There's always someone in the world wide web who will sell something at a loss to get your business.The "pay less online" movement has encroached on my territory – writing – and the only thing "at a loss" is me — I'm at a loss for words that writers will trade their precious, $1.00 words for mere pennies.Companies on the net like Elance and Odesk
keep a stable of writers, waiting to be assigned to your project — and waiting to be paid next to nothing to do it.Mostly based in the United States or elsewhere, these companies seemed far removed from me. And then Crowd Content launched in Victoria, B.C. in 2012.
And that hit close to home.Because it's a local company, I looked into it; plus, someone I had done work for said it was a great opportunity for writers. If it was a good fit, I thought I might submit my name to join their stable.It turns out, their stable is more of a barn. And it's haunted.This article
in the Victoria Times Colonist
newspaper indicated to me that Crowd Content's lowest-tier writers (ranked according to experience and feedback) are paid 2.2 cents a word
(I checked this stat on their website — it's true). Lest you think their top-tier writers must be around the $1.00/word mark, you know, because they are expected to turn out at least a few one dollar words per project, you would be – as I was – mistaken.Their top-ranked, best available writers are paid 12 cents per word.
Let's do some math:
For a 600-word piece, which, based on my own experience, would take 4-6 hours to complete, not counting research, interviews, and transcriptions, a top writer with Crowd Content can expect to be paid $72.
On the lower end of the scale, a lower-ranked writer can expect $13.20.
I have no words. Not $1.00 ones, and not 2.2 cent ones.
A journalist acquaintance of mine who is out of work at the moment, looked into working for Crowd Content. But nothing has "worked out," he said. Every article that has come his way pays around the $3.00 mark — and the long distance phone call he'd have to make to complete the assignment would cost more than the return. And yet, according to this article
, Crowd Content has 400 writers in its stable, with 350 on the waiting list.I know what Charlotte would be spinning in her web if she were in that stable: WTF.If the writers at Crowd Content, Elance, Odesk, and other such services are happy with the return on their output, I commend them and hope they continue to be motivated to write their very best, cent by cent.
On the other hand, if they are unhappy, here's some encouragement: there are companies and organizations who pay good writers a respectful and earnest wage. They are out there, and they will value what you bring to the table.
So come on out of the barn — you'll be eating roast beef before you know it.
One of the best things about being a writer is getting to meet and interview people doing fascinating things.It's important to show up to interviews prepared, with knowledge of your subject and an idea of what questions to ask, but it's also imperative you are on your best, professional behaviour
— because your interview subject is interviewing you, too!If you aren't at the apex of your writing career, then chances are your interview subject is better connected than you are, and that means if you do a good job in the interview, you could earn another writing opportunity.I have two examples to share:1. Alex Van Tol — authorWhen I was first starting out as a freelancer, I met young adult author Alex Van Tol
at a book launch. She told me the story of how she moved into fiction writing: it all started in an interview she was doing for a magazine article. She was interviewing a local book publisher at Orca Books
in Victoria, B.C., and her interviewee said, "Have you ever tried writing a novel? Why don't you give it a shot?"She did, and has now published
six books with Orca and has more on the way. Wow!2. Jessica Woollard — me!The lesson I learned from Alex is that you never know when an interviewee can change your life or give you an amazing opportunity.I was recently interviewing actor Casey Austin for a blog post for Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre's production of Uncle Vanya (read the post here). Because Casey is the co-founder of the Rifflandia Festival
, I asked her questions about working in both the music and theatre industries. We chatted a bit about some great bands that played at Rifflandia in the past, and how I was anticipating the 2013 lineup announcement.A day after the interview, I received an email from Casey inviting me to join the team of writers for the 2013 Rifflandia Festival! Just like that, I will be writing about USS, Hannah Georgas, and Stars.And who knows where writing for Rifflandia might take me?In this business, you have the opportunity to make a lasting impression on people with a large network. Don't blow it! Prepare, be polite and
professional, and you never know what opportunity will come your way.
Article title page, Wilfrid Laurier Campus Magazine, Spring 2013.
Printed newspapers around the world might be floundering, but glossy magazines have retained their popularity and continue to attract a new audience.
The trouble with writing for a lifestyle magazine is you only reach a limited audience with every article: decorating divas one month, swashbuckling sailors the next. Rarely both.
As writers, we always want to expand our audience. The more people who read our work, the more opportunities will present themselves.
Alumni magazines for universities, colleges, and even high schools are the ideal fodder for writers looking to reach a broad audience of decorators, sailors, nurses, accountants, CEOs, and electricians.
