c0ws: An Experiment in Collaborative Work

A few days ago, about a dozen of us banded together to create c0ws, an experimental entertainment news magazine based around a simple premise: lengthy, varied non-clickbait content. The origin story of c0ws is, like most things in my life, kind of dumb on my part, but with brief flashes of genius provided solely by others.




I purchased this bizarre, renegade domain purely on instinct. Like absolutely no one balanced, I regularly search for recently expired domain names. You know, for fun. At one point, I just happened to see c0ws.com and it “clicked.” I then left the domain to rot for months on end because there was nothing I could do with it except potentially start some kind of digital dairy farm.

But eventually we all got to talking about creating our own entertainment blog, in hopes that together we could be greater than the sum of our parts. Now, starting an entertainment or news magazine is almost always a terrible idea simply because of the sheer amount of work that needs to be put into it. But hey, you never know until you try.

There are a few major advantages to starting a collaborative site like this. It gives the associated writers by-lines, builds reputation, provides samples and creates the potential for future affiliate marketing and advertising sales. While it remains to be seen how successful the end product will be, so far everyone has jumped at it quite enthusiastically.

And, well… it keeps us off the streets and out of trouble.

How Kindle Unlimited Will Affect Self-Published Writers

I’ve held off on commenting on Kindle Unlimited as I really wasn’t sure what direction it was going to go in and I didn’t want to contribute to the mania. Incredible volumes have been written about it already even though very few people really knew what it would entail.  Honestly, I’m still not really certain what to think — but here is what I know.

Here’s What We Know About Kindle UnlimitedDSCN0101

  • Kindle Unlimited is a $9.99 service that allows readers to theoretically downloaded an unlimited amount of books.
  • In practice, a reader can have 10 books open at each time — they need to finish their books as they download them.
  • Anyone in the Kindle KDP Select service is automatically opted into Kindle Unlimited but can choose not to be.
  • Kindle Unlimited is rolled into the KOLL borrows service. In practice, it looks exactly like a KOLL borrow to a writer.
  • Each Kindle Unlimited borrow amounts to approximately $1.81 cents. KOLL borrows used to be about $2.10.

For readers, the Kindle Unlimited service is a win all around. Voracious readers who go through more than a few books in a month will almost definitely save money through the use of this service. However, it’s important to note that Kindle Unlimited excludes books from most of the major publishers. Some believe Kindle Unlimited may be trying to take on the Big 5 in this way.

Here’s Why Some Writers Are Worried About With Kindle Unlimited

  • If you have a $4.99 book and it’s borrowed, you’ll only get $1.81. If you have a $12.99 book and it’s borrowed, you’ll only get $1.81.
  • Some writers may take advantage of this to start publishing in shorter “mini” installments rather than whole works.
  • Readers may download large volumes of books and never actually read them, thereby reducing the pot for everyone.

It’s important to note that KU, like KOLL, operates with a pool of money. Under KOLL the pool was about $2 million. This pot is divided by the amount of downloads and then that amount, which was always around $2.00, is given to writers on a per download basis. In other words, the more downloads there are, the less money each writer makes. For a download to count, the reader must read at least 10% of a book — but that isn’t exactly a huge feat.

As for the other issues — this could be legitimate. Some writers have stated their purchases are going down while their borrows go up. This could reduce the amount of money a writer makes because each work gets a flat $1.81 regardless of pricing and length. It’s worth mentioning that many writers believe that their borrows are “on top” of their ordinary sales — that they aren’t reducing their actual sales at all. For writers that experience this, borrows are just gravy.

Finally — I’ve never found it useful to worry about what other writers are doing.

Here’s Why Some Writers Are Excited About Kindle UnlimitedIMG_8899

  • Writers may gain additional exposure through Kindle Unlimited.
  • Self-published books finally have an edge against traditionally published books.
  • Even $0.99 titles will get $1.81 per borrow.

