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Monday, May 30, 2016

Writers, beware of typos

Bloggers are advised to post a few times a week, or even one post every day. As such some bloggers wonder ... where do I find inspiration? My advice ... spend some time on Facebook, within no time you’ll have inspiration coming out of your ears.

For instance, yesterday I noticed a post “How much should an online article cost”. The writer, let’s call her Ann, gave as an example that a 600 word article should fetch $150. I nearly burst out laughing.

While I fully agree that writers should be paid a decent fee, Ann needs a dose of reality.

I have been a freelance writer for close to ten years and never in all this time have I been able to negotiate a fee. A client will post an assignment, mention a fee, and a writer can take it or leave it.

I’ve also been part of several writing groups and the conditions were the same. The project manager stated the remuneration and I could accept and be part of the project, or refuse.

What bothers me the most about Ann’s post is that she’s like so many other bloggers. She wants attention for her blog, so she directs herself to writers and picks a title that is guaranteed to get their attention ... How much should an online article cost? What writer can resist having a quick peek?

Unfortunately, Ann should read her posts before hitting the publish button. We had a conversation on Facebook about this and some of the things she writes are:

“I average go between $35-75 for 500 words.”
I average go between ... what kind of English is that? I take it she means ... I average between $35-75 for 500 words.

“I have hooked up a couple of people here with descent paying gigs.” Descent? She must mean decent.

“I only submitted 4 names so not to overwhelm the client - your's was, of course, one of them.” Your’s? It’s ‘yours’ Ann, not “your’s”.

That’s three mistakes in one short conversation. And this from a writer who claims to make $35 to $75 per article. If I was a client I wouldn’t pay her $5, more so, I wouldn’t hire her to begin with.

Ann also recommends that writers find their niche. Hm, another one of those overused pieces of advice. If you don’t know what to say to fellow writers, say that they have to find their niche. Personally, I know my niche, but if I had to limit myself to that particular subject, not only would I have very little to write or blog about, my readers might get bored.

For my blog, I write about things I like, funny things, scary things, things that happen in Toronto, or things that annoy me. As a freelance writer on the other hand, I write about all kinds of things. Over the past ten years I have written a variety of articles, guides and product descriptions about:
  • The fall of the Berlin wall
  • How the Eifel Tower was build
  • The best gloves for winter
  • A variety of makeup articles
  • Gardening tips
  • Household appliances
  • Furniture (and most recently)
  • Men’s and women’s sexy lingerie.
While it’s fine to have a niche, a freelance writer should be able to write about anything and everything.

Finally, Vicky (not her real name) put her two cents into the conversation and stated “I have posted plenty of opportunities for this group. I have also reached out to several of you via PM when I have located something that meets your genre or voice.”

Which is true, but then Vicky isn’t just any writer. She has years of experience, is highly skilled, and to tell you the truth ... the things she writes about I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole because I feel I’m not qualified to write to some suggested titles.

My advice to Ann ... if she wants to be considered a serious writer, she should hire an editor. I did. My blog posts I write, proofread and publish myself, but when I write for a client I send my work to Alex.

As my editor, Alex reads my articles with eagle eyes that pick up on even the tiniest of mistakes. Not only does she spot typos, she also improves on my grammar. In short, when I get my work back, I’m confident that it’s the best it can be.

As a final word to Ann ... nothing kills the reputation of a writer faster than typos.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Is it legal to sell adult colorings

Coloring by Pris David
Adult coloring has turned into a rage. Publishers of such books state that they’ve never seen anything like it. Some coloring books are on their sixth or even tenth reprinting. Suppliers of pens, pencils and chalks are equally happy that adults all over the world have taken such an interest in this hobby.

While some people color just for fun, others are so talented that their work is fit to be framed and put on a wall. Which led to a question on Facebook yesterday ... is it legal to sell adult colorings?
I did a bit of research on this and found the following:

"You may use the designs and illustrations for graphics and crafts applications, free and without special permission provided that you include no more than four in the same publication or project."

My personal opinion is ... when in doubt, contact the publisher of the coloring book and ask.
It’s not like the coloring artist is going to make thousands of dollars from selling some pictures.

