Friday, August 29, 2008

Is a bust?

Sometime this summer, I saw an ad from requesting freelance writers.

Looking for every opportunity to publish at this point, and being new to Internet publishing (i.e., not knowing what else is out there), I wrote a response to one of their posted debates, on motherhood and writing.  It’s the top-rated article in the “No” category for this question—but I haven’t been paid for it.

On their information page, Helium promises: "When you write at Helium, you help inform millions, earn money, get recognized and build your portfolio." However, even when I signed up, I was suspicious that this might not be a legitimate business venture for me since they didn't ask for my SSN (which even Google wanted when I signed up for Google AdSense on one of my blogs).

When I look at the ad-engorged pages of Helium now, I realize that letting people post whatever they want on a web site and having them return to the web site again and again to see who is reading it or how it is rated would be a great way to guarantee eyeballs to the web site's advertisers. So I asked other writers (via a local writers’ listserv) to share their experiences with it. These represent the typical responses I received:

 “I occasionally post to Helium and my articles are always highly rated. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. Because I've only written a handful of articles, and only a few of them are the sort advertisers would find useful, y-t-d I've "earned" about $7.36. You don't even get a check until you a certain threshold ($50, I think).”

 “I have a Helium account, but quickly lost interest because I found it rather confusing and not worth the effort. I believe I've made about $4.50 cents with Helium. They're legit...but you have to contribute lots and lots of writing to make it worth your while.”

“Be cynical. ...what you'll find there is akin to a "fan readership" you could generate at MySpace or Gather or any social networking site. If you do publish there (just for fun), I wouldn't add it to to your resume as a publication credit.”

What's sad is that there are so many people who think they can write and have something worth sharing with everyone else in the Internet universe. Helium offers their essays on such varied topics as:
  •  An overview of Lake Mead boat tours
  • Realization that your Pastor has value, and
  • Animal books and their educational use with children (which includes this helpful advice, "Animal books capture the attention and imagination of most children, and by reading them they can learn many different things...."
I pity these people who are fooling themselves into believing that someone is reading them–and that their writing matters. But then I realize the context in which I am sharing this—on my own blog, read by few, publicized nowhere right now, and for which I am not paid. A tiny voice in a roar I have helped to create.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blogger as index and time machine

Today I created a new blog to house quotes on women and creativity. It's not a blog, per se, but I wanted to use the label feature of Blogger to index the quotes. (The label widget lists subject labels alphabetically or by frequency). This way, I can sort-of alphabetize the writers I'm quoting with a label like: writers-Alice Walker. (I haven't found a way to put last name first since Blogger uses commas to separate individual labels).

I'm not sure how many more quotes I will add myself, but hope that people will submit them to me. Each person who submits something will get an acknowledgement, along with a link to their web page or to a biographical paragraph I'll house somewhere on the web, if they have no particular web page.

I say that I created this blog today, yet the posts date back to July. The Post Options feature of Blogger has allowed me to turn back time. According to the blog's Archive, in July, I was not busy editing, or taking children to the swimming pool, but was finding fresh quotes for the blog. Cool. I wish I could do this with other aspects of my life--it's almost as good as having a clone.

The blog is called "Quotes About Creative Women" and can be found at: Please feel free to submit any quotes you happen upon or remember reading fondly in the past. Humor is especially needed since the past reality of creative women tends to be a little depressing.

Send quotes to me c/o thebethblevins -at - Please put "Creative women" in the subject heading or it may get filtered out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writing in a vacuum-less world

Today on my other blog, Cooking for Four, I posted an essay I wrote years ago for my little magazine, a very small magazine, called Finding Your Inner-Julia Child

I "reprinted" the essay for two reasons: 
  • it represents our family's food philosophy (we eat to enjoy and nourish vs. to lose weight, etc.),  and 
  • it represents something written in a vacuum--before the Internet made searching for an idea or phrase so immediate and comprehensive.
I thought that I had coined the phrase "inner-Julia Child" since it came to me in a flash. There was no reason to believe that this wasn't my idea or that no one else had thought of it. The only way to have verified its uniqueness back then would have involved a subway ride to the Library of Congress and/or the use of (expensive) online databases. And, even then, it wouldn't have found obscure usages, like things found in zines and underground publications (the sort-of equivalents of online pubs and blogs now).

Not long after this essay was originally published in the mid-1990s, I began to notice the phrase "inner-Julia Child" popping up elsewhere, including in one of the panels of the comic strip Shoe. (I wrote Jeff MacNelly, then the comic's creator, teasing him that he was copying my idea, and he sent back a cordial letter along with a check for a subscription to avsm) . 

A Google search just now of the phrase "inner Julia Child" brought 378 hits.  I don't know if people still think they are inventing the phrase when they use it now, or if it has become so standard that they know they are repeating it. I'll never know who was the first to coin it.

The question this brings up for me is whether nonfiction writers can now safely and happily write in a vacuum. Must they search to see if their brilliant phrases or ideas have already been posted? And, if they have, must they try to come up with another turn-of-phrase or idea--or attempt to build on what has already been written? 

Unfortunately, to some extent, the Internet has made all writer collaborators. I think, sometimes, I miss the vacuum.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Finding ways to track submissions

As a first step toward getting over my increasing inability to submit my writing to outside publications, I took a workshop on Publishing for Poets and Fiction Writers with Nancy Naomi Carlson at the Writers Center this weekend.

One reason I hate to submit my stuff is that I have never figured out how to track it. Do I file the rejection letters or throw them away and move on? Do I keep tabs of all the publications I send things to, by individual piece submitted, or by journal title or both? If both, how do I cross-reference the two things? Do I set up a database and, if so, what kind? Excel?

My mind gets lost thinking about all the things I could do with submissions (I really don't know how to cross-reference things in a database) and then a sort-of panic sets in, especially when combined with the dread I always have of getting another rejection note.

Imagine how delighted I was, then, when Carlson pulled out a wooden box, a little larger than a shoebox, and from inside it bundles of 4" x 6" index cards--one for each poem she had submitted, one for each journal submitted to. Poem cards were in one section, journal cards in another.

Each poem card listed which journal the poem had been submitted to, in chronological order. Each poem card also had rejection letters attached to them with a paperclip. If accepted, the journal title was marked with orange highlighter and the card was pulled and put into a separate bundle for poems that had been accepted.

After 20 tries, she said, she revisits the poem to see if it should be revised or just put away.

20 tries? I don't think I've ever submitted 20 times all together. Light bulb moment: this may be one reason I have not been widely published.

Carlson keeps a separate card of all her rejections--761 in all, in chronological order. But, she reminded us, she has been published more than 100 times, and 1 in 7 tries isn't all that bad.

I'd love to hear from other writers about how you track your submissions. At this moment, however, I am aiming for Carlson's example of the primitive and tactile, as a start.