Site traffic and ad revenue: Lessons learned

I just learned something important about my site traffic.

Prior to moving my wedding blog last week, I was averaging around 700 hits a day.

When I moved my wedding blog and installed the new template, I forgot to add my Active Meter code to the template. Suddenly my website has dropped to about 100 hits a day. That means my wedding blog alone gets 600 hits a day!

Interestingly, my ad revenue has also gone up since I moved my wedding blog. I installed new ads, as well as adding some channels so I can see which ads are the most lucrative. I didn't think I changed the ads that much, but suddenly my ad revenue has almost tripled!

This is really encouraging to me. It means that with a little more work, I might actually be able to get some decent ad revenue from my blogs, particularly my wedding blog — not enough that I can rely on ad revenue alone, mind you, but enough for a little extra "pocket money."

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 31, 2008 At 9:55 PM 0 comments

Using plagiarism to ban plagiarism

This is rich: Apparently, a bunch of students at a school in San Antonio got together to write an honor code discouraging cheating and plagiarism... except they copied the wording of another school's code.

Their anti-plagiarism code is plagiarized.

In the words of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe's Professor Kirke, "What do they teach in school these days?"

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By Katharine Swan On At 5:45 PM 0 comments

PonyTalesBlog.com and April promotion

I've just issued a press release announcing the launch of PonyTalesBlog.com, and a corresponding promotion for April: I've decided to donate 25 percent of all new client income in April to a Colorado horse rescue of my choice. I also published the story on a community site, and I'm looking into submitting it to a couple of local publications.

I got the idea from Kathy Kehrli, who successfully ran a similar promotion a little over a year ago. I hope it is as successful for me as it was for her!

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By Katharine Swan On At 3:49 PM 0 comments

Attention all Panama fans!

Check out my newest blog, everyone — www.PonyTalesBlog.com!

I figured I blogged about my horse so much that he deserved his own blog space. It turns out I have a lot of material for a horse blog, because I already have quite a few posts.

I'll post plenty of pictures on this blog, too — including the fantastic picture that is in the header! My brother-in-law, who does a little professional photography, took that in March 2007, before Panama came to Denver.

Please comment, either here or at the new blog, and let me know what you think!

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, March 29, 2008 At 4:32 PM 2 comments

Lessons learned from blogging

As some of you already know (or may have guessed), I've spent a lot of time this week on my blogs. I've started a couple of new blogs, and have updated others with templates and fresh posts.

Something I've noticed is the way I can lose myself in my work when I'm working on my own stuff. It's been a while since that has happened on a regular basis with my clients' projects. While I tend to get distracted from doing billable work, I get distracted with my own projects.

It's made me realize something: I don't take enough work that I can get excited about. In general, I have more work to choose from than I used to, so I think I need to start choosing projects not only based on pay, but also on whether I will enjoy doing them.

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, March 28, 2008 At 6:01 PM 0 comments

What snacks help you work?

When I was in 7th grade, my science teacher would hand out three Smarties to each student right before a test. He claimed that eating Smarties had been shown to make you temporarily smarter, so if we got stuck on a question we could eat a few for help. We were all pretty sure he was joking, but we ate those Smarties just in case!

I'm (pretty) sure now that it was just a cute gimmick, but I still find that snacking on something while I work helps me concentrate. My biggest weakness is Jelly Belly jelly beans, so that's what I snacked on today while working on my website updates. Other days, it might be pieces of apple or pear, crackers and cheese, or cookies. (I have a major sweet tooth, if you can't tell.)

Do you like to snack on anything while you work? If so, what are your favorite snacks?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, March 27, 2008 At 3:32 PM 1 comments

My wedding blog has a new look and location!

I have moved my wedding blog to www.my1920swedding.com. It also has a fantastic new template!

I plan to start posting to this blog again, hopefully several times a week. I also have plans for an ebook with information for others who are planning a 1920s-themed wedding.

By the way, the new URL is just in time for our one-year anniversary, which is later next month!

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By Katharine Swan On At 3:26 PM 0 comments

New blog and ebook website

I just wanted to let everyone know that one of my new blogs is up and running at www.dollstringing.com. This blog is a lot of fun for me, being about one of my biggest hobbies — but it is also a marketing tactic for my ebook.

My goal is to update the blog at least three times a week, but hopefully daily, so check back often to see new pictures of my beautiful dolls!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 26, 2008 At 6:03 PM 2 comments

Bush 'helps' small business owners

President Bush is again touting his tax rebate plan's ability to help small business owners.

