200,000 Views and Making My First $10

Bags of $
With all the concentration on getting my blog, which will from now on always be referred to as my “website” set up with ads from Google and having made the switch from wordpress.com to Bluehost as my server, it came as a surprise when I finally hit the 200,000 views and on the same day, I realized that I had made my first $10.

Excitement levels soared, but not too far as, let’s face it, 10 bucks doesn’t go as far as it used to and I’ve been hovering around the 200,000 mark for a while now. Still, it proves that in this world, whether blogging or not, you have to prime the pump a little to get more exposure.

I’ll explain.

I made the decision this year to go outside my comfort zone and leave WP dot com and head over to dot org. The main reason was that I could put Google Adsense on my site. While I may never make enough to buy more than the occasional latte, this move puts me more firmly where I want to be. Self employed working mainly on my site and heading (very slowly) to Bing and Google News land.

After two years, or so, of folks telling me that I have “mad writing skills” (sorry that was not actually what they said, but merely my translation) and that I was being foolish by not concentrating on my own site. Since I’ve been blogging since 2011 and worked as a journalist for nearly two years, and an editor for the same amount of time, it seemed to be good suggestion.

Part of the reason for this move is to get rid of the nasty taste in my mouth from working for a con artist and the remainder of the rationale has to do with not having to write for any content mills. As I mentioned in my Inquistr article, there are plenty out there and while they seem to pay better than most, these…clowns, idiots people cannot seem to read a simple email.

*Sidenote* After telling me that my “sample” was not good enough and to write another one, I responded saying that with no specific feedback, I would not be writing any further “articles.” I got two more emails asking me to rewrite my sample article but neither one offered any feedback specific to the first one, as requested. My final email, which they obviously finally read, said bluntly “Stop wasting my time” and “read my previous emails.” *Long sidenote over*

Admittedly, I was not too upset about not being asked to write real, versus, sample articles as their requirements are 100 stories per month. Can we say Content Mill? With no proper Internet (I’m sure that Burger King pray for a day when I will have my own service to use and will no longer darken their towels.) I am in no position to work for any other publications that have that sort of workload requirement.

I have noticed that my recaps and reviews for TV shows and films are growing in terms of view counts and that a lot of show’s writers and creators are interacting in a positive fashion. On top of all this great news, I have also made money. My cup runneth over or at least it will when I have verified my address to get paid.

200,000 views on my blog (website) is a milestone. Back when I first started all this blogging stuff, it was a hobby meant to see if I could still write. It had been years since my journalism course and while writing classes were taken at University and as part of the courses offered via the USAF I did not submit much in the way of news articles and as for creative writing…

Time will tell whether this milestone will mean anything or not in terms of site growth. Regardless of just where this all ends up, I will continue my Bing and Google journey and keep doing the reviews and recaps while fitting in the odd film review. The only thing that will slow me down will be lack of funds or food, which really amounts to the same thing.

Life is interesting, although not always in a good way, and if I can just survive riding a schwinn bike 12 miles plus seven days a week at (almost) 57 in high temperatures or storms and not be hit by some octogenarian driver I may just start to make some real money…like $20.

I would carry on about this exciting event but there is research to be done about whether or not a “donate” button can be added to a page with Adsense ads on it…

Freelance Writers: Content Mills and Sweat Shops Everywhere Oh My

Photo of author circa 2012
For those who want to be freelance writers working on the Internet it can be a tad depressing. There are content mills and sweat shops everywhere. After writing for at least one; the Guardian Liberty Voice (which qualified as both sweat shop and content mill) and cruising the net looking for other sites that advertise for writers it appears that publishers all want a plethora of poorly written articles cribbed from other more reputable sites. There are, of course, sites which pay nothing for the privilege of “working” for their site.

The sites that do pay, want to fork out damned little for your hard work. (If you don’t believe that cranking out 100 plus articles per month is hard work, the door is that way. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.) I hasten to add that a lot of sites appear to use article spinners in order to fill up their pages with poorly written rubbish that Facebook promotes.

