Monday, April 20, 2015

Freelance Opportunity For Non-Fiction Writers

You aren't making much money as a freelancer, so you might as well adjust your business model. Take a page from the supermarket industry and look to volume on those slim margins to turn a profit.

Odesk.com and Elance.com could use your skill and knowledge. They will pay you €50 per hour. Not a bad rate, especially if you can write for long periods of time. Imagine how much you might earn in a full day, while still having time to pursue other, less profitable but more respectable projects.

Think of all the university students out there in the English-speaking world who have papers due but don't want to invest the time to research and write those papers. You could write them. You could get paid to write something that you might have scribbled in your own university days, in fact, and get something out of all those words besides a degree.

By signing on with sites that put freelancers and needy students together, you will be handed assignments without having to chase down an editor to beg for a little work. Instead, the work would come to you.

If you are considering such an option, you should be warned that this particular opportunity is not going to be available for much longer.

Teachers who assign written papers are realizing that their students are paying places like Odesk to provide them with the required piece, which is quite contrary to the purpose of assigning the project. Students are in school to learn, not spend their study hours doing things that they see as "fun". A purchased paper means the student did nothing to advance learning in whatever topic, whether it be science or current events.

In addition, a student submitting that sort of thing under their own name could technically be accused of plagiarism. Using a ghost writer is frowned upon in academia.

University administrators are also not happy about the service because members of their community are accepting the fees to write assignments to supplement meager incomes, and what good does it do to pay an instructor to teach if that instructor goes ahead and writes the papers for a few hundred euro each? Every student gets high marks on the brilliance, and there's your grade inflation. The student, then, learns nothing, the instructor makes enough to pay rent for a few extra months, and the graduates arrive in the work world unprepared to do the work.

Strike while the iron is hot, the blacksmiths say. If you can find a way around the plagiarism software that many universities are now using to detect pay-to-write work, your fortune is made if you act quickly.

Just remember to not sell the same paper to students in the same class at the same university, and be sure to jumble those sentences around. The software looks for 20% repetition. 

But it's work, isn't it, and it pays. That's what freelancing is all about.

Let the universities deal with the issue in their own way. You have to earn a living, and you can't be too particular. That's also what freelancing is all about.

Friday, April 17, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Raze It

Your new home here----if Wicklow County Council approves
A man's home is his castle, inviolate, protected under the Irish Constitution. Man has the right to own property, and that would include owning a piece of land and/or the house sitting on it.

A man can, therefore, build a house on his personal property if he likes, and live in it with his family. Family is also protected under the Constitution. Put a family in that house and you're safe twice over.

Or so you might think.

After the Constitution was ratified, a government sprang up to manage all the rules and regulations. Among those rules were planning ordinances that defined where and how man could exercise his natural rights regarding personal property. The Irish State stumbled along in its moribund state for decades with those laws, and the next thing anyone knew, prosperity came knocking and changed everything.

Men started building houses all over the place, wherever they thought other men would pay generously for amenities like a lovely view or a fishing stream or the nearby roar of the Irish Sea.

The authorities looked at the hodge-podge of homes taking up valuable farming land, or blocking lovely views to the detriment of others, and devised more rules and regulations to control where man could exercise his natural rights.

But this is Ireland, the land of the conniving colonist with centuries of practice at skirting laws seen as unjust. At least the laws were unjust when the British were making them. The habit just never quite faded out with time.

Gary Kinsella bought a plot of ground in County Wicklow, conveniently located along a major road. It's all about location when you're in the real estate game, and who wouldn't want to be near easy access to the motorways. There was some sort of structure already on site, but it did not suit Mr. Kinsella's needs, so he tore it down and then built himself a charming little chalet. He moved in with his partner and their child, and by all appearance they were quite happy.

Wicklow County Council notified Mr. Kinsella that he was in violation of local planning laws. He could not build anything, much less a home, without their permission. He said he would come in and file the proper forms, but it was just talk. Hadn't the martyrs of 1916 shed their blood so that a cold bureacracy couild no longer deny a man his natural right to a home for his family?

