The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Examiner stats are weird

When I posted my state budget article, I saw a big bump in traffic just ten minutes after doing all my Digg, Twitter, etc. stuff. When I posted my swine flu article yesterday I expected the same but I got virtually nothing. Hours later I still had only about a dozen hits. I assumed that there were so many people talking about this swine flu nonsense that my voice was lost in the crowd.

Then today I pulled up my stats for yesterday to see the damage, and I see 126 hits compared to 38 for Phoenix and 49 for the channel. I've noticed discrepancies like that before. Examiner stats for today seem to be wonky but they clear up at the end of the day. The lesson is don't pay much attention to the current day's stats.

Now that I've done a couple of blatant Google-bait articles, I'd like my next one or two to be more useful informational resources. However, I need to get my real work done first. I find I have to tear myself away from Examiner to do the stuff that actually pays my mortgage. It's hard to get interested in writing about business accounting practices or taking telephonic legal depositions, but I need to do that before doing the "fun" writing.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu hysteria strikes again

It's been my experience that parents of special needs children have a different attitude than other parents toward incidents like this swine flu scare. Either they get philosophical about it, too busy with actual problems to worry about media-invented ones, or they panic unreasonably. I'm hoping Phoenix parents are in the first group rather than giving in to the frenzy.


[Yes this is a blatant Google bait article. It's the frenzy of the moment and at least marginally relevant to my topic.]


I beat the averages

My article on the state budget cuts attracted more traffic than usual, just as I expected it to. Yesterday I got 79 hits while the average Phoenix examiner got 37 and the average Family & Parenting got 75. I was a bit reluctant to post it since I don't like controversy and there was enough in there to annoy both liberals and conservatives (the voice of reason usually angers extremists) but no obnoxious comments yet.

If I were brave I'd go bait the conservative and liberal examiners hoping to drive their traffic over to my site, but nah. I really hate arguing politics.

My channel manager has sent a number of emails on how to generate hits, like one about good keywords for Earth Day. Yesterday she let us know about an article done by the Seattle Xbox Examiner on a website that educates parents on game ratings, suggesting we F&P examiners do stories on it and get some good crosslinks.

I'm still hitting my stride so I'm not doing as much of the marketing as I should be, which is the story of my professional life. That's the lesson for today, kids: be a better marketer than Uncle Andy. I plan to post another entry on this blog later today about sharing articles using sites like Digg.

ETA Oh and I should mention the surge in traffic brought me to my second dollar with about 2.5 hours of additional work. I'm getting there!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Arizona state budget cuts: Help disabled kids or help abused kids?

Parents of special needs kids in Phoenix and throughout Arizona are protesting attempts by the state government to cut programs providing therapy and other services to their families. The common cry is care for children with disabilities is a necessity not a luxury. While true, other programs are necessary as well.



Sunday, April 26, 2009

How to protect kids against Phoenix summers

With the first 100-degree day of the year less than a week behind us, this is a good time to review the dangers our kids face from the hot Phoenix weather. Heat is insidious and the dangers it poses can creep up on us. The risk is magnified for many special needs kids.



My first dollar with Examiner

I've made my first dollar with Examiner. Whoopee. I've spent nearly ten hours to make that dollar.

Up until now when I've seen examiners report monthly statistics I assumed they were saying these were the average page views for each day of the month. Nope, they are the views for the whole month. As an example, for March 2009 the average Phoenix examiner got 1,118 views and the average Family and Parenting examiner across all markets got 1,301 views. In other words the average person makes $11-$13 dollars per month working for Combine this with Examiner's claim that the typical person spends 3-6 hours per week or about 20 hours per month writing and promoting their work and that means you can earn about $0.50/hour doing this.

To be fair, the average examiner is frankly pretty lousy. Most people don't post enough or make any effort to market their work. In the Absolute Write Examiner thread one examiner says "...I should pull down over $200 this month. Granted, I worked my butt off for it, but at least it was writing fun stuff." It is possible to make a reasonable monthly income but I'm getting increasingly concerned over the time investment.

So far, except for my first posting, each day I've posted I've met or beat the Phoenix average and come close to the F&P average. I certainly think beating the minimum is the least Examiner writers should aspire to. I have got to find ways to streamline my publishing process though.

I've decided I'm not going to waste time looking for graphics. I'll post photos if they are relevant to the article but not just for the heck of it. I've never liked the attitude that web surfers are illiterate boobs and won't read books without pictures. Whether or not it's true, I don't believe the extra time poring over Creative Commons photos to find a decent one results in enough traffic to matter.

I'm also going to step back from keywords. Yes keywords matter, but I'm not going to obsess over it. I'll tweak on the text a bit, but some articles just don't lend themselves to keywords. For example I'm planning to write an article on how kids with cognitive or communication delays are at greater risk in Phoenix summers because they can't ask for a drink of water. That's a "push" article, information I push on my readers, not information someone would actually search for.

