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So you want to be a writer, huh?

I’ll be honest with you – it isn’t easy. It took me years of work and learning the hard way from multiple mistakes before I hit some semblance of a stride. Split infinitives and post-colon capitalization lurk in my peripheral vision, and spellcheck saves me a minimum of a dozen times an hour, even a decade after I first got the notion to do this for a living. I’m a good writer – an imperfect one, perhaps, but halfway decent if a bucketful of happy clients is any indication. You can be too, if you’re willing to work at it a little and keep persistence as a constant goal.

I started The Freelance Writer Guide to…

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The Latest on Zerys…Again.

Having come this far in chronicling the site’s slow, wince-worthy slide into functional obscurity, I feel a bit duty-bound to share what I hear around the web from various writer friends of mine. They’ve reportedly been hitting their 1st/15th payday date targets with less and less accuracy, culminating in the email below being sent out to what seems like a wide swath of, if not all of, their writers:

“Hi,

I wanted to let you know that you are one of a group of writers being affected by what we believe to be a Paypal transfer delay that is being caused by the 4th of July holiday.

As you may know, we typically transfer earnings to you within 3 business days from the end of the pay period (1st and 15th of the month). In this case, that would mean you would be paid by this Thursday, the 6th. However, due to the holiday and the above mentioned PayPal transfer issue, we are expecting some payments to go through later this time around. As a reminder, our payment policy suggest that you allow for up to an additional 14 days after the end of the pay period for the funds to clear your account, to account for rare circumstances beyond our control. For more information on our payment policy you can refer to our writer forum post here.”

We can’t tell you exactly when your specific payment will be transferred to you. It may be tomorrow, or it may be next week, but rest assured, we are doing everything possible to transfer the funds to you as soon as possible.”

While other sites have certainly had payment hiccups of their own, this is just the latest in a troubling trend for Zerys. To wave one’s hands about and indicate that payment “could be today, or it could be next week” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in writers that often live paycheck to paycheck. When a site is already infamous for a glut of sub-penny-a-word projects and expecting free work as SOP, issues like this are definitely not doing them any favors.

As I’ve said before, freelance fledglings, steer clear of Zerys.

Quickstart Freelancing Guide

I’ve gotten a few requests for an abbreviated version of the Freelance Writer Guide, so here you go! Feel free to share, if you’re so inclined. 🙂

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-2-36-09-pm

Text:

Decide on an Identity

Will you use your full
legal name as an ID?

If not, will you
replace your first or
last name? Both?

Is your ID easy to
remember and spell?

Does your ID look and
sound professional?

Check ID Availability

Is anyone else using
your writing ID?*

Is a Gmail available
for your ID?*

Is a .com available
for your ID?*

* = If no, go back a step

Set Up Your Presence

Set up your social
media presence using
your new ID:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • WordPress

Note: You don’t need to actually do anything on these sites yet, just mark your territory!

Get Down to Business!

Sign up for Paypal.

Read the Freelance
Writer Guide.

Time yourself for
each of the following:

Pick 2 simple products
off Amazon.com and
write a 150-word
description for each.

Pick a random NON
religious/political
subject and write a
300 word article.

Figure out how long it
takes you to write
100 words by using
the timing data from
the two tasks above.
Keep this number
handy for pricing.

Start Applying

Start applying to
freelance sites with
your ID/Gmail:

  • Textbroker
  • OneSpace
  • MTurk
  • WriterAccess
  • Zerys
  • Constant Content
  • Upwork

Note:

If you don’t get a

response or get

rejected, don’t sweat

it! Keep going!

Practice Makes Perfect

Use your product
descriptions and
article as a makeshift
portfolio. Build on it
as time goes by, but
don’t use ghostwritten
projects without
permission.

Don’t take less than
.01/word or $1 per
100 words. Ever.

Don’t take less than
you normally would
because an unproven
client claims they will
make it up by sending
you more jobs.
Either they respect
your work with pay,
or they don’t and you
go elsewhere.

