Monday, March 19, 2018

Why hasn't that publisher gotten back with me?

Freelancing works two ways. One way is a freelancer like myself. We bid on jobs and do them if we are hired. In general, we are ghostwriters and do not get our names on the work. The other way is similar to traditional publishing. The freelancer writes something and then sends it in to websites or magazines and attempts to sell it. This way, the freelancer usually gets a byline. The second way is more risky, but also can pay more. In general, the work is done or mostly done the second way. This means wasted time if you don't sell it. It also means you reduce deadline stress. In exchange, you get acceptance stress. I recently read this blog article on why freelancers don't hear back. This post applies to not only freelancers travelling the traditional publishing route, but also applies to writers who do not self-publish but are trying to go through traditional means.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Which freelancer should I hire?

Most employers want quality work done quickly. They frequently state they will pay whatever price, but they, of course, will go with the cheapest bidder after a review that weeds out unacceptable candidates. I am not talking about employers who want the cheapest bid and who will hire whomever is lowest--frequently choosing more risky new freelancers instead of established ones. This post is for employers who truly want quality freelancers the first time.

So, you posted a job and now have 45 bids. How do you pick? First, you probably throw out any generic bid you find, right? Uh, wrong. You see, every freelancer should read your project post in depth and insert that little keyword you embedded in it at the top of their post ("If you read this, begin your bid with the word 'Fluffy' so I know you were paying attention"), they should then thoughtfully and carefully respond. In the world of freelance, this doesn't work. If you want to hire a freelancer that is in high demand, you have to accept some canned bids. 

For whatever reason, employers are completely turned off by cut and paste freelancer bids. But the fact of the matter is that although you posted one job (and might post another a week or month in the future if you have a good experience), the freelancer needs to read through an average of 20-40 jobs each day (and maybe bid on 1-3) in order to survive in our non-permanent employment world. There have been days when I have gone through more than 100 jobs. After reading 100 jobs it is easy to miss "Fluffy" in one. That doesn't mean I didn't read your job or that I didn't think I would be a good fit for it. There were probably 20 others that I didn't take time to bid on because they were not in my skill range or they were things I didn't want to do. Since I have to balance looking for my next job with working on the job I have, I don't have ten hours to spend job hunting and crafting unique bids each day. I also want to give you a well-edited, well-written bid because I am selling my writing skills. So, I have a basic bid script. I go through and update this (sometimes imperfectly- forgetting to add in "Fluffy" or saying I attached editing samples instead of writing samples). This basic bid not only saves me time, but ensures you get the best presentation of my work. Now, there is no way you would know that I use a generic bid unless I miss changing a word or unless I bid on two jobs you have posted. Good writing freelancers can craft a good, base bid without too much canned, but I have to stress that even a recognizably canned response should not automatically disqualify the freelancer. 

The first thing you SHOULD look at is price. Can you honestly afford to pay that freelancer? If you can't, those should be the first bids kicked out. 

The next thing you should look at is not the bid, but the freelancer's profile (and/or samples). These should be immaculate. If you are not good with spelling and grammar and you are hiring an editor, you need someone else to help you. Never hire a freelancer with a misspelled word in a bid or on a posted profile to do your editing. Minor typos happen (missed comma, etc.) but misspelled words (truly misspelled and not correctly spelled in an alternate way) show up in red everywhere when you are typing. There is no reason for a freelancer to miss those. Excessive grammar errors, freelancers who do not write with a professional voice, and freelancers who only have a couple samples that don't apply to your job in general (as long as they don't specialize in a niche known for NDAs), are further warning signs. 

Never hire a freelancer to do your translating if his or her profile only talks about computer programming. But... but... I need a Hindi translator, and he lives in Mumbai! Surely he knows Hindi even if he specializes in computer programming. Plus he is really cheap! You could be right. The problem is that even if this person speaks two languages, he does not specialize in translation. He may have never translated before in his life until he saw your post and created a sample for you. He could have pulled the sample off another website and you would never know. Yes, a person with translation posted as one of their skills could do the same, but it is less likely. They went to the time and effort to put a skill profile together, so they at least planned to work in that area. In the case of the Indian computer programmer, you have someone who probably could not find work as a programmer now trying to get any job they can. 

For example, I am currently drywalling my basement. I have the ability to do so, but I am not a professional. I have done a total of four drywall jobs in my lifetime. I could drywall your basement, and if I were desperate for a job, I might apply to do it, but I take ten times longer than a professional. I am working with limited tools and so there will be a lot more drywall dust and waste than if you hired a pro. In the long run, it would cost you more because you have to pay my salary too. It is cheaper for me to do the labor on my basement, but I know there will be little areas that are going to be rough when I am done. If you pay me to drywall your basement, you would probably not be happy with this. 

