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Friday, February 22, 2013

Tips for Small Businesses Working with FreeLance Writers: Stats, Risks, and Ramifications

The US Small Businesses Administration estimates that based on the last census, small businesses make up 99.9% of the business force in the United States. Out of 27.5 million businesses, only 6 million have employees, and only just over eighteen thousand businesses employed more than 500 employees.

Those 99.9% are the businesses that hire freelancers. The big guys in the top 18K don't need always need independent writers--they have thousands of employees from every educational persuasion. That doesn't mean giant businesses don't ever hire freelance writers, of course, but they don't always need the extra help. It's not just the States--in the UK, 79% of small businesses queried by the Guardian hire freelancers.

So what? To quote Dr. Larue from Hoo U, "this would have several ramifications."

First, the checks and balances between writer and client decrease when the client heads a small business. That's great, because it means the freelancer and the client have more open communication about a project. Unfortunately, without the giant corporate editing-system, many small business owners just have to trust a writer's ability based on how good the client 'feels' the writing 'looks.' There's a paradox here, because usually the small business owner knows she can't produce professional-quality writing--that's why she hired the freelancer in the first place. Yet the small business owner expects herself to professionally evaluate that writer and get good content for her money, all based on a feeling about a skill she doesn't have. Don't see a problem here? Let me give an example.

I once contracted to ghost-write a large project for a client who spoke English as second language. Before hiring me, the client had hired another writer, a native English speaker, who could not finish the project due to a family emergency. The client paid him anyway, and then sent me what his former free-lancer had written. It saddened me. The previous freelancer sold my client a product peppered with grammatically-incorrect syntax and awkward structure, and the client--again, not a native speaker--had no idea he'd been cheated. He could recognize that the words made sense, he saw the writing surpassed his own, and he could see that the client successfully followed basic capitalization rules--but my client didn't know how to recognize a dangling participle or an ugly gerund or verb tenses that didn't match their subjects. As a result, my client paid hundreds of dollars for something a high-schooler could have written. That's really, really sad.

Small business owners with non-native English or disadvantaged educational backgrounds stand to risk more when hiring a freelancer--but you don't need a corporate editing team to mitigate that risk. Many business owners consider contracting a freelancer through sites that provide editing automatically--that means looking for writing websites like Scripted rather than freelance job boards like ODesk. Freelance job boards generally provide more flexibility and direct client/writer interaction, but they don't provide much quality control; that commission ODesk skims off pays to help find the freelancer and provide mitigation services, not to correct her work.

Small business owners who prefer the liberty and flexibility of working directly with a freelancer may at least want to have a trusted friend evaluate the freelancer's work--before starting a contract. Don't operate in a vacuum. Yes, as a freelancer, I prefer working directly with a client, without any job boards or writing websites--no middleman means all the money goes straight to me--but I want fairness. If you choose to work without a middle party, get a professional friend with good writing skills to give you a second 'feel' on the freelancer's application. Don't just rely on your instincts.

"Don't trust your instincts" goes two ways: after hiring a qualified freelancer, business owners should consider trusting the professional writer over their own 'feelings' about writing. I've seen clients buy ghost-work and then add in grammar errors before posting it online. While I'm glad my name didn't go on the end result, I'm frustrated that I took the effort to do something right if my client just ended up looking bad anyway. Clients should seriously consider reviewing GrammarGirl or Strunk and White or something before changing what a freelancer submits. Several software companies also provide automatic 'grammar-checkers' that may help, although nothing's as good as a real, live human. (Links to a few grammar guides included below.) No time for grammar? Either trust the freelancer, or ask a friend to look it over.

Have a favorite freelancer experience? Free-lancers, do you have a favorite small business client? Leave a comment!





Thursday, February 21, 2013

Untitled YA Science Fiction Novel (Space Opera about Space Ninjas, girl gets trapped in her own head) first pages

Roz--Year 12039, Visiona Galaxy, Contested Zone, Luna-Guetala Double Planet
 
My best friend Lem fights like a wrecking ball: she slams into whatever's in her way and throws a temper tantrum until someone's down, completely forgetting she has a human body, with vulnerabilities. She seems immune to fear. You'd never know blades, fruit juices, and empty rooms horrify her. I'm not even supposed to know.

