Writer’s Group notes 3 December 2009

If you trust the reader to keep track of information, you can avoid a lot of repetition in your manuscript.

No matter how well you summarize the map with written description, you are still better off showing the map.

A quick summary of Stargate Atlantis episodes with Todd. (because nerds keep count…)

Now for links:

Jeanne Cavelos on searching for reputable agents

Developing writers often have a very hard time finding a competent, reputable literary agent.

Info on the Flat Man Crooked poetry contest

Info on submitting to Glimmer Train

Word Count tackles the business and politics of working for content mills aggregators such as Demand Studios.

I’ve called it the race to the bottom, and maintain there are better ways to break into the freelance business, and better business models for building a successful freelance writing career.

Genreality discloses the true financial numbers behind a NYT bestseller.

And forwarded from our siblings in the North Phoenix Writer’s Group,

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

[Thanks to organizer Dharma Kelleher ]

Now You Know

After the Holidays

Thanksgiving in the USA. I was busy. Learned a few things.

When re-roping a fly system, someone is going to have to get on top of the head-block and feed the rope through – unless you’re a lot smarter than we were.

There is no biography of Alvin Gentry on line that I found useful – so I wrote one.

A timely, topical entry for Examiner, such as this one on Phx camping stores Black Friday specials, earns me about $0.40 for an hour’s work. So I stick to relatively evergreen stuff like campground profiles.

At the in-laws, I have to seize control of the TV or it will be stuck on game show re-runs from the 70’s. Not kidding. There are two things I can put on the TV that will not generate controversy from the wide confluenec of family in attendence: Sports or science documentaries.

From Nova, I learned that there are two different dream cycles: REM and non-REM. REM cycles ted to be more creative, but also involve more negative emotions. Non-REM dreams are more positive, but more limited to actual memories.

From Scientific American Frontiers, I learned one of the few useful things to coem out of Biosphere was the Biosphere Diet, a high vitamin, low calorie diet born of desperation (their gardening scheme yielded a fraction of expected results), but which actually left the participants leaner and healthier than when they went in.

Oh, and when the Detroit Lions have lost, its time to serve the turkey.

A backlog of [writer] links:

Book Marketing Maven: blog ideas for your fiction-writing blog

Caren Gussoff shares 5 Truths about Editors

And some more opinion of the Demand Studios and ilk dillema:

Carol Tice’s 7 reasons not to write a $15 blog (a numbered list – just like a non-fic freelancer…)

Now You Know




Beyond Demand Studios

I have decided to blow off Demand Studios for a while. Some of that simply coincided with the creative blahs that left this blog unattended for a week. But most of it had to do with money.

DS pays a flat fee of $5-20 for a 250-500 word article – preferably with photos. I decided from the get-go that they didnt pay me enough to find photos for them. But they had some topics on the list that I actually had an interest in, so I wrote them up, and the money appeared in Pay Pal. All well and good.

But what they purchased for less than a penny a word was All Rights. So I can’t re-use that material elsewhere, which – so you know – is the staple of free-lance profitability. The difference between a hobby and a living is the ability to sell an article (or at least a version of it) several different times.

My stuff about headlamps and forest rangers appears on Trails.com, if you care. But I’ve been paid off and have no incentive to actively promote the content.

Angela Hoy of Writer’s Weekly did a long expose on DS recently, and while I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, the fire kinda went out after I read it. I don’t care the Freelancewriting.com is in cahoots with DS. I don’t really mind that DS makes a lot of money (a lot!), though I think they’d be better served sharing a little more with the writers.

To be fair, Deborah Ng, of freelancewriters.com objects to Hoy’s characterizations.

DS claims proficient writers can earn above minimum wage, which runs contrary to my experience. Of course, I am notorious for over-research. If I knew the subject of a $20 article, and could bang it out off the top of my head, this would be true. But that seems the exception for just about every writer.

I do not, as a matter of policy, track writing income by the hour. On that basis, I make far more money as a stagehand – let alone a technical director – than writing anything. I calculate income by the published word.

Now, factor in that I don’t have to query – they pick the topics. BUT factor in my time slogging through their long (and slow-loading) topic list, chock full of unclear, troublesome prompts. Well, still easier than concocting a 250 word query.

Even so, $.04/word – max – is below my minimum rate – which is based on first rights, not all rights, and never includes photos (always extra!).

I’m not saying I’ll never write for them again. After all, the check cleared. I’m just saying that I’m not that hungry – and I don’t anticipate getting that hungry.

Web writing in general pays a fraction of what free-lancers have become accustomed to from magazines. But the web isn’t dying – its growing, Magazines are having the opposite experience. So I ask myself, do I want to fight with all the other veteran freelancers for a hold on the last parts of the ship still above water? Or do I cast about looking for a new way to stay afloat on what has become a very different ocean?

(The metaphor’s a mess – I know. This blog is always a first draft. You get what you pay for. )

I’m not the only one trying to figure this out.