When you write a profile for an alumni magazine, you aren't limited by subject matter when pitching stories; all you need is to find a story-worthy person. Their background can - and should - be unique, interesting. Once you've found a subject, find out which university she attended, and voila! There may even be a few magazine options open to you; if the person went to a high school with a magazine or attended several universities, pitch to each school.
The first person whose story I pitched to an alumni magazine was Melissa Schaak, a violinist I knew growing up. Melissa's career had steered her in a fascinating direction: she is a "show violinist" with the Exclusive Strings Quartet
, based in Belgium. Now that's a story I want to read (and write) about!
What's a show violinist? How did she get to Belgium? Read the article in Wilfrid Laurier's Campus Magazine
to find out!If you're wondering if alumni magazines pay their writers, the answer is YES (or the ones I have written for, anyway)
. Like with any writing job, make sure you negotiate a contract in advance so there are no surprises.
Alumni magazines offer you a great opportunity to get your writing out to a broad audience. Who knows, your article might be read by another magazine editor or a CEO of a company looking for your skill set.
Another advantage is that alumni magazine editors are not bombarded with story pitches like editors of glossy magazines. You are more likely to get a response with feedback on your pitch and what you can improve for next time.
Find your story subject, and then start pitching university/college magazines. You'll be glad you did.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. WhiteThis book should be regular, required reading for everyone, whether you are a student, copywriter, civil servant, or car mechanic, or you Tweet or Facebook. The tips in this short book will improve written
communication, and everyone can benefit from that.Originally written by William Strunk Jr., then edited decades later by Strunk's former Cornell University student, Charlotte's Web author E.B. White
, The Elements of Style
is written (as it should be) in clear, concise English and says all it needs to in 85 pages.
Surely everyone can read an 85-page style book every year or two?Not only should its length make it easy to pick up for a regular refresher, its light, matter-of-fact tone makes it an
enjoyable book to read.
For those who dare to write clear, effective prose, here is why I recommend The Elements of Style
:I. His section on Elementary Rules of Usage covers writing basics that are prone to cause office arguments. Do we use the Oxford comma or not? How should we use
dashes — properly and effectively? Is it Charles's friend or Charles' friend? (P.S.: "It's Charles's friend!")One thing that makes this section difficult to understand at times is the authors' use of proper grammatical terms. I consider myself a grammarian (please be gentle when commenting and pointing out all the mistakes I've made in this post), but there are some
terms, like "appositive" and "gerund," whose definitions I need to read over and over again to understand them. As native speakers of English, we don't always know what elements of our language are called. Thankfully, there's a glossary of terms for reference, although I did find myself heading to Google for further clarification.II.
Section 2, Elementary Principles of Composition
, is where you learn to place words in the best order to make your point. This section covers everything from structuring sentences with the strongest words at the end, to omitting needless words (e.g. "The fact that" is never necessary in sentence), to keeping related words together (especially subject and verb).III. Section 4, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused,
was illuminating. If you read only one section, read this one. You will be aghast at the words you misuse regularly, but will be glad to have these errors corrected before you are haunted by the ghost of Strunk. This section is also one of the funniest. Strunk does not hide his judgment of bad language:E.g. "Certainly
- Used indiscriminately by some speakers much as others use very
in an attempt to intensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing." Hilarious! Can you imagine the comments he wrote on his students' essays?IV. The final section, An Approach to Style, is where the book falls short for writers training to become the next Dickens. The advice in the other sections can be immediately applied to your writing; if you follow it, you will notice immediate improvements. The last section attempts to help elevate your writing, to make it art, but of course, art cannot be learned in a book.
However, you will enjoy doing a close reading of famous one-liners, trying to determine what makes the authored line more powerful than versions that communicate the same message, but without flair or staying-power.E.g. These are the times that try men's souls. — Thomas PaineHow does the above sentence compare to
The answer: they do not compare. Paine got it right.I like to remind myself that celebrated writers like Thomas Paine
- Times like these try men's souls.
- How trying it is to live in these times!
- These are trying times for men's souls.
- Soulwise, these are trying times?
had to start somewhere. Perhaps he was born with a gift for syntax and perhaps you and I aren't, but at the very least, I believe clear, effective writing can be taught — and The Elements of Style
will help you learn it.
Whether you're in a book club or you enjoy chatting over a cup of Earl Grey about the book on your bedside table, you've probably, at some point, read a book someone has recommended.
