SEO Professionals Listen Up! Penguin 2.0 Launched

Well, I should probably rephrase that. Search engine optimizers that are worth their price will have already known about the Penguin 2.0 update and will have implemented strategies to bolster their sites’ PageRank. If you missed the memo though, or you’re new to the SEO world, now is the time to pay attention.

For the most part, sites with poor backlink profiles were the most affected by the update. Namely, a lot of porn sites plummeted in the rankings. We’re talking as much as 50%! That’s bad folks. But it doesn’t have to be bad for you. Penguin is designed to make sure the top search results are high quality. And if you’re making high quality, relevant content, you’re already on the right track. In fact, there are steps you can take right now to keep your site’s rank in place. Whether you manage several sites or just want to get your lone site to rank higher, you can make the almighty Penguin happy.

A lot of people have the entirely wrong idea about SEO. They think they need to take shortcuts or do shady, sneaky things to get their sites to rank higher. But this is so wrong and will put you on the fast track toward a site that gets punished. Instead of trying to figure out how to battle Penguin and get around it, you need to learn to avoid it altogether! The following infographic from Brafton ought to motivate you to never pick a fight with Penguin (you won’t win!). Plus, there are some cool tips to boost your PageRank and/or keep it from slipping:

Brafton's Infographic: How To Avoid A Fight With Penguin

Freelancing is a Business, So Act Like It!

I’ve run this company for nine years. It’s been successful in that I can pay my bills and get the things I need. However, I haven’t approached it exactly how I should’ve all these years.

I haven’t always treated it like a business.

Do I hear shocked gasps from the peanut gallery? Sadly, it’s true. I haven’t always treated my freelancing writing career like a structured business as I should have. I took to it with an air of freedom. I work for myself! I can do what I want! La, la, la, tra, lo, lo! 

If only my office looked like this... Source: edgeplot

If only my office looked like this…
Source: edgeplot

This was a mistake. A big one, at that. Yes, freelancing comes with certain advantages. You get to set your own hours. You work for yourself. You pick and choose what clients to take on. However, you also need to make time for your work, be accountable to your clients, and bring in enough money to pay the rent.

See what I’m talking about here? You work for yourself and run the show how you like so long as it doesn’t interfere with making your clients happy and making money.

Sometimes, I let the balance slip. And I think if most freelancers were honest with themselves, they’d admit to the same. It’s way too tempting to become an over-scheduled social butterfly in the face of so. much. free. time. But that’s just it: you don’t have that free time, you just have the flexibility to not work when you choose. And that’s dangerous.

Because eventually, you’re going to have to work. You’re going to have to sit down at your computer and do the thing that brings in the paycheck and if you live footloose and fancy free (whatever the hell that means) all day and start your work day at 9 at night, you’re in trouble.

Pulling all-nighter after all-nighter to catch up puts you on the fast track to burnout.

A lot of this might seem obvious, but I stand to bet quite a few other freelancers out there struggle with similar issues. So, I’ve put together a list of things I must do to be a productive and successful freelance business owner. Who knows, maybe some of these tips will help you? 

Wake up at the same time each day

Bummer, huh? You thought being a freelancer would mean sleeping in until 11 every day, didn’t you? And yes, it does certainly lend you the freedom to do that, but you shouldn’t necessarily approach your business this way. Instead, set your alarm just like everybody else and get up for the day at the same time. “Get ready” for your day at the “office.” That is, follow a similar routine each morning that fully prepares you to get in the working mindset, whether that’s taking a shower, grabbing a cup of coffee, or working out.

Eliminate distractions

The Internet! Dear God, the Internet. It’s my biggest distraction, what’s yours? I mean, I have to use social media for my business but that can quickly spiral out of control. A few cat videos here, a few comics about cats there, and suddenly five hours have gone by and I have no work to show for it. Cut out the distractions when it’s time to work. That means, post a few tweets, check a few websites, then close your browser and social media apps. Turn off the TV and head to a secluded spot. Wear headphones, if you need to, to block out ambient noise (like your spouse, kids, pets, or loud people at the coffee shop) and get down to work.

TIP: I use a timer to allow myself structured distraction time. I set the timer for 20 minutes, write like the wind, then take a 5 minute break. Rinse, repeat. 