One designer, let’s call her Annie, stated “Bottom line, respect the artists. They work very hard to create the coloring books we use. That is their bread and butter. Would you want someone taking from your income you support your family with? Not to mention, yes, the artist can sue you.”

Annie has a point, but her reasoning may not be the best one. Suppose someone sees a framed coloring and wants one too. She might rush to the nearest bookstore and buy Annie’s book so she can color too. Or she might ask the original coloring artist to color one for her. One thing might lead to another and the coloring artist might buy more and more of Annie’s books.

Another artist, let’s call her Brenda, wrote ... I email free weekly illustrations. You can color and sell them if you want.” If Brenda ever decides to bundle her drawings in a book, guess who will make the most sales? Annie who doesn’t want to share, or Brenda who markets her work with free drawings?

Another person, let’s call her Olive, commented ... “Just trying to understand. If I paid the artist for the book, then it’s mine to alter and do what I want. I've already paid the artist.”

I agree with this. If I buy a plate, I can serve dinner on it or smash it to pieces. It’s mine to do with as I please.

Then last night I got to thinking ...

If I buy a design for a sweater in the knitting shop, and knit that sweater, can I legally sell it?

If I bake a cake following the recipe someone posted online, can I sell that cake?

If I buy chocolate and melt it down to make Easter eggs, can I sell those eggs?

What about Bible phrases people sell on online. I found this particular tile on Zazzle. Did the seller obtain the rights to use this phrase from the author?
What about this pillow quoting John 14:27. Did John give permission to use his creativity for commercial purposes?
Let’s take this even further.

Vincent Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest painters, yet he never sold a painting in his life. These days though, his paintings are so expensive that only the super rich or museums can afford his works.

If we follow the provenance of Van Gogh “Starry Night” we discovered that the master GAVE this painting to his brother Theo. From there the painting traveled to several owners, increasing in value over time. Today Starry Night is worth over $100 million.

Incredible, isn’t it. Is it ethical for anyone to make millions on an artist who died in poverty?
My message to designers ... if you make $10,000 from your coloring books, why begrudge someone $10 for selling a coloring. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Do I have a future as a sexy writer

As I mentioned before, as a freelance writer I’m always on the lookout for new job opportunities. To help me in that quest, I belong to a website that regularly posts titles for articles and product descriptions.

At one time there was a client that posted over 500 titles, requiring a 200 word description of anything and everything that belongs in a kitchen, from an electric mixer to a wooden spoon.
The products didn’t need to be described as such, but rather “sold” to potential buyers, give them a reason to use their credit card.

I picked up quite a few titles and received a 5 bar rating for all of them. The feedback I got from the client was that t
hey loved, not only my sales pitch, but the casual and often funny style with which I highlighted certain features of the product.

Strengthened by this glowing review I felt confident to take on other product descriptions.

When another client posted a batch of 300 titles I glanced over the requirements and they were nothing to sneeze at. Each product description needed only 50 words, but the client listed a string of do’s and don’ts. In was a case of ... do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, make sure of this, make sure of that. I had to read the specifications three times before I could make heads or tails of it.

After looking at the various titles, I picked one for a two slice toaster, wrote a description and sent it off for approval. And ... I got slammed.

This was wrong, that was wrong, this had to be rewritten, that needed some work, etc. So I rewrote the piece and it came back yet again for more revisions. Eventually it was accepted but only received a 3 bar rating (standing for “good”).

I tried another title, this time for a yoga mat and my description came back yet again requiring a revision.

After that I thought ... to hell with it, there’s no pleasing this client. And for what he was paying, it just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who reasoned this way as the remaining 280 titles sat there untouched. Every now and then a brave intrepid soul picked up a title, but minutes later put it back. Eventually the client removed the titles, nobody seemed interested them.

Next a furniture store posted titles for bed descriptions. This was a direct order, meaning only I could pick up these titles, which I did. At first everything was fine, but after five or six description, the client messaged me that description 1 looked like description 4, and description 2 looked like description 5. He was right but then again, how creative can one be with a bed? It’s a rectangle, it has a wooden or metal frame, it has or doesn’t have a headboard ... there’s really not that much to say about a bed.