Maybe it was your high school English teacher forcing you to read a 1000-page Dickens classic, or your mom buying you a "7 Steps to a Highly Inspired Future" self help sizzler. Either way, most of us enjoy sharing our thoughts on books, and also enjoy hearing about a book someone else is reading.That's why I think the English Department of the University of Victoria
chose the best way to celebrate their 50-year anniversary: by asking 50 special friends of the department to share their favourite book on the "50 Special Books
While I was a student of English Literature, first at Laurentian University in my undergrad, and later at UVic in the graduate program, the focus on writing, analyzing, and researching, not to mention reading multiple texts at the same time, sometimes overshadowed what drove me to study post-secondary English Literature in the first place: a love of reading.The English Department's celebration of reading reminded me – and all in attendance at this evening's website launch – that we were all called to study English first and foremost because we love books.I was truly honoured to have been selected to share with the Department – and the world – a book that has meant something special to me. I chose Canadian writer George Elliott Clarke's unique novel, Whylah Falls.In the write-up I submitted to the 50 Special Books site
, you can read at what time in my life I read the book and what one line in it means to me (“Numbers reveal truth. Words always have something to hide.”). But what you can't read is why I chose the book.Here's why:To the best of my remembrance, Whylah Falls
is the first book I read by a black Canadian writer. I studied black American literature extensively in university, but never black Canadian. The book introduced me to an entire new culture in my country, a new community and experience. Many in the book are sad experiences, but many are joyful and full of love, family, and music.The book remains to this day the most beautiful piece of writing I have ever held in my two hands. Clarke plays with words in a way I had never experienced. If you thought there couldn't possibly be any way for a writer to string together words in a new, never-seen order, give this book a try. You'll be amazed at what a bit of rearranging can do.I hesitate when I call this book a novel. It's a series of poems, letters, songs, put together like a novel. The influence of music pervades every line he writes. You can practically hear
how these words would be sung. Clarke makes you want to sing them, to put them to your own music. I've been lucky enough to hear him read from it. His voice and tone is such that he seems to be singing the words he utters. But he's not.Whylah Falls
made me want to play with words, that's why this book has meant so much to me. The book makes me want to arrange and rearrange words until I create a sentence that makes someone feel. Something. Anything. If in my life, I string together one sentence as musically and beautifully as Clarke, I will feel peace.Now I've recommended this book to you, I hope you'll consider picking it up. If I haven't convinced you to read it, check out the other 49 Special Books other friends of the UVic English Department recommend. There is something for every taste and every age. Sure, there's Shakespeare and Austen and Kafka represented. But there's also C.S. Lewis and
Tolkien and authors I've never heard of. You are bound to find something to keep you up late at night. I can't wait to work my way through them all, maybe over the next 50 years. I invite you to, too! Enjoy.
What a year for writing! I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had these past few months, but seeing my first feature article printed in Victoria's esteemed Boulevard Magazine
takes the cake. (Yes, cake
, even though my article is in the Health and Wellness department!)You can find my story, "A Social Running Club Brews a Little Fun with Fitness," on page 76 of the September 2012 issue (pictured left).The article features the forays of the Victoria chapter of the Hash House Harriers and highlights a few of the characters that make up the off-the-wall group as well as their philosophy, which balances getting in shape with drinking beer—and being politically incorrect
. They are a great bunch! I had so much fun researching the story, I'm going to continue running with them.
If you recall, last summer I posted that I was determined to get an article in Boulevard before the end of 2011. Well, I overshot my goal slightly, but that doesn't at all dull the excitement of seeing my byline! --------------------that's me!----------------------------->
I would be so appreciative if you could please read my story
about the Hash House Harriers and share your comments with me here on my blog. I'm looking forward to publishing more articles with Boulevard
and will rely on your feedback to learn what is working and what isn't! Thanks for celebrating this exciting news with me. On on!Note:More information on the worldwide phenomenon that is the Hash House Harriers
.More information on the Victoria chapter.
Craigslist is many things to many people. Treasure hunt. Matchmaker. Art project (see Samantha Allen's amazing photography project, the Craigslist Project
). To me, it was Lady Luck — it kick started
my freelance writing career.
Several years ago, a writer acquaintance told me the first thing I should do to start a freelance career was to get business cards that say "Jessica Woollard, writer." Check. Then I got a website. Check (it looked really bad before this template, believe me!). Then I started reading every non-fiction piece of work I could get my hands on. Check, check, check.But then... I wanted to write. Sure, I was gaining significant experience through my day job and through some freelance work I'd picked up while still in school.
But the Writing/Editing job list on Craigslist propelled my career forward.
I find that people who post legit writing jobs on Craigslist are one of two people: (1) people who need writing/editing for a personal project, or (2) modern, creative professionals with a business venture who need strong writers and want to attract new talent (who will likely produce great work for less).
The #2s are your golden ticket.