Meanwhile, after 23 articles, my Examiner earnings are still below what I grossed in 9 articles for DS. But that will eventually reverse. And my Examiner experiment is more of self-education about SEO than serious revenue generation.

And I just took a gig blogging about the suns for phxsunsnews.com for a rate so low I dare not speak of it. But that’s largely recreational.

I’m thinking about starting a blog covering the sea-change in short non-fiction. Since I’m desperately trying to keep track of it anyway.

But I’m not making any promises – unless  you’re writing me a check.

Now you know.

Seals, squash and the return of Brazen Wonk

There exists a seal recovery facility in British Columbia that was doing fine work helping wildlife recover, until the government unexpectedly yanked their funding. I know this from someone who used to work there.

Island Wildlife Natural Care Center

Check it out, and if you can, help them out.

My dogs like squash. Not the sport – the food. I was taking some rinds to the compost heap, and they’re following, tails wagging, so I let them sniff it, to prove I wasn’t just throwing away meat, and they ate it. They ate some more tonight. Love the squash.

If you see an article on Trails.com with my byline (such as this one), that came through Demand Studios – through which I’ve almost made enough to fix my wife’s laptop, and get my own life back.

Some days, leadership has more to do with being calm than being knowledgeable.

Now for some Brazen Wonk:

It all connected: health-care – education – the so-called economy – all of it. Unhealthy children don’t learn as well. Uneducated populations don’t produce as efficiently. People under economic stress do not seek preventive care. Its all part of the same puzzle.

Worried about the Big Stupid Health Reform Package? Ready to take to the streets over it? Too late. We were screwed by the agriculture bill that passed last summer, subsidizing large corporations so they could generate bigger profits by feeding us crap.

Do the execs at ADM tease the execs at Aetna when they’re all at the yacht club?

If it were up to Americans, President Obama would not have recieved the Nobel Prize. Hell – if it were up to Democrats he wouldn’t have gotten one. We value results. He hasn’t had any. We’re less than a year in, but zero is still zero.

The Nobel committee, however, apparently awarde the prize on the basis of campaign promises. If the president comes through on even hgalf of that – he will deserve the prize. Even Americans would agree.

Now You Know

Demand Studios, Tucson and AZ288

The last time I posted I got 52 hits within 24 hours. My normal rate is like six. There are two possibilities: a particular phrase ranked high in a search engine, or the link I left on the meet-up site got clicked – a lot. The only way to test this is two separate entries (though they both share this paragraph).

I made some money from Demand Studios. Of course, I had to give them my correct Paypal account. However, DS keeps trying to shove money into a bad Paypal account until it goes in. Good to know.

I normally wouldn’t lead with that, but I am testing the search term hypothesis.

I spent Labor Day in Tucson with some friends. I learned that the pineapple cactus is endangered, which means that Raytheon has to fence around every one of them that grows on their lot.

I also learned that you can’t casually buy a good screen door. The doors off the shelf at Home Despot and the like are rolled aluminum. You can special order an extruded aluminum door – which is the good stuff – but you pay more and wait longer.

I took Wed and Thur off and went camping – but with a mission: I stopped and took notes and photos of seven different campsites all more or less along AZ 288 which snakes roughly from Globe, through Young, and then up to the Rim.

My campsite at Upper Canyon Creek campground

My campsite at Upper Canyon Creek campground

The account of that expedition appears in Are We Lost Yet? The profiles of the campsites will eventually appear in  the Phoenix Camping Examiner site. Photos on Flickr. I’ll update with links when I get these things up.

I can report, however, that there is one reliable convenience store in Young – providing you drive through in daylight. The owners of Buddi Gas and Mini-Mart can help you out. Don’t get your hopes up too high – the dogs sleep in the back aisle next to the ice cream machine.

Ooh! I also saw sheep! They have herded sheep from the top of the Rim to somewhere outside of Chandler for decades through a 3 mile wide corridor that, at some point, follows AZ288. September is the time they go south. I encountered the herd just north of Young. The Basque shepherd said they had been on the trail for three days at that point.

A herd of sheep on FR 200 just north of Young, 9/9/09

A herd of sheep on FR 200 just north of Young, 9/9/09

We pause now for the sheep jokes, before changing the subject entirely.

If I take a class on say – chain hoist maintenance – but then I don’t work on such a device for six months, I find I have lost all useful knowledge I might have had from the class.

When quoting a job, don’t get in any more of a hurry than the client is – you just trip yourself up.

Now You Know.

Weekly round-up of unimportant details

This is becoming more of a weekly blog than a daily one, and more of a writing blog than a general one. So be it. I blame the Examiner.

When interviewing a subject for an article or quoting a job of work, there are no unimportant details.

If it costs more in labor to sort the hardware than the hardware is actually worth, you might as well pitch it, right? Anyway, that’s what happened to that bucket of bolts.