According to this article:

The president said his administration — with legislation approved by Congress — had taken "decisive action" by getting money for taxpayers and businesses, which are to receive tax incentives to invest. He said that will create new jobs.

It sounds like garbled BS to me, created primarily to sound like they're doing something important. "Decisive action"? "Tax incentives to invest"?

To invest in what, pray tell? My husband's wine collection? (He'd like that.)

Then there's this nice quote from Bush:

"Small business owners are dreamers and doers," Bush said. "We want to watch them and help them expand."

Oh yeah? Well then, give us a break on the friggin' self-employment tax! Seriously, nothing dissuades someone from starting a small business faster than when they realize they'll have to pay a 15 percent self-employment tax!

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By Katharine Swan On At 4:15 PM 0 comments

My new favorite opening lines of a novel

The things you find when you look through your drafted posts! Evidently I wrote this post back in February but never published it:

A while back I read The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Although I blogged about it on Livre du Jour, I wanted to bring it up here because its opening lines are now my favorite of any novel I've ever read.

This is how the book begins:

I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now — which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter.

Who wouldn't want to keep reading, after an opening paragraph like that??

I've never been one of those writers who pays close attention to the opening lines of every novel I read, though I certainly know how important they are. I recently read and reviewed BAM: First Pages, which is about this very subject: How to write an opening to your novel that will grab the reader's — and, more importantly, the editor's — attention.

All I can say is that Geraldine McCaughrean is my new hero, as far as opening lines go.

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By Katharine Swan On At 4:03 PM 0 comments

Are freelance writers green?

I think as freelance writers, we often consider ourselves "green," or environmentally friendly. After all, we don't contribute to air pollution with a daily commute, and we have the opportunity — more so than most office workers — to limit our paper waste.

For instance, I have a free PDF writer that I use to make electronic copies of expense receipts for anything I buy online (instead of printing the receipts), and I submit 99 percent of my work via email instead of snail mail. I also limit my driving as much as possible, by combining errands and driving to the stables only three or four times a week now (instead of daily).

However, a story on NPR this morning was a good reminder that we may not be as "green" as we think. In fact, the very things that we think make us more green (electronics that allow us our work-from-home, paperless status) may actually make us less so.

This is a good reminder that we should recycle our electronics as often as possible, rather than just tossing them in the trash — even if they don't work. The story mentions myGreenElectronics.org, which helps you find a place near you that recycles electronics. I would also suggest freecycle.org, where you can give away working (or not working) electronics to other members who can use them.

Remember: Just being a freelance writer doesn't automatically make you environmentally friendly. Be sure to keep those electronics out of the landfills as much as possible!

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By Katharine Swan On At 9:05 AM 0 comments

Dogs are hot in publishing right now

You've probably heard that any good writer needs to also be good about following the current trends in publishing. Well, evidently the hot trend right now is dog books.

This made me think of Anna Quindlen's Good Dog. Stay., which I read a couple of months ago. I haven't read Marley and Me, the book that supposedly kicked off the trend, but I have definitely noticed the number of dog books on the new arrivals table lately at Barnes & Noble.

Of course, I also immediately thought of Kathy Kehrli of Screw You!, who has a dog book idea of her own. Looks like your idea has got the green light, Kathy!

I wonder if horse books are the next trend, or perhaps an offshoot of the dog books trend? On my shelf of books I plan to read, I have a memoir called Chosen by a Horse, about a rescue horse. And of course, since I rescued Panama I have plenty of ideas for a horse book of my own!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 24, 2008 At 7:59 PM 2 comments

New blogs coming

I've come up with several new blogs lately, and I'm working hard at getting them ready to go. If it seems like I'm neglecting this blog a bit, that's why.

I'll post about it as my other blogs go live!

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By Katharine Swan On At 4:58 PM 0 comments

Happy Easter!

Today is Easter.

Last Sunday evening, I had a mild moment of surprise when I realized I didn't know when Easter was going to be. I actually thought it was last Sunday, until I heard someone say something about the following weekend. We're not Christian, so it wasn't a big deal, but it was something of a start when I thought I'd missed it entirely.

So if you are Christian and do celebrate Easter, happy Easter!

If you aren't and don't, then happy pagan fertility day! I'm sure you'll find some appropriate way to celebrate it...

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, March 23, 2008 At 12:47 PM 0 comments

Panama requests a snack

Panama makes some of the cutest sounds. One of my favorites is the deep nicker he uses when he is really excited about the prospect of getting fed.