Writers that write shorter non-fiction books and short stories may very well find Kindle Unlimited very good for them. Books that once did not merit a purchase may be read and consumed quickly. It will become a very new market. Kindle Unlimited is also one of the very few markets in which self-published writers will have an edge over books produced by the larger publishing houses.

Kindle Unlimited makes it much easier for readers to pick up books that they have only a passing interest in. It’s very hard for new writers to break through barriers, and this could make it easier for those who are not yet known in the industry to pick up new fans. Generally, anything that makes it easier for a reader to read a book is beneficial.

Here Are Some Other Important Things You Should Know About Kindle Unlimited

  • Kindle Unlimited borrows count against book rank. This gives KU books an edge on other books on the ranking lists.
  • The $1.81 figure may not be permanent. Amazon artificially boosted the fund during the first month of Kindle Unlimited.
  • Kindle Unlimited is still brand new. It’s difficult to tell which trends will last.

The fact that KU borrows do count against book rank is almost unfair to books that are not in Amazon KDP Select. Though I’ve always been in KDP Select, I’m very torn on how to feel about this. On the one hand, it’s hardly fair to make KU borrows not count. However, it’s also punishing writers that prefer to diversify their income sources — and that’s really worrying.

During the first month, Amazon was not properly counting downloads. They counted all downloads rather than just the ones that were read up to 10%. To counter this, they boosted the fund with an injection of funds. Theoretically, the $1.81 figure (or a close approximation) should continue. But that’s not necessarily true.

Here’s What I Think About Kindle Unlimited


Kindle Unlimited is an attempt to create a Netflix-esque subscription service for books. There are already services like this out there, but Amazon has the infrastructure ready to easily become the biggest book subscription service. At the same time, this is Amazon’s attempt to disrupt the publishing industry and to grab power from the big publishing houses. Whether that’s a good thing or not is really a matter of opinion. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this is occurring on the heels of the Hachette controversy. While there’s no direct link, I think both are symptomatic of Amazon’s desire to become a publishing powerhouse.

I’m wary of saying that Kindle Unlimited is either good or bad. I think, if it became very popular, it would devalue self-published works. If Kindle Unlimited catches on, all books are essentially “worth” $1.81, from short periodicals to longer epic novels. This will further drive writers towards brief snippets of work. (Of course, it could be really very good for the erotica industry, which has been flagging as of late!) There will always be writers who hold true to their own standards, but there are also many writers who just want to get paid (and there is nothing wrong with that).

Theoretically you could write flash fiction and upload it for $1.81; the second the reader read it, they would hit 10% and $1.81 would be sent to you! The reader would likely have no complaint — they didn’t spend any money directly on it, of course — they would just move on to the next “novel.” As more of these short stories and short non-fictions hit the press, the price will be driven down. Suddenly novels will be worth $0.99 and then $0.25. And the cycle would continue as readers became used to the idea of downloading books in small pieces.

But of course, this is the worst case scenario.

In fact, there’s one reason why Kindle Unlimited may not have a negative effect on writers at all. And it’s a big one: Kindle Unlimited is most definitely a niche product. The increase many writers are seeing in their borrows (and the associated decrease in sales that many report)  is probably temporary as people try out the new subscription service — Amazon has allowed people to try Kindle Unlimited out for free for the first month. The fact is that there aren’t that many people out there who read so many books a year that they need a subscription service. It’s fairly likely that Kindle Unlimited will taper off and even out over time, unless it becomes bundled with Amazon Prime. Which is a possibility.

In any case, that was a lot of words to say: I don’t really know. And, as a final note, the following book is free today… and on Kindle Unlimited :)


Developing a Client-Facing Professional Site: Writer Spotlight

If you want to build your personal client base, it’s important to always maintain a client-facing professional site. This is the core of your marketing strength. Here are just a few examples of client-facing professional sites (listed alphabetically, this isn’t a contest!) with some highlights regarding what really makes them shine.

