Sunday, February 24, 2008

Advice from Laurell K. Hamilton

In the April 2008 issue of Writer’s Digest, there is an interview with Laurell K. Hamilton, creator of the Anita Blake, vampire slayer series. It is a quite interesting interview; I didn’t realize that she had been in a writing program and was kicked out for being a bad influence (basically she was writing genre fiction and her class mates started to follow her lead, rather than writing the stuff that the dean of the program thought should be written).

Laurell K. Hamilton, near the end of the interview (done by Maria Scheider) said something that I found to be very meaningful.

“Writers write. Put your butt in the chair and write on a regular basis. Ray Bradbury said, ‘The muse cannot resist a working writer.’ I start off by writing why I can’t write. Type every reason you can’t write. Complain, bitch, whatever. Half a page to a page in, the muse says, ‘Well, if you’re going to be writing anyway, you can do better than this.’ Also, if you don’t protect your time, no one will. I wrote my first book two pages a day, five days a week.”

I think that it is good advice. I could be wrong. It may just look like useful advice because she mentions the muse. And that automatically gets my attention lately, considering that I am reading both (the) Iliad and Paradise Lost. Both Homer and John Milton mentioned the muse(s), having prayers to them. Their mention of the muses has started me researching a possible lecture on them for Bast Temple (Golden Dawn in Denver, Colorado).

Helium mentioned in an article

Helium got mentioned in an article on Slate: The Wisdom of the Chaperones---Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 democracy. The article is talking about the effect that a small and very active number of members can have on a user-created web site. The two top heavy examples that he (Chris Wilson) talks about are Wikipedia and Digg, For example on Digg last year, the top one hundred users submitted forty-four percent of the top stories.

On page two of the article, he uses Helium as an example of a more stable model. "Requiring someone to write before he or she rates creates a more stable system: Rather than create a caste of creators and a caste of peons, Helium encourages everyone to do everything."

Considering that I am one of the people who writes and rates on Helium, I found it interesting.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Helium Writing Stars

Today, one of the article titles on the Helium home page was about "Earning Writing Stars on Helium." It is a hot topic. When I logged in, five writers had already wrote to it. At this point, eleven articles, including one by me, are in the stack.

The reason the title is so hot is that there are a lot of people interested in gaining a writing star, thanks to the current promotion going on over at Helium. Between the beginning of the year and April 14th, Helium will pay you a dollar for every article written provided that you have at least one writing star and three rating stars at midnight April 15th.

As I said before, I am not going to hold my breath that I am going to have a writing star come the magical hour. My plan for the first part of the year is to get another fifty decent articles written before the start of summer semester. And not just any articles, I want to write articles that earn me at least a dollar a year--anything less is not worth my time.

I am not about to change my plan because of the promotion. I have never had good luck with the promotions and contests there--basically I have the same luck as a writer as I do in other areas of my life. Short run, I can't win; long term, I can't lose. Therefore, it is best that I just continue doing what I was originally planning on doing and ignore the promotion.

Other writers on Helium, especially the newer ones, are flocking all over this promotion--quick money in their eyes. So they are writing a lot of articles quickly. I have a hard enough time hanging onto my writing star as it is--writing to a lot of titles that I don't care about will only create a lot of trash that would drag my star down (if I still have one--it flickers off and on). Besides I wonder if they have figured out the opportunity costs of what they are hacking out.

Let's say that they can hack out eight articles in the space of a day compared to my one lonely article (we are talking an eight hour day here). Looking at some of the stuff being written, and having studied the earnings of my first year's worth of articles, most of them do not look like money makers.

There is a chance that they will not make more than a penny over the course of a year on some of these articles. I know because some of my articles last year did not make more than a penny; I no longer write to these channels. So the bonus money may be all that they make from their work. So a potential of eight dollars if they are focused solely on the bonus program.

On the other hand, a writer like myself doing just one article a day that has the potential to make a dollar or more a year, and estimating a shelf life of ten years, can make ten dollars. Plus, I can recycle most of my stuff on other sites like Associated Content.

(Yes, I am ignoring inflation here. I am assuming that as inflation goes up, advertising costs will go up and so will my earnings.)

So who is smarter? I am not sure. But I am hoping that my plan makes more business sense than theirs does.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

MyLot Earnings

For those of you curious about how much MyLot pays, yesterday I hit my thousand discussion (aka responded to or started a thousand discussions) which brings my earnings up to $14.90--or .0149 cents a discussion. Note that this is just my current overall average; you have to remember that when I first started out on MyLot, I was only averaging a half penny per post. So my average has improved as I learned more about the system.

Friday, February 15, 2008

To get paid sooner or later

One of the things that both amuses me and confuses me is the number of people who reset their online earnings payouts to a higher amount than the lowest one possible. I first learned about people doing this on MyLot (a paid to post forum). The baseline payout amount is ten dollars there, but one can choose to set it to a higher amount. This behavior makes as much sense to me now as playing the lottery does.

If it was just to aviod paying fees to paypal, I would understand it. Paypal fees, for frequent recievers of payments, I understand are as bad as the fees that credit card machine service providers charge businesses. But many of the people resetting their default payout are not doing it to aviod fees; they are doing it because they are saving up the money for a bigger payment.

I understand the psychology behind it; it is the economical reality that I find faulty.

