Monthly Archives: March 2016

Making Appropriate, Not Overboard Apologies

Sometimes we freelance writers/bloggers are going to make mistakes in our reporting. Be assured that it happens and it’s not the end of the world.  Even popular, reasonably credible newspapers have had to correct misinformation they gave.  Maybe you’re worried that as a type of journalist we share some responsibility for misinformation.  On one hand, if we aren’t 100% sure that the information we’re feeding from is correct and we don’t add a disclaimer in our own article that what we write is subject to change as more information becomes available, we are responsible for continuing to spread the misinformation.  On the other hand, just like the popular, reasonably credible newspapers, we can redeem ourselves by apologizing for the misinformation and providing the correct information.

In that case, how might we go about creating a quality apology note?  Take a look at an early apology I made.

A screencap from a post on my blog Blogging Blahs.

A screencap from a post on my blog Blogging Blahs.

The backstory:  I issued an apology about a post I made supporting the Paid To Click (PTC) website BuxBerry when it was in the early stages of going under.  I had no idea that the reason I was seeing so many advertisements on BuxBerry was that the administrators wanted to work all the ads they committed to showing out of the system so they could then shut down.  My mistake was not realizing that the never-ending supply of ads was to shut down the website rather than the administrators being generous with handing out new ads.

This apology isn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be, but if you thought it was a bit overboard thrn you’re correct. It reads more like a “poor me poor me” confession than an apology.  There’s at least the clear sense that I would eventually issue an apology statement about misleading my readers, but this paragraph doesn’t say  “When I wrote the article promoting this PTC website, I thought the flood of ads was a way for users to stay loyal to the website.  I learned that this was the opposite, that BuxBerry was in the early stages of shutting down.  I apologize to anyone I may have mislead.”  If I wanted to use this blog post to sort through my thoughts, which is the purpose of Blogging Blahs, then what I should have done is keep this post but then include an official (and not personal) apology in the promotional article I wrote about BuxBerry.

Different mistakes may require different apologies.  An apology about promoting a PTC website that is going under needs to state the corrected information (maybe with screencaps of official announcements if any exist) but that’s all you can do.  An apology about some news event taken from a newspaper or news aggregate needs to include the corrected information and links to additional correct information.  It doesn’t have to be as many links as a post called “Linky Goodness”, but let readers know where they can find more of the correct information.  An apology for information aboit products on sale would mention the correct products and how much they are.  The key is thst when you correct any misinformation, you do it in a way that gives readers what they need to know without blaming yourself.  I can’t stress it enough that mistakes do happen.

 

 

 

When a Good “Pffffft!” is in Order *Political*

In previous blog posts I have discussed comments that we (freelance writers/bloggers) like to give and receive and how to avoid becoming a “comment killer” on articles and social media.  These posts fall under the umbrella category of “Good Netiquette” and how to be a credible, respectable voice in interacting with fellow freelance writers/bloggers and social media users.  You may be wondering how to handle situations in which no matter how mature or on-point your responses to others are, you are dismissed and/or attacked.  This is going to be fun (not to mention that it’ll contain images and references related to politics and current events, so if you’re opposed to that then, well, you’re aware it’s coming)!

Have you ever been on a social network and saw comments as such?

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-2

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-3Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-4Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-15-43-1

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-16-00-1

The final comment is directly addressed to me.

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-1

When you are engaged in a heated hot topic conversation (which usually becomes an argument and then devolves into a flamewar), it’s challenging to hold your temper and not lash out.  Maybe you’re telling yourself “I’m going to handle this like the adult I am” over and over even as you’re smashing your fingers on the keyboard as you write a biting retort.  This is human nature.  Although “netiquette” is relatively new, humans have always struggled with controlling our responses to enraging situations.  While we could send our initial angry comment and feel good about it, here’s another suggestion.

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-39-52-1

And to see it in action:

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-39-52-2Is it mature to respond with “Pffffft?”?  That’s going to be an eternal struggle.  You want to be the kind of commenter that is respected in the blogosphere and social media world and that requires offering well-written responses even under pressure.  “Pffffft!” isn’t well-written.  On the other hand, when you aren’t being heard because your fellow commenters aren’t interested in alternative perspectives and they only want to insult you, sometimes a good “Pffffft!” is in order.

