Sunday, 15 December 2013

Huffington Post bans 'Black Hatting'?

Following my post about making money out of One Direction, I got a few more commissions from clients eager to see their own websites plugged on Huffington Post.   One guy even sent me some suggestions of how to write it as the subject matter was so boring I couldn't think how to make it interesting.  As I wrote in that last piece, I thought this was a way that everyone could benefit from an idea like HuffPost.  They still get their content free, the client gets some exposure and, most importantly in the internet age of everyone expecting to get stuff for free, the writer gets paid.

Except HuffPost spotted I was posting paid for features and sent me an email telling me to pack it in.
Here's the relevant part of the T and C's:
  • Disclosure: In an effort to be as transparent with our readers as possible, HuffPost bloggers should disclose any financial conflicts of interest related to the issue they are writing about. If a blogger receives payment or income from a company, organization, group, or individual with a financial stake in the issue he/she is weighing in on, that information should be disclosed at the bottom of the applicable blog post.
Black Hatters load the deck
So that's the end of that.  I was also warned against something called 'Black Hatting' by a savvy tech writer I know.   As I understand it from surfing a few Google results, black hatting is a way of rigging content with keywords that link to a certain web page.  There's a famous example of the words 'black dress' on a site about nuclear engineering linking to the US department store JC Penney.  Essentially this fucks with Google's algorithms and loads search engine results in favour of the business that is paying to have these links in place.  Google doesn't like that and it seems, Huffington Post doesn't either.

I wasn't sure I was black hatting - I thought the context was relevant.  Say to someone, 'You should read this article about insurance, it's really interesting' is a sure fire way to turn them off the idea.  But if you say 'Just read this amazing story of a downhill skier who totally wrecked her knee two years ago but is favourite for the gold medal at Sochi', you're likely to have hooked their interest.   That feature might well mention an insurance company that got the best doctors involved and paid for the best care so they'll get a discreet plug.

So how do you know if you're black hatting?  When writing content, it's all about context.  People reading about nuclear engineering probably aren't there to buy dresses from a department store.   Are people who are reading about a skiing accident thinking about insurance though?  I think it's just about relevant, but I'm not sure.  If anyone can offer a guide, I'd love to see it.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Reinvent Yourself!

I don't usually just post links but I wanted to get this out there before I forgot.  So easy to do in this age of a million and one things on the internet that will distract you.  It's not only a great bit of writing (succinct, witty, honest) but also sage advice.   It might give you a clue what has been on my mind a lot lately. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you James Altucher's Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Importance of Encouragement

Following my 'I'm over it' post a few weeks back, I got an encouraging email from someone I used to write for before he moved jobs, telling me he steers a lot of the interns towards it for 'it's candid insight'.    It gave me a bit of a boost, so thanks Duncan.  If you're an intern and you're reading this, hope you find something worth reading.  Also, if you know someone whose writing you enjoy, let them know.  They might really need to hear it.

What I've remembered since that miserable post is why I started writing in the first place: it's because I really like doing it.  A restaurant review I wrote some time ago has just been posted by the Editor and I'm really happy with it - I think it's a good bit of writing.  To the Americans reading this, us Brits are not good at blowing our own trumpet, so enjoy this rarity.  Click HERE to read the post.

The other thing that happened after I'd written that post is that I got another enquiry about producing some more content.  Funny how the work comes to you just when you're starting to lose hope.  

Thursday, 19 September 2013


I often find a good rant helps.  On receiving yet another letter from 'Odey Wealth' asking me to join their wealth management service which is 'open to clients who have investible assets of £500,000 or more', I thought I would do the decent thing and write back.

Hello Crispin

You recently sent me a letter, even though I have no idea how you got my name and address.  

I have about £6000 to invest and I'm trying to save towards a mortgage.  When you've finished helping rich people get even richer, why not spare a thought for those less well off and give me a call with some suggestions of how to turn the £6K into £25K quicksmart?  I might be able to get a two bedroom flat in the outer limits of a city that is rapidly becoming segregated then.  

