Of Twitter, Pitches, and Agents

Something happened last week that sent me all a-Twitter (see what I did there?)

I was working in the office one afternoon when my friend Joe burst in (virtually) on G-chat, demanding I get off my electronic butt and log in to Twitter. Apparently there was a pitchfest going on. A number of agents and publishers were taking tweeted pitches from authors at #SFFpit.

With the kind of subtle prompting only a life in the military could give him (e.g. “GO! GO! GO!”), he convinced me to enter a pitch of my own. His own agent, Sam Morgan of JABberwocky, was one of the participating agents.

I nearly wimped out, but Joe used his Command Voice again (“FUCKING DROP EVERYTHING”).

So I did. I picked one of my more promising manuscripts, a fantasy-comedy-murder mystery.

Here’s what I tweeted:


Organic, too.


And here’s who responded.


Contact info edited out.

Contact info edited out.

The same Sam Morgan who was representing Joe! From the same agency that represented Brandon Sanderson! And Sam wasn’t even aware that I KNEW Joe (at that point anyway)!

I’d pitched articles to magazines before, and queried short fiction magazines, but this was the first time I had received such a positive response so fast! I nearly wimped out again, but I finally sucked it up (with help) and sent in a full query and three chapters.

Sam’s reply included the words “best pitch” and “really excited”, which in turn made ME “really excited!”

Right now, all I can do is sit and wait. It’s still way too early in the process yet—in fact, I don’t even think process has even begun. Sam probably still hasn’t read my query, and when he does he could always say “no” and turn me down. God knows I’ve seen enough of that happen at FFO, where we turn down strong writers just because it’s not the right fit.

But if he says “yes”, and asks for the rest of the manuscript?

Excuse me. I’ve got some editing to do.

P.S. If your email signature reads “Right Hand of Darkness”, I want to work with you.


4 Freelance Writing Job Ads You Should Avoid Like the Plague

Freelance writing job boards get a bad rap for being a hive of low paying job ads, cheap clients, and underqualified writers, and it’s mostly true. I spent a large part of my early career on these boards, and I’ve taken many jobs that I’ve since regretted (“volume discounts” of $1 an article, anyone?).

But even in a flea market environment like that, there are still job ads that you should run away from the moment you encounter them. Not just coz they’re low paying, or difficult, or whatnot, but because they’re actually harmful for you.

1. Article Spinning

Article spinning

More like “100% unethical”

Sorry, what? They want me to plagiarize someone else’s work? Oh, they want me to hire a team of people to plagiarize someone else’s work? Do I need to explain why this isn’t a moral thing for writers to do?

Sure, they might claim that these articles are theirs and they have the right to do whatever they want with them, but I highly doubt they’re the one who wrote them. The author is pretty much the only person with the right to make that kind of request (and even then, I wouldn’t do it).

Ummm….. no.

2. Guest Blogging

Guest posting

Can you do a guest post about “butt monkeys”?

Guest blogging is awesome. It’s the equivalent of doing the graduation speech at a friend’s high school. Paid guest blogging is awkward. It’s the equivalent of someone handing you money and saying “get that high school to have you do their graduation speech. And do that for 10 other high schools. Oh, and make sure they’re top-tier high schools with lots and lots of rich students.”

There’s absolutely zero guarantees that this will work. And yet my pay depends on it. Do I still need to explain why this is a bad idea?

3. Profit Sharing

Revenue sharing

“Zero” divided in two is still “zero”

Tell me that job ad doesn’t make your skin crawl. Seriously? They want me to write a f***ing book for you, but they’re only going to pay me after they start selling it? What’s to stop them from claiming it doesn’t sell at all and leave me hanging? If I was going to write a book and wait for royalties, I’d write my own book, thank you very much.

4. Sample Collectors

Sample articles

Because ALL CAPS makes this job ad MORE LEGITIMATE.

This is a scam I’ve written about before, and I’m sad to see it still proliferating. Basically when guys like this float a job ad and want you to write a sample from scratch, chances are they aren’t interested in hiring you at all.

Let’s do the math: They plan to pay the winning writer $20 an article (itself a bad rate) and 50 people respond. 50 x $20 = $1,000. Why would they pay these writers, who just sent in free stuff, anything? Just claim “nobody’s good enough” and run!

If they want me to write a sample article, then pay me for it.

I’m sad to say that these aren’t the only examples of bad jobs out there. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 to this post sometime.

In the meantime, I hope that the next time you encounter these jobs on the Internet, you close the browser window and sprinkle your laptop with holy water. If you want to send the job poster a little piece of hate mail, too, then by all means!

Odesk and Elance are Merging, and I am Sad

At the end of 2013 I learned that Odesk and Elance are merging. For those that aren’t familiar with these two markets, here’s a brief background (those that already know can either skip the following two paragraphs or read and complain in the comments about how I got it wrong).

Elance.com is a job site where freelance writers like me get work (there’s work for other kinds of freelancers too, but we’re not talking about them). There’s good jobs to be found there, but the pay is usually lower than what you can get than if you went out and found clients yourself.

Odesk.com is the same thing, only the asking rate for these projects is much, much lower than Elance (if that were possible). How much lower? I’ve seen people post $1 blog post jobs on Odesk. One. Freaking. Dollar. At that rate, I would have to write 3 articles to afford one cup of McDonald’s coffee.

Soooo worth it.

Soooo worth it.

And now the two companies are merging. Not so good news for freelancers who still use the two sites as their main source of income. This detailed post from Carol Tice explains the many reasons why. To me, it means that two entirely separate and distinct markets—the borderline-reasonable-budget jobs on Elance and the bargain-bin/flea-market shoppers on Odesk—will be merging into one messy pile of job tickets.