Readers, have you ever given someone a “Pffffft!”?  How do you handle situations where you don’t know how to respond in a mature way?

 

My Life as a Comment Killer

If I had to think of the one thing that makes me unique as a writer/social media user, I would say that it’s being a comment killer.  No, I don’t mean that I am a moderator running around the internet censoring and deleting comments.  I simply mean that if I post a response to a fellow writer/social media user, nobody else comments after me. The thread of comments might be holding on with gasping breaths as a user and I battle it out, but nobody posts anything new.  It’s almost like I scare people off.

In the beginning it gave me a twisted sense of superiority.  I thought “Well hey, clearly nobody else has anything to say because they know it won’t add anything that I already said.”  This is not a thought process I advocate anymore, not for myself and not for anyone else.  The thing that makes leaving comments on articles or social media so thrilling is that you can prompt additional conversation and make new friends (or enemies; that comes with the territory as well).  People as a whole love feeling like they’ve been read and having something to respond to.  It’s so much better to have a conversation than to have a false sense of superiority.

“Okay Jessica, what should I do if I’m a comment killer?” you ask.  Excellent question!  While you can’t control others reading your responses and posting their own, you can create comments that encourage discussion.

  • Begin your comment by directly quoting something the writer or original poster said, such as: “In your blog you said…and I was wondering…” This takes more time than spouting off the first thing you think of, but it helps you because it creates a smart, thoughtful comment to show that you’re a serious poster and it helps the original poster and other commenters have a focus for responding.
  • Give the original writer or poster something to genuinely respond to even if you don’t do a full quote. Saying “I agree!” or “Die in a fire!” isn’t enough to get interaction.  Then again, “Die in a fire!” has been known to start flame wars (pun unntentional and appropriate)…
  • Stay on topic as much as possible.  In my experience, both as the reader and the guilty party, people are less likely to add something to your reply if they aren’t sure what to make of it.  Saying “I love my fluffy cat!” is perfect on media that addresses fluffy pets, but not on a post about news or politics.
  • “Talk” to many people.  While some writers and social media users just want to say their peace and dart out, there are others that want a real conversation.

I’m learning these things as I make mistakes and then work to correct them. Does anyone else who considers themselves a comment killer have any tips or tricks that I missed?

Comments You Like to Give and Receive

Part of freelance writing is making friends with other freelance writers.  People may claim that writing is a solitary act (which it is in the context that it’s you and only you creating your article…Unless you and a group of writers do a joint post) but once you have your article(s) written, the next step is interacting.  You can learn so much from following your favorite writers’ blogs and social media accounts, both about them and about the business of freelance writing.  One of the best ways I’ve learned to make friends on BlogJob is through regularly commenting on blog posts of interesting writers but any writing website or social media account works for leaving comments.

An important question that comes up about leaving comments is, “What kind of comments should I leave?”

When you may have interaction with the writer, should the comments you leave be nothing but praise for the article and/or the writer?  Some writers (freelancers of course, but also published authors) only want to see nice comments.  Sometimes this translates to “You write something that isn’t 100% glowing and I’ll sic my guard dog fans on you!” It’s a scary possibility that product reviewers and fellow writers with friendly suggestions face.  On the flipside, if you are commenting on an article and have suggestions or questions, you have the perfect platform to ask the writer directly.

Another question you might have is how long and how specific your comments should be. I like to address something the writer said that stuck out to me. Sometimes my comments to them are longer because I have many thoughts I want to share and I feel like they might appreciate seeing an engaged audience. While I try not to leave comments longer than the author’s article because that might cause them to lose interest, I try to leave a substantial comment.

I have mixed views on short comments that are equivalent to “You wrote something!” and that don’t address anything I wrote.  It’s always nice to get compliments, but I like the comments that are complimentary and interactive.  That might be why I like to leave substantial comments.  A good suggestion for new comment writers is to think about what they read in the article and what they thought of it, and then write a comment expressing that.

