Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Freedom to Practice My Religion or Forced Into Slavery? The Supreme Court Decides

Arguements in a monumental Supreme Court case are being held today that will affect my business. You see, I have no problem serving people across cultural and religious beliefs-as long as the job I am asked to do will not interfere with my own personal beliefs. That means I won't edit or write anything in support of Buddhism, Islam, or evolution. Despite the fact as a trained writer I can write, and write well, from any of those view points. The media and obviously those on the other side of the court case like to say I am discriminating by refusing to write certain things--but I don't refuse to work for anyone because of their beliefs. I refuse jobs.
The fact that it is the job I am refusing and not the person should be evident in that I also work as a dresser on the wardrobe crew for Broadway musicals that come through town. As a dresser, I consider myself a personal servant, of sorts, to the actors. Although I would never write an autobiography for anyone that glorifies their diverse religious beliefs and lifestyles, I would not think twice about reaching my hand into that same person's sweaty sock and turning it the right-side out to make it easier for him or her to put on the next time they need it.
A long time ago, this nation went to war. It went to war because it wanted to get rid of slavery. In a similar case where an employer attempted to force an employee to do something the employee did not want to do, the state of Indiana's Supreme Court ruled that forcing someone to do something against his or her beliefs is a form of slavery because you are forcing them to work for you. It was ruled that the employer could not force an employee to do anything. In other words, you can walk out and leave your job any time an employer asks you to do something you disagree with- why can't I have that same right? If you work in a restaurant that decides to become a strip bar, you cannot be compelled to continue working there if you don't want to do it.
As humans, we all have the right to pick our occupations. I can write blog posts, but as an independent business owner, I choose not to do it. Am I discriminating against bloggers? No. In the midst of all the media hype, please keep in mind this is not about discrimination, but about whether or not any free person can be forced to perform any job they are capable of doing.
Anyone who knows me knows that I will not accept any job that goes against my ethics. Period. I will continue to refuse jobs regardless of what the Supreme Court says because I have a higher Supreme Justice who is looking down on me. The importance of this case is that if the Supreme Court does not stand behind the baker, it will raise the insurance costs for writers and other independent business owners since they will be able to be sued for any project they refuse on "discrimination" grounds. It will bog down the legal system creating a myriad of similar cases. It will reinstate a form of slavery where writers and business operators can be compelled to perform any task they are capable of doing. A decision against the baker would also have me working out a plan to retire from freelancing as soon as possible. On the other hand, if the Supreme Court sides with the baker, I will be able to breathe easy knowing that I can continue to practice my religious beliefs free of persecution.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Writing quizzes. Part 2

So, after a month of writing quizzes, we had to enter them in to the quiz generator ourself, which made me discover I am working for a checkered employer because of all the advertising. However, entering the quizzes also took more time without extra pay.

Now, the whole idea (I guess) was to enter the quizzes directly and thus save time. But, this is bad on a number of levels. First, you don't have a record of your quiz. It is all saved on the employer's server. Although my work is solely the property of my employer, I need my records for several reasons. I must be able to see what I have already done so that if I need to create similar content, I don't accidentally write something that is the same. I also want proof that I have, in fact, written the work so that the employer can't say I didn't. If I have a time dated Word doc on my computer with the content, I can prove it was mine. I also want records so that if the employer accidentally deletes content, it is easy for me to return it to them (this has happened to me- over a year after finishing a project an employer contacted me to say the documents I sent had been deleted and did I happen to still have a copy of them). Finally, some legal things could come up. If I have to go to court, I want records of what I have done.

Now, in the case of my employer, they wanted us to edit our quizzes with Grammarly. I might be able to download the app into my browser, but I prefer cutting and pasting. It is easier than learning how to use a new tool that may or may not save me time (and that may or may not cost me time by slowing down my browser).

In addition, the website saving process is not all that stable. I did initially try just entering the quizzes, but not only was this bulky, but also I ended up losing at least one quiz and having to start again from scratch. Even a year later, saving is still quirky. It is never worth it to lose work. Saving and backing up is always important. External, small, jump/thumb/flash drives are very nice. Periodically saving important files to CD or other hard storage device (or even printing it out if you have enough room) is also good.

The bottom line was that not only did the employers make the jobs more time consuming (by about 20 minutes to 1 hour) but also they created problems with maintaining a copy. Even if I did not want a copy, it took longer to open and close each question, create new questions, and navigate in the quiz maker. I was disgruntled, but mainly I just chose fewer quizzes and did more outside work. But, quiz work was regular so I kept with it.