Mr. Kinsella never got that back-dated permission. He just went on ahead with his building project. The Constitution, he was confident, would protect his family home once he had it up and was living in it.

We're razing it, said Wicklow County Council, to which Mr. Kinsella shrugged and went back to puttering in the shed.

We mean it, the Council repeated, and they took Mr. Kinsella to court where he threw himself on the Constitution and its promises. Mr. Justice Kearns listened to both sides, and stood with the Council.

People cannot just erect homes wherever they like, the judge determined, or there would be bungalows surrounding the GPO filled with people claiming their natural rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. If a home is inviolate to that extent, anyone could slap up a lean-to or erect a shed and say it was home, sweet home, and the authorities could do nothing to move them out.

The Kinsellas will be given a timeframe for their removal, followed by the demolition of the family home.

The government has the authority to enforce its rules regarding where a man's inviolate home can be placed. If you build it without that approval, they will raze it.

The days of the Penal Laws and all the cheating that went on to get around them are over.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

South Park: The Literary Version

Writer retreats are often situated in places where the writer can avoid distractions. You'd like to be free of distractions when you are reading as well, so that you can sink into the prose and let the rhythms echo inside your head without someone trying to strike up a conversation because, well, you're only reading, it's not like you're doing anything.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library is that place.
Your next novel could be born here
Bookshop owners Jeff Lee and Ann Martin of Denver, Colorado, have invested their life's savings in an old ranch up in the thin air of the Rockies. With additional funding provided by the South Park National Heritage Area, they are going forward on a plan that is a writer/reader/artist dream.

They have quite a collection of books that they have amassed over the many years they have owned The Tattered Cover in Denver, and they are stocking a library on site. Maybe you are writing a research paper on cowboys or cattle ranching in the Old West. You would book a stay at the Land Library. Maybe you want to write a novel about the human condition, something filled with isolation and longing. What better place to set out your paper and pens than in a quiet room high above the bustle of everyday life?

Mr. Lee and Ms. Martin envision their retreat as a place filled with creatives. Artists will be welcome to enjoy the peace and also the beauty of the surroundings, finding inspiration in the rugged scenery. School groups can take advantage of both the library and existing nature for educational purposes, adding some much needed life to what might otherwise be a too quiet enclave. Then there are the tourists who might be looking for some peace and quiet instead of skiing. What reader would not enjoy a week in the mountains with a well-stocked library, a comfortable chair, and snow-covered mountain peaks just outside the window?

It is an expensive proposition, and one that is not yet fully funded. Existing buildings are in need of renovation and repair, and the savings of a couple of book sellers is not enough to complete the project.

The owners are looking to the future, as their retreat is discovered and paying guests provide a cash infusion.

Here is a library for those who still love the smell and feel of a book printed on paper instead of pixels. Who says that the book is dead? In Colorado, it is getting its own shrine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jacksonland: A Book Review

A lawless President, a supine Congress, political manuevering and a group of people used as pawns to ensure a desired election outcome...it could be modern America, but it is not.

To read Steve Inskeep's JACKSONLAND is to read about one Presidential era while surrounded by the very same underhanded skullduggery that forms America's present-day political fabric.

Andrew Jackson is a fascinating character, in large part because of his ancestry. A product of the Ulster Plantation migrated to America in search of religious freedom, he brought with him the same mindset that led to The Troubles and the oppression of Catholics in Ireland for centuries. Land taken by conquest, followed by punitive laws, worked for the British as they took the property of Catholics who refused to give up their faith. And so too did Andrew Jackson set out to take the land of the American Indian nations who happened to be living in a part of the expanding United States that Mr. Jackson wanted for his fellow whites.

The book can be dense in places, but it is well worth crawling through the forest of details to get a strong grasp of the underhanded methods employed by the Jacksonians, and the brilliant strategies employed by the Cherokee leader John Ross in doing all he could to stop the land grab.