Readers, how do you interact with writers (any writer, not restricted to freelance writers)?  How do you choose what kind of comments to leave?

Whine, Whine, Whine: Yes or No?

If I didn’t create at least one blog for whining, I would be a downright unpleasant person.  You might call me an oversensitive entity in that I easily feel emotions and have a burning need to express said emotions or else I can’t move on with my life.  When I can’t express my pent-up emotions to a human in a face-to-face conversation, I turn to my dedicated gripe blog.  It is amazing how physically freeing it is to write down everything in my mind (even if it’s not the quality blogging I usually pride myself on).  In some cases I have felt a literal weight off my body and in other cases I feel my body cool down once my emotions (usually “ragey”) are out in the world.  If you’ve never experienced it yourself, the best way to describe it is that it just feels good.  That said, I have been wondering if having a blog devoted to gripes (or, as I said in my title, for whine, whine, whining) is appropriate for a self-proclaimed professional freelance blogger.

The additional positives to keeping a dedicated blog (or two, three, four…) are:

  • As bloggers are still humans and need a place to blow off steam, the gripes blog is a good outlet.  If we’re going to be updating our blogs anyway, it’s so convenient to switch from a more hard-hitting blog to our personal blog.
  • Writing a gripe blog post is another style of writing.
  • The gripes blog shows a more “real” side of the blogger.  We get to be more open in how we write our blog post because gripes don’t have to be perfect or polished.

All these qualities are legitimate.  If I had to pick one positive that can persuade a skeptical reader to be in favor of keeping a dedicated grips blog, it would be that the gripe blog post is another style of writing.  I’m sure we were taught in various English classes that when we write, we need to tailor it (our writing style) to our audience.  The gripe blog post is a more casual style and our audience is the general public.  More people can relate to a gripe post than a niche-based post, so as the blogger we get to practice our more casual, conversational style.

That said, there are compelling reasons that we professional bloggers should carefully consider if having a gripes blog is a good idea.

  • Some readers may not care to sort through blogs to find or avoid the dedicated gripes blog.  If we are consistent in the blogs we maintain, our readers will trust reading new blogs by us.  It can throw them if we are known for niche-based blogs and then suddenly we start a gripes blog.
  • Some people really don’t like reading gripes.  We run the risk of alienating potential readers.
  • Some people like reading gripes as long as they aren’t personal gripes.  News aggregates run into this when some of the content is one person’s experience and opinions about something.  Readers will comment “Why is this even published?  Nobody cares what some random woman (usually, although men are not immune) thinks!”

I like keeping one dedicated gripes blog in addition to a personal quotes and responses blog and I would recommend all professional bloggers do the same.  What are your thoughts on this?

How Often Should You Post Content?

Yesterday a friend on BogJob sent me a message via status update thanking me for maintaining the BlogJob group “Writing World”.  They explained that many group creators don’t maintain the activity on their groups so it’s nice to have a more active group.  I would be lying if I said this didn’t boost my ego.  More importantly, this message got me thinking about how often to post content.  While this message referred specifically to posting status updates to BlogJob groups, I am expanding it to be any professional writing.

The obvious answer is “Post whenever.  It’s your writing” but it’s not as simple as that when you are writing as a serious career.  Your audience wants content and not creating anything for them runs the risk of them moving on to more consistent writers.  Note that blogging can be more susceptible to this because the post is instant gratification while writing for a magazine (whether online or in glossy print) has understandable gaps between writing the article and seeing it published.  In any case, professional writers have content commitments that casual writers are less likely to face.

I always check in with myself before writing an article concerning the time crunch.  If I’m writing about Kindle Daily Deals or other offers that have a limited time frame, for example, I have to publish my article on the day I see the deals and it helps considerably to get the post published by early afternoon.  While I can skip days entirely if there are no interesting deals, this kind of post needs to be written more often than not because I consider it a regular feature.

Are your articles focused on deals?  This means you’ll want to post regularly to keep your readers in the loop.