An Unedited Life (www.anuneditedlife.com)


What I Love About This Site:

  • Check out that Google+ badge right on the main page. This is a great way to really push your social media to the forefront of the client’s consciousness. Don’t you just want to contact her right now?
  • Wow to the writing samples. Published samples are so much more effective and impressive than self-hosted samples. Additionally, simply reviewing these samples gives you instant knowledge regarding the topics she focuses on most.
  • What an amazing, descriptive and personable “about me” section! It leaves you feeling comfortable with Anne — as though you already know her and her family. One of the benefits of working with a freelance writer rather than with a company is getting to know them.

Freelance Writer Kate (www.freelancewriterkate.com)


What I Love About This Site:

  • The domain name is absolutely perfect. “Freelance Writer Kate” will help with SEO because it has the main keyword directly in the URL. It’s a personable URL and it’s something that people will remember. The second you see it, you know what it is.
  • The layout is clean and sensible. It’s not confusing. There are only a few options. This is really important: clients hate wasting time. They have 1142948290 writers to choose from and you’re only one. Hook them fast!
  • It gets down to business. You immediately know who Kate is and what type of writing she focuses on. The front page is completely business oriented, clean and concise. You know how to contact her immediately.
  • The portfolio is extremely well organized. Clients can scan the list and be able to immediately identify the titles that interest them and that are applicable to them. There is a good selection that shows off her ability to cover a wide variety of topics.

Handcrafts and Handyman (www.handcraftsandhandyman.com)


What I Love About This Site:

  • This is a unique site among the others because it’s positioned to take over the niche in which the writer focuses. This is a brilliant content marketing tactic; it builds Barbara’s reputation within her field as an  resource. People will find her site when searching for information and she will get her by-line out.
  • What a fantastic niche! Barbara has found a niche that is broad enough that applies to everyone and yet is specific enough that she can market herself within the area without overwhelming competition. And check out that blog — it’s filled with very specific information that will help with SEO.
  • It’s no secret that I adore affiliate marketing. Barbara has integrated her crafting site with sales for jewelry — it’s a great way for a writer to expand their passive revenue streams and it’s uniquely suited to Barbara’s niche.

K. Lee Banks, Writing & Educational Services (www.kleebankswritingeduservices.com)


What I Love About This Site:

  • The pitch that you see immediately upon loading the page is superb. You know what her industry focus is, what services she offers and how to best contact her. In some ways, this reminds me very much of a print advertisement or printed brochure.
  • Moving through the pages, each page is very clean with an excellent use of white space. It isn’t busy and there isn’t an overabundance of unnecessary information. After all, a client is probably going to spend a maximum of 5 minutes on your site before they decide whether they are going to contact you. If you have 30 hours of content on our professional site, you’re probably overdoing it.
  • The changing side bar. As a former web designer, this was nifty to me. Most people have side bars that are the exact same content on each page. Here, the side bar changes depending on the main page’s content to display side information that’s actually useful. Again, a great way to use the space.

The Small Business Blogger (www.thesmallbusinessblogger.com)


What I Love About This Site:

  • Again, this is pretty much the perfect URL. Anyone looking for a small business blogger is going to stumble upon this site. It’s easy to remember and it’s an identifiable brand.
  • Just look at that incredible list of content under the content writing portfolio. This shows that you don’t necessarily have to have all of your samples online. Giving only titles, as Lara has done, shows your prospective clients that you have a huge body of work — even if you don’t feel comfortable putting it all on line.
  • Geo-targeting! It’s a simple fact that you can’t conquer the entire world of freelance writing, but you can conquer a niche. Thanks to Google’s geo-targeting, Lara is going to have an edge if anyone searches for “small business blogger” from Tampa Bay.

I really enjoyed going through all of these sites because, as you can see, they are all extremely different. This is a great way to showcase how personal the freelancing industry is; everyone approaches it in their own extremely unique way. There is no right way to market yourself, not really. The most important thing is that you go out and that you do it!