Make a to-do list

This one probably sounds very obvious but you’d be surprised by how many people (myself included) sit down to work thinking, “I know what I need to do,” only to realize at the end of the work day that you’ve completely forgotten something or failed to prioritize properly. Each week, preferably Sunday night, sit down for 5-10 minutes and write out everything you need to do the following week. Break that list down by day and assign approximate lengths of time required to complete each. You’ll likely find having such a structured to-do list on hand come Monday (or any) morning extremely helpful. When you sit down to work, there will be no question as to “what should I do?” One glance at the list will tell you.

freelance writing

Nice and tidy. Again, not my desk.
Source: Librarian By Day

Build organization into your systems

That’s probably the most awkwardly phrased subheading I’ve ever written but I’m going with it. Why? Because it’s broad enough to encompass any possible thing that needs organizing in relation to your business. Have a filing cabinet? Keep it organized. Use a home office? Keep it organized. You get the picture. It may be tempting to toss everything into a pile to “deal with later,” but that will invariably cause your desk to look like mine. And trust me. You don’t want your desk to look like mine.  If you’re a chronic clutterbug, check out UFYH* for some real-world motivation.

TIP: Keep your virtual desktop organized as well. If I added up all the hours I’ve wasted looking for a document, contact, email, or what have you due to a lack of proper filing, it’d be alarming. Create a place for everything and put everything in its place.

*Profanity alert!

Follow up with clients

Working freelance, a lot of the time, means getting a project, completing it, getting paid, and moving on. But this is such a mistake! You should never let a client walk away without at least trying to secure additional projects with them. Prepare a list of additional services to provide to remind them of any possible needs they might have missed. The worst they can say is no, right?

Maintain a professional image

If you work from home, there’s no reason why you need to wear a shirt and tie or a dress and pumps to sit at your home office desk. However, that doesn’t mean slumming it in your PJs and slippers is the best idea, either. Yes, you can wear your jammies all day. No one will see you, after all. But maintaing that level of comfort 24/7 can have a negative impact on your output. Pajamas signal your brain that it’s  time for relaxation and/or sleep. Do you really want to tell your brain that as you begin your work day?

That’s all I’ve got for the moment. Fellow freelancers, what do you do to get your body and mind ready for the workday? How do you self-impose discipline to treat your work like a “real” job? Please share!

What’s the Slush Pile Like, Anyway? Part 2

I promised you a part two to this post last week and I finally got around to writing it. Yay!. We already talked about the submissions process, our file management system, and the types of stories we receive over at the Goldfish. So today, we’re going to take a look at the types of submitters we encounter. Who submits stories to us? What do they do right? What do they do wrong?

It’s time to get real about the slush pile.

The Submitters

The vast majority of people who submit to us are awesome. Really, they’re a cool lot just looking to get their stories out there. I can totally relate! However, there’s always a few bad eggs in the crate. Or wait, is it carton? What the heck do eggs come in again? I’m having a brain fart. Maybe “bad eggs” is a bad metaphor.

slush pile writing magazine

Source: Victor1558

What I’m trying to say is not everyone who submits to us has it all together. Maybe they’re new to the submissions process. Maybe they think they’re better than writer’s guidelines. Who knows? In general though (and I am being very, very general here), people who submit to our little magazine (and stand out for the wrong reasons) fall into these categories:

  • The Rapid Fire – He sends a story. Not five minutes after a form rejection hits his inbox, he sends another story. And another. And another. Until we call the Rapid Fire maneuver, “Pulling a INSERT NAME OF SUBMITTER HERE.”
  • The Beggar – She gets a form rejection and responds to it (mistake #1) asking for feedback on why the story was rejected (mistake #2). Listen, I know how hard it is to be rejected, but doing this will not cast you in a favorable light with any editor. I promise it’s not just use being big ‘ol meanies.
  • The “I Don’t Care Who You Are” – This submitter can’t be bothered with learning our names. I’m actually cool with “Dear Editors” because there are two editors to address here at Goldfish Grimm. Even so, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a magazine’s site well enough that you locate (and know) the editors’ names. It shows us you care. And we’re very needy people.
  • The Perpetual Confusion – Oh dear. This submitter is confused. Or maybe he or she just can’t be bothered to read the submission guidelines? Whatever the reason, the Perpetual Confusion sends in stories that are pasted into an email. They send us .docx files. They send stories outside of our word limits. Hell, they send us stories out of our genres. So confused!
  • The Plot Pointer – This one really irks me. Sending along a summary of a short story seems counterintuitive. The whole point of a short story is that you can read it all in one sitting. Providing a summary removes all the lead up and suspense to the final page. Don’t do it!
  • The Corporate Communicator – This submitter is professional as hell. She doesn’t just send in her short story (which, as her cover letter assures us, is of high quality), she sends in a résumé as well, listing out all of her credentials that in no way shape or form relate to being a short story writer. She also sends in a list of publication credits. Two or three would be fine here, but sending a list (mistake #1), as an attachment (mistake #2), that’s over two pages long (mistake #3) is just…no.

Have you ever found yourself in one of the above categories? Not to worry. Nearly every writer has at some point. But you can make a change. Be thorough when making your submissions. Be mindful. And most of all, respect that we editors are people, too.

Happy submitting!