I only know because when I walk into an empty room, I want to hug the walls and whimper. You learn to recognize that feeling in other people; it helps that we both picked up our neuroses in the same torture camps.

People say we connect too well--that we should quit playing around and start making babies already or something like that. They don't get it. We're soldiers. We've been soldiers since she could lift a flayer-gun. We connect because we don't have a choice. Because the lives of our families and friends--our freedom to exist, even--depend on our synchrony.

I'll miss her when I'm gone.
#
Lem knew there was something wrong the moment they refused to kill her.

She slammed her elbow into soft, crunchy neck-flesh; her attacker let go and collapsed to his knees. Three more uniformed men encircled her, shrubbery cracking around them. Lem lowered her stance and spread her fingers, licking her lips. 
 
Blitzers. Their ghostly gray armor blurred in the light of the three moons. Their orb-helmets, expressionless round globes of silver, reflected the trees around them. At an angle, in the darkness of the perfect reflections, it almost looked like they didn't have heads--like their faces held portals into evil parallel dimensions. I gotta get outta here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Uninspiration and Suffering and Also Batman and Cornflakes

This is me and my husband when writing's going wrong and the words won't flow:


And this is me when the writing's going fine:

(That is not a mini-skirt that is a big belt on top of jeans to hide the Batman Utility Belt and this is a run-on on purpose thank-you very much)

And me with a rejection letter? Just shrugs, and "I'll try again."

It's weird how the worst criticism is the criticism that comes from within. The agents and editors have things to do, and I understand if I don't match them, or if we can't work together. But when I can't please myself--
Good gracious there's heaven to pay.
What about you? What does writing do to YOUR sanity and family-life?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Written for my Love

A love song you might like to hear, too. It's a bit dark, and zombies are referenced.
Listen here.

A long cry, a bad migraine
A fierce sigh, an eye insane
It doesn't get much better
Than this
Sweaty arms locked with gasping throats
Chest to chest with sensual hopes
A forgotten God crouches
In the darkness, behind us
eyes like embers

Scream my name
Chase me down in the pouring rain
Drag me to the throne of grace
And drown me in the fire
You can't burn away
The killer in the roses that I am
Only God can turn
The lion to a lamb.
Lead me to the cross and hold me while I die.

A cold sword, the written word
A bleeding lord, a prayer unheard
It doesn't get much better than that
Your fevered cries over trembling fists
The only way you can save us
Is this
The forgotten God lies
In the garden of stone
Where you must fight

Scream my name
Chase me down in the pouring rain
Drag me to the throne of grace
And drown me in the fire
You can't burn away
The killer in the roses that I am
Only God can turn the lion to a lamb
Lead me to the cross and hold me while I die

Can you wait that long
From cacophony into song
do you really want to marry
And unfinished story
Do you want to hold an undead hand as yet unfleshed
Ezekiel called the bones to rise
But can your eyes withstand the sight?
Through sickness and in health--will you slice away our demon selves
Wit the sword of word cloven to your bleeding hand by desperate prayer
Will you wade through the molten rock until our legs become burnished bronze
Now that you know how I can be
Does it drive us to bended knee
Or will you curl and hide
Do you know our need or do you fall asleep
When we say I do
Are you sure war is for you
Between "fair is fair" and "forgive me there"
I don't want to give you one more chance to go
But before you say you love me
Do you know
How to wield a sword

Scream my name
Chase me down in the pouring rain
Drag me to the throne of grace
And drown me in the fire
You can't burn away
The killer in the roses that I am
Only God can turn
The lion to a lamb
Lead me to the cross and hold me while I die


Forgive me my dear One while I change my leopard spots
I love you--you're the love of my breaking heart And when we make it to that last kiss
It will be on the breath of God.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"I swear, she exists"--(Adult upmarket literary thriller WIP, first words)

No one ever said I was too fat to be a secret agent, but I know they've thought it before. "You're rounding out a little, Jordan," they say, or "you've really filled out since I saw you last, Jordan"--"what do you do for your health?"  