What to Do When Work Conflicts With Life

I often have high hopes that can’t quite be met. Of course, if you’re not setting the bar above you, you can’t improve. Freelancers don’t have quarterly reviews, cost of life raises or traditional bonuses — it is entirely up to us to ensure that we are exceptional.

had high hopes for the other week, in which I was going to really dig down deep. It went fantastic the first two days and then pow!

My dog has a hole in it! 

It’s amazing how such a simple thing like your dog having a hole in it can really throw off your game. Now, here is where the nefarious dark side of freelancing comes in:

  • Oh yay, I don’t need to call out to work!
  • Oh no, I don’t get paid for personal time.

So, of course, my dog no longer has a hole in it and I was able to recover quite neatly within a couple of days — I’m mildly obsessive over my dogs, so it took a little longer than it should have. No deadlines were missed, all clients were happy and, at least externally, everything should be operating as it was.

Unfortunately, missing a step threw me off that week, which threw me off the next week, in a cascading effect. I still find myself playing a frustrating game of mental catch up. As a freelancer, you really always need to be running ahead of yourself so that you can catch yourself when you stumble; this is a lesson I’m learning painfully for the 100th time.

For technical writing and white papers, it really isn’t that bad. I can write about cloud solutions and application development with my eyes closed. For more creative tasks, I find it very difficult to concentrate unless I’m in a “groove” — unless I’m in the proper state of mind. The second real life shatters that delicate balance, it becomes a full-fledged war with myself.

There is only one solution, really: to be prepared in advance. You need to work when you can to compensate for when you cannot. It seems like a simple realization, but it goes against what most of us have been taught. We’re taught to put in our time. But it just doesn’t work that way for us. For us we will sometimes do 12 hours of work and sometimes 4 hours of work. That’s just the nature of the game. 

Don’t think that the symbolism of this is lost on me. The very first week I tried to do a 9-to-5 schedule as an experiment, the experiment failed before it had even begun. It’s a simple fact: the 9-to-5 really doesn’t work for a freelancer. I thought it was a matter of discipline, but it is simply that we don’t have that luxury.

How to Live Write’s 5 Day Content Mill Extravaganza

Join us, and by us I mean me, from July 7th through July 11th as I engage in an unprecedented and potentially useless experiment solely for the sake of being able to use the word extravaganza.

Here’s the jam: each day I’ll spend exactly eight hours on a different content mill site. At the end of each day, I’ll post how much I’ve made. (Note: before anyone sends me a note, I already thoroughly read the ToS of each site and I’m positive I’m not violating any form of NDA.)

The goal: to compare what a “day in the life” is for a worker in each content mill.

The rules:

1. I can only spend eight hours exactly on each site. 8:00 – 12:00 and 1:00 to 5:00.

2. If there is work on the site in question and I’m idle, I need to pick up that work (assuming I can complete it).

3. I can’t just madly rush through the work.

The exceptions:

1. If there is nothing to do on the site I’m working on, I can switch to another site. I have bills.

The sites:

1. Monday – Writer’s Domain

2. Tuesday – Writer Access

3. Wednesday – Zerys

4. Thursday – TextBroker

5. Friday – BlogMutt

This is partly to satisfy my own curiosity; I have really irregular work hours and I really don’t know how much I make in a “reasonable” day. I also haven’t been doing as much content mill work as I used to, so this is in part to see how some content mills are now faring (I haven’t touched TB in forever and Blog Mutt is still high on my skepticism chart).


How Did This New York Times Op-Ed Contributor Misunderstand Digital Publishing So Greatly?

Today,  the New York Times published an opinion piece that reads almost like satire. In “I Was a Digital Best Seller,” the writer secures a “deal” to publish a book on Amazon; the deal involved a $2,000 advance on sales and little else. The so-called publishing company, Byliner, did the following:

  • Upload the book, “there was even an author’s page with my picture.”
  • Circulate a press release regarding the book (probably through their own site).
  • Write a tagline involving strippers and cowboys (really).
  • Write a review of the book on Amazon (not allowed).
  • Urge the writer to coax fake reviews from friends and relatives (seriously).