Note to employers: If you change the job and make it more difficult, please increase the pay. I am sure my employers lost many good freelancers because of this. I can also tell by the current batch of freelancers that many of them are okay, but definitely not the best.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Writing quizzes. Part I

Most of my freelance work for over a year now has been writing those stupid online Facebook quizzes. Although sometimes it can be enjoyable, in general, I hate it. Now, I could write personality quizzes, but I refuse to stoop to writing "What kind of pizza are you?" I would not be able to respect myself in the morning if I did. I like to think my knowledge quizzes are educational, challenging, and fun, but I must admit my employer (whom will remain anonymous) is new and not the greatest.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to share my experiences. When I first started writing, it was relatively easy. I would write the quiz in a Word document and submit it to my employer. I was paid well per quiz, there was a list of hundreds of topics to choose from, and I could ask obscure questions that made writing the quizzes easier (but taking them very difficult). My only complaint was that most of the quizzes were based on old television shows that could be difficult to find. (And since I am probably one of the few complaining eternal optimists that are in existence for me to find little to complain about says a lot.)

Within a month, there was a change. No additional pay was offered, but we were required to enter the quizzes into the generator ourselves. This was distasteful to me on several levels. First, I found out who I was working for and they had a checkered past- mostly fraught with building websites that contained an overabundance of advertising. But unlike Sporcle (where the quizzes are created by users and not paid for but excessive advertising still exists), they at least paid the content creators for their work. Don't get me wrong, I like Sporcle and have a free account on it, and I will some day create quizzes for them (when I don't feel it will be a conflict of interest), but they have a ton of ads now (as opposed to when I first started taking quizzes there) and the people making the quizzes don't get paid to the best of my knowledge. A little targeted advertising, okay, a ton-bad form in my opinion. 

Anyway, I am working for a quiz website that has a horrible amount of advertising on it. So much that it can interfere with your ability to take the quiz. Why do marketers think this is helpful? It is easy to find in our online society today, but it is not going to improve your sales. First, I think most people are exposed to so much advertising that they are becoming numb to it. Second, most of the advertising is driving by cookies that tell you where I have been. That means if I just bought a Peppa pig playset, I am going to be seeing a ton of ads for one. How silly is that? Do I really need more than one Peppa Pig playsets? No. And I most certainly am not going to encourage my daughter to have more than one either. Lesson: if you are building a website to advertise your book or your whatever, don't overdo it. I think statistically, you should do about 10% of self-promotion and the rest should be interesting, useful content.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

BAD TEACHER!

The latest trend in education is to tell middle schoolers and high school students to include a "thesis statement" in their work. This disgusts me every time I see it because (1)a middle school or high school student does not have the writing capability to create a true thesis statement and (2)students are being incorrectly taught that a "main idea" or "topic sentence" is a "thesis statement."

A true thesis statement reflects the highest order of thinking: synthesis and evaluation. This kind of thinking cannot occur until around the second year in college and for some people, they may never be able to achieve it. However, everyone in graduate school should be able to do this.

When we tell 12-year olds they have created a "thesis sentence" simply because it sounds good and advanced, we are lying to them. All they are doing is writing a topic sentence. Consider the following:

I liked reading the book Charlotte's Web because I love animals. (Not a thesis sentence but a good topic sentence. This sentence tells you what this girl or boy will focus on in their report, and that focus is age appropriate- it relates something in the book to something important in their lives. There are NO abstract concepts and judgments about what the book is really saying. The remainder of the paper would have examples that may include some quotations. The quotations should be cited but the examples will probably not be cited at all.)

Charlotte's Web delves deeply into the interpersonal relationships of childhood and how those relationships change as children mature into adults. (Thesis sentence. This sentence not only summarizes abstract concepts in the book but makes a judgement about what the book is really trying to say. The remainder of this person's paper should defend his or her point of view using cited quotations or cited examples from the book and OTHER RESEARCH SOURCES and show that the book really is about interpersonal relationships and the way they change as children mature.)

You show me a 12-year old or even a 16-year old who can write the second one, and I will show you a child who has plagiarized or hired a college student to write their paper for them.