If you turn up the sound on this video, you should be able to hear it, right after I ask (from out of sight of the camera) whether he wants some hay. The nicker is at about 16 seconds, if that helps at all:



There's also a little story about why I keep saying "Back," when I enter the stall. Soon after he switched to this barn, I found out he was virtually running over anyone who came into his stall with hay or grain, in his half-crazed attempt to get at it. Ever since, I've been giving him handfuls of hay when I'm there to teach him to step back and wait patiently for me to put it in his feeder.

There was a week or two when every time I entered his stall with the hay, I had to turn in circles and elbow him a lot in order to keep him from mauling me to get to the hay. As you can see, though, he now responds to the "Back" command and follows me quite respectfully to his feeder.

It's always such a good feeling to see the results of even minor training efforts!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 19, 2008 At 11:54 AM 7 comments

Finally getting to my New Year's resolutions

Back at the start of 2008, I made several New Year's resolutions. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to working on any of them...until now.

On Monday I finally started dedicating the first hour of my day to my own projects. (Yesterday, that hour actually turned into three or four because I was having so much fun with it!) The projects I'm working on also satisfy my second resolution, which was to complete my website updates.

I already posted about switching Reading For Writers to its own URL. Right now I'm working on a blog and website to market my ebook; I hope to have the updates live and ready to go sometime next week.

It feels so good to work on my own projects — why didn't I start this sooner?

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By Katharine Swan On At 11:36 AM 0 comments

My new PayPal security key

Now that I've made the jump to a premier PayPal account, I decided to go ahead and order the security key. It came on Monday, just over a week after I ordered it.

I was surprised by how small the PayPal security key is:



It doesn't look like it would be this small in the pictures on PayPal's site, so I photographed it with a quarter to show you how small it actually is.

So far I like it. It's not too much of a hassle to use it when I sign in, and I haven't had any problems with not being able to access my account or anything. Apparently there's even a way you can get temporary access if you don't have your security key with you.

And of course, it's especially nice knowing that it'll be at least a little more difficult for a hacker to gain access to my account now.

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By Katharine Swan On At 11:00 AM 0 comments

Horses are so cute!

I haven't posted about Panama in a while, so I thought it was time I did so. And I have the perfect story for my post, too!

On Saturday, my mom and I went to the stables to visit Panama in the late afternoon or early evening. The horses are turned out every day, but are usually returned to their stalls around mid-afternoon. So when we arrived, the horses were all "put away" for the night.

The weather is warming up considerably these days, and when we arrived Panama was lying down in his run, which faces west. He was facing into the sun, obviously very warm and relaxed. He didn't get up to greet me, so my mom and I let ourselves into the stall and walked over to him.

Panama was lying with his neck upright and his legs tucked up to one side, so I knelt beside his head. I started petting him and talking to him, and he leaned his head into me and "snuggled." It was so cute!

After a little while I went around his head and crouched on the other side. Before long he rolled all the way onto his side and laid with his head in the dirt and his legs stretched straight out. Where I was kneeling, I totally felt like he was a big dog that had just rolled over to have its belly rubbed!

I laughed and rubbed his belly — which is usually pretty ticklish, at least when I'm grooming him — and he half-closed his eyes and twitched his lips. It was obvious that he enjoyed it very much. I knelt there for a little while and alternated rubbing his belly with stroking his neck and shoulder.

Eventually, he sat up again. "Do you want some treats?" I asked, and his ears perked up. (He definitely knows that question!) He got up and shook off (again, just like a dog!), and I took him out to the cross ties to groom him.

I wish I had had my camera on me so that I could show you pictures of my horse lying there in his run while I petted him. Heck, I wish I'd had it so that I could see those pictures! It was a wonderful bonding moment with my horse, and definitely a moment worth remembering.

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, March 16, 2008 At 6:49 PM 0 comments

A freelance writer's biggest pet peeves

Some of my old clients — and the ones I have kept on the "old rates" out of generosity and respect for their loyalty — have become a pain in my behind. It's just not worth the money anymore, and I'm thinking of looking for replacements.

Here are some of the things that make me want to drop a client:

1. Emailing their writer at the last minute for a press release they need ASAP &mdash every single time. I mean, come on. How difficult is it to ask me to write the press release while they're still in the process of adding the new product or service to their website? That way, everything can be released at the same time. Why is this such a difficult concept for some clients to grasp?

2. Hiring a writer and then rewriting everything themselves. I don't have a problem with newspaper and magazine editors making changes, but I do have a problem with clients — who have hired me as the expert — doing it. Particularly when the changes suck.