“A Reason to Get Out of Bed” at Yahoo! Voices for Mother’s Day

I recently signed up to be a contributor over at Yahoo! and they post some very interesting assignments. These articles don’t pay (they’re performance-based, meaning I only get paid for how many times people click to read them) but that’s not the point. Rather, the prompts get my brain pumping. Recently, I claimed an assignment just in time for Mother’s Day: What does being a mom mean to me?

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This article, A Reason to Get Out of Bed, is what resulted. Go take a look and leave a comment there or here. I’d appreciate it. I know you’re probably all sick and tired of hearing how grateful I am for my little girl. But she’s changed me for the better in more ways than I can name. Truly, I am a better person right now than I was the day she was born and it’s only been 7 1/2 months. I already owe her a million things.

Besides. Look at her. She’s perfect.

Weekly Writing Inspiration: May 9, 2013

What’s inspiring me this week? I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been extraordinarily busy with a variety of content projects, so I haven’t been able to scour the web for as many resources as I’d like to normally provide. Still, a few articles about content writing, SEO, and social media really piqued my interest. I want to make this blog as good as I can and I would like to expand my writing business as much as possible. It is my hope that these articles and resources will help to expand my horizons and push me toward actually accomplishing my goals. Stranger things have happened!

 

writing inspiration

Source: Eirik Newth

  1. NetVibes. This is basically a feed reader, but it’s keeping everything I want to read in one place. You can also track news feeds, hashtags, and social media accounts. I haven’t explored these latter features yet but the feed reader widget is coming in very handy.
  2. 7 Simple Tactics to Create Blog Content That Spreads Like Wildfire. A post about making your content go viral, but it’s really about writing good content in general. Some good tips here we should all be reminded of before pressing “Publish.”
  3. How to Sell Without Selling. Really interesting take on how to write sales materials that skip the benefits-oriented approach. Good ideas here that go back to that whole idea of “trusting your reader.”
  4. 14 Bloggers Share Their Daily Blogging Routine. I always enjoy a good peak at writers’ processes. This post gives you a “day in the life” look at 14 successful bloggers. If anything, it showed me that it’s not about finding time to write. It’s about making time.

That’s it for this week. What’s inspiring you this week? Feel free to share. I like learning what makes other creatives motivated.

Learning How (and When) to Say “No” (And “Yes,” When Appropriate)

Sometimes, I need to say “no.”

Whether it’s to a project or social engagement, I need to say “no.” However, more often than not, I say “yes.”

I say “yes” to social plans and “yes” to web content projects. I say “yes” to blog management gigs and I say “yes” to article assignments. I say “yes” to Bob and I say “yes” to Jane. I say “yes” to everyone.

1304162656_bc1da83c6d_z

Source: donnamarijne

And sometimes, it bites me in the ass.

Don’t get me wrong, saying “yes” has given me an abundance of opportunity. It’s opened doors and it’s paid my bills. It’s been largely positive and I won’t stop saying “yes” anytime soon.

However, I do need to learn how to say “no.” And more so than that, when. Knowing when a project is worthwhile and when it isn’t is vital, not only to your bottom line, but also to your overall well-being. So I’ve done some soul-searching (and some Googling) and came up with the following.

Here are a few tips for learning how and when to say “no” with pointers on identifying the projects that will add to your life (to which you should unabashedly say “yes”).

  1. If the project seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth, it probably is. I think every freelancer has gone through this at some point. Tell me if this sounds familiar? You start a project only to have the details change in the middle. Or, maybe the client isn’t very clear upfront about what he or she wants. Or, maybe you actually complete the project only to find out the client didn’t understand what he  wanted and told you to do the wrong thing. Now, he expects a revision (which amounts to a rewrite from scratch) for no additional charge. There are a million variations, all of them frustrating. In short, if the client doesn’t seem like he’s got it together, he probably doesn’t. It might be best to skip this project for the sake of your own sanity.
  2. If the client doesn’t respect you (or your time), move on. I know every freelancer has gone through this and it isn’t pretty. The client thinks you’re available 24/7. I’m not talking about emailing at 1 am when they get an idea. That’s fine because it implies I can respond at my leisure. I’m talking about the sort of client who emails you at 1 in the morning and expects a response right away! So you wake up to an inbox full of “Are you there?” and “Why aren’t you returning my messages, this is important,” and “You are being very unprofessional–I expect a timely response!” Or, maybe the client messages you on Skype “just to chat” at odd hours. Maybe she schedules an interview and then keeps you on the phone for an hour and a half. These are all things I’ve dealt with in the past and if you can smell this scent of desperation on a client, close the email or put down the phone. Say “no” to the project and just move on!
  3. Get paid for your work. Seriously. Always.* You have a skill and deserve to be paid for it. If you’re even remotely decent at your job, you deserve to be paid. This sort of ties into #2 on this list; failing to offer money for work (or an insultingly low amount) implies a lack of respect. Why work for a client who doesn’t respect you?
  4. If a project gives you the opportunity to broaden your skill set, and it’s a skill set you want to have, do it. Being a freelancer is a funny thing. Once you reach a certain level, you can pick and choose who you work with. After a while, you learn what’s worthwhile and what’s not. So, if you come across a project that pays lower than your usual rate but will provide hands-on training in web design (and you’re a writer), go for it! Sometimes the cost/benefit analysis incorporates more than cash and that’s okay.
  5. Turning down good money is okay (sometimes). You don’t have to love every single project you do. That’s perfectly fine. But if you get an assignment and it’s making you cry tears of boredom, compromises your personal ethics, or makes you uncomfortable, why put yourself through the torture? Unless you need the cash, skip it. I realize most of us need the cash so this might be mute, but if you’re ever in a position where you’re living comfortably, for god sakes, say no!