Mr. Inskeep traces the relationship between the two warring parties from its origin, the War of 1812, when American rule over the North American continent was sealed with England's retreat from its former colonies. Andrew Jackson is shown as a ruthless man who would use any tool available to him to achieve his goal, and he used an alliance with the Cherokee in that war to further his own aims. The way in which he then turned on a former ally forms the heart of the tale, and it is not a pretty story.

The author does not shy away from presenting a less-than-admirable treatment of the real estate sales that Jackson arranged to his own benefit, making himself wealthy in the process, leaving the natives to an ever-shrinking world. Honesty between whites and Indians was not seen as a necessary component in business transactions for those who saw pots of gold strewn across Cherokee territory.

Indeed, the book is a litany of abuse that was accepted by those who believed that they had a right to land. Where the past meets the present is in Jackson's complete disregard for the law, including a refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the Cherokee to not be forced off their homeland.

JACKSONLAND is a very timely read in this era of political gamesmanship, with various tribes in use as pawns by politicians who seek to retain the power they hold. At the same time it is a history that has its roots in Ireland, where a similar scenario played out and followed the same path charted by another mighty empire that sought to wipe out the existing culture.

The book is worth reading for its lessons in history, which tend to repeat because so much of the history has been forgotten.

(Dear FTC: My copy of JACKSONLAND was provided by Penguin's First To Read Programme. In case you're wondering.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Poacher

Historical fiction can sell in today's market says Clare from California Times Publishing.

It can of course. Newcastlewest Books publihsed historical fiction and we've found that it does indeed sell. Our authors took to writing historical fiction because they couldn't find it when they wanted to read it so they wrote their own, indicating a shortage of historical fiction titles.

So what Clare from California Times Publishing has observed is not new to us.

But she was not writing to one of our authors to share wisdom. She approached one of our authors in the hopes of poaching someone who was in need of...a publisher? Or is it a marketing offer? Clare read a summary of the book and would like a hard copy or a PDF.

If she wanted a copy for review we would be happy to send it off to her. Getting reviews is key to generating interest in a novel, which is why a cottage industry sprang up to provide positive reviews for the small houses that tend to be ignored by literary editors. So lucrative has that new industry become that Amazon is suing to put them out of business.

Clare's e-mail was short, without a sales pitch or the slightest suggestion of what she was about. Why would a publishing company approach an author whose book has already been published? You might conclude that Clare was representing a marketer, rather than a publisher.

As it turns out, California Times says it is a marketing and management agency, publishing books and then promoting them while paying the author only 15% in royalties.

They use some of that income to monitor author-related forums like Absolute Write, where they recently demanded that the forum moderator remove the thread that criticizes California Times Publishing for being a waste of an author's time.

Clearly, the book that Clare wants to poach is already published, with an ISBN and a cover and everything. So there is no need for her firm's publishing services. What else is left? Why, it would be marketing of course.

And the marketing package is a paid service.

It all comes together. Clare wants to poach a Newcastlewest Books author to sell a marketing package.

Our author is not interested.




Saturday, April 11, 2015

They Like Me. They Really Like Me. Because They Were Paid To Like Me

Real, or false advertising?
Publishers understand the power of positive reviews. Anyone with a blog (yes, that includes us here at Newcastlewest Books) can obtain free copies of books prior to publication, with the supposition that said blogger will post a review so that there is a substantial body of buzz-generating comments when the book is laid down.

Potential readers look at the reviews to see what others thought of the book they're considering buying. Books are too expensive to buy on a whim, knowing that you might not like it. That's a lot of money wasted for the sake of building a bigger library, and who wants to keep something that was found to be unreadable?

If you are not a publisher, but an author, you want good reviews to get your book noticed. It's a crowded field. New books arrive every Tuesday, all competing for reader eyeballs. The big publishing houses do the review thing, but how can you achieve the same results?

You get others to review your books, of course, but it's the reaching of those others that generated a new marketing business.

You want positive reviews if you can get them, and if you could get your novel in the hands of someone who would give you four or five stars on a review posted to the Amazon page where most people find their reading material, you would be quite happy indeed. So you pay your money to a company that promises to get you those reviews, placed where you need them placed.