Oh, Elance and Odesk deny this of course. They say they’re going to keep the two sites separate. And they probably will. At first. But as Carol pointed out in her post, one of the sites is probably going to get the axe. So where will the evicted freelancers go? The other site, crowding an already overpopulated marketplace. A good paying project on Elance usually gets dozens of bids, and it’s always a struggle to get noticed. Add in the Odesk people, and you’ll have a Black Friday crowd attacking every project.

This could be you, company owner.

This could be you, company owner.

The market is moving away from these types of bid sites, and they’re struggling. Businesses are starting to realize that junk content isn’t going to win the Google ranks anymore, and more freelancers are beginning to charge the rates they deserve.

Me? Well, there’s no way I can say “I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money” and not sound arrogant (at least none I can think of at 2 in the morning), so f*** it.

I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money.

I’m still grateful to Elance and Odesk. I might kick myself for not going straight to clients sooner, but the money from these sites helped me keep my family’s finances above water during some pretty tight times. I met one of my best clients on Elance. And the time I spent writing $5 blog posts helped me improve my writing for the better-paying clients I’d meet down the road.

But I look back at Elance and Odesk, where I first learned to price my own work, where I first learned to talk to clients, and where I earned my first dollars as a writer, and I am sad. It’s the sadness of seeing your first car sold or junked, even though it was a POS that you cussed at every day.

The world is moving on, and where you’ve been is no longer relevant to where you are now.

I need a beer.

The Mystery of the Mismatched Writing Speeds

I write nearly every day. On the business side, I write blogs, brochures, and websites. On the fiction side, I write short stories and novels (well… just the one right now). I’ve been doing this for years now—nearly a decade. And over the course of my writing career, I’ve noticed one very weird thing:

My writing speeds don’t match.

“Whuh?” you say? I say it too!

I used to think I had one consistent writing speed—you know, like how people have one top speed for running. But all that changed when I tried the Pomodoro method and put my writing to a timer.

I discovered that my business writing comes out at a much faster pace than my fiction. When I write blogs or articles, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to get to the 500 word mark. When I write my novel, on the other hand, it takes me nearly an hour (sometimes more).

This was a very annoying realization, because I’ve been trying to get my book out the door for ages. Here was Fiction Me, chugging away at 500 words an hour and trying console himself that he was doing his best effort, only for Business Me to speed by and leave Fiction Me floundering in his wake.

As frustrating as it is, it’s also kind of reassuring. I can increase my writing speed. I just have to figure out why Business Me works so fast and replicate the conditions.

Time to break out the metrics (Ugh. Metrics)!

What about you? Do you notice anything weird when you write two different things?

Play A Game, Feed A Family

We’ve all had “empty” time, either at the office or at home, which we waste away by either surfing or playing that fave of receptionists everywhere, solitaire. But what if all that time and effort could be put to something that actually had some benefit, both to you and to others?

Enter Freerice.com.

Freerice.com is a simple game with a bold goal. The game shoots you an endless string of multiple choice questions, and for every correct answer, the website donates 10 grains of rice to charity. No money leaves your hands, and no credit card info is collected. Instead, Freerice.com is owned and supported by the United Nations World Food Programme, so you know they’re legit. To date, Freerice.com has donated over 96 billion grains of rice.

The game itself is pretty engaging also. It’s played more for self-improvement than for fun (though there is fun to be had), and the question subjects reflect this pretty well. You’ve got languages (Italian, English, Spanish, etc), the sciences (Chemistry, Anatomy), and even SAT questions thrown in. Every question has a difficulty level, and you can only get to the higher difficulties by getting an unbroken string of correct answers. One wrong answer, and you’re sent back to the start (don’t worry, the rice you’ve won still gets donated). But that’s the only penalty you get. Play it enough, and you’ll be able to learn and memorize the answers through trial and error and consistently get higher scores.

I started playing this game years ago, and I’m pleased to see that they added a social media element to it and added friend listings, groups, and leaderboards. If you don’t want all that jazz, you can just go ahead and play without signing up. Your clicks still count for the same amount of rice.

rice bowl

100 right answers will get you this rice bowl.
Photo courtesy of flickrcc.net

If you’re looking to do some extra curricular studying while playing games and ending world hunger, then I think Freerice.com is a pretty damn good place to do it.

Did I mention that it’s their fifth birthday today?

Ways My Two-Year Old Daughter Amazes Me

I was about to attach a number to the title of this post, but I figured why limit myself?

  • She can recite her ABC’s from A to Z (usually starting from the middle), says “YAY!” upon finishing the same way daddy does it, and rolls right into 1-20.
  • Avi learned how to move the swing back and forth by shifting her weight, all by herself.
  • Avi’s figured out how to operate the TV remote. And calls out the numbers when she punches the channel in. Couch potato in the making?
  • How a 2-year old can have enough energy to wear out two 30-year old adults AND a 7-year old is beyond me.
  • Ditto for going up and down the stairs for nearly half an hour without pause. And then proceeding to run around the living room for the rest of the hour.
  • Eating Cheerios like there’s no tomorrow. Or no “later”, either.
  • The only toddler I know that actually likes nori (Japanese sushi seaweed).
  • Her ability to memorize her favorite songs on Youtube.
  • And the way she grabs whoever is nearby when the video calls for a dance partner.
  • She memorizes the layout of any park she’s been to (and likes). Especially the location of the swings.
  • Avi actually coaches her grandmother on how to navigate Starfall.
  • The iPad. Oh, the iPad.
  • She sorts her Lego bricks by size and color.
  • She can kick a ball with better accuracy than her dad…
  • … but throws the same ball so badly it winds up BEHIND her.

And yes, I am aware that some toddlers will have developed faster or Avi may be behind on some of her milestones, but let me politely respond with, “I don’t give a crap. She’s cute and awesome and that’s all that matters.”