Stay tuned to the
FreelanceWriterGuide.com!

 

Freelance Superpowers: Scam Spotting

When you work with the same product day in and day out, noticing a fake is second nature. Sell designer purses? When the shade of a bag or the look of the hardware is “off,” you notice it immediately. Sell video games? You likely unconsciously know the weight and balance of a game console box without even opening it. It’s a familiarity with the materials we need to do our jobs, and when something doesn’t add up, it’s very likely not going to pass us unnoticed.

Writers have a superpower too, believe it or not. We can spot a written scam a mile away.

I recently received a request to interview for a position on Upwork. Have a look:

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-36-54-am

Three red flags immediately went up:

  • Nothing in my work history indicates that I’m looking to be an assistant. My profile is created to reflect my skills – namely, that I’m a writer.
  • “Loyal” is a strange quality to be looking for. When a client puts “loyal” out there on the forefront, it indicates that a previous assistant was somehow “disloyal.”
  • Note to the right there that “Monir” is interviewing a lot of people, but this is his/her only posting ever on the site, they have no confirmed payment methods, and they have no money in escrow. Strike 3, you’re out.

But hell, this is an educational blog, so let’s take a fake bite of that bait, for curiosity’s sake. Here’s the response:

I have been a local and international relative successful entrepreneur and sometimes invest in the real estate market which makes me travel often within and outside the states working on various independent projects. This is why i need someone who can help keep me up to date with some my activities, especially while i am away and amidst my busy schedule. My previous personal assistant is currently unavailable due to health reasons and i am keen on finding an efficient, motivated, organized individual who can communicate well and is able to multi-task. This position is home-based and flexible. Working for me is a test of following instructions and as my personal assistant, your activities among others will includes:
. Writing articles and speech
. Receiving Donations from sponsors
· Receiving Phone Calls from my clients when am busy.
· Making Regular Drop offs at FedEx Stores for letters meant for my clients.
· Handling and monitoring some of my financial activities.
· Basic wage is $300 weekly.
. Working 5 hours Daily, and 3 Days weekly. ( you can choose your working days because it is flexible )
I am sure you should have understood how busy my schedule could be on a daily basis. Currently, I am in Canada meeting with partners. I will be back in two weeks
to arrange a formal interview with you. I think you are the right person for this position. Please note that this position is not office-based for now because of my frequent travels and tight schedules. It is a part-time job, and some weeks you will be busier than others, though pay stays constant.
NB: you have to be checking your email regularly, and also i want you to add me to your email contact list as soon as you receive this email.
Like i said, I think you are the right person for this job, and think we should get a head start next week. I have some little works piled up that i will need help catching up on immediately. I would like to use next week to test your efficiency and diligence, and to work your schedule around mine. I am hard of hearing and usually stay in touch through email and text messages, but if you would like me to call, I will be glad to do that at my earliest convenience, I am glad you responded to my ad in such a timely manner and look forward to working with you and promise to be a good boss.
If Interested in being my personal assistant, get back to me through email and we can move forward with the first task.
Warm Regards.
 Now, for my lovely freelance fledglings that are familiar with my “spot the scam words” game, you’ve probably already seen enough red flags pop up here to send a bull into a fit.
  • Keen
  • Works
  • Bad (unusual) Grammar in general (relative successful, will includes, should have understood / could be, have to be checking, etc.)
Additionally, for such a short message, “Monir” sure is putting in a lot of qualifiers for how unavailable they are. Hard of hearing, they’re in Canada, oh such a busy schedule…this is a scammer laying the groundwork for being out of touch, and thus unable to soothe genuine fears you’ll have when doing their scammy work.

Additionally, the overly formal speech is a side-effect of a careful translation. We have a lot of contractions and similar functions in our language, and it’s hard to mimic the casual tone without the translation sounding stiff or forced. Notice also that there isn’t a single contraction in this entire posting and response – what American do you know that doesn’t use any contractions at all?