Today, yet another client posted a title. Just one title to test the writing site and get his feet wet I suppose. The title ... “Black fishnet jockstrap”. I have to admit, I don’t know much – say nothing – about jockstraps, but there was a picture and the client made no demands, only specified that the description had to be sexy and selling. Okay, I could do that.

So this is what I wrote ...

If you think ordinary underwear is boring, this black fishnet jockstrap is for you. It’s breezy and comfortable and when meeting that special someone, allows a preview of – shall we say – your equipment. While the front plays a peek-a-boo game, the back leaves nothing to the imagination. If you have a firm derriere, you might as well show it off.

The client accepted within 10 minutes, gave me a 5 bar rating (meaning excellent) with the message “Love this!”

Goes to show ... I get slammed describing a two slice toaster, but give me a black fishnet jockstrap and the client is pleased as punch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who is Ms. Pepperpot

Most people give their pet a name. Whether they call their cat Fluffy, Mandy, or Cesar, or their dog Cuddles, Mitsy or Max, pets are individual who need a name.

In addition, many pets also have a nickname. In the case of my lot, there’s Mickey who we occasionally call Blacky; Charlotte who also listens to Lotteken; Gabriel who also goes by the name of Mr. Blue eyes; and Holly who is Ms. Pepperpot.
The nicknames of Mickey, Charlotte and Gabriel are rather obvious, but why we call Holly Ms. Pepperpot might need a bit of an explanation.

Holly, you see, is rather temperamental. Not only is Holly very vocal, she regularly hisses. Not at me, but Dieter is frequently on the receiving end of a stream of air through her wide open mouth.

Don’t blame Holly, he’s asking for it. He knows that she doesn’t like being kissed, but he still asks for kisses, or worse, steals a kiss when he gets the chance.

Holly also grows a lot. When Dieter picks her up, and it doesn’t suit her, she growls. When she’s laying down somewhere and he moves her, she growls. When he holds her and asks for a kiss, her hiss is preceded by a growl.

So, because she’s so temperamental, we often call her Ms. Pepperpot.

Now, for the first time this morning, I was on the receiving end of her wrath.

As always, when I shower, Holly came with me to the bathroom. She usually sits on the toilet, yet for some reason, today she’d positioned herself on my towel. When I stepped out of the shower and reached for my towel, she growled at me. When I tried to pick her up and move her, she swiped at me, twice.

I ended up having to take a new towel because Holly simply did not want to be moved. Once I’d dried myself off and moved to the sink, she spontaneously vacated her position.

When you have a cat with a temper, you learn to adjust.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Freelance writing ... slave labor?

As a freelance writer I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities. So, when I noticed a headline that read “Writers Wanted” I clicked to read the details.

The ad read as follows:

Writers wanted for a high volume of work for a newly created website. Must be experienced in informative article writing, on subjects such as fashion, personal care, nature, architecture, and technical writing. Please send resume and two samples of your work to ... (and there was an email address).

Twenty-four hours later I received a response that the manager was pleased with my submission and could I please let them know my rate expectations.

This I thought a little strange. I’ve worked for a few websites and there’s never been any room for negotiation. The project manager informed writers of a set rate for their work, and writers could take it or leave it.

Not knowing what to charge, I Googled “Writing rates” and “Writing rates per word” and found out that the going rate is anywhere between $0.40 to $2 per word. 

So that’s what I communicated with my potential employer.

Another twenty-four hours later I received the reply that my paying standards could not be met. Okay, I was flexible. If it meant regular work, I was prepared to work for less.

The next email was a bit of a shock though. The website owner informed me that for a 1,000 word article he was paying his writers $4.

If you’re like me, you just leaned a bit closer to your computer screen, squinted a little or adjusted your eye glasses ... $4 for a 1,000 word article? Did you read that right? Yes you did, that’s the offer I got.