3. Being vague about what they want, and then complaining about what they get. If you don't tell me specifically what you want, how do you expect my vision of the project to coincide with yours? I haven't had to deal with this in a while, but I did once dump a client over an extreme case of it.

4. Ordering a rush project, and then going MIA. This isn't a current issue for me, but a conversation with another writer reminded me that it is one of my biggest pet peeves. "Rush project" does not mean that clients can take their time and let the writer make up for it by working more quickly!

5. Blaming the writer when your marketing efforts don't work. There are many reasons why great marketing copy doesn't generate a response. The client might not have done their market research, or they might just have a crappy product. The last time I ran into this problem, I decided I'll no longer write for products or companies I don't believe it.

What are your biggest issues with clients?

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By Katharine Swan On At 11:26 AM 1 comments

Reading For Writers has a new home

Reading For Writers can now be found at www.reading4writers.com. I set up a redirect on the old URL so that you'll still get there regardless, but please update your links if you have any on your blog or website!

This is the first — and easiest — of my website updates. More will come in a week or two, so stay tuned!

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, March 15, 2008 At 11:02 PM 0 comments

Say (or write) what you mean

I just noticed a headline on my iGoogle page:

Winter Storm Dumps Heavy Snow on Colorado

It was about 50 degrees in Denver today, so my first thought was, "Really?"

Reading the article, it turns out that what they really meant was "Winter Storm Dumps Heavy Snow on Colorado Mountains," or "Winter Storm Dumps Heavy Snow on Western Colorado."

I think this shows the importance of writing what you mean, even in the headline.

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, March 14, 2008 At 5:49 PM 0 comments

Poll: Should I replace my bio pic?

I was considering replacing my bio pic (the one shown in my Blogger profile and on my website homepage), so a week ago I ran a poll to see which of three everyone liked best.

A few people responded in the comments that they liked the one I have now better than any of the replacements, so here's a new poll for you: Should I replace my bio pic?

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By Katharine Swan On At 11:45 AM 2 comments

Poll: What do you think of my Indeed ads?

If the number of clicks is any indication (2 in a week), my readers don't think very highly of my Indeed ads.

I don't want to clutter up my blog with ads you don't like, so please tell me what you think of the Indeed ads. I've created a poll for those who want to remain anonymous, but please feel free to elaborate in the post comments if you'd like.

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By Katharine Swan On At 11:35 AM 1 comments

Getting back to an earlier schedule

After getting up early for Monday's phone interview, I've been on an earlier schedule almost all week.

Monday morning, I had to be on the phone by 7:45, so I was up by about 7:20. Tuesday morning, I was up at about the same time to take Michael to work so that I could keep the car (my car isn't running right now). Although I ended up feeling pretty energized all day on Monday, on Tuesday the earlier schedule didn't go over as well, and I ended up succumbing to the urge to take a nap.

Yesterday I didn't have to get up early for any particular reason, but I made myself anyway, getting out of bed by 9:30. Today it was 9:20.

Anyone who has followed my blog or known me for a while realizes what a big deal it is for me to get out of bed by 9:30. I should also add that I've been in bed by 11:00 or 11:30 every night this week, which is also quite a feat — I'm a night owl, and am accustomed to working late at night and sleeping late in the morning.

That started changing last summer, when I started getting up with Michael to take morning walks before he went to work. I got into the habit of not working late at night, and as a result, even when the morning walks ended and I stopped getting up early every morning, I still wasn't working late as often.

In other words, getting up early this week has been a really good thing, because it has given me more time to work, and as a result I've had a pretty productive week (all except for Tuesday, when I took that nap). Hopefully I'll be able to maintain the earlier schedule for a while!

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, March 13, 2008 At 9:30 PM 0 comments

Why you should always follow up

I've been reminded in the past couple of weeks how important it is to always follow up with potential clients during your job search.

There was a job listed on Craigslist a little while back that I knew I'd be perfect for. I got together a list of references and emailed the editor. Within a couple of days, I received a response saying they were interested, and would be emailing me the following week to schedule a phone interview.

I didn't hear from them, so the week after that I sent a follow-up email stating that I was still interested, and asking if they still would like to set up a phone interview. A few days later, I had one, and I just yesterday finished my first article for the magazine.

I've had other instances like that recently too. I think it goes to show that it's always a good idea to follow up if an editor or a potential client shows interest, and then disappears. I think they get tons of responses from an ad, and don't always remember which writers they originally showed interest in.