In this case, this scammer is setting up a popular check-cashing scam: he or she will send you money orders or checks that look genuine, but are actually very high-resolution forgeries or copies. The idea is that you’d deposit that faux check in your personal bank account, the bank would front the money because you’re likely a good customer with a halfway decent track record, and your “boss” would instruct you to wire/Western Union them the just-deposited money, after you take out your “cut,” of course. Later, your bank would discover the fraud, and your account would go negative to recoup the losses…which you’ve just sent on a one-way trip overseas. How do I know this?

As I’ve mentioned in my Debunking a Craigslist Scam post, the easiest way is simply to cut and paste a line of the questionable text and Google it in quotation marks. In this case, I found nearly the entirety of this message on Scamwarners, word for word, with a wholly different name attached – apparently “Monir Lisir” is also “Chris Crosby”. Ding ding ding – we have a scam!

So voila – now you know: you have a secret scam-spotting superpower as writers, so be on the lookout to protect friends and family!

Using “Yes, and” to Drum Up Freelance Writing Gigs

While I’m fairly terrible at improvisational comedy (shoutout to the Improv Jam troupe in Red Bank NJ, who know firsthand), there’s a rule of thumb that has done me immeasurable good throughout my professional life – the “Yes, and…” concept.

Essentially, when you are improvising, you want to initially agree to what the other party / parties in your scene state as fact in order to establish the scene. For example:

rave_grandma

WITHOUT “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!
Person B: What are you talking about? I’m not Grandma, I’m your coworker and we’re at the office!

(The scene gets confusing and awkward as the parties try to recover and agree.)

WITH “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!

Person B: You’re darn tootin’ little bobby! Now hand me my glowstick knitting needles and let’s get krunked!

(The scene progresses organically.)

In the second scenario, the “Grandma” agreed that they were, in fact, grandma and that the setting was a rave party. The “and” came as Person B assigned Person A a logical identity (“little bobby”) and made supporting references both to the rave and “Grandmas” age with a knitting needle joke and slang. This was the “and” part of “Yes, and…” – Person B helped the scene move forward and empowered their scene partner with information.

Okay, But What About Freelancing?

Your client(s) hire you to do a specific job the majority of the time – and, as any freelancer can tell you, a great deal of mill site gigs are one-offs. We accept, we write, we submit, get paid and then we never see that client again. It doesn’t have to be that way. The “Yes, and…” concept encourages freelancers to suggest additional topics, discuss future potential needs that align with their writing capabilities, and in general to treat the client as an open conversation, rather than a “delivered letter.”

Are there Drawbacks to “Yes, and…” ?

Freelancing itself is a gamble, and yes, you will run the risk that they’ll take your ideas and make off with them. However, a few ideas off the top of your head shouldn’t be half a novel, nor take more than a handful of minutes to conceptualize and present. If you get one job out of 4, it’s still one more job than you had before! And unlike certain *ahem* writing sites that demand you work for free, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to pursue “Yes, and…” with a given client. Listen to your gut, here. If a client seems pushy or unrealistic and doesn’t pay well, or if they try to lowball you on a bid, that’s not a professional relationship, they’re just waiting for the right moment to take advantage of you. Good clients – the ones worth pursuing and building on – pay you a fair wage and have realistic expectations for project facets like turnaround time and work volume. Save your “Yes, and…” effort for them.

One of my best “Yes, and…” nudges turned into a client I’ve been working with steadily for two years. She pays what amounts to half of my rent each month, and it all happened because I made a few suggestions and offered to deliver content on a regular basis. Remember, there is value in a cohesive tone for a corporate blog or regular social media posts – use that as a bargaining chip when making your “Yes, and…” proposition. They might be able to get similar work elsewhere, and maybe even cheaper, but if you’ve honed your writing correctly, no new writer can ever match your tone exactly.