To be fair, at minimum Byliner appears to have done editing work sufficient to secure the author a spot in Kindle Singles, which is actually a significant positive. However, the author ended up running around promoting his own book–something he could have done without a publisher. And, in the end, his book ended up disappearing because the publishing company owned the rights to the book. The publishing company probably got banned from Amazon because they were encouraging false reviews.

After a month of run around, the author ended up selling 800 copies. He resolved to publish his next book as a physical book, away from digital media, after having done absolutely everything wrong that he could possibly do wrong.

The Simple Truth: Tony Horwitz Was Scammed

Horwitz’s relationship to the digital publishing industry is not indicative of the state of digital publishing because, though he doesn’t seem to realize it, he was scammed. There are many companies out there like Byliner that target writers struggling to make it big. They promise the world and offer simple services that anyone else could do. Tony could have uploaded his own book if he had wanted to, with author page and everything. Just a little research into the independent and digital publishing industry could have helped this author avoid this situation.

“One reason “Boom” sank, I suspect,” writes Horwitz, “is that there aren’t many people willing to pay even $2.99 to read at length about a trek through the oil patch, no matter how much I sexed it up with cowboys and strippers.”

Byliner made this author believe that he could sell a book about a journey through an oil patch as long as he added cowboys and strippers. No, this doesn’t say anything about the digital publishing industry. All it says is that there is always someone willing to sell you snake oil at a discount price.

Keeping Motivated as a Freelancer: The Games I Play

I have a hard time keeping myself motivated if there isn’t someone cracking the whip over me. My goals are too abstract, you know: I’ve got a place to live and a warm puppy pile at my feet and it just doesn’t seem altogether urgent. I find myself casting a long look at Netflix or the newest video game and bam! the day is almost gone.

To keep myself motivated I try to play games with myself or use patterns to break repetition. I know myself and I know that if I try to just go hard on something I’ll eventually burn out. So here are a few of the things I do to set ‘goal posts’ for myself.

Directed Goals

Motivation: High

When I first started freelancing I would give myself specific goals to meet at the end of every day. It would be something like “Make $200 on WA, Make $50 on WD, send in 15 applications on eLance and finish all private client work.” These goals made sense to me at the time because I was just getting started and meeting these goals were exciting on their own. 

If I’m already feeling really motivated to succeed, “directed goals” still work for me. But they only work if my motivation is already pretty high
; otherwise I’m quickly distracted.

Patterned Goals



Motivation: Middling

When I find myself easily distracted and not very motivated, I try to use patterned goals. I have a problem remaining “on task” for long periods of time; I have ADHD which means that anything new that happens completely distracts me. I.E., everything that comes in seems just as important as everything else, so I can spend my time switching through tasks of seemingly the same importance even though one task is “making money” and the other task is “searching Hulu for what to watch next.”

Patterned goals work like this: I switch up in a sequence. My sequence will go “Complete one private client’s work, complete $50 on WA, write an article on WD, write something on Zerys, write a blog post.” I’ll then run through the sequence as many times as I can during my work hours, and I always include something like “write a blog post” so there’s time for me to mentally clear myself.

This pattern works really well when I’m feeling mentally jumpy because if I feel myself losing focus on one thing, I just jump to the other. It means that I’m still working but I don’t feel like I’m stuck.

High Water Goals

Motivation: Low

When my motivation is extremely low, I can’t even get into the patterned groove. That’s when I initiate “high water” protocol, which is exactly what it sounds like: I make myself feel like I’m about to drown. I make a list of the bills that need to be paid in the next week and I zero out the money I already have (essentially pretending I have nothing in the bank). I then tell myself that I need to make this amount of money and I mark off the bills that I pay while working. So I might list:

Electricity – $200

Cable – $100

Water / Gas – $80

And I’ll tell myself that I won’t have the money to pay these if I don’t work through them today. I’ll tick each off as I go.