Needless to say, I turned it down. This wasn’t just working for peanuts, or shells of peanuts, this was working for dust of shells of peanuts. Now I do wonder ... did he get anyone to agree to this rate? Is anyone desperate enough to work for so little money?

People in general are against sweatshops, which is considered slave labor, but isn’t getting paid $4 for a 1,000 word article considered slave labor too?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Texting ... Is anything really that important - Part II

Apparently I’m not the only one who gets irritated with people constantly texting. Yesterday’s blog post “Texting ... Is anything really that important?” 
brought about several comments of readers who voiced their own annoyance.

Before listing some of those comments, let me tell you what I saw at a bowling alley last weekend. On one of the lanes I noticed four girls and two boys, all of them teenagers. In-between waiting for their turn to throw the ball, they were sitting there, not saying a word to each other, but texting furiously on their phones.

Madeline from Melbourne commented that she was in a fashion boutique the other day, waiting for her friend in one of the dressing rooms. Next to her was a teenager looking at pictures. After a while the teenagers’ friend came out of the dressing room area and asked “Did you get my selfies?” to which the teenager replied “You should get black one.” Apparently, the girl in the dressing room had been sending her friend pictures of herself in various outfits, rather than coming out of the dressing room and showing herself.

Gina from Amsterdam, commented that she recently visited the Keukenhof in Lisse, when she noticed two girls scrolling through pictures of flowers, commenting and texting, completely oblivious to the abundance of flowers at their feet. She said “I felt like grabbing them by the scruff of their necks, forcing them to look what at the beauty around them.”

Angela of Vancouver said much the same. She noticed a couple of girls looking at pictures of cats and kittens on their phone, not noticing the cat at their feet, desperate for some attention.

There were more comments, some from as close by as Canada and the United States, others from as far away as China, Romania, Poland, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the Ukraine, all of them complaining or making fun of cellphone use. 

But it seems in addition to texting being annoying, it could – according to Brendon Keim - also be bad for young brains.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Texting ... is anything really that important?

A friend recently posted on Facebook that they’d gone hiking on the Lone Mountain Park trail in Las Vegas. Along the way they noticed two girls on horseback, listening to music and texting on cell phones. She called this a funny incident, to me this is annoying as hell.

I admit, texting is one of my pet peeves. I can understand that one person would text another to let them know their whereabouts, such as “I’m still at work” or “I’m in the lobby”. In general though, what is so important that it has to be communicated immediately?

If I was to meet those two girls on horseback, listening to music and texting, I would have a hard time not pulling the earbuds out of their ears and slapping the phones out of their hands. I would give them the message “Pay attention to your horse, your surroundings and enjoy the sounds of nature.”

Of course, it’s not just those two who are obsessed with texting. I’ve heard of men texting while using a urinal, heard women texting while in a bathroom stall, and there’s the ever annoying texting while walking and even worse, driving. How many accidents could have been avoided if some silly message had not been sent?

How different it was back in the day.

When home phones became popular, my folks applied for a line and were told that the current waiting time was between 12 to 16 months. Because of my diabetic brother, and a note from the doctor, stating that a home phone was necessary for his safety, we received our phone in just three months.

When cell phones became popular, only business people carried one. For the average person, a cellphone was a luxury they could ill afford.

Nowadays, just about everyone, even children, have cellphones. Only, in many cases the phone is not used for calling. No, for many people, especially youngsters, it’s a status symbol as they put the latest model on display. They use the phone for games, to check their email messages and Facebook updates, and of course to text.

Parents will say that they gave their child a cell phone for their safety. Hm, makes you wonder how kids way back when survived. When my generation was growing up, nobody had cell phones, yet we all made it to adulthood.

Did we ever face emergencies ... sure we did. I remember spraining my ankle on my way home from school. I didn’t have a phone, there was nobody around, so for a little over a mile, I hobbled home that day. My generation learned how to handle a situation and in the process, we toughened up.

Like I said, texting is a pet peeve of mine. It annoys me when people walk at a snail pace because they’re busy texting, it makes my blood boil when I see a driver punching in a message while standing at a red light, or even worse, driving. And it certainly annoys me to see kids, glued to their phone. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Gabriel a.k.a. Aladdin

Entertainment is important to the physical and mental health of animals. Hamsters have a wheel in their cage, birds have a mirror, dogs like balls and squeaky toys, and cats ... well, cats are complicated.