Through Craigslist, I picked up three of my favourite writing gigs. First, a gig copywriting for local business Spice Creative
. This contract was for a brochure for the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert. Second, a gig writing creative advertisements for Weddingful
(a wedding marketplace). I wrote for Weddingful as they got ready to launch across North America. Pretty sweet exposure, right? And third, a gig travel blogging for Aviawest Resort Club
. This was a fabulous gig that lasted nine months until the Victoria resort was sold.Though they didn't last longer than 10 months, each of these three Craigslist gigs provided me with experience that has bolstered my portfolio. They have made me a legitimate Freelancer.
In writing, more is, well, more
. The more you write, the better you get. The more diverse your portfolio, the more appealing you are to other companies. The more clients you have, the more people want you.Now that I'm established, I don't go to Craigslist as often,
but I still check occasionally when business gets slow. And I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities it afforded me.If you're a beginner writer wanting to gain experience, Craigslist offers legitimate writing opportunities that will pay out a little in terms of money, but will pay out a lot in terms of resume building. Sure there are scams, and you must be cautious, but there are also a lot of modern business people looking to take a chance on a new writer.Three businesses took a chance on me.
And I remember them every dollar I make.
In my social media strategy for the Queen Alexandra Foundation for Children (QAF), business-to-business (B2B) marketing prevails on Twitter over Facebook. But some recent RTs and #FFs by businesses got me thinking--why am I not taking advantage of B2B marketing on Facebook? Why is B2B seen as a key strategy on Twitter, but less on Facebook?
On Twitter, B2B marketing is so easy: a quick RT, a short thank you tweet, an @mention. The interaction is fast and forgotten, but your audience has been increased.
The principle remains the same on Facebook: interaction increases exposure.
Bottom line is, B2B marketing is not just for Twitter. Make sure you are taking a few minutes a day to read through the Home feed on your business page. Like a few posts; comment on a few; share a few stories. I find some of my most meaningly interactions on Facebook are with businesses. Take the example in the photo above. That interaction increased my post's exposure exponentially. Boulevard has more followers than QAF (842 to 577), and our interaction meant the name Queen Alexandra Foundation for Children showed up in the feeds of significantly more people than if I hadn't interacted with Boulevard.
Nowadays most organizations and businesses have a person devoted to social media, which means by liking, commenting, retweeting, and @mentioning, I am forming a relationship with a real person, a representative of a business, who can spread my message further than I could on my own. In an earlier time, it was important to form relationships with news and tv editors to get your story out to the public; now it's just as important to forge good relationships with social media staff. Like me, those specialists are likely logged in to social media all day long, meaning we can interact in real time—and help each other out by increasing our audience.
We social media specialists have the power to help each other out. You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours. You share my news; I'll share yours.
Together, we can influence what people consider worthy news. And that's the power of social media.
One reason I was attracted to a career in writing was that it would allow me to relive many of my failed childhood dreams. That sounds rather dark. Let me explain.
Around age 8 to 14, I wanted to be a professional hockey player. That kind of glory was clearly not in the cards, but it was refreshing and invigorating to publish my first feature-length story on playing hockey in a local magazine.
Around age 15-18, I thought I could be a concert violinist, which also turned out not to be in the cards. But now, I blog for the Sooke Philharmonic
and have great insight into the experiences of the performers I interview.While the hockey and violin phases were fleeting
, my obsession with being an actor dominated most of my childhood, adolescence, and even adult life until a few years ago. It was only natural, not to mention a clear goal of mine, that I would eventually write for and about the theatre. Over the years, I've enjoyed producing marketing collateral for Victoria Youth Musical Theatre
and Black Box Productions, and I am now thrilled to add two more theatre writing gigs to my resume: theatre critic at CapitalCityStyle.ca
and theatre blogger for Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre
.Here's my first theatre review, of VOS's Brigadoon
.And here's my first blog for Blue Bridge. I'll be writing weekly blogs for Blue Bridge as their 4th season progresses through the season.I'm thrilled to be contributing to the theatre arts in Victoria (even if I still kind of wish it was me up there on stage). Enjoy!
Networking, networking, networking. I can't say it enough; I can't read about it enough; I can't believe how much it works enough.A few weeks ago, I was thinking to myself how grand, grand, grand it would be to do more theatre reviews in town.
Then, I bumped into an old musical theatre friend of mine, Reece Sims, with whom I appeared in the Victoria Operatic Society
's 2006 production of Evita
. Fast forward six years, and not only are we both working in marketing/communications, but she's looking for a theatre reviewer for her online magazine, Capital City Style
, which puts the "style back in lifestyle," by sharing tips with young trendsetters in Victoria. By all accounts, we are a match made in theatre heaven!I'm thrilled to be joining the team as a theatre critic and look forward to sharing
with you my [highly opinionated] thoughts on all things theatre in Victoria.