Something Weird is Going on at Constant Content

A lot of my traffic comes from people trying to navigate the inscrutable, murky waters of Constant Content, which is impressive because I think I’ve only actually written about them three or four times. It isn’t surprising. A venue like Textbroker is as straightforward as it can be soul-draining, but Constant Content is an open marketplace that gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. It doesn’t help that they maintain the “three strikes and you’re out” system, in addition to stylistic rules like never using the words “there,” “that” or “they.”

It first began in the middle of last year, when they changed their document upload process to an internal WYSIWYG editor. This editor seemed to only serve the purpose of destroying anything you put in it. Editors became snappy about issues that the writers really couldn’t have anticipated, such as fonts changing in the middle of their submission. From then, it was just a downhill slide. If you visit their forums, a good half of the posts are people asking why the editors are being so snappy and rejecting items for seemingly no reasons. The writers can only reply: We don’t know. Most of us are hiding until it stops. Review times stretch from one to two weeks for offhand rejections, and one forum user cautiously asks: Is it even worth it, anymore?

In fact, quite a few of their more prolific writers have stopped submitting things entirely because they feel like it’s a waste of time. Articles are being turned down for things such as “not containing value for the reader,” which is entirely subjective — and weird, because it is a content marketplace, so one would naturally assume that the consumer could decide whether the article has value. Some writers have found their accounts suspended even though they were supposedly “safe”; after 20 articles or so, it’s usually been said that a writer won’t have their account frozen.

Perhaps that would all be fine — more stringent quality control can only benefit everyone — but the real problem is that the editors are being rude, even to some of the writers who have made Constant Content thousands of dollars of income. Constant Content is not a content mill, it is a speculative writing marketplace, which means that they are providing a service to the writers. In other words, though the writers may benefit from their existence, the writers are customers, too.

It occurs to me that Constant Content is leaving a bit of a vacuum in its wake, so it would be a great time for someone else to step into their business model and snatch up the worried writers. The platform that runs Constant Content is very simple, and a good amount of advertising comes from the writers themselves. With a 35% profit, that’s a lot of money that can be spent on advertising, and administrative overhead for such a venue would be pretty minimal. But that’s neither here nor there, the bottom line is that Constant Content is rapidly fading out of relevance because it’s terrifying and abusing its writers.

The Freelance Industry’s Disdain for Content Mill Writers

Mill. It’s already a bad word, isn’t it? Content mill writers are, if others are to be believed, the sweatshop workers of the writing industry. Dirty, sweaty, underpaid and abused. To be pitied, gently discouraged and brushed away as quickly as possible.

I can’t count the amount of times other freelance writers have refused to associate with me because I’m a “content mill” writer, or how many strange email missives I’ve gotten from fellow writers imploring me to see the light. I’ve even been rejected from groups because “we don’t accept content mill writers.”

And the crazy thing? I’m not even a dominantly content mill writer! I shudder to think what happens to those. Content mills only make up something like 50% of my income these days. But the very idea that I’ve touched a content mill in the past is enough to taint me forevermore, like an irredeemable gap in pedigree.

The life of a content mill writer simply isn’t that bad. There are many writers who choose to write for content mills simply because it is easier. Many of them make a fairly good living doing it, anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 a year. We are not dealing with the impoverished here. We are dealing with people who do not want to spend large portions of their day communicating with clients.

Many of the people who look down upon me for taking content mill work have pages up on Bubblews or Hub Pages–sites that offer literally cents a month for most articles. Was that a more valuable use of their time? It seems to come down to the by-line; to having a name and picture. But I don’t write to get my name out there. I don’t even like my name (way too many vowels). I just want money. At least I’m honest about that.

I’m not saying that content milling is the best decision. But life isn’t always about making the best decisions–it’s about making the best decision for you at the time that you are making it. I have no problem with those who say that private clients are more stable or higher paid. I do have a problem with those who indicate, for whatever reason, that writers for content mills are lesser beings or somehow “hurting the industry.”

Bottom line: do what you want to do and get paid. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Artistic integrity is a lovely thought, but it won’t pay the rent.

Analysis: eLance and oDesk – What Worked and What Didn’t

When I first got started with eLance and oDesk… I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. And my mistakes shall be a newcomer’s fortune! I did manage to get a significant amount of work (at least, at first), but the work petered out because I couldn’t maintain it. I was doing pitch after pitch after pitch and seemingly going nowhere. But that, it seems, was my mistake. Since then, I’ve modified my behaviors and the whole process has gotten much easier.