Just about every cat owner knows that cats like boxes. Whether loving owners buy a beautiful cat tree, a soft sleeping basket, or a toy, if it comes in a box, the box gets all the attention while the purchased item gets ignored.

My lot has a variety of toys such as: soft balls, mice, a laser light, and fishes on a string. Out of all of these, they prefer the fishes on a string. I drag the toy over the floor and they chase after it, or I hold them up in the air and they jump for them.

Holly used to like playing with a ball, until one day I threw a ball across the room, she chased after it, skidded and slammed into the wall. That was the end of playing with a ball.

Gabriel has a fondness for mice, but the way he handles those mice turns it into a costly affair. See for yourself ...

However, now Gabriel has discovered a new toy ... a type of carpet.

Earlier this month we bought a rug for under the coffee table, a carpet for in front of the fireplace, and a runner for the hallway. Out of all of these, Gabriel took a fancy to the runner.

While the others merely sleep on the rug and carpet, Gabriel like to attack the runner. He lies on it, grabs hold of one of the corners, and subsequently kicks the crap out of it with his back paws. Or, he runs from the kitchen, jumps on the runner and uses it as a skateboard.

Between ten to fifteen times a day I have to put that runner back into place. Sometimes I find it in the living room, other times in my bedroom, and occasionally in the bathroom.

His love for this runner has quickly earned him the nickname “Aladdin”.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Two aliens and a ghost

Are we alone in the universe or are there other life forms? This question has inspired movies, TV series, books, and countless stories. After last night, I have a story of my own.

I was in bed when I suddenly saw a blue light flickering in the living room. It wasn’t a continuous light, but rather blinked on and off and on and off, with a certain rhythm to it.
As I lay there I wondered what was going on. 

Being on the 11th floor of a condo building, there are no neon lights nearby, no car light can shine in a room that high up, and I couldn’t hear an airplane or helicopter.

I watched the light going on and off and on and off and wondered what it could be. The movie “Close encounters of the third kind” came to mind. Had aliens landed on the balcony and were they trying to communicate?

A short time later I noticed a white light in my bedroom, also blinking. This was getting too much, first a blue light in the living room, now a white light in my bedroom ... I had to check this out or I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.

I carefully slid out of bed and padded to the living room. On my way I passed the bathroom and saw the shower curtain move. Good Lord I just about peed in my pants.

In less than three steps I was back in my room and jumped into bed. Then I got to thinking, aliens in my home ... neih, there had to be a rational explanation for all this.

Ever so carefully I climbed out of bed again and by the light of the moon I noticed my cell phone on one of the night stands. Ah so that’s where the white light was coming from, every time I got a message the light alerted me.

If there was a reason for the white light, then the blue blinking lights would probably have a normal reason too. And they did. Once in the living room, I noticed four blue lights on the WiFi box, blinking in rhythm.

Okay, so no aliens in my home, just electronics.

But what about the shower curtain, there was nothing in the bathroom that could explain the shower curtain to move and while I had been brave enough to investigate the blinking lights, there was no way I was about to pull the shower curtain aside to see what caused it to move.

Back in bed I could sleep though. I kept looking at the bathroom and thinking of that moving curtain. Damn why did this have to happen to me? If there was a ghost, why couldn’t he visit the neighbors?

Still scared, but royally ticked off, I got out of bed yet again, switched on the light and made my way to the bathroom. As the curtain moved my heart just about stopped beating and my breath caught in my throat.

I backed away toward Dieter’s room. No way could I handle this. My dear son could deal with whatever or whoever was behind that curtain.

I was about to wake him when I heard a thump coming from the bath. I knew that thump, I’d heard it before. I made my way back to the bathroom, switched on the light and peeked behind the shower curtain.

And there he was, in the bath by the tap, looking at me ever so innocently ... Gabriel. To my statement “You just about gave me a heart attack!” he let out a meow as if to say “Got ya.”