Most sites also hide their intent to pay peanuts by quoting annual income figures. Sure 48,000 sounds great as a top figure. 24,000 less so when the 100 per month limit is factored in. This particular site, The Inquistr does not go into any “requirements” for the articles.

To explain, let’s look at the Guardian Liberty Voice. Each article was required to be a minimum of 500 words. For “breaking news” articles a minimum of 120, at last count, was needed with a follow up story to follow with a minimum of, you guessed it, 500 words. Since GLV does not, or did not, pay per article this meant a whole lot of writing for very little return for a lot of writers. Consider also that the initial contractual amount of articles per month was 128. I should point out that at my peak I was writing over 300 articles per month for ridiculously low pay.

The Inquisitr does advertise that their writers make good money and that they reach over 50 million viewers every day. Reading a rough sample of the site’s output reveals that in Entertainment at least, the quality falls pretty squarely in the “okay,” category. Granted, this particular area of “news” is not the most journalistic in appearance or nature. While it seems that most new writers in this category all want to be the next Perez Hilton, there are a few who are trying to put their own proper spin on reporting the “fluff.”

Just out of interest, I have submitted their employment “form.” They also ask, if you want to expedite the process, that you take a 20 minute test on grammar and rules. There are apparently 20 questions and the time limit, obviously, matches the questions. Interesting. I will not be taking the test, I really can not be bothered to prove that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Journalism via the 101 class taken in 1976.

Yes, it was that long ago.

I am still in the process of trying to learn how to get advertisers on my site. WordPress have, rather snootily, explained that my 4,000 to 6,000 views per month is not worthy of inclusion in their Adwords program. It is worth mentioning that whenever one inquires about the lack of response to their advert, they give a stock answer of, “Your site needs monthly traffic in the thousands. Get your family, friends, loved ones, etc to follow your blog to increase visibility.” When I pointed out that my blog already had “thousands” of views per month, and volunteered that perhaps he meant tens-of-thousands, the WordPress staffer grabbed that lifeline and said, “Yes, that is what I meant.”

However, if you look at other blogger’s experiences with “Adwords” you’ll find the same stock answer given to each applicant.

I’ve gotten offers before. One enthusiastic advertiser thought my site would be perfect and made an offer that I could not stop laughing at. The money was $100 per year. This was quite some time ago and the latest offer from a company has never gone past the “we think your site is perfect,” stage. Another low payment advertiser I am sure will eventually get back to me. They really should not waste their or my time.

The point behind the poorly paid advertiser anecdote is that no one really wants to pay you for your work. Whether it be a publication or a company wanting to purchase advertising space, the money offered is laughable.

I started out blogging regularly back in November 2011. I never intended to use this particular platform as a source of income. It was a way to work on my skills and build up a body of work. All practice for when I would begin writing my first book. I stumbled onto the GLV, and began an odyssey of learning that not all is as it seems and that I was a much better writer than I’d thought.

Working for that publication did result in things learned that helped me out. There were also things that burned me out. Writing up to 10 stories a day at 500 words a whack seven days a week is madness. It is also a good way to exhaust yourself. I struggle now to get out three to four articles a day.

At this moment in time, I am not being paid for anything I write. The new publication I’ve been writing for has not resulted in payment of any type. While I enjoy getting more views…sometimes…I do not enjoy grafting for naught. Perhaps a change of venue is in order here. I will keep you all posted as I continue my search for paid employment that does not require sweat shop or content mill environments. Working as a Freelance writer has been interesting, and fun at times, but it has not put a lot of money in my pocket.

The original boast of the publication I used to write for was good pay for good work. That never happened and it now feels like an uphill battle finding somewhere else to hang my hat. I’ve taken the first step in shifting my hosting to another site, not WordPress, but that is proving to be confusing and in some instances annoying.

Beware the marketplace sellers. Having stupidly purchased a template for my site which, I assumed, would allow me to download the format and set up my blog in the fashion advertised, I found that it did not. A further $100 was expected in order to format the style purchased. Asking for a refund was refused and I was told to act like a professional, which, pardon me for thinking so, I am.