Jeff Bezos is not happy about this cottage industry.

He wants his Amazon baby to be pure as the snow, but too many of the reviews getting posted are little more than shills for the listed product. The item could be anything, from a novel to a fruit knife. Someone looking to buy said product sees a collection of glowing reports, and makes the purchase. When they are unhappy with that purchase, they blame Amazon for misleading them. That is not the sort of buzz that any storekeeper wants to see surrounding his shop.

Amazon has taken some of the review sellers to court, citing consumer fraud and false advertising.

While Amazon could go through every product and cull the obviously fake reviews, it would be cost-prohibitive and largely impossible. Family and friends of authors often post a five-star review to be helpful, and the author would be very upset if Aunt Brid's "A Must Read" headline was erased from the page because it sounded like a paid review.

Amazon tried to control the problem by limiting reviewers to those who had actually purchased the item being reviewed. With so very many customers, how could Amazon really determine who among them is part of the paid reviewer cabal, buying a product with money paid to them to buy it. A paid review costs around $20, which would more than cover the price of an e-book with plenty left over for the reviewer to earn a small living. What would be next? Limiting the number of reviews per reviewer? The paid reviewers would only have to set up a new account with a different name, and be back at work.

In their defense, the paid review sites claim that they are providing nothing more than honest reviews, performing a service that big companies can do in-house because they have the marketing department that Amazon's third-party vendors could never afford. It seems hard to believe that the business model would prosper, however, if the reviews were not overwhelmingly positive. Why pay a lot of money to get panned?

It's 'Caveat Emptor' out there in the wilds of cyberspace. You just can't believe anything you read these days. It's all so much fiction. Some of it, however, is very good, just like the reviews say.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Money To Burn...Literally

Real fire
Did you hear the campaign ads last week, warning Chicagoans of pending financial disaster if they elected Chuy Garcia? Remember all the talk about Chicago becoming Detroit, forced to declare bankruptcy, the city gone broke?

That was before Tuesday when Rahm Emanuel was re-elected. Now the city has money to burn. Literally burn.

Last October, the city had $100,00 to spare from its special events budget of 2013, plus another $250,000 from the 2014 allocation. The special events grants are supposed to be used to provide entertainment for the masses, especially the masses living outside of the city limits. The idea is to get them to come in, pay for parking, pay for drinks, and pay for food, all of which involves paying an entertainment tax that helps fund day-to-day operations that cannot be met by taxes alone. The system works, as long as enough people come to see what the city is staging, and buy enough stuff to more than cover costs.

What burned money looks like
The Redmoon Theater staged a spectacle that famously fizzled. What was supposed to be barges on the river representing Chicago on the night of the Great Chicago Fire failed to burn. Despite the infusion of all that cash lifted from the pockets of Chicago taxpayers, the system intended to ignite a conflagration did not work. Someone left the barges out in the rain. No one considered the fact that wood will not burn when wet, and when wood is allowed to get rained on, it gets wet, and so it does not burn. The fire in 1871 blazed spectacularly because, as any historian would tell you, the city was experiencing a severe drought. That's dry weather over a long period of time for those not schooled in meteorological terms.

Okay, so it failed. But lessons were learned, and next time... Well, just wait 'til next year.

Michelle Boon, the city's special events director, has promised that this time they'll get it right. The prop buildings will go up in flames, and not just smolder.

The city is supposed to be broke, but there is still a little bundle of cash that is going to be used to burn plywood cut-outs while tourists congregate along the river banks to watch. The city, or at least Ms. Boon, trust that tourists will come again, despite the previous fiasco, because there's an unfilled demand for bonfires in the greater Chicagoland area.

The tourists might even come just to see if the Big Burn fails again. It could become a regular event, like watching the Cubs and hoping they'll make it to the World Series.

The city of Chicago is sending another $100,000 to Redmoon Theater because it's all about second chances. Just ask Rahm Emanuel, who was given a second chance to get things right by the voters.