Now, someone will say, "Ah, but the first person is making a judgement. That person 'likes' the book." Saying you like something because it appeals to you is NOT a judgment. I can like Wolverine because he is "cool." Making a judgment would be stating whether or not his use of violence is justified. If I like Wolverine because he is "cool" nothing you write or say is going to influence my opinion. You can't make a valid point against me because Wolverine is certainly popular, and "cool" is completely subjective. Even if you don't think he is cool, I do, and therefore, you just saying he isn't cool and perhaps supporting it with some statistics is not going to cause me to rethink my belief. If, on the other hand, I think Wolverine's violence is not justified, you then have to think about the points I made supporting my argument and decide whether or not I am correct. If I am not correct, you can form a rebuttal with your own points. That is what a thesis sentence is about: it is my hypothesis and there is evidence to back it up but you must be able to prove or disprove it. Statements that cannot be proven or disproven, such as "I like toys" are not thesis statements.

What this is really about is people doing work for others. I am a ghostwriter (although I try to stick to editing at this point in my career simply because of economics and the difficulty of screening assignments to ensure they are NOT someone's schoolwork). I get that most people need a scribe to write for them even in this day and age-especially if they want effective writing. I don't know why people in education feel everyone can and should write well. After all, I think it would be useful to be able to perform hernia surgeries, but I don't think everyone should do it.

When we force our children to be perfect or to do things beyond their developmental ability, all we are doing is forcing them to cheat in order to survive. This is commonplace in other countries. It is so bad that children in India, for example, take "communal" tests while ADULTS pass them the answers through the windows. Why? Because they obviously set their standards above what teachers can teach them. These kids haven't achieved and neither have our kids! However, the system says they must do work that is beyond them.

It is important to teach children to write TOPIC SENTENCES. You cannot get to higher levels of writing until you can write simple reports and paragraphs. Both should contain topic sentences. Being able to simply state the main idea of what you are writing about, to not plagiarize, and to create a paragraph with natural transitions is ALL students need to know by the time they graduate high school. If you have an advanced senior writing class, you might touch on developing a thesis statement but make sure that is what it really is.

My children have been asked time and again to write "thesis sentences" in public and private schools. They write "topic sentences" and return with good grades. Either the teacher needs to go back to school and learn what a thesis sentence is, or we need to stop lying to our kids. I tend to think it is the teachers who are confused because they frequently ask questions they want answered in the paper and these are not conducive to creating a true thesis sentence. Many times they involve personal opinions. I can tell you which parts of a book I like or which parts were meaningful to me, but I can't do that in a paper where I am trying to prove a logical point.

If you are a professional writer, you better know the difference, too. At my level, you should be able to spit a thesis sentence out any time you want to write a blog about one. If you are not a professional writer and have kids, look at their homework assignments this year. I challenge you to inform the teacher they are misusing the term "thesis statement" and ask them to change it back to "topic sentence." Refer them here if they don't believe you.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lessons in Grammar: Part I the Comma

The biggest problem with commas is that for some reason (usually in grade school) teachers tell children they are used whenever you want a pause in a sentence. This is simply not true. Usually, people end up creating comma splices when they drop commas wherever they feel they need a "pause."

Although there are many rules regarding commas, modern style guides are in the "less is more" mode especially when it comes to commas. There are a few places where it is necessary to use a comma and these should be the only places beginning writers should attempt to use them:

FANBOYS: When you begin a sentence with certain words like "For," "But," "So," etc., you need a comma. When you begin a sentence with a dependent clause, (like this sentence) you also need a comma. What in the world is a dependent clause? One that is not a sentence. I am not an English teacher, so to break it down further than Internet-speak would be rather difficult. The best I can do is give you some examples:

Patricia, what are you doing?
If I go to the store, should I get some milk?
So, you think you want to be a star?

The second place you need commas is when you are using one of those FANBOYS to connect two sentences together:

I wanted to eat out, so I decided to stop at McDonalds.
You shouldn't eat out so much.

The first sentence is actually two sentences. If I removed the comma and the word "so," I could make them two sentences. However, I chose to squish them together. The second sentence is not really two sentences squished together. It is only one sentence, and the word "so" is functioning as an adverb. Therefore, you don't need and shouldn't use a comma.

The trickiest part of grammar comes when some  things can go either way.

I bought a candle, a tablecloth, and some spaghetti.
I bought a candle, a tablecloth and some spaghetti.