Still, this journey is interesting and it is challenging. For those that are interested in where this ends up, stay tuned.

3 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Counting Flowers on the Wall…

Snake Oil Salesman

Caught betwixt and between leaves one a little exasperated and not a little depressed. With limited funds there are limited opportunities, this latest life-change has left me feeling a little like the old Statler Bros song lyric: “counting flowers on the wall…” I have recently left a publication which provided a “mast” to fly my flag and interact with some wonderful people. I will not name this organization, but keen-eyed followers may be able to guess the name.

Having spent about 18 months (plus) learning that I’m pretty good at interviewing celebs (that’s spelt working actors by the way and other folks in the industry) covering conventions, Victoria’s Secret events –as well as meeting some very lovely models of same – and watching a ton of newly released films and reviewing them, along with television shows, I realized a couple of things.

First of all, my abilities as a writer were better than I thought. On top of the above items mentioned as part of my personal training process, I also covered local Las Vegas events and each time the recipients of my coverage thanked me profusely for my efforts. It sort of feels like journalism is similar to riding a bike; once trained never forgotten, no matter how long the stretch…

Secondly, I found that I was in a lose/lose situation.

What started as (or what seemed to be) a great offer, soon turned into something very different. Granted, I was still under a certain amount of shock from the very invasive and “hard to recover from” operations that saved my life on August 31, 2012. *On a side note, I discovered while still in hospital, that Michael Duncan Clarke (Green Mile, Armageddon) had the exact same procedure…He did not make it.*

In my England home, I could no longer pay the rent, I owed thousands of pounds and no landlord wanted to let me lease a property with my daughter and her boyfriend. With the prospect of bankruptcy looming, no homeowner trusted me not to default on my share of the rent.

I had been working for website, since April 2013 while still living in my Kesgrave three bedroom home. I’d been released from my job as Prison Officer (ill-health retired with a tiny pension) and given a payout. Hindsight being 20-20, I should have taken less of a payout and more of the pension.

Still, I was writing professionally for a news publication that seemed to be intent on growing in both viewing figures as well as respectability. Pay was pretty dire, but it would increase as our ratings got better (I had been told) and hard work seemed to equal a pretty good payout. The owner, promised to pay his writers and editors fairly for their work.

Google News Logo

On the respectability front, the paper had sources in South Africa who claimed that in June, 2013 Nelson Mandela died, despite what was reported by the corrupt government and the world’s media. This combined with a serious approach to gathering and writing articles raised our ranking and this too felt legitimate.

After writing an article on Madiba’s death where I quoted what we had learned, (Our then World News Editor actually released the story before we could verify another source.) the website was then attacked for three days straight and I was sent to South Africa to talk to sources.

Back in those days, the site seemed to be a proper news publication trying to compete on a global scale. Meanwhile back in the UK by December 2013, I had nowhere to live and my boss then made the offer for me to come over to the USA and stay with him until I “could get on my feet.”

Desperate, I accepted. I paid for my airline tickets and to have my few remaining things shipped over. The cost of all this was covered by me selling practically everything I owned, I then flew to Las Vegas and was met by my employer.

On one hand, my joining the site in Vegas was an excellent chance for me to write for more than my personal blog in a “safe” environment and after an almost 32 year absence a return “home.” I’d been posting up to 8 articles a day for some time on my own site; all for free before working for Vegas site. This was a continuance of working professionally and, in the beginning, my stories were getting hundred’s of thousands of views and I soon joined the “million” club. (Million equaling views and not money.)

Oddly, these huge view counts virtually ended once I got back stateside. Again, making me believe that some “blackhat” techniques were being used by someone.

The money, apart from one very exceptional paycheck, was not brilliant; I was having to use up my small pension from HMPS to live and still running out. The cost of living in the US was much less than that of the UK, I was told, and this turned out to be false. Still, the fact that I had a place to stay and had use of a vehicle was a Godsend and the only real problem was  that views on my articles were steadily decreasing.