My last article was posted much more quickly than my first ones because I bypassed the crappy, crappy publishing tool and just wrote the HTML code myself and pasted it into the source box. I'm old enough to remember the rise of WYSIWYG word processors and how great they were compared to the old "switch to the preview window" method, but the whole point is the WYSIWYG tool has to be better than typing the code by hand. I don't see that with the FCKeditor Examiner uses.

The other thing I've decided is that each week I will come up with four evergreen ideas so I get at least four postings. I will also keep an eye on local and national news to look for tie-ins I can use for three more articles, ideally posting every day. However I have two non-writing days each week that I care for my niece and I need to write those pieces in advance so I can just post, share and walk away in a few minutes. One of those days is today and I may or may not get my piece up. I'm still getting my schedule down.

Still, I remind myself that I enjoy writing this and I feel I'm doing a service. As I've said many times, this is my charity work so it doesn't have to be massively lucrative.

PS I can't decide whether to use title case or down case on my blog titles. I have traditionally, and inconsistently, used title case but I think the standard, certainly the one Examiner uses, is down case. Sometimes it looks silly to me and other times not. Life as a writer is so complicated.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shortening URLs from

I imagine a conversation going like this.

Parent: I have a child with disabilities.

Me: What a coincidence. I have an online column about raising special needs children.

Parent: Great! What's the address?

Me: Examiner dot com slash x dash eight seven nine three dash phoenix dash...oh, you've walked away.

Those long Examiner URLs are fine in an email, forum post or other medium where people just have to click, but are useless for business cards or conversation. Luckily sites like TinyURL and exist to convert long URLs to short ones.

Using them is easy. Go one of these short URL sites and paste the long URL you want to shorten. It will give a shorter URL that anyone can use to reach your site. These shorter addresses don't expire or get used by anyone else and the service is free. Users are taken directly to the destination without going through ads or anything else.

I use for my Twitter posts since their URLs are a few characters shorter than TinyURL. With Twitter, every character counts. However I don't like using them for other purposes because people would find them confusing. "Where's the .com?" would be the reaction I'd expect.

So I use TinyURL for my main Examiner page. You can specify your own alias with TinyURL ( does this too) to create an address easy to remember. I may be but I'm also - which one do you think is easier to remember?


AMC Theaters settles discrimination lawsuit in Arizona; Harkins continues to fight

In order to settle a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, AMC MultiCinema Inc. has agreed to increase the number of theaters fitted with digital captioning and descriptive video services. This makes their theaters more accessible to hearing and vision impaired customers.



Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to advocate for children with disabilities

You are an advocate for your child whether you know it or not. You don't have to be standing outside the Arizona Capitol holding a picket sign to stand up for your child's rights. Every time you take him somewhere you are saying he has the right to be at this shopping center, this park, this school or this airport just like every other kid. Although the law requires reasonable accommodation for disabled children, sometimes we have to ask for that accommodation. The most effective technique is "Be firm but don't be a jerk".

Actually, I don't use the word "jerk" but this is a family site.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are You Using Business Finance Software?

One of the clients I write for distributes financial software for small business. A common theme I use is that many small businesses use cobbled together bookkeeping. They combine consumer financial applications, spreadsheets, scribbled notes and shoebox filing systems because they feel their business is too small to need a complicated financial package. I respond that a business of any size needs professional bookkeeping software.

Don't you hate it when you are too dumb to follow your own advice?

Yes, I have a system that combines Quicken, two Excel sheets and my failing memory to keep track of my massive *cough* business empire. It has worked well until today.

My primary client was reconciling her 2007 taxes and asked how much she had paid me that year. I looked it up on my project spreadsheet and got one number and then on my tax spreadsheet and got another number. Uh oh. After some investigation I realized I over reported my 2007 income and overpaid my taxes by nine whole dollars!

If I had underpaid I'd file an amended return but I'm not going to bother over $9. Like so many things it comes down to hourly rate. The time it would take me to file the amended return would eat up the $9 in no time. I can't imagine the IRS will send me to jail for giving them too much money. There is a lesson here though. A real financial package would have prevented that mistake by correlating invoices with income. So one more thing to add to my to do list is "Buy financial software".

Is Examiner Worth It?

Aspiring writers out there maybe be wondering if they should follow my example and write for Examiner or similar ad revenue sharing sites. To misquote Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons, "Short answer no with an if, long answer yes with a but."

Short answer: No. If you are serious about being a writer, low paying sites like Examiner are not effective ways to make money or build your clips. Buy a copy of The Renegade Writer and skip the entry-level assignments.

Long answer: Yes, but know what your real goals are and be prepared to do all the work involved, not just the writing.

There is more to life than money and there is more you can get from an assignment than a paycheck. I'm excited by this opportunity and I am happy to have the chance to provide advice to parents of special needs kids from Phoenix or anywhere else. However I'm fully aware this is going to be a junk income stream which will pay less than half my minimum writing fees. I can't devote much of my time to it.