Which is correct? Both are. When it comes to serial commas, you are delving into a gray area of grammar. In this case, if you believe the first sentence is better (like me), you are following the APA style guide (among others). If you like the second sentence, you are following Chicago style. The problem is generally not which method you choose, but the biggest problem tends to be consistency. If you choose the first example, you should ALWAYS use the comma before "and." Also, you need to make sure your editor knows you prefer serial commas.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How to Hire a Good Freelancer on Freelancer Websites Like Guru (Part 2)

Once you have posted, how do you pick a freelancer? Well, there are a lot of freelancers out there and there are also a lot of salesmen and then there are a lot of people who need money and don't have a clue about either. You need to learn to tell the difference. I can't tell you how many times I have looked on a freelancer profile and they are bragging about how they did this or that. When you check, you can't find their name (and sometimes you can't find the project they say they worked on) anywhere. You don't know if it was done as ghostwritten work or not. Their bid may be from a template (which doesn't necessarily mean they are bad) and their work posted may be plagiarized. How can you tell which freelancer to hire?

The first thing you should do is look at their posted profile (not how much they said they would charge). This is their resume. On every profile, there will be feedback (unless they are new). If there is no feedback, they could still be a good freelancer, but this means you are taking more of a chance. A freelancer with no feedback should expect to get paid much less than a freelancer with years of feedback. If the freelancer only has a couple of feedback posts, they are newer at freelancing (at least on that website) and should have 4-5 stars in everything. Freelancers with a longer history may have a few lower reviews. If all the reviews (or most of them) say the same thing, chances are good that is how the freelancer is. Can you live with a freelancer like that?

The more work samples they have to post, the more things they have done. Do you like their samples? When you look at their profile, do you think they have a good representation of the work you are looking for? For example, say you need someone to design a webpage for you and you go on their profile and see only samples and information about designing clothes with nothing about website design. That is probably not the freelancer for you.

If there profile is not set up, even with good feedback, that is a warning sign. People who freelance for a living take the time to add samples and make their profiles look nice. Again, you can find a good freelancer with no work samples, a poorly set up profile, and no feedback, but you are taking a risk. If your goal is to hire a good freelancer, you should toss any that don't meet this criteria. Now, if a freelancer claims to be working for years on another website, this person should have a ton of work samples to show you. They should be able to send you a message with a link to the other website profile on it to back this up.

Some freelancer websites also offer proficiency tests and the freelancers can post their scores on their profile. How do their scores compare to others on the same website?

Once you have screened out any candidates with the above, put their name into a search engine. Most freelance work is done under NDAs or ghostwritten, but established freelancers should have other work out there. Do they have a book on Amazon? Check to see if it was traditionally published or self-published. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing (or even vanity presses)- as long as the freelancer isn't trying to pass it off as traditional publishing (i.e. that freelancer started his or her own publishing company and then used CreateSpace or Kindle or Nook and published it). If you haven't heard of the publisher, you can do a web search on them(unless the freelancer told you they were self-published). Be wary of a freelancer publishing under another name with no way to link that name to his or her real name. Also, be wary of freelancers trying to get you to go against the website's terms of service (for example, if they bid under $25 on Guru or if they try to get you to pay them offsite).

After all this, you should have narrowed the applicants down. The next step is to ask the remaining freelancers a question about the project. How they answer the question should let you know how familiar they are with the project premise and also how well they communicate. Can you deal with their communication style? If not, toss them from the pile. Be careful that they are really answering your question and not responding with fluff and salespeak. Not communicating in clear English should not necessarily toss the candidate out (unless you are trying to hire someone to write in clear English for you). However, you should be able to understand the candidate.

Once you have gone through all this, now you can look at their bid. Unless you were extremely vague in your project description, the freelancer should tell you about how long they think it would take them to do a project as described and about how much they would charge to do this project. They should also outline what they will do that sets them above the rest. Did they send a sample of a project similar to yours- this should be looked at as a bonus (although because of NDAs and ghostwriting a freelancer may not have a sample of the right kind of work or even be able to tell you where they worked on something similar). Now you can compare the freelancers you prefer.

Why go through all this to find a good freelancer? Because once you have found one, you can return to him/her whenever you need that kind of work (and potentially other work if they have it listed on his/her profile). You can build a team. Most freelancers prefer working with regular employers and working with a freelancer repeatedly means you no longer have to go through this process because you already know you work well together.