My viewpoint of this issue is colored, I must admit, by the fact that I ran a restraurant for someone else for a little over a decade. I learned a lot from the Renzios brothers.

Every dime that came in got deposited every night into an account at the closest bank to the location of the various restraurants that they own. And twice a month, this money would be taken out and transferred to their main bank account, so that they could write out payroll and expense checks.

The most important thing is the entire time it was in the bank, it was in an interest bearing account. So they were making money on money that they owed to other people. They are not alone in this practice; all businesses do this.

So by setting your payout to a higher amount, you are allowing those online companies that owe you money to keep the money in an account and earn interest on it. You are paying the opportunity cost of the interest you could have earned.

Why would anyone want to do this? Personally, I have my payout amounts set to the lowest amount that I can get them because I would rather have myself earning the interest rather than other people.

Now there is one occasion that I will wait to do a payout, and that is when I have to manually request payout, such as on Helium. Last month, I will admit that I gained the ability to cash out in the first week, but chose to wait until almost the end of the month to hit the request payment button. Why? Because it takes awhile for me to make payout there, so I waited until the last moment to request my payment. It allowed me to get another two dollars in my hands now that would have sat in their bank account for several months before I could request another payment.

The only reason I could do that is that one has to manually request payment, and they only sends out payments once a month. So I waited until the end of the payout cycle to request. Sure, it will only earn me a couple more cents of interest this year, but better that I earn it than them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Joys of Tax Season 2

But no matter how much I dislike doing my taxes, I know some people who feel even worse about doing them.

For instance, there is a friend of mine who worked for a call center, and at tax time discovered that he had been listed as an independent contractor. He asked his brother for tax help, not knowing that I also had to fill out self-employment paperwork. In my case, I was expecting to have to send in self-employment tax; it caught him by surprise.

The person that I know that hates tax time the most is my wife (by common law; the day after I get my Ph.D., we will go to the altar). She loathes tax time. She hates taking inventory (something I do not have to do as a writer unless I do a self-published project), and she is not very good with numbers.

Quite honestly, she might be the cause for the stereotype that artists are not good with numbers. And trying to convince her to keep up with her business paperwork is like trying to pull a rotten tooth out of a T-Rex. Her year end paperwork wouldn’t be so bad if she made an attempt to keep some rudimentary paperwork.

I learned to do paperwork when I was managing a restaurant for the Renzios brothers. Daily paperwork was a necessary part of the manager’s job. Switching to being a freelance writer, the habit of daily paperwork followed me from that job. It is of a different kind, but I try to make sure that it is done when it needs to be done.

When does paperwork need to be done? Simple, while the events (income, expenses, submissions, rejections) are still fresh in your mind. Any time that you put off paperwork that you are going to need later more than a week, you are going to be in big trouble.

The wife does paperwork four times a year--always when some tax work (state and/or federal) is done. And it is always a nightmare. If I didn’t already do paperwork and bookkeeping on a regular basis, watching the problems that she creates for herself would convince me that paperwork needs to be done on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I do not need to learn this lesson; unfortunately she still needs to learn it. Maybe this year, she will; but I doubt it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Joys of Tax Season

So it is that time of year again. The seasons of terror and confusion as the dark rider comes and pillages our bank accounts. Yeah, that is right, it is tax season. The season when I remember that nothing can be simple.

As a self-employed freelance writer, and a college student, I would like to say that I understand the process of filling out my tax forms. But honestly, I don't. I spent a couple of hours on it last night, and I am still not sure if I filled out the forms correctly.

I am not sure if there is anyone outside of the paid tax professionals who understand the system. I am betting there isn't. Last night, I spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out whether or not my college grant was taxable income or not. And how does the IRS know what you spent the money on (in my case, it was tuition, books and fees), which seems to be the determining mark of whether it is tax-free or not.

And don't get me started about interest vs. dividends. I think I technically had both. If not, then there is a mistake on my forms.

I am not sure how many mistakes I made on my tax forms. Ultimately, I am not worried. I did not claim all my business expenses; so if I missed something, I should still be ok. Besides, I am a small fish--I did not earn that much.

But given the fact that I am already scheduled this year to make more money than last year, I am not looking forward to filing next year. I wonder if my economics professor will consider giving me a discount (he does tax preparation). If not, can I get a simpler tax code?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

It is just pure chance...

As a writer I try to be original. It is not always easy. For instance, I was writing a flash piece about fairies recently. And I was kicking around ways to make them fairy-like.

One of the characters, Mister Bally, I described as having the voice of a cricket. I thought that I was being clever. I was wrong.

Turns out that someone else described characters sounding like crickets--Homer. The onlyreason I discovered this is that I am currently reading (the) Illiad in my literature class. Homer is describing old men, and not fairies--nevertheless, it makes it look like I am drawing off of Homer for inspiration and not performing my own skull sweat inducing thinking.

I will admit that I like the extra layer of symbolism that it imposes on the story that I am writing. So I plan on keeping my description of the way that Mister Bally sounds.

But my ego is hurt by this discovery. Here I thought I was being original and I am not even close. Instead I was ripping off a book, I hadn't even read yet. Good thing, he has been dead for a few years; he might consider suing me otherwise.

My Reaction to the 2008 State of the Union Address

I just put up my reaction to President Bush's 2008 State of the Union Address on Associated Content.