If you write for Examiner, maximize your hourly rate. I looked at the Phoenix Special Needs Kids category and immediately a hundred ideas popped into my head. I can write article after article with no research, banging out each in matter of minutes. This means I can easily keep up with 4 articles per week and ideally I will do one a day.

Don't ignore marketing! This means networking with people face to face or through forums. You don't have to be obnoxious, but be prepared to tell people about what you can offer. I meet with therapists and doctors every week and can spread the word through them to Phoenix parents. I plan to attend meetings and classes where I can find other parents. I allow people to follow me through Twitter and email alerts. I share my articles through sites like StumbleUpon and Digg.

Learn SEO and by that I mean the whole thing, not just keywords. Learn about cross links, about how to write for the web, about how to build interest in your site. This is not just about writing a few words and waiting for the money to roll in.

Think of other ways to generate income. Become an Amazon affiliate and provide links for products you mention. Write articles on flat fee sites like Demand Studios designed specifically to drive traffic to your Examiner site. Revenue sharing jobs require you to squeeze every penny out of them to be worth your time.

Overall, have a plan. Don't just join for the sake of joining. You don't have to be a full-time writer to take your writing income seriously.

If you do decide you are ready to to join Examiner, tell them sent you.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

First Examiner Article Up

I posted my first piece on Finding a pediatrician for children with disabilities. I just want to say I HATE Examiner's authoring tool. It's so "for dummies" that it's harder for those of us who know HTML. Ugh! I think once I get it figured out and make some of my own templates I'll be fine but it took me forever to get my first article up.

I'll detail each of these later but I'll point out that I did keyword research to find the right title, put in a creative commons photo because people love pictures and added a Twitter link (yes, you too can follow me on Twitter). I know I should go in and Digg, Reddit and so on my article but I'm spent now.


Live On Examiner

I am now the Phoenix Special Needs Kids Examiner. Although I haven't posted my first article yet (I'll do so later today) I've already made $0.02! Easy Street, here I come. I suppose I should point out that I'm being sarcastic since I've seen some people post those kinds of statements as proof they are "prufesshunal riturs".

For those who want to know the timeline, I applied on March 18. I got an email on April 16 asking me to confirm my interest over the following two days. This email mentioned a few interesting facts:
  • Must write 4+ articles/week
  • Average examiner spends 3-6 hours per week writing and promoting
  • I retain full rights to my work (unlike most sites that take all rights)
  • Pay structure varies on traffic and ad revenues but runs about a penny per page view. Other examiners report the same.
  • Examiners must submit to a criminal background check. It seems like an odd requirement but I have had a more thorough one done as a respite care provider so it's nothing new.

I replied and got another email on April 17 asking for my headshot, bio and PayPal information to be sent within the next three days.

On April 20 I got my login information, my URL, and was introduced to my channel manager. I am to post my first article within three days then wait for it to be approved by the channel manager. Future articles can be posted as fast as I can write them. The email ended with a list of style notes and tips for building traffic. They also need me to complete a W-9 form.

I'll post my first article in a bit and let you know how long it takes to get approved.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Gig: Phoenix Special Needs Kids Examiner

I just got accepted to as the Phoenix Special Needs Kids Examiner. It's one of those "we pay you a part of the revenue sites". I've been reading about it and my hope is that I can swing $10-$15/hour writing for them.

"Wait a minute," I hear you say. "Didn't you quit a $10/hour writing assignment? What's going on, you big hypocrite???"

To which I reply, "Shut up!"

But seriously, folks, I thought a lot about the low pay. This is WELL below my usual writing fees and it's exactly the kind of job that I don't think writers should take as a rule. However, sometimes there's more to life than money.

I've talked occasionally that a big part of the reason I'm a freelance writer is it allows me to help care for my niece who has many neurological disabilities. All this time I've looked for an outlet that I can write about special needs kids but I have to balance that against the fact this is a job and I need to make money. I can't afford the time to write just for the heck of it.

This is a subject I know well and am passionate about. I can bang out postings with a minimum of research, thus improving my hourly rate. I don't expect this to be a lucrative assignment, but it's something that's important to me. After a few months if I'm not making some minimum rate I'm going to have to seriously consider walking away from it, but I'm hoping I can make this successful enough that I can justify my time.

The problem with LTK was that I didn't care about the subject. I had little control over content or keywords. The time spent formatting and cross linking and other nonsense was absurd. I'm excited about Examiner, not for the money but for the opportunity to help people in Phoenix and elsewhere deal with the issues surrounding raising a child with disabilities. My only regret is that I didn't get this assignment a couple of months ago because there have been some rather disturbing events surrounding state benefits to families with disabled kids but that's not going to end soon.

I plan to write about my Examiner experience a lot here, talking about techniques I'm using to generate traffic, find article subjects and so on. My plan is to openly discuss my earnings but I need to double check that with Examiner first. Some places forbid their people from discussing earnings, usually because they don't want people to realize just how little their authors make. In this case I think an earnings discussion is necessary because if you do take an assignment like this, you have to make it as lucrative as possible.