This is literally the only thing that works for me when my motivation is low: sheer determination to survive.

I’m not sure if everyone plays games like I do when trying to keep motivated but I have noticed that the ability to self-motivate is what separates freelancers from those in traditional jobs. I have dozens of friends who have asked me how they can get started in freelancing but, when it comes down to it, they just can’t do the work if they don’t have a boss. In truth, I can’t either: I have to trick myself.

Don’t Fear the Panda: How Panda 4.0 Will Affect Freelance Writers

J. Patrick Fischer via Wikimedia Commons

J. Patrick Fischer via Wikimedia Commons

Every time Google updates its algorithms, everyone panics. It’s easy to see why; sites like Ask.com experienced a loss in almost 50 percent of their traffic. It seems as though the companies that put the most money into their marketing are always the hardest hit, given that they tend to spend the most time trying to game the search engine companies. But that’s not what we care about: how will it affect us?

Actually, Panda has been great for us.

Google’s updates tend to be intimidating because Google keeps its algorithms a secret. When Panda was initially introduced all Google would really say was that it was promoting quality content; Google then gave some rather extensive standards regarding what it thought was quality content, but, naturally, the search engine company never outright said what its algorithm looked for. It let everyone guess. Otherwise it wouldn’t be effective.

This veil of secrecy makes writers and marketers nervous because we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t. All we can do is guess.

For a freelance writer, this is actually a good thing. The push towards quality content rather than search engine bait means that better writers will need to be purchased and at higher quality pay. The hope is that eventually companies will stop trying to game the system entirely and will just focus on producing good content. That’s the hope.

So how do you gear up to battle with an upgraded Panda?

  • Build up your professional self. Content purchasers are going to be looking for writers with credentials.
  • Go back to school. Take some free online courses regarding your niche of choice to develop your knowledge.
  • Focus more on personal clients. Unfortunately, content mills are increasingly becoming a harder sell.
  • Get your by-line out there. Even if it’s unpaid. You’ll need to start building a reputation.

Women in Writing: Why Aren’t We at the Top?

Nearly 80 percent of all freelance writers are women. Though many of us also have full-time employment elsewhere (and being a stay-at-home mom counts as being a full-time worker!), so do many of the men who work in freelance writing. It has been known for a very long time that most of the writers in the industry are women.

So why, then, aren’t we rising to the top? All of the major content companies are owned by men. Writer Access is owned by Byron White, iWriter is owned by Brad Callen, TextBroker is owned by Jan (the European, male Jan) Becker-Fochler and Writer’s Domain is owned by Jeremy Lindstrom. Even the Content Marketing Institute, the leading content marketing magazine, is owned by Joe Pulizzi. While there were some companies that I couldn’t find information for, there weren’t any companies that were openly run by women.

Is it because women are inherently less ambitious? Probably not; though women are less ambitious, it isn’t enough to bridge such a gap.  You would expect that four out of five of the top freelance writing companies would be owned by women, but instead not a single one is.

The owners of writing marketplaces are generally behind the scenes; few clients work with them directly. So it can’t be purely an image or marketing issue; it isn’t that people don’t trust women to be effective. It could only be that women aren’t trying and that the reasons must be beyond one of ambition.

I thought, for a moment, that I understood: perhaps it is that men are more likely to know both about freelance writing and programming, which would be necessary to create a site. But that can’t be; most of the owners of these sites hired a programmer (also male, naturally). Even the staffing of many of these sites tend more towards a 50/50 or 60/40 men to women split, which would make sense in another context but doesn’t make sense when 80 percent of writers should be women.

Ultimately the answer is probably tied into why women enter freelancing at all: most women enter freelancing to spend time with their family and starting a company would seem counterproductive to that. But it’s still strange.  As noted in the prior statistics, these were the statistics for full-time freelance workers, with an average salary of around $40,000. Surely someone already devoting that amount of time to their work could devote an equal amount of time to a company?