Alas, soon only the likes of you and your peers will be able to afford to live here.  As I'm sure you won't want to lose the cultural diversity that is attracting wealthy clients of yours to the city of London, be sure to give me a ring.  If you don't, it'll only turn into a city of bored rich people trying to outdo each other with increasingly ludicrous reconstructions of their already massively over priced homes.  Either that or they'll be scratching their bonces trying to figure new ways of pimping their Evoques.

Failing that, please take me off your mailing list.

Toodle pip.

Lee Mannion

Sunday, 8 September 2013

I answered my question

When I first started this blog, the question stood as a challenge to myself - could I do it?  Could I make a living out of the only thing I had a true passion for?  Back then I loved writing, had just received a big enough redundancy payout to ensure that I wouldn't have to work for six months or maybe more and I think I'd been reading a lot about successful people who had followed their passions.  I was enthusiastic.  The money I had in the bank is not to be underestimated - that money bought me freedom.  It meant I didn't have to earn any money to survive in an expensive city that is full of temptations.  That was four years ago.  I found the answer to my question.  My answer is no.

In 2009 I was idealistic.  I would have lots of brilliant ideas and commissioning editors would pay me to write for them once they'd read my pitch.  Other editors would notice me, admire my writing and then they would ask me to write for them.  For money!  (That did actually happen once and there have been very few things in my life that have made me as happy).  I was looking at people like Grace Dent, who seemed to have come out of nowhere to be popular with editors and successful and I thought 'I could do that, be witty, gobby and endearing.'  The truth was I just didn't know enough about Grace Dent.  She has worked her arse off to get where she is, working at magazines since she bounced out of University and writing 11 (11!) novels for teenagers along the way.  We're roughly the same age, but she's been incomparably more prolific.

If this blog has any advice to offer, it's this - you have to, like Grace Dent, work your arse off if you really want it.  Sure, there is a certain section of the media who were privately educated and used those connections to wangle a sweet position.  But most of the ones who are really good, the ones who make you laugh or gasp at their intellect, they're the ones who have been at it for years, honing their craft.  My lack of success leads me to conclude that I'm too lazy and that I don't want it enough.  This is depressing, because it leaves a big hole in my life - what else do I want to do?  As of this moment in time, I don't really have a clue.  I'm trying to expose myself to new experiences, going to meet ups and lectures about different kinds of work, waiting, like a moth, to be drawn to a flame.

It might be a hippie cliche but for me, it's true: life is a journey.  Can I Write For A Living?  was one for me and I'm now embarking on the next one.  I'd like think there are a few valuable insights in all of the different posts; I'd like to think it hasn't all been a waste of time.  So few things these days seem to have value, to be worthy.  There has been such a big gap between this post and the last and I'm not sure that I'll write here much anymore.  Neither do I want to end it.  I feel like a band who don't want to play together anymore but might get back together in a few years time, remember that it was fun and go out on the road again.  So, for those of you who have taken the time to read, thank you.  I hope you enjoyed it.  But I'm not sure I have anything more to say.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Secret of Success

I've only just realised that I'm interested in achievers.  I'm interested because I haven't achieved myself, because I'd like to and I want to know how it's done.  There's a huge market for it of course - every notable CEO of every successful company has probably put a book out describing how to get there at some point. Given that there are a lot of readers coming to this site from outside of the UK, I should explain who Arabella Weir is.

'The Fast Show' was a very successful and much loved half hour comedy show performed by six people on the television channel BBC2.  Arabella Weir was one of those six.  She went on to write a couple of books and now describes herself as a comedy writer and performer.  Arabella puts her success down to one thing: determination.  She has a lot of interesting knowledge to impart about the insecurities and doubts that crop up along the way and she's my latest Pass Me On.  You can get the inside story by clicking here.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

How to Find an Angle on a Story

Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West
Following on from the last post, I got another commission this week from the same client.  I've never cared for musicals, but I like the Wizard of Oz (who doesn't?) and was interested to discover that Wicked the musical takes the focus away from Dorothy and onto the witches.  Because I've been looking for a new job recently, I've been trying to figure out what my passions are.  This is tricky to narrow down because I enjoy almost everything except heights...mostly I just like having new experiences.