“That doesn’t help me if I write about news and politics” you might say.  That’s a good point.  While there’s also timing involved in writing about an event as it’s still hot, the news media tends to cover breaking stories as new information becomes available.  If your writing is current event based but you don’t even jump on the story until there’s more information, you can still write an article as an overview of events up to what you know.  As for how often to post about the news, it really varies on why you cover it. If you’re writing in short blurb style to cover the daily news, you’re committing to writing daily posts.  If you choose the most interesting-to-you stories to go in-depth on, you can choose what news and what days to report.

No matter what you write about, a good rule of thumb is to imagine yourself as the audience.  How often do you want to see content from the writer?  If you aren’t receiving regular posts, would you continue following the writer’s work or would you move on to a more regular writer?  Your readers may be more understanding of gaps of time between articles, but using yourself as the guide is still a good way to figure out a good publishing system.

Creating Lists That Interest Your Readers

Quick, tell me what’s wrong with this list:

Tricolor Cats

  • Calico
  • Chocolate tortoiseshell
  • Spicy tortoiseshell
  • Hot tortoiseshell
  • Tortoiseshell-calico (tortico)
  • Tortoiseshell-tabby (torbie)

If you said “It’s not meaningful” or a variation of that, you nailed it.  Even I, the creator of this list, can’t tell you why it was worth writing because honestly it’s just a collection of words.  Creating lists is a more casual, fun form of writing, but there are still tips and tricks for adding interest for your readers.

First and most important, consider the purpose of creating the list.  In addition to making money, it needs to add something to humanity’s knowledge.  Even lists on comedy websites like Cracked have a reason for existing, usually because the writing style entertains readers while the content educates them. The sample list of tricolor cats would exist because I’m a huge fan of these beautiful fur colors and want to share what they are and why I think they’re so beautiful, so essentially for education, information,and persuasion.

It’s not enough for us writers to know the purpose of our list; We have to clearly express it to our audience as well. Before we launch into our list, we should provide an explanation of what we expect our readers to take from the list. For example:

Tricolor Cats

These beautiful fur colors are often misunderstood by everyone, even self-proclaimed cat lovers.  The following list will detail what the various tricolor cats look like and what makes them special to their fans.

When we start writing our list, it’s fine to create an outline (“skeleton” as I would call it) so that it serves as a guide for what we’ll write about.  We should expand on our list later, giving details that are relevant to the purpose of our list.  This is when our list becomes meaningful because now readers can look at it and say “Okay, I see what they mean.”  Using my example, the list itself might look like this:

  • Calico-These cats are mostly white with distinctive patches of auburn (red) or gold and black fur.  They have been studied by scientists who think there is a link between calico obesity and human obesity.
  • Chocolate tortoiseshell-These cats are mostly black or very dark brown with brindled fur of auburn (red) or gold and cream fur.  Fans of the chocolate tortoiseshell call them “quirky” and say they are full of “tortitude”.

There are mixed thoughts on whether the list should have a closing paragraph or not.  I recommend closing with a few sentences or questions for the readers, but this is optional.  Just be sure to end on a strong note.

Readers I now turn to your knowledge of lists.  Is there anything I missed?  What adds interest to a list in your mind?  Do you prefer reading lists or traditional articles?

Do You Use People’s Names?

I was inspired by this post on the BlogJob forums. The question is, do we use our friends’ names when we blog about them? The responses are varied but they boil down to “We might if it was a significant (usually positive) event involving them but we also might change their names if we couldn’t get their permission to write about them.” I was curious to know if the answers would change at all if we were writing about people we didn’t know, such as anyone in the news or people we encountered on Facebook. While that is a question to bring to the forum at a later time, I have been thinking more about the ethics of using people’s names in writing.

It’s a conundrum, I can tell you that right now without doing any research. If your goal is to create a professional article you want to follow all the journalism/writing ethics about using people’s names in your writing. You would want to be sure that if you couldn’t get your subject’s permission, you would at least avoid making defaming claims about them. Maybe you would change their name or keep their part in your writing limited to only the most important scenes. Some writers of memoirs and other creative non-fiction say that it can be a hard decision to limit others’ roles in your story because then your story isn’t as true, but in the end they have chosen to do it for protecting the other people’s privacy. One suggestion that I liked from photographer and writer David Hood’s blog post “The Ethics of Writing Creative Nonfiction” is to use  “cue words” to show that you may not remember everything correctly so that if there is misrepresentation, you show that this is only your interpretation of events. This is excellent advice for writing in general, not only limited to scenes involving other people. Of course it’s important that if other people are mentioned in your writing you do your best to get their permission, but if you can’t then the next best step is to represent them fairly.

