plagiarism, plundering and profit

Like most writers I'm very fierce about plagiarism. I don't do it and I despise people who do. Editors and buyers quite rightly get very sniffy about writers who turn in copy that contains work lifted shamelessly from other articles, but their reasons are about hard cash and reputation - plus Google rankings if you're an online purveyor of information. Not for nothing does Stephen Ambrose turn up as a keyword in an adsense search for plagiarism terms.

Just recently I followed up the work of someone who had done an article for a buyer and had used it in their showcase portfolio of work. The piece seemed stilted somehow, as though it had been hard to write, although the subject was easy to cover. It didn't flow, ideas were repeated, and there didn't seem to be the confident voice of a professional writer behind it. So I called up Google and did a search for the title. Up came some links and I visited the first one. Well guess what. This writer's article had been lifted and rejigged from another article, even including some comments that revealed the other writer's personality. It was so obvious this was a quick rehash done in what - 5 minutes? And clumsily.

The article may well have passed Copyscaping for sentence content and structure but the words were just in a different, mangled order. And yet - and yet!! - she had received good feedback for this article.

Does this kind of plagiarism and plundering matter in commercial writing? If you're up at the coal face, churning out articles for buyers who are trying to fill off-the-peg adsense websites with copy, then the buyer will get penalised by Google for duplicate copy and you as the writer will lose a client and probably not get paid. It's just a dumb thing to do.

Plagiarism certainly matters when you're working on long distance writing. This is the stuff you're sweating over, working long hours to pull off, hoping that this will be the next big novel or the last word in geophysical research or the dog's danglies in deconstructive criticism. Sticks in the craw when you discover that some smartass has lifted paragraphs from your blood-soaked manuscript and claimed it as his or her own.

So don't do it.

Image credit: PDClipArt

Where copywriting is concerned, there is a big divide between professional writers who do their own research, credit sources and write the whole damn thing themselves, and those who plunder, use article-spinning software, and turn out a load of horse manure. Maybe that's why many buyers on bid sites are not prepared to pay a decent rate. They're too used to horse manure and they know it's not worth much. Thank heaven for those buyers who know good writing when they see it.
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writing articles and marketing

If you're a freelancer, one of the most important skills you need to have is marketing. You can have the most gripping work, the most exciting writing cv and the most creative brain on the planet, but if no-one knows you exist you may as well knit socks and stare at the wall.

Marketing yourself needs to be added in to your weekly schedule so that you spend some time finding new outlets for your work, getting yourself noticed, and learning how to stand out from the crowd. There are x million writers out there and you are number x million +1. What makes you different? What makes your work better than someone else's?

Best not to rubbish the professional competition though or that will come back to bite you where it hurts. Competition is what makes you keen and hungry and competition raises standards. Competition is what sorts out the article-spinners from those writers who research everything and write each piece to the highest possible standard they can and deserve to be paid a decent fee for it.

I've already mentioned having a website but that's got to reach people otherwise your website will have no other visitors than the occasional friend and the webcrawlers.

Here are some ideas for putting yourself out there and finding new online clients:

  • Trawl the freelancer bid sites that have clients paying a decent whack for your work. Set up a good portfolio and profile for yourself on each one, and link to it from your website or put a link on your email signature.
  • Start a blog about something that really interests you and consider using adsense. Link to it from your website or your email sig.
  • Join freelance support networks and join in on the forum.
  • Link in to places like LinkedIn that will hold details of you and your experience.
  • Trawl web developers and contact them with a note about yourself, your rates, and some samples of what you've written.
  • Trawl websites that you feel could do with some spruced up or extra copy and contact the webmaster with your written samples.
  • Trawl print magazines and journals that cover an area of your expertise and contact them with a query letter.
When you put your profiles together, really sell yourself. I've seen a lot of portfolios that are hesitant and self-abasing because the writers aren't yet sure of their skills or their abilities. It doesn't matter how much or how little you've done in the past - a client wants to feel reassured that you're confident, able to do the job, won't mess them about and that you have a good writing style, so don't go apologising for not having a track record in freelance writing. Instead, hoik up some work in your portfolio that shows the kind of writing you can do, even if it's personal stuff that hasn't yet been published. Let that light shine, baby! Strut that stuff.

Image credit: PDClipArt

The other thing is that you cannot be precious about your work when you are finding markets for it and selling for hard cash. This is no different to selling beercan widgets or corn flakes or catfood - you are creating a commodity that people want to buy and that's it. You have to know whether your work will fit in with their business strategy too - no point trying to sell round plastic dongles to a company whose customers only buy square glass cubes. If that's the case you simply have to find a company who sells square glass cubes or you start making round plastic dongles as well. It's that simple.

The bottom line is confidence - you're a writer. Writing is what you do. Tenacity - don't give up. Adaptability - you really can write about a lot of stuff because it's all out there when you research it.

Put yourself out there, and enjoy the ride. Again and again.
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article writing

Here's a whizzy little Google tool for brainstorming ideas for articles and series of articles. Just stick something in the Google searchbar, and then when it comes up with all the links, click on "more options" and scroll down to the wonderwheel. A bit like Tony Buzan's mind mapping, this magical bit of techno-tweakery will spark off so many more ideas if you simply click on one of the arms of mind map and then continue exploring.

Warning. This is hellishly addictive. Before you know it, you're digging so far down and so deep you've forgotten what the original series was about. A bit like reading the dictionary.
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better pay for freelance writers

I think I need a lie-down in a darkened room with the blinds drawn. Is it me, or are there some freelance sites emerging which attract buyers prepared to pay the going rate? I've just been having a squint at Freelancer and knock me down with a cross-eyed duck but buyers are considering paying decent fees for a decent day's work without even flinching. None of this "£1.50 for 500 words" nonsense. Nosirree. Writers there are setting out their stalls with their range of hourly / daily / monthly / project fees and buyers aren't thundering into the hills or whacking all the writers with baseball bats studded with rusty nails.

The formula seems to be this: that you set out your minimum fees in your profile. You value your writing from the word go and you stick to it without being encouraged to bid ludicrously tiny amounts so as to be the lowest bid. Your fee is your bid. The buyers can have a look at your application letter, your profile and your body of work to see the standard at which you write, look at the fee, compare your application with the others who are also quoting their own going rates, and make their own decisions.

Finally, we have a place where providers can be judged on their professional writing skills. It had to come. There had to be a solution to the problem of buyers waving laughably miniscule budgets about and expecting professional writers to jump through hoops. Maybe the whole sordid business was a rite of passage for the concept of the freelance bid site to see what worked and what didn't, although we really could have done without the baseball bats. It comes down to this: pay professional writer fees and you get professional writers. Buyers had to learn the hard way that if you pay peanuts, only a handful of the vast numbers of monkeys on typewriters will write Shakespeare. The rest will groom each other, eat fleas and use article-spinning software.

Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond
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toggl-ing for fun and profit

And there I was, trawling the dusty internet hinterlands, and guess what I found for us luvverly people who do stuff freelance-stylee and need to keep a tab on the hours we clock up. This charmingly attractive little doobrie, the Toggl, gives you the perfect way to clock up your time for one, two, five, heck - ten clients at a time! And it's free! So that's nice.

Wall Clock Thermometer Indoor Outdoor Double Sided Weather Resistant

You can shell out some silver for the premium version too, so the choice is your oyster, as they don't say. But anything that takes the nuts and bolts of admin away from the actual task of getting words down on a page and making your squillions has to be worth a look. It's so easy to use, too. I still wrestle with videorecorders so I know what I'm talking about.