While we are talking about mismatched profiles, I have said this before, but another big elimination reason is a blank profile. If someone posts a profile that is blank (or nearly blank compared to others) you are dealing with a new freelancer. In addition, this is not a new freelancer who really wants to get a job and is working to create an immaculate portfolio. This is a freelancer who doesn't want to commit the time and effort into making a profile. It is like showing up to court in pajamas

Finally, toss out freelancers with a positive rating below 90% on Guru. I have said this before in my freelancer version of this topic: It used to be that Guru allowed you to dismiss 10% of your negative feedback. It no longer does this and 100% positive ratings have (naturally) been plummeting. 10% is a good amount to prevent freelancers and employers from using feedback for blackmail. In my lifetime I have deleted the feedback of about 3 employers. Considering I have worked for at least 100, that is not too bad. Without the feedback deletion, the same rules should be applied: 90% (and above) positive feedback is good. The flip side is that once it falls below this (and the freelancer is already established with more than one or two paid jobs), there is something wrong with the freelancers' work. On the hiring side, though, it gets a little more complex. For whatever reason, businesses leave much less feedback than freelancers. You might have a freelancer who has worked five or six jobs without feedback.

After making all these eliminations, you need to look at the freelancer samples that they direct you to read. These samples should show at least one of the following: The freelancer is well-versed in a variety of projects and although they did not provide an exact match of something that you wanted, they would be a good fit, or they gave you a sample of something you wanted exactly. If the latter is the case, let them know that specific sample is exactly what you want and they should be able to recreate it for your project.

Once you have finished the elimination process, then you can choose the lowest bidder. If you find yourself with no freelancers left to choose from that means you need to find a way to pay more for your project or you are going to have to choose a new freelancer and accept the risk that goes with that. New freelancers should have complete profiles. (By complete I mean that they have written some sort of introduction, have basic terms of service listed, such as I don't work weekends or I am available 24 hours a day, and have a list of skills and experience in those areas.) New freelancers will have little or no feedback. They may have some glaring typos on their page, but not too many (if they have a lot of feedback and typos that means they are not new.) They also may only have a few samples that probably don't apply to your project and might not have any samples at all. Not having a sample related to your project is different from not posting a skill related to your project at all. They should have some sort of profile image uploaded as well, but new freelancers might not have this. In my opinion, it is better to pick a new freelancer building a profile than an old freelancer with poor skills if you can't afford to have the project done by an established professional.

The hardest freelancers to hire are those who edit (especially when the person hiring them doesn't know anything about editing or grammar). There are a variety of style manuals and so one editor could mark something differently than another simply because they are both using different manuals. This means both editors are correct. However, there are certain things (such as using a comma and "and" to separate two independent clauses) that should always be marked. If you have an editing project, it is best to have a manual in mind and know a little about it. If you can ask brief questions about what the editor would do in certain situations this can help. Another good way to screen editors is to ask them which style manual/guide they prefer or which ones with which they are familiar. Ask if they track changes. Good editors will be familiar with at least one of the style manuals (APA, AP, Chicago, MLA, Harvard, IEEE, etc.) and the track changes feature. Also, keep in mind that an editor is there to help you improve your writing. If an editor has tons of feedback stating that he or she was fast and loved the book/ paper/etc., chances are good that editor was really the MS Word spell check. Editing takes time- especially developmental editing. I generally find 30-70 mistakes per page my first time through. The only time an editor might send something back with only a few marks is if it is the second or third time it has been edited. It takes about 3-4 different editors (or long breaks between edits with the same person) to ensure a polished work.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Plagiarism vs. Copyright

When you are writing and you are citing other people to support your thesis, you can cite in-text, with footnotes, or with endnotes. How you cite usually depends on your publisher. However, in that case, the document you are creating is something that is yours, and you are just using what others have researched to support your work. A citation is required whether you are directly quoting someone else or whether you are paraphrasing them. If you are directly quoting someone in your work, you must include quotation marks (as well as the citation) and you also cannot change even one misspelled word (as a general rule-- it would require a whole post to explain all the nuances so it is best to just stick to this rule of thumb). Not citing others is plagiarism.

In addition, as long as you cite others, you are reporting "facts." So, although The Da Vinci Code would have been considered plagiarism if it had been a work of non-fiction (because it didn't cite its source), since the book took plot lines from another book that purported to be non-fiction (instead of fiction), Mr. Brown was not convicted of plagiarism. Had both books been fiction, Mr. Brown probably would have had to pay the original authors for the rest of his life because of the copyright infringement.

(Plagiarism is using someone else's work and not including a citation. Copyright infringements occur when you don't get permission to use someone else's work, and this is why so many Youtubers get their videos taken down. If you are using a part of someone else's publicly posted work for educational reasons-like teaching children numbers and you don't add commercials into your video so you can make money- you are usually okay. If you are pasting an entire movie online when it doesn't already have free public access and adding in a few commercials or ads without getting permission from the copyright holder, you are definitely not okay.)

One problem with poetry and songs is that they tend to be short. In general (and I am not a copyright lawyer so please check with someone who is), 70% of anything you write needs to be yours or you cannot copyright it. In other words, you don't own it. Now, reverse that- if you are borrowing from something and you take 35% of it, you have plagiarized even if you do include a citation. In fact, if you use more than 500 verses of the NIV Bible in your book, you are breaking copyright law unless you obtain permission.

Unfortunately, the word "plagiarism" is thrown around to mean true plagiarism (not citing your source in an academic non-fiction work); copyright infringement (using someone else's work without permission); and cheating (turning in schoolwork that you did not do and claiming to have done it). These are three specific issues that need to be addressed in academic and other literary areas. They especially need to be addressed at the high school level. Many teens are accused of plagiarism when they either did not actually commit that crime or they were never taught what is acceptable and what is not.