Writing Through Hard Times

One of my intentions on starting this blog, was to talk about what it’s really like to be a writer who creates internet content.  I haven’t done that in a while.

I think that everyone knows that someone out there creates the web pages they surf every day.  I don’t think they give much thought to how that’s done, or who the (wo)man behind the curtain might be. When you get a newsletter in your email box from a retailer, do you think about who composed it?  When you do a quick google search to figure out how to baste a turkey when it’s tented with foil, do you also research the credentials of the person who wrote the article?

There’s a problem on the internet today, and that is the proliferation of bad and incorrect content.  It’s something google has tried to address with their new Panda system for search engine optimization.  This algorithm not only rates the page that is returned in a search result, but evaluates how many ads are on the page, as well as the quality of content on other random pages on the site.  This has led to some interesting results.

One of the primary websites that I write for through Demand Media Studios is eHow.  When eHow started out on the web, it had a bad reputation for poorly researched and poorly written content.  It was similar to sites like Associated Content, where anyone can set themselves up as a writer, write whatever they like, and generate a stream of income based on ad clicks from their pages.  It resulted in a huge number of pages that were complete garbage. When Demand Media Studios took over, they did so replete with trained writers and editors who would fact-check and correct basic writing issues, with the intention of creating a better type of content for readers.  It seemed to work, until Panda came along.

What Panda has done in general is to make pages such as eHow and Mahalo fall in their rankings. The problem with this is, of course, when it comes to Demand Media Studios, they are making less money.  That means they can spend less to create new content.  So how do they fix this?

Well, for Demand, it meant rolling out a program called First Look, which allowed the highest rated writers on their site a first chance to grab the few titles they are still releasing.  Over the last few months, the titles have gone from a tidal wave, to a river, to a trickle, to a dry desert where everyone sits and clicks F5 all day hoping that the mirage on the horizon is real, and eventually a title will show up to be claimed.

I’m lucky.  I’m in the small percent that made it into First Look.  I want to feel proud about this, but I’m conflicted.  Other writers are getting evicted from their homes, are unable to feed their children, are having vehicles repossessed.  Granted, I got a little late on a couple of bills when the titles dried up, but it was nothing serious, and now that I’m finding titles again, I’m able to catch up.  Others are so depressed about their financial situations that they are hinting about suicide on the Demand forums.  They might just be drama queens.  But might is the operative word, and it’s a little scary to think that those ten titles I grabbed fresh off the title editor’s desk might have made the difference in someone else losing their home.  Or their struggle with depression and their life.

I deal with guilt now, whenever I write a title.  I also deal with a huge amount of fear.  If my scores drop below a 4.0, I’ll be booted from the First Look program.  Titles are graded on a five point scale, and many copy editors have admitted to never giving out a five, because they think an article would have to be perfect to earn that, and no article is ever perfect (it’s actually supposed to indicate “excellent” while a four is to indicate “above average”, a three “average”, a two “below average” and a one “poor”).  My heart races as I go over every article.  Did I leave an extra space after a period there?  Did I use a serial comma here?  And if I did, will the editor like it or not?  While Demand requires that we write in AP style, not all editors actually edit in AP style.  More than once I have had editors add serial commas and mark down my score because I didn’t use them when AP style dictates that they not be used.

There are also some scary, vindictive copy editors out there.  From the stories on the forum, I am not the only one who has run into them.  Rather than risk a rejection when I get a rewrite from one of them, I let the article expire.  This happened recently, and it hurt my heart to let a title go when there are so few out there for the grasping and I need the money.  Still, a rejection hurts your scorecard more than an abandoned rewrite does, and that is also a part of your grade; the number of articles accepted immediately, the number of rewrites, the number of abandoned rewrites, and the rejections.  I’m lucky enough to have never had a rejection, but my abandoned rewrite percentage hovers at about 5% because of my fear of them.

I try not to talk about editors much, because I’m worried that they’ll read it and edit me more harshly in the future because of it. Demand is terribly unbalanced that way, because writers never know the identity of their editors.  They can see our names – and occasionally an editor will use my name in the notes, which is both nice and scary at the same time.  They post on the same forum, so I’m careful with my words, though I have made a comment or two about how to address craft type articles so as to get them through (write like you’re addressing a first grade art class, for instance) that might have been misinterpreted.  Fear.  Suspicion. It’s everywhere at DMS now.

Does this lead to better writing?  I don’t know.  For me, it leads to obsessive researching and writing that almost makes the pay for the articles not worth the hours I spend crafting them.

DMS is starting to move into a new direction, with experts instead of just writers.  How that is going to pan out is yet to be seen, though I’m working on setting up the kinds of resources I need now, to be in place so I can apply for an expert position.  This blog is a part of that, as is my brand-spanking-new Twitter account, and my facebook fan page.  If you are a fan of this blog and you twitter or facebook, I would appreciate your support. My twitter username is CraftyDivaKat, and I go by the same on facebook, with the page located here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Crafty-Diva-Kat/180386195377438?ref=ts&sk=wall

Also, if you have any requests for videos or how-to articles on some of the things that I do, including crochet, needlework, knitting, scrapbooking, altered books and more, please let me know with a comment here, a post on the facebook page, or a tweet.  I’m starting a series of basic crochet instruction videos soon, including eventually a tutorial on making fishnets out of stretchy sock yarn, something I’ve had many requests to teach.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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