Monday, May 1, 2017

How to Hire a Good Freelancer on Freelancer Websites Like Guru (Part 1)

If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know that I not only have my self-publishing work (Dreaming Reality Publications), but also work as a freelancer on Guru (Paradoxical). The purpose of this blog is to talk (and vent) about my freelancing jobs as well as offer advice to other freelancers and self-publishers. However, it recently dawned on me that most freelancers complain they don't like working on freelancer websites like Upwork (previously Odesk and elance) or Guru. The reason is they feel they are too competitive and most of the work goes to people living in third world countries. On the flip side, most people who want to hire freelancers also complain that there isn't any quality workers on these websites.

Now, I have done both sides of the coin on Guru. Sal and The Corruption both needed illustrators. Sal also had a page formatter because it was my first children's book, and then there are editors. Occasionally, I have worked on a job where they wanted me to find an illustrator for their cover art for them.

I would have to say, yes, I get cruddy employers sometimes, and, yes, I sometimes get paid less than I would like to make (or less than I am worth), but overall, I like working on Guru and I like most of my employers. As far as hiring goes- I have only had one freelancer that I did not pay and I asked for a full SafePay refund. This person did not do a good translation into Chinese for Sal and the Chinese editor I hired caught it. Since I hired two editors and both flagged this person as not know what she was doing, I think they were right. I don't read much Chinese, so someday when I am retired and learn more, my opinion might change. Right now I am satisfied.

So, how do you find a "Good" freelancer? First, you have to think about your job. You need to know how much you can afford to pay the freelancer to do the job. What is your maximum budget? Now, think about your work. How long would it take you to do the work yourself. If you started a book and just don't have enough time to finish it, how many hours did you put in? How many pages did you get done? How many pages do you think the book should be? If it is an editing job, go through and do a spell check. See how long it takes MS Word to check your paper and then multiply that by 10.

Once you have really thought about your project, how much you can spend, and how much time you think it is going to take (based on how much time it would take you to do it), then you can get an idea of what kind of freelancer you can hire. Do the math. If you can only afford to pay $5 or less per hour, you need to find a freelancer that could make that much and live on it in their geographical location. Note: Freelancers in developed nations will need a minimum of $10-$20 per hour. A good freelancer can live in a third world country- but don't expect them to give you perfect English. If you look at my slop-shod blog posts and turn your nose up because they need better editing- you probably won't be happy with a third world freelancer. Also, keep in mind that better freelancers don't want to just scrape by in the country of their choice. You can look in plenty of manuals to find out the average cost freelancers charge to do your job, too. That perfect English writer living in Malaysia is going to want to make a little more than $3/hr he or she will need to support himself or herself. You need to be realistic about what you can afford and then figure out how to make that work- or just don't post the job.

Once you have thought about how much it is going to cost and what you can afford, you need to post a specific job. "Editing job: Need some editing done" is not a good job post. You need to tell the freelancer up front how much you can afford and then tell them a little (no more than 5 sentences) of your story- why you want this done. Most freelancers want to connect with the project in some way and this will help them. Then you need to outline exactly what it is you want done- you may have to look up the terminology to do this. Do you want someone to format your book? Do you want someone to proofread your book (formatting and last round of editing)? Do you need a ghostwriter or will the author get credit? You need to know what you want before you post it. If you have a sample of the work (don't post the whole thing), you should include it. Again, all these things help the freelancer decide if you are going to be a good fit.

Hiring the right freelancer begins with knowing exactly what you want. If you are vague and the freelancer guesses wrong, it will lead to dissatisfaction on both sides.

Updated note: If you are hiring a freelancer because you want them to write an e-book from scratch that you can post on Amazon and it will be an immediate bestseller, you might as well expect disappointment now. If it were that easy (as plenty of others claim it is), then the freelancer would not be offering their services. They would instead be a famous e-book author. Selling books on Amazon requires good writing (which is expensive), good formatting and layout (which can be expensive), and good marketing (which is even more expensive). No single freelancer is going to be able to do all these jobs effectively for you because if they could, why wouldn't they just do them for themselves and make the money themselves?

If you want people to buy your books and keep buying your books, you have to devote time and money to doing it - in addition to hiring good freelancers. Because I have not found anyone willing to pay me the amount it takes (about $6000) to write an average-sized (60,000 word or about 250 double spaced pages) fiction book nor does anyone seem to want to give freelancers the time (around four to six months) to do this when they post Guru projects, I have no desire to write anyone else's book. This is especially true when job posters want me to come up with the idea as well as write it.