This advice is perfect for creative non-fiction, but what about writing about posts on social media? I admit that I’m shaky on it myself. I will post screencaps without blurring or editing out names and I will use the user’s name in my articles. I write it as such: “Jessica” the first time I reference them to show that this may not even be their real name. With the internet, you never know. I haven’t been able to find official ethics in blogging about social media and base my understanding on what I see others do. Some articles will edit the screencaps to protect the users’ privacy while others don’t bother. Usernames are directly mentioned in the article to give credit/”credit” to whoever said the important things that have inspired the article. Some articles will say “I’m using this person’s name but I will not accept my readers ganging up on this person so play nice.” I will continue to research this, but since writing about social media posts is relatively new, I doubt I’ll find anything official.

Readers, do you use people’s names in your articles? How do you tell your story while protecting their privacy?

Freelance Blogging Isn’t as Easy as it Sounds

This was in 2014 during my Sociological Theories class and it was the beginning of the semester so our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves to everyone. Besides telling everyone our name and class year, he asked us to share something interesting about ourselves. I said I did freelance blogging (on BlogJob, although I don’t believe I specified where). This guy asked “You make money blogging? Why do we even have to go to school then?”

I love telling this story and here I have a good reason to do so. If I had to chose one and only one thing I’ve learned about freelance blogging, it’s that it’s a job like anything else. While it’s a self-focused job that allows more creativity and self-expression, it isn’t easy like people think.

Even finding a headquarters for my blogs was a job. For some time I had been on BlogSpot, the Google blogging platform. It’s nice that it gave me a place to experiment with blogging when I was new to it, but BlogSpot doesn’t pay unless you use Google AdSense. Google AdSense earnings are based on the idea that Google will choose what words to put links on and then you get paid a small amount of money if someone buys the product advertised on said links. You, the blogger, don’t get control over what products are linked to. I was then on Daily Two Cents, a blog website that uses the WordPress format and pays you a litle bit of money for unique views on your blog posts. I have no beef with them, but I wanted the option to have niche-specific blogs. That is how I fell in love with BlogJob. To make a long story short, even finding a home takes time and effort.

Once you have a home for your blog posts, you have to start planning your diferent blogs. On BlogJob you can have as many blogs as you want, but you have to be able to maintain them. I have a few blogs that have been grossly neglected because I didn’t plan on how to maintain them as well as technological problems that make them less than ideal. I recommend creating new blogs if you can see yourself posting multiple articles on them every day. You don’t actually have to post multiple articles, but if you think you have enough to write on a regular basis then you’re probably able to maintain the blogs.

Consider that your blog posts need promoting on socia media if you want to be a credible and somewhat-known freelance blogger. At one point BlogJob required a certain number of social media shares for each blog post. Even if your blogging platform doesn’t require sharing, it’s a good practice to get into. This means that you may need to register for accounts on additional social media websites and then learn how best to get seen on them. I admit to post promotion being my least favorite part, but it’s been paying off when new viewers leave comments and I get notifications for referring new visitors.

One thing about sharing your blog posts: Once they’re out in the world, you have to stand by what you write because sometimes you can face criticism. This may force you to write your blog posts more consciously, which will allow you to hold your own should you get into a debate with your readers but also takes up extra time. Professional blogging is considerably different from writing a status update on Facebook or Twitter. You may want to familiarize yourself on ethics of journalism and social interaction so that while you may be challenged for your views, you won’t engage in poor ethics and get in legal trouble. One of the more terrifying aspects of professional blogging is that you do have to exercise caution.

On the surface professional blogging does seem easier than applying for a traditional job, but make no mistake, it is still a job.

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