I’m sure there are more tips but that’s what I’ve come up with for the moment. Let me know in the comments how and when you say “no” to projects and what signals indicate a project you just have to take.

*Sometimes exceptions can be made for those just starting out and for passion projects. For instance, if you don’t have a lot of experience and need pieces for your portfolio, go ahead if you think it’ll help. Or, if you want to get some experience writing for RPGs and the client has a decent portfolio of past work, why not give it a shot? It’s your time, after all. Spend it how you see fit. 

What’s the Slush Pile Like, Anyway? – Part 1

I’ve intended to write a blog post about this for quite some time now but, as with all things, it’s taken me a bit to get around to it. As most of you likely know, I’m an editor at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. When we opened up to submissions back in February 2012, Matt and I were reading all the slush ourselves. And wow. Was that an experience!

slush pile editing

As the year rolled on (and after I had a baby), our response times got slower and slower. Was it the best idea to start a magazine the same year you get pregnant? Probably not. Still, we’re pretty proud of the thing anyway and happy to have been able to give a decent home to some fabulous stories along the way.

But that’s not what you want to know. No, you want to get a sneak peak into the slush pile. You want to know what it looks like from the editor’s perspective. While I can’t speak for editors at other publications, I can tell you what it looks like on our end: from file management to the stories themselves.

File Management System

Some of you may be interested in knowing how we manage files over here. We actually use DropBox to  keep track of everything. There’s a dedicated slush email address, of course, and we drop story attachments as they come in into the slush readers’ folders on DropBox. Stories are randomly assigned.

As the readers make a decision on each story, they drop them into the appropriate folder–Rejections or Second Round. If rejecting a story, the reader will then send out the appropriate email to the writer. While we have a form rejection template, readers can include personalized notes if the story warrants it. If the reader is moving a story onto the second round, they will send an email relating this news to the writer as well.

From there, Matt and I will read the second round stories and accept or reject them. That’s pretty much it in terms of file management.

The Stories

We have a small slush pile. That’s what happens when you run a token publication. We’ve accepted that we’re not people’s first choice to send submissions. That’s the way of things. However, we do get a good number of stories and they vary widely in terms of quality. We’ve had it pretty good so far. No threatening letters. No responses scribbled in crayon. Of course, we’re an online publication so if someone wanted to pen a crayon response, they’d have to write it out, scan it, then send it. Honestly, if that happened, I’d be impressed by their commitment.

[waits for someone to actually do this..]

The types of stories we get fall into three categories. No, I’m not talking about science fiction or fantasy here:

  1. Decent. That is, the story is engaging enough to get past the first few paragraphs. It hooks its fingers in. Then, as you approach the last page, a sinking feeling overwhelms. There aren’t enough words left to wrap this up. And then, the story ends. With no resolution. These stories piss me off because they’re well-written and have potential but don’t DO enough. They fall flat. I feel like I wasted my time by the time I get to “the end.” These stories get personal rejections because they have so much potential and could possibly be made better with a few tweaks. 
  2. Bad. This might sound mean, because I’m certain I’ve submitted some bad stories in my day. Not knowingly at the time, but still. It happens to the best of us. The bad stories may be poorly written, have no discernible plot, lack compelling characters, or lack clarity. They may be outright offensive or make no sense. It may be a combination of these factors that result in a form rejection.
  3. Good (and Great). These stories work. They capture our attention from the first line and don’t let go until the end. These stories get passed to the second round as quickly as our slush readers can click. While we can’t accept every good story we come across, these tales always get a personal rejection with notes about how great they are with the caveat that they just didn’t fit, we couldn’t find room for them, couldn’t find a complementary story, etc. Letting these ones go sucks, but such is the way of editing a magazine. Just like writers must kill their darlings, editors, too, must slaughter the slush–even the slush they’ve fallen in love with.

There are few kind of submitters we deal with as well. But I’m saving that for the next blog post. Stay tuned for part 2!