Now, as I squeeze my hips through the airport's ventilation shafts, I'm tempted to agree with them.

Only tempted--I pause my wriggling to huff through my teeth into the handkerchief tied around my face. I'm not winded; I'm trying not to get dust under my hanky. Dust makes my nostrils berserk. 

The last thing I need right now is a sneeze.

I slide forward again, scraping my waist against the sharp metal joints. Dear God, To Whom It May Concern, just keep my pants from catching on something. I can't think of anything much worse than jumping into combat without pants.

Well, that rat's nest up ahead is pretty terrifying. I extend my knife, clutching my flashlight closer against my breast. I can feel my heart-beat against my hand--that scene in 1984 gives me visions of rabid rats eating my face off. Right now I'm a slow giant peg bound on all sides by tight metal squares; it's home field advantage for the rodent. 
 
Please let there be no one home, please please--

No such luck.

It hisses, crouched down stiff like a feline under its pile of junk. Its naked tail stands straight out; it reeks of rotten meat and piss from airport bathroom stalls. Red eyes and white teeth shimmer under my flashlight.

"Shoo!" I hiss. I'm squirming like a beached whale to get my flashlight-hand covering my face. I inch forward. He doesn't give ground.

I slam the flashlight at him; he lunges for my wrist. 

The knife squicks into his spine just behind his head. He doesn't even thrash.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Which I Tell The Truth

So. Most of you probably don't know that I recently quit my safe, corporate job to pursue freelance writing fulltime. It's a reasonable move; I've been freelancing successfully since 2011, and I'm starting to add a number of new clients to my list. I never thought I'd do this, for real, though.
  But I did, and I'm gonna ask you for one thing, and that's your readership. While most of my money comes from clients like companies and newspapers, building a strong personal site helps establish my brand, so every single time you read an article I post on thehownotto.blogspot.com or petrepan.blogspot.com, you're helping me feed my family. More importantly, you're helping me change the world with information and brightness--because that's why I write. I want to brighten the world, and I want to tell the truth, 'cuz that's what makes God happy, and I'll bet that's what you like to read, too. So please, if you can, follow me on twitter @petr3pan, and follow either my news blog or my fiction blog. I'll work hard to make it worth your while.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Author Learning Center Writing Tips

Just thought I'd throw this out there.

I got paid to blog a lot for the Author Learning Center last year, and you can subscribe to them to get advice from people much smarter than me about character development, scheduling and managing your writing time, freelancing, nontraditional publishing, and so on and so forth. If you'd like to see what I've written, go ahead and click here! Read everything from grammar tips to book cover design.
You have to sign up for a free trial, or they won't let you see past the descriptions of the articles. I'm not sure I'd stick around for more than a free trial, personally, since a lot of this information is available free on the web--but on the other hand, they've got some top industry professionals (editors and agents and stuff) who don't always come out of their busy-agent-editor-life-shells without the enticement of yummy green. Click click! Then you can draw your own conclusion.

Oh, one or two of the article descriptions have a few errors in them; I didn't write the descriptions so mmmleeeeeh (that's the sound of sticking out my tongue at you).

Have a lovely night, world! Tomorrow's the 3, 2, 1 pitch contest over at We-Do-Write. See you there.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Science Fiction and the Latino Audience--What's Up?

-->Stereotypes of Latinos don't usually include laserguns or the walking dead--I was hard-pressed in my pais amado Paraguay to find anyone who cared about my R2-D2 hat. Yet Latino sci fi fans have remotes and bookmarks at the ready, and businesses and film industries have begun to take heed. La Ultima Muerte, a futuristic medicine thriller, just hit theaters in Mexico a few months back, and should see limited release in the US on February 10th, according to IMDB. The new independent zombie movie Juan of the Dead, set in Cuba, made a large splash at a California film festival recently, and even as far back as 2003 we saw the release of an international Latino sci fi literature anthology. Hispanicbusiness.com recently jumped on the sci fi band-spaceship and provided coverage for the University of California's newest sci fi youtube program.