Both articles I wrote for Demand Studios cleared in the first pass, and they owe me $25 for what should go for $70 (at $.10/word). Well, sometimes situations just turn to crap, and you make the best of what’s left.

I’d link to them, but they’re buried in Trails.com, and I’m not a registered user of a site I’ve apparently contributed to.

The WordPress spell-check does not recognize “blog” as a word. (Nor does it recognize “WordPress”)

Today’s graphic: overlapping mythical creatures

And a New Scientist Opinion on The Coming Robot Wars


Word lengths for short fiction categories:

[a caveat – not all sources agree on these…]

Micro-fiction 100 words or less

Flash Fiction 1000 words or less

Short-short story 2000 words or less

Short story 2000-7500 words

Novelette 7000-25000 words

Novella 7500 – 40000 words

[Overlap? Sure. These were defined by liberal arts folk after all.)

Novel 60000-150000 words (though conventional wisdom is that you want to come in between 80000 – 120000 unless you are a well-known writer.)

Straight Dope on the entymology of “O.K.” which, to spare you some time, is an abbreviation of “Oll Korrect”, a phrase common in newspaper parody in the 1840’s. The term exploded in popular use though as shorthand for Marin Van Buren, aka Old Kinderhook, by both friends and supporters.

With that in mind, OK would be technically correct, but the phrase is still considered informal and improper in many circles.

“Okay” on the other hand, eliminates confusion with the postal code for Oklahoma.

Pick a version and stay with it. English really doesn’t have any other rule.


Arizona Consortium for the Arts

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Sorings MO

San Miguel Mexico

Tau Ceti

Glenda Larke on when to give up writing.

Now You Know

The future is still wide open

This is normally the slot where I’d post writer’s meet-up notes, but nothing came out of last night that lent itself to further investigation on-line.

So, we’ll get through a little backlog of writing tidbits. First general writing, then my writing in particular.

Patrick Nelson-Hayden (of whom I’ve written much re Westercon) on the future of e-books and science fiction.

C. Hope Clark’s Funds For Writers site with free newsletters (I subscribe to two) lots of advice and a shining example of how to promote yourself on the web. She also has a blog.

I just finished a little thing for Demand Studios. Took maybe 2 hours to crank out a 200 word article, but that’s because I had to keep tabbing over to the style guide. I get the format down, it would be an hour. Plus research. Plus re-writes. IF it all works out, I get $5 in pay-pal.

I’m not at all convinced I need the work that badly.

But I’ll update as we go.

Speaking of writing that may never make money, Agent #8 requested a synopsis along with a full manuscript.

It took me 4.5 hours to write a 2000 word synopsis.

It took the agent 2.5 days to reply.

“I’m going to pass.  This is much better than what I usually see, but I think it would be hard to sell as a middle grade book–too cynical and dark–and the young narrator makes an adult sale tricky.  It’s also too episodic to have as much suspense as the market likes.”

I could bump Jack up to age 14, and keep most of the plot intact.

But the tone and the episodic nature are deep structural things. I think the tone is a matter of opinion though. Not that its cynical -even though this is the brightest, most positive, least violent fiction I have ever written, the underlying cynicism is undeniable. How much cynicism is palatable to middle-grade readers?

A lot. My son’s bookshelf is full of horrible events and grim battle versus overwhelming darkness and so forth.

Now, how much cynicism will a middle-grade publisher tolerate from a first-time novelist?

Let’s just go ahead and see what agent #9 thinks.

We Shall See.

(Now you know…)

A writer whines – and then cool graphix

It takes less than a foot deep of current to wash avehicle down the river. More facts in my flash flood article for Examiner.

I applied at Demand Studios, another internet content sweatshop. They are, as the name might hint, very demanding. They have a 3 page style guide for 200 word fact-sheet articles – including how to cite references.

Unlike Examiner, though, they pash cash up front – though not much. $20 (for about 500 words) is their top rate. Their style and content demands, though, are the kind of standards that start at $.10/word.

Or so it was in the olden days, before the information explosion up-ended the supply-demand ratio. Back when we wrote on typwriters, and sent our third draft in by mail, competent writers could make reasonable writing for magazines. The interent, and all that comes with it, has so lowered the barrier that anyone who passed ENG 102 and has access to dial-up can write content for web-pages.

Which is why 90% of the copy on the internet is dreck. But its free – so no one really complains about it.

The talent ratio hasn’t changed. They are only so many people who can research and write and make deadline without supervision. But publications that charge money for copies of well-written, informed non-fiction are dwindling towards extinction.

Meanwhile, hap-hazard gibberish explodes across the net – for free.

One article for Demand pays more than I’ve made so far for six articles on Examiner. I’ve already discussed my excuse for being in that sweatshop. I dunno.

We’re heading towards a society of slaves. You knew that right?

Ok. Enough whining about words. Cool graphics:

USA Today tracks progress of the International Space Station

The New York Times on how typical people spend their day

And men’s brains vs women’s brains in an argument.

Now You Know.