While being associated with this site gave me a chance to write for, and become “part owner” of a rising news publication, a lot of the opportunities I got for myself. Once I arrived in Vegas, I began responding to all the “invites” received by the paper to events that excited me.

Comic con, Star Trek con, et al. I began making better contacts with the local Hollywood studio reps at the screenings and became a member of the Nevada Film Critics Society. I got our invitations from the studios sorted out as we were missing a lot, apparently, and in short order I was going to around 5 to 7 screenings per week and writing reviews on the films.

On top of that, I was encouraging other writers (I was an editor) to write reviews on popular television shows to increase our Entertainment area. I also worked very hard to do interviews with many actors and other people in the industry to solidify our exclusive content.

Watching the analytic performance of my articles I noticed a disturbing trend. My views were struggling to reach their previous numbers. Where my average per story was around 50,000 and up in the beginning; now all articles died out at fewer than 10,000.

Combined with penalties from Google News, the site was a member, my pay packets got smaller and smaller. I was on a pay system of (supposedly) $600 per month stipend for being an editor and for doing all the above-mentioned things to set up our entertainment section. Anything over that stipend was to come from my view counts.

The stipend money was taken to pay for my rent. As mentioned above, it was $600 pm for (in the beginning) a single room, shared bathroom and use of the communal areas. Later I got the bathroom all to myself, which had been my understanding all along, and the other bedroom as an office. I was paid between $300 and $500 for my views, but my boss was quick to point out that he was “carrying me.”

My time spent setting up our entertainment section was paying off with interview offers, event invites and despite the fall in viewing figures, we were getting pretty good reception from the industry in terms of responses to queries, et al.

There were many “questionable” things about the business that I either ignored or took at face value. Continual meetings to get money from local politicians and other deep-pocketed investors were the order of the day for most of the year and completely outside my realm of expertise.

I was more interested in writing articles, building a respectable base for the entertainment section of the paper and expanding my contacts in the industry. I also felt that despite the gratitude I’d initially felt at the offer, I was being taken advantage of.

The biggest issue was the change of direction of the publisher. When I first started writing for the paper, his goal was two-fold. To pay each writer fairly for their work and to build the site up to be able to eventually compete and stay in the top 50 news sites in the US.

This emphasis slowly changed. The site was getting a lot of malware problems, a lot of Google penalties and a lot of bad press from former writers who were leaving in droves. Furthermore, they were complaining that the owner of the site was running a pyramid scheme.

While this allegation was not true, at no time did the publisher ask for money from anyone working for the paper, he got funds from advertisers and investors and things were not adding up for a great many who worked for the paper.

There were a great many of these disgruntled folks who got caught up in the penalty issues, the site was hit several times, some were given poor information or training and others just couldn’t get the program. Still more were apparently lied to.

This was something beginning to creep into my dealings with the publisher, along with getting cast in the role of general dog’s body or servant. What started as my not minding doing the odd favor for a “friend” became an overwhelming amount of time doing things that he could not be bothered to do.

Over the time period living with the publisher, I was told about serious illnesses that he had just been diagnosed with such as cancer. A lot of promises never transpired and as things trundled along, the communication became less and less. Information was segmented and only parts were passed on. As a “late stage” co-founder and 2 percent owner of  the company, I found myself continually out of the loop and learning about important things second-hand.

As my dissatisfaction continued to grow, the relationship began to sour. This “friend” who’d made such a great offer suddenly seemed to think it was okay to yell at me in a meeting or during phone calls…it was not. After this happened for the fourth time, I realized that the mutual respect that had once apparently been there was now gone.

After being told repeatedly how it was possible to exist for $300 a month, the money kept getting smaller as were the views. As mentioned above, it began to look like the massive view counts at the beginning may have had more to do with questionable practices that probably helped to bring about the penalties.