What about novels? In academia, Charles Ramirez-Berg theorized even as far back in 1990 that American sci fi affects or reflects changing views of Hispanics, but Latino authors haven't paid as much attention to niche science fiction. Sci-fi publishing giant Tor recently posted a blog by Brian Slattery lamenting this lack of Latino interest; he questions if the vacuum's driven by lack of industry support, as in many Southern and Central American nations, or market disinterest.

Blogger Rudy Garcia attributes the lack of Latino sci fi to shortage of science-knowledgable Latino authors--a shortage he thinks is due to the low number of Hispanic graduates in math and science. I wonder if the publishing industry has actually given many Latino authors the marketable option of science fiction in the first place. Many publishing house submission guidelines specifically target Latino writers, but want them to market themselves and their work as Latino-interest writing. I won't point out any agents or editors in particular, but sometimes the tone in calls for submission comes across as if publishers just want Hispanics as P.R. trophies to show off their own open-mindedness. Don't get me wrong: Latino cultural stories feed an essential need in US publishing, but sometimes publishers treat Hispanics (and other minorities, for that matter) as if a Latina can only write about amor and tacos dorados.

Yet one could argue that at this point in American history a Latino adult audience dealing with migrational changes needs culture-stories much more than he or she needs explosions in space. Some sci fi fans might argue it's a shame the Latino market doesn't adapt to science fiction, but I say there's no right or wrong in what genres we enjoy. Sure, the science fiction book industry wants in on Hispanic pocketbooks--Latinos now hold $1 trillion in US buying power, according to National Journal Statistics--but maybe it's the industry, not the market, that needs to change. Maybe the often extremist sexual and moral norms in much adult science fiction turn Latinos away. Latinos divorce less frequently than whites and blacks, and the Hispanic population in California voted 61% against gay marriage--that's not the population likely to buy a quantum penis or an alien three-some. Children's movie sci fi doesn't suffer from the same thematic controversies, and maybe enjoying a more tech-charged childhood ups the appeal of sci fi to the next generation. After all, Ben 10, the popular cartoon show about a boy who turns into different aliens to save the world, rakes in millions from its international audience of Latino kids. The future market for Latino sci fi might be those 8-11-year-olds still watching Cartoon Network. Will science fiction still appeal to them as they become teens and adults? It may depend on whether or not the sci fi industry adapts to their ideals. Or it may not.

Whatever the future of the Latino science fiction market, it's good to know I'm not the only one who wears robots on my head while I fold empanadas. What's your favorite sci fi movie/book/video game? Post in the comments below.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

#Twitrtales and Special Awards!

I'm a bit behind, and I apologize, but here are two new things going on around here.

1. #Twitrtales! I want to hone my sentences--squeeze them tighter, hotter--and I'm starting a story told on twitter. Each sentence must meet these two requirements:

    1) Moves plot forward and/or gives characterization. (No fluff!)
    2) Reads like a 'hook'; tells enough in one line to make sense alone, in a tweet.

You are welcome, of course, to try this idea out with me. I will be using the hashtag #twitrtales and reading everyone else's, too, if an "everyone else" exists! I'm only putting out one or two sentences a day to avoid spamtacular defeat and all that.
My twitter story starts:
        Tweet 2.          Tweet 3.
(I forgot to use the hashtag at first.)
(Yes, this is going to be a bit silly.)
Try it! Or follow me @petr3pan!
It's going to be a little jolted, because on twitter you don't have this ability to make the story 'flow' across sentences, but we'll see what happens!

2. A little bit ago the fabulous and sweet Joan Edwards nominated me for one of her 'Most Inspirational Blog' awards. I thought that was extremely kind (and unmerited), and I do not follow enough blogs to keep the chain going the way I ought, but I thought I'd send you over to her as a thank-you. She works hard to be one of the most positive writing cheerleaders I've ever heard of, and so I interviewed her about her own work on my blog a while back. So I nominate her back, for whatever its worth, as one of my Most Inspirational Blogs.


Very Inspiring Blog Award

 That is it for now! Next time there shall be snark.