Here’s What I Got Wrong…

  • Over-thinking things. I sent a lengthy cover letter, thorough pitch and quote to every job. This wasn’t just time-consuming for me; I later realized that it was also time-consuming for the employer. Once I trimmed down my pitches to just the essentials, I received a far more positive response.
  • Sending samples as attachments. I mean, the option is there — so use it, right? But what I realized later is that most people hate opening attachments. They get 40 to 50 responses and they don’t want to open up 40 to 50 Word files. Sending links or even in-lining the samples made it far easier for them.
  • Not sending specific enough samples. I would shoot for something general; finance-related articles for finance-related work, and so forth. But really I should have been drilling down to the exact type of article; credit card samples for credit cards, and so forth.
  • Focusing too much on my profile. As with my cover letter, I simply overdid it. If you put too much content in it, no one is going to read it. The profile needs to be concise and easily scanned if it’s to be worthwhile.

And Here Are Some Things I’m Getting Right…

  • Building websites for the niches that I’m working in has helped me tremendously. I noticed that when I started adding links to these websites, I received a far greater response.
  • Looking at the client rather than the job. Now, I’m focusing on looking for highly-rated clients that have already spent a significant money on each platform. This weeds out new clients that aren’t really going to hire anyone.
  • Never compromising on pay rate. In the past, I’ve always been tempted to take on lower pay rates for high volume work, with the idea that it could lead to better paying work in the future — but I think, now, that this  idea was rather naive. I’m having much better luck going for high paying work. As they say in “real” jobs, it’s easier to ask for a higher starting salary than a raise.

Like all things, it’s a learning process — but I’ll be the first to admit that some of the things that I realize now would have been obvious to just about anyone else. We all have our blind spots, but recognizing and working through them is how we grow as professionals!

Proposals: Using Mirroring Techniques to Understand Your Clients

I absolutely hate writing proposals. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve stayed with content mills for so long. I don’t like having to pitch myself and I definitely don’t like the date-night-esque banter that follows them. Because of this, I’ve had to develop an arsenal of tools that I use to get through the entire uncomfortable experience, one of which is a form of mirroring.

What is Mirroring?

Mirroring is a well-known and kind of bizarre technique that they teach salesmen and, well, conmen. In real life, it’s kind of creepy. It involves mirroring the actions of the person in front of you to create a bond; mimicking their mannerisms to create a subconscious link between you two. See? Creepy. Don’t do that.

But the non-creepy part of this (or perhaps the creepiest part of this) is that naturally charismatic people do this automatically. In a sense, mirroring is a technique by which you learn to fake the social acumen of more advanced players. Well, and sociopaths. But stay with me…

How Does Mirroring Fit In for Freelance?

When you pitch to a job, you’re not really pitching to a job. You’re pitching to a client. To mirror online, you look towards how the client is presented rather than how the job is presented. You then mirror your presentation in that way. Is your client enthusiastic? Become enthusiastic. Is your client dry? Become dry. In other words, respond to the client’s tone in addition to the job. Because being a freelancer isn’t about the jobs you do, not really, it’s about the people you do them for.

So if your client talks about their family, by all means talk about yours — if it’s something inside of you to do. Don’t lie to them and don’t do anything you feel uncomfortable with, obviously. But respond to them as a person rather than just as a “job giver.” This method puts the client to the forefront and puts their needs first rather than just responding to the text of the job and the wage.

But then the question becomes…

Isn’t It All Kind of Creepy?

Not really — at least, not in my opinion. The process of mirroring demands that you first need to understand the client. In other words, it’s a tool for understanding what the client needs and wants. Because any writer can probably do their job, but they’re looking for someone who can do their job for them. The text of the job itself says almost nothing about how you will work together and how pleasant the job will be. At the end of the day, freelancing is a people business.

By “mirroring,” you put yourself in their shoes and get a better picture of what they want. You then prove to yourself and your client that you can give them what they want; that you can reproduce their attitude and their needs and see the job from their side  of the table. And that’s a valuable skill to have.

Mirroring in real life though — yeah, that’s super creepy.

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.

 

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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

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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 :)

raptur2e

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)

anne

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)

kate

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)

barb

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)

klee

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)

lara

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.