I have submitted. It makes sense that they’d take longer to review the regular submissions since content requests have a timeframe, but they can review my one article twice in five days but can’t touch even one of my other submissions in a week?! Frustrating, indeed.

In other news, my summer has begun, even if Portland weather is not corresponding appropriately. Also, my neighbor is playing music so loud my wall is literally vibrating. Fun times.

Writing + Math

I just submitted the horse tweets job, so I’m free! No gigs! I’m going to try really hard to take the day off tomorrow, but I may surrender to my money shortage (two plane tickets and a new set of handlebars for my bike) and write some Text Broker or Break Studio articles.

I have bits of paper lying about that have charts of how much I should bid on a job based on how many words it is or similar info. Tonight, I finally just made a spreadsheet of it all. After making a chart of how much to charge for 500-50,000 words if I’m charging 1.25-2 cents a word and one of how much I need to tack onto the base price to include either 8% (Elance) or 35% (Constant Content) fees, I came up with a sexy formula:

x*.0125+(x*.0125*0.08)=y

When x equals the number of words, y equals how much my bid should be. And you can up the cent per word or commission percentage by switching out .0125 or .08, respectively. I have it in a spread sheet so x is the adjoining cell so all I have to do is type in word count in cell 1 and I get my bid in cell 2.

This is what I end up doing when I feel like I should be taking a break from working but don’t actually want to be doing anything else.

Gig Update: Tree Planting, Tweets, Job Search and CC

It’s been a couple days. Where I’m at:

  • Finished and submitted Elance job about carbon offsetting on the 20th. It was due by the 21st so the job has ended, but the client hasn’t gotten back to me. One of my biggest writing pet peeves is clients who don’t get back to writers right away, especially when I can see that they have logged in in the past three hours… On the other hand, I don’t expect folks to get in touch over the weekend because a lot of clients follow a traditional work schedule.
  • Still at the tweets. It is seriously tedious work. I’m used to doing short jobs – I can’t remember the last time I wrote a piece over 1000 words – so this is pretty overwhelming. Oh, and I realized that Word wasn’t counting spaces as characters so I had to go back through the 800 tweets I’d written and edit them down. The client has been really cooperative, though, and has made it clear she doesn’t need them until the 31st. Whew.
  • I’ve been bidding like crazy on Elance. For the first time, my “My Jobs” section actually takes up two pages! I get 25 connects (bids) a month now because I signed up for the Professional plan ($10/month). I’m really tempted to say that if you don’t like job searching, freelance writing online probably isn’t for you, but I think you can find a way that requires less job searching than I do. I just really love it: the search, the proposal writing, the record keeping… I have always wanted to be a secretary.
  • I have submitted three other articles to Constant Content, one of which I wrote specifically for a Requested Content posting. I misunderstood that section at first, thinking it was set up like a cross between Text Broker and Elance where the client awards the job to whoever contacts them with the most promising message. Apparently, though, it’s not like that. I submitted the article I wrote for the posting as if I was submitting a regular article but on the submission page specified that it was for a request and chose the request from a drop down menu. It’s now under review along with my other two articles and my one photo. The only thing I don’t like about this set up is that if I write an article for a very specific posting and it is rejected by the client, I’ve wasted writing time. With that in mind, I’m only submitting to requests that are looking for articles I could sell elsewhere if they reject it or only buy usage rights. I’m also trying out drastically higher prices for my Constant Content articles, in particular this one for a request. She wanted a 600 word article with a budget of $40-$50. I put usage at $30, unique at $40 and full rights at $50! If it sells at that price, I’ll start picking out a date for me and Constant Content‘s wedding. Seriously.

In personal news, I bought tickets to Placerville! Hurray for seeing my best friend/ex-boyfriend in two weeks! Rents going to be tight…unless someone buys that Constant Content article.

Constant Content Article Accepted!

Wow! The full rights were just purchased for my first Constant Content article were purchased!

I had it at $10 for the full rights, but it looks like Constant Content is taking $3.50 of that. 35% – that’s a pretty steep charge. Elance charges 2.75% for “payment processing” and a 4-6% service fee, for a total possible loss of 8.75%. I just took a look at the Constant Content FAQ’s (I rarely look before I leap) and it says quite clearly that the 35%/65% split is standard. For each new author I refer, I originally thought that the split would change in my favor by 5%. It turns out that is not the case. With each new author I refer, I start receiving 5% of the their earnings, and that money comes out of Constant Content‘s 65% not the author’s 35%. (Thanks to commenter George for clarifying this).

Doing the numbers, though, I see that the 35% commission is completely balanced out by the price my piece sold for. As it is, my 431 word article was sold at a little over 1.5 cents a word! If I also factor in that the article in question probably took me less than 20 minutes to write and that I was using it as a sample (i.e. never expected to get paid for it)…ok, I’ll say it: I’m falling pretty hard for Constant Content. *blush*

Don’t worry, though, we’re not going to move in or make any sort of big commitment until I know him better.

I’m also pretty stoked at the turnaround speed of this sale. I got an email just this morning saying that my article was approved. I went and took a look at my profile and thought, “Hm, I wonder how long it’s going to take someone to need an article about how to get men to talk…” Just a couple of hours, apparently. Who knew?!

The more I look around Constant Content, the more I like what I see. There’s an option to see all the “Recently Sold Content” in the system, which I imagine would be a great guide if I ever wonder what is selling best and thefore what I ought to be writing. It also gives you the price at which each item was sold so you can see what kind of things are selling.

I took a pretty picture last Sunday at a Farmer’s Market and thought, what the hay, and submitted it for review at Constant Content. I’m no photographer and I took the photo on my phone so I’ll be stoked if it gets accepted and actually sells!

Elance Job Search Tips

After a few weeks on Elance, I developed a system of looking for jobs that I have stuck with. The amount of jobs on Elance can be overwhelming and there’s no way to mark which ones you’ve looked at already, though a little red flag will appear by the title if you have already bid on it.

I recommend:

  • Choose Search under the Find Work tab.
  • Choose Job Category > Writing & Translation from the filters sidebar.
  • Choose Time Left > 24 Hours. When I’m looking for work, I check Elance once a day. If you are going to check less often, there are also 3 Days and 7 Days options under the Time Left filter.
  • Organize results by number of bids by clicking the far right cliumn titled Bids. Since I have a limited amount of connects (or bids) and writing a proposal takes time, I don’t bid for anything that already has over 15 bids. If something already has 12 or 13 bids but I think I have a good shot, I’ll go for it. Usually though, I only bid on jobs that have around 10 or less bids. I’m not big on gambling my connects.
  • Read through the jobs. If you find one of interest, hlid Ctrl and click it to make it open a new tab; then, keep browsing.
  • Once you have opened all jobs of interest in a new window, start reading through them. Close any that you’re no longer interested in; add ones you’re not sure about to your watch list; bid on the ones you like.
  • Once you’ve bid on the ones you like, go back and read the ones on your watch list and make a decision.
  • Repeat the process in 24 hours (or 3 days, or 7 days).