The point of me telling you this is that finding an angle on a story is essentially finding something related to a subject that you like or are interested in.  An inquisitive writer should be able to do that about any given subject.  A writer who earns a decent wage is certainly someone who has to have that skill.  If you can't find any interest in the subject, don't take the commission.  Life's too short to write about something that bores you.  Given that Wicked is looking at the Oz story from another perspective, I admired the imagination.  Certainly I admired the sustained success of it - people are still snapping up tickets to see it nearly 10 years after the Broadway debut.  If only I'd written it!  If you're interested on the angle I took, you can read what I came up with here.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

How One Direction made me $250 which I sell out.

Are you on LinkedIn?  You should be.  If I hadn't been on there I wouldn't have made $250 writing about One Direction.  There are numerous writers groups you can join on there (Content Writers and the Freelance Writers Connection spring to mind) but be warned: there is a lot of crap to sift through.  A lot of the content writers stuff, for example, is people wanting hundreds of words for $10.  Put another way, it's a total rip off and further proof that a flooded labour market (lots of people want to write) makes labour cheap for the bosses.  The exception to this is if you live in a country where ten bucks goes further than for most of us in the Western world - you'll see a lot of posts for content from India for example.
One Direction after reading my feature on them.

Another hazard is bullshit scams and I was half expecting that when I replied to a post from someone called Jennifer (whose profile picture looked suspiciously like a stock shot) wanting freelance writers to get in touch for work.  My advantage was that I had written for Huffington Post.  Once they have accepted a pitch you get a login to submit further articles and I guess if you've written for them once, you're more likely to get published again.  Huff Post don't pay for your submissions, so they probably just enjoy getting the free content.  Writing about 1D was the challenge though - I couldn't (and still can't) name you one of their songs.  But people who make a living out of writing usually have to produce articles to order, possibly on subjects they know little about.  I was interested in the challenge - could I do it and still make it interesting?  You can read the article and decide for yourself here (and please share the story with the buttons top left of that page if you like it).

Jennifer wasn't a scam.  She even paid up front to convince me that she was genuine, though has since asked me to 'reconsider' my fee should we work together again.  I feel like Huffington Post should be paying for content (they're making money from the ads after all) and I believe that they do, if you're a celebrity writer.  So it struck me that this was a way everyone wins.  HuffPost gets content, Jennifer gets some traffic for her site and the writer gets paid.   Could be the future, no?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Reasons to Write No. 4: New Experiences

The Westway Sports Centre
When you write you get to do things you might not have considered.  One such example is my most recent post for West London Living.  Never been turned on by climbing, mainly because I'm scared of heights.  Come to think about it, it might well be a good way to get over that fear.  Bouldering means you don't have to get too far off the ground though.  There were other bouldering virgins when I went to experience the class, so I wasn't too bothered if I cocked it up.  I can think of another good reason to do it too.  If you've always wanted strong muscly arms, I reckon you'd get them after a few sessions on the climbing wall.  Mine have always looked like cheese straws.  If only there was a way to get great arms by keyboard bashing.

Writing this feature also opened up a bit of my community for me.  It's been a long winter in England (I write that because I've noticed a lot of you are reading from other countries) and Christmas left me skint, so I hadn't been out much.  My drug of choice is TV and it's lethal to me.  Whole evenings can pass when I haven't thought about what else I could do with my life or how I could use that time to learn something.  Unlike my living room, the local recreation centre was swarming with people.  There were several six a side football matches going on outside, about the same number of tennis matches happening in the warm and who knows how many exercise classes taking place around the enormous space under the Westway (a kind of freeway for those of you reading from the US).  It felt like a party was going on that I'd never previously been invited to.  So that's where everyone was.  So even though I wasn't getting paid, I saw a side of London I'd never seen before. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Free Cocktails!

(Or Reason Number 3 to Write)

This is by way of checking in, as I haven't posted for a while.  So much for doing it every Sunday.  My latest review for West London Living involved me going to a 'speakeasy'.  (London's got a bit of a thing for supposedly hidden bars at the moment.)  Three years ago, when I started this business of doing some writing for people, I didn't think it would lead to drinking for free and becoming a reviewer.  So, if you're still looking for reasons to start writing and start approaching people, what are you waiting for?  It might lead to Club Tropicana (drinks are free).