Good luck out there, fellow writers! Improvise your way to greatness and a bank account that eats your bills, rather than the other way around. 😉

 

 

The Ethics of Freelancing

Part of the reason I love freelancing so much is that I never know what the day’s work is going to bring to my desk. Constantly researching topics, looking for new angles, and pitching ideas keeps my mind active and curious, and makes interesting party conversation infinitely easier. There are some writing topics that I’m just not interested in, but there are also writing topics that I think freelance writers should be honor-bound not to touch.

I won’t be a hypocrite here – there has been a time or two in my career that I’ve written a Shakespeare essay or a similar piece of literary analysis that I was pretty darn sure was destined to carry a lazy or overworked student’s name. I made a rule for myself early on, however – never touch the life-or-death stuff. I won’t write false reviews or unsubstantiated claims about medications or supplements, and I won’t give medical or legal advice in my writing that isn’t fairly common knowledge, and vetted.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the work isn’t out there. Take a peek below at a job I recently spotted on a board.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-44-32-pm

This looks to be a pretty basic walkthrough for a nurse-in-training, and it’s part of an established curriculum, if this Chegg “homework help” page is any indication. This is not the kind of education that someone responsible for medical care should be shrugging off.

While it’s up to each individual freelancer to make judgment calls on what he or she will work on, this is the kind of “opportunity” I condemn and caution against with the strongest terms possible. Keep an eye out, and always consider the deeper ramifications of your actions – our words have the power to inspire, create, sell and comfort, and, as the web-slinger himself once put it…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-man

The Latest (Bad) News on Zerys

I know that some of my readers may wonder why I’m devoting so many blog posts to a site that banned and blocked me for my opinion. I would point to my unusually high number of new blog followers, comments and likes on my Zerys posts as proof that there’s clearly a large audience that wants to talk about their frustrations there, but can’t due to forum censorship.

As I mentioned on a previous blog post about Zerys practices, I have an ex that I’m still friendly with that keeps me updated on some of the craziness going on over there. He was researching approval times recently and came across this admin forum post from last month:

zerys_post

“We understand the desire to know where you stand with every job off the New Clients Job Board. Writers have a right to know one way or the other whether a buyer will add him/her to their writing team, and also whether they have chosen to purchase the initial piece or not.

For all other regular assignments to Favorite Writers, if the client doesn’t review the piece in time, we can auto-approve the piece because the client has already added that writer to their team, and there is some likelihood that the client would approve the content anyways since its from one of their favorite writers.

For initial New Client jobs, however, there is a unique challenge when it comes to auto-approval. We cannot force the client to like a writer, and we cannot force them to purchase a piece that was primarily designed to review a writer’s ability. The reason clients don’t have a review deadline on New Client Jobs is because these are not final, publishable pieces of content, but rather, these are jobs designed to help them identify writers they like, and want to add to their team.

All this being said, the great majority of New Client Jobs are reviewed within the 7-day window, so we are not finding this to be a major issue at thie point. We will, however, continue to watch it closely.”

There are several problems here – notably that “great majority” isn’t qualified – and even then, numbers don’t always work favorably in Zerys’ PR history, as we learned after the announcement that 60% of Zerys clients are not paying for their “samples.” Secondly, and admittedly this is anecdotal, but several writers I know have admitted that their samples sit for weeks, with some still languishing in queue from back during the initial shift to writing for free – excuse me, providing “custom” writing samples –  on the platform, months ago.

So, to recap, in order to get jobs from any new client on Zerys, you’ll need to:

1.) Write a 250 word article for free, knowing that 60% of these samples, by Zerys own admission, will never earn a penny.

2.) Wait for an indeterminate period of time, which is entirely up to the client, in the hopes that you’re one of the “lucky” 40% that actually gets paid for your work.

3.) Keep your work in limbo indefinitely, unable to repackage or sell it, because you’ve essentially created Schrodinger’s Article, which the client can buy at any point in time and lock down a copyright for.

This is what #FreelanceIsntFree is pushing for, my writing readers. These expectations and edicts are a slippery slope that devalues our hard-earned craft and makes new writers feel as if they’re not legitimate until they work for free.

You are worth more than that. Never forget that your work is worth paying for!