I'm not so sure you should follow up on every job you apply for — just the ones who show interest in your application. As many responses as these folks get, a lot of unsolicited follow-ups would probably get you on their sh!t lists. However, if you are exceptionally qualified for a job, it might be worth sending an unsolicited follow-up email.

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By Katharine Swan On At 9:56 AM 2 comments

Rich Mintzer on freelancing rates

Today WritersWeekly.com ran a great article by Rich Mintzer on determining your freelance rate. Although the target rate of $40 per hour may not be for every freelance writer, Mintzer does an excellent job of showing how to determine an hourly rate, and then relating that rate to individual jobs.

It was also nice to know that I'm not the only writer who sometimes sees a project's hourly rate fall far below what I'd like! My "bad days" are the ones where I end up making less than $15 an hour. Thankfully there aren't many of those days anymore, but it's still nice to know that I'm not the only one who experiences them from time to time.

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 12, 2008 At 1:42 PM 0 comments

Conducting successful interviews

I recently posted about conducting my first phone interview. Although I've done interviews before, my posts about the interview and my voice recorder combo inspired me to also write a post with tips for conducting a successful interview.

1. Do your research. Don't expect to get every little bit of information from your interviewee. Find the background information yourself. You can verify the accuracy of your information during the interview, of course, but I find that I am more comfortable with the interviewee and the topic if I've looked it up beforehand.

2. Prepare your questions ahead of time. This is another good reason to do your research before the interview — you need to know what are good questions to ask. Make a list of questions — I usually write 6-8 questions — and have them in front of you during the interview.

3. Test your equipment ahead of time. Get together your voice recorder, digital camera, and any other equipment you plan to use during your interview. Check your remaining battery power, and replace the batteries if they are low. It might also be wise to have extra batteries on hand, just in case the gadget lied to you about how much power was left.

If it's been a while since you used your recorder, play with it a little to refresh your memory. Also do a test run to make sure that it actually records when it says its recording, and that any adapters — such as a cell phone adapter — will do what you need them to do.

4. Be spontaneous. Your list of questions is there primarily to help you if you get stuck, so other than checking it occasionally to make sure you're still on track, try to ignore it as much as possible. If you can relax and enjoy the conversation, you'll get more information and better quotes — not to mention you'll leave the interview feeling really good about how it went!

No matter how many interviews I've done, I'm always a little nervous beforehand. However, I often find that the better prepared I am, the easier it is to relax and enjoy the conversation with my interviewee. I'm not saying that doing these things will make you lose your anxiety altogether, but it'll certainly help!

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By Katharine Swan On At 10:59 AM 0 comments

The 'And you can make a living doing that?' question

I recently ran into someone I haven't seen in 15 years. While we were catching up, she asked whether I was working.

"I'm self-employed," I answered. "I'm a writer."

"Oh, and what do you write?" she asked.

"Mostly I do copywriting for the Internet. You know, websites and stuff." Obviously I write much more than this, but it's the simplest way to answer this question on the fly. Most people's eyes glaze over if I try to explain in detail, so I stick with the easiest — if not the most eloquent — answer.

"Oh. And you can make a living doing that?"

I'm sure virtually every freelance writer has heard that question at least once during the course of his or her career, and probably actually many times. I suppose I am asked that about 50 percent of the time. The other common response is something along the lines of, "That's so cool!" or, "I always wanted to be a writer, too!"

There are some exceptions, of course, but it seems most people fall into one of two categories: Either they think writing isn't a viable career, or they think it's all fun and games.

I remember house-hunting with my husband, back in January and February of 2006. We didn't sign on with a realtor, so every time we toured a house we had to deal with the same barrage of "What do you do for a living?" questions. One realtor, when I told him I was a freelance writer, immediately turned to my husband and said, "And what do you do?" You could almost hear him thinking, Well, she's no good. Hopefully he has a real job.

What are the most memorable (whether annoying or humorous) responses you've received?

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, March 11, 2008 At 9:53 PM 4 comments

Recording phone interviews

As I mentioned in a previous post, I just recently conducted my first phone interview. Part of the reason I've avoided doing this until now is because I hate phones, but another big part is that I wasn't sure how to record the call.

I am not one of those people who can follow a conversation while I'm taking notes and jotting down quotes. I feel like I need to devote my full attention to the interview, so I much prefer to record the conversation and take notes from the recording later on.

In the past, I've used everything from an old-school mini-cassette recorder to an MP3 player with a voice recorder feature. My MP3 player really didn't do so well as a voice recorder, no matter what the box said, and anyway it bit the dust not too long ago. My digital camera has a voice recorder option, but it won't work for a phone call.