Overall, I enjoyed the work I was doing. Meeting celebrities, watching new films and writing about things that I was addicted to, attending comic cons, and doing entertainment journalism was a dream come true. Sadly, once the trust was gone and the “scales” lifted from my eyes, I realized that things were not all as advertised.

For one thing, the site was never going to be sold, as long as money was being made by the publisher  2 percent of this company was never going to amount to anything. Another issue was the accusations of the site being a “content mill.” This allegation was, pretty much, true. The amount of articles required was staggering. I myself wrote almost 1,900 articles from the end of April 2013 to December 2014. For a year I wrote and published between 8 to 10 stories per day on weekdays and up to 15 per day on Saturday and Sunday; a total of around 70 to 80 articles per week.

Before I left, I was contracted to write 62 articles per month. When I began attending the Las Vegas conventions, as mentioned above, the paper was hitting the number one slot in Google News and was generating interviews and making some good contacts. While I was at the Vampire Diaries Convention (A truly abysmal experience as the entire group running the event were small-minded and elitist.) I was called during the second day by the publisher who told me that the conventions would have to go.  Telling me that our output was suffering I was informed that I needed to write more on the weekends. Not more original output, but more regurgitated stories for the readers.

Another charge of “citizen journalists” was also levied against the site and there was a lot of truth to this as well. In most cases, writers for the site were not journalists. I had been trained years ago but many who wrote for us had never been trained apart from what our boot camp gave them when they joined.

Granted not every writer was asked to produce such huge amounts of articles but the idea was to have a lot of stories for people to choose from. In other words a content mill. I did personally learn just how much I could write each day and I also found out that self-discipline was in my vocabulary after all.

Of course writing such copious amounts, with little in the way of monetary gain and little support for original output, led to me becoming  disillusioned with the job. This went a long way to my decision to leave, but I did so secure in the knowledge that my first love of writing (which really ties with acting as first love but only just) is something that I should be doing full-time. *I promise to refrain from using such long-winded sentences in future, if I do so.*

While my time with the site was a learning experience, it was also an exercise in frustration.  Despite this, I truly enjoyed my time as the head of Entertainment and only wish that I’d been more au fait with the world of online journalism.

I do not consider myself a “citizen journalist.” I did take courses years ago and apart from the beginning of my time with the paper, attempted to do unique and exclusive content for my section. Ultimately this was never going to be a winning situation apart from lip service  as volume was required, not originality.

My leaving has put me in the position of counting flowers on the wall, if there were any, as my current abode is out in the middle of nowhere with shaky Internet. While I attempt to get a better set up to continue my writing for other sites, which I am currently doing, interviews and reviews are continuing as and when a signal makes itself available.

Rest assured, I would have left my job earlier if funds were available. Unfortunately pay was kept shallow enough that it was not possible for me to make good my escape. At one rather insulting point, my benefactor informed me that he purposefully kept my pay low so I would know what if felt like to be broke in Las Vegas! I told him in no uncertain terms that I already knew what being broke felt like in a lot of different places, I needed no “teaching.”

I am currently writing more on my own blog with plans of setting it up for proper advertising and I’m working for another news site and writing my memoirs (Goodness that sound very “up my own arse” doesn’t it?), for those who are interested,  from my years working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

In many ways this is a cautionary tale; when you hear too many things that, ultimately, you want;  pay attention and realize that you are probably being played. Some people are very good at feeding information that you will believe because you want to.

Since leaving, my life has been hectic and full of reflection. Sort of like the Flowers on the Wall song says, “playing solitaire till dawn…” has given me plenty of time to realize that at the site, things were “okay” for so long because I wanted them to be. Apart from the money issue, I was having fun and learning that I could do so much more than I realized. Finally my end came, like so many others, because of greed and the fact that the company dream as portrayed, was not real.

As a final point: I left the publication on December 31, 2014, despite fulfilling my amount of articles and doing interviews and covering events right up till the end, I have received no money since my half-pay packet in December. So unlike the song’s message, no one is too concerned about my, or anyone else’s, happiness.