I decided it was high time to invest in a better system, one that would allow me to record phone calls when necessary. The trick was that I needed something that would work on cell phones, since we don't have a land line. I searched the RadioShack website, and came up with this:

Wireless Phone Recording Controller

Basically this little gadget serves as an interrupt between your phone and your hands-free device. There are two wires, one of which you plug into the phone's hands-free port. The other goes into your voice recorder's microphone jack. The hands-free device then plugs into the controller.

There was another device that just plugged into the recorder. It had an earbud microphone to record everything; you just put it in your ear and put the earpiece of your phone up to it. Personally, I didn't think that was a method I could count on to pick everything up, so I opted for the interrupt-style device.

Of course, this also meant I needed a voice recorder. I wanted one that would enable me to store the files on my computer; I like keeping all research and other records for each article together. However, I also didn't want to spend an arm and a leg, so I picked out a voice recorder that was relatively inexpensive and could do everything I wanted:

Olympus VN-3100 PC Recorder

I love the recorder, and the controller is pretty easy to use, too. The only thing I've noticed is that because my phone tends to create some interference with speaker devices, I had to be sure to keep the recorder and the phone fairly far away from one another. The interference sometimes covered my voice with some static, but I never had any problems hearing my interviewee's voice on the recording!

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By Katharine Swan On At 10:37 AM 0 comments

My PayPal solution

I never did blog about how I decided to solve my PayPal problem.

Essentially, I decided to bite the bullet, so to speak, and submit to the forced upgrade. Since I have clients who only pay via PayPal, I didn't really have any other option.

However, although I've upgraded my account, I haven't given up the fight! I have spoken to one of my biggest clients about paying via check instead. That alone should save me between $15 and $20 in fees every month.

Eventually I plan to switch with all of my clients who offer check payment, which should be about 90 percent of my business. All in all, I think should be able to reduce my fees to less than $5 per month.

Take that, PayPal!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 10, 2008 At 3:22 PM 2 comments

My first phone interview

This morning I conducted my first-ever phone interview. I've interviewed people in person before, and I'm always a fan of emailing interview questions for easy pieces such as press releases, but I hadn't ever interviewed anyone over the phone.

I was definitely more nervous than I usually am before an interview. I had some physical symptoms of anxiety last night — primarily a racing heart — and it took me longer than usual to fall asleep. I blame this on the fact that I hate phones, except when the person on the other end is one of a select few, such as Michael or my sister. Especially when I am interviewing someone, I find the disembodied voice difficult to deal with, whereas the addition of visual cues usually serves to help me relax much more quickly.

Anyway, this particularly phone interview was at 7:45 am, which means I was up really early this morning. The interview itself lasted about 45 minutes and went pretty smoothly. Another hour and a half was spent this morning taking notes and pulling quotes from the recording. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the way it went, although I can think of plenty of things I should have said differently (or not at all!).

To celebrate my first successful phone interview, I am going to blog about tips for other writers over the next couple of days. One thing is the gadget combo that made today's interview so successful: a voice recorder and an adapter for recording phone calls (land line or cell). I'll also write a post with general tips on conducting a good interview.

Stay tuned!

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By Katharine Swan On At 1:28 PM 2 comments

New article: Scandals in publishing and what it means for us

I have a new article up on CollegeCandy.com. Because it's about the scandals in the publishing industry the last few years, I thought my fellow freelancers might be interested.

Selling Your Soul for a Good Story

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By Katharine Swan On Sunday, March 09, 2008 At 9:34 PM 0 comments

PayPal 101

A reader comment regarding PayPal's fees inspired me to post a cheat sheet for anyone considering opening or upgrading a PayPal account.

It's my guess that most people don't read PayPal's Legal Agreements, which is of course what they're hoping for. It's easier to hit users with sneaky changes to their terms of service if the users don't read the legal agreements and don't know that it's their responsibility to stay up-to-date on them. I certainly didn't — as I already mentioned, if it hadn't been for a client's mistake, I wouldn't have even known about PayPal's new $500 limit.

So for all of you who are prone to checking the "I Agree" box without reading what you are agreeing to, here is the rundown:

PayPal has 3 types of accounts: personal, premier, and business.

The personal account:
Fees on outgoing payments: None.
Fees on incoming account transfers: None.
Fees on incoming credit/debit card payments: $0.30 + 4.9 percent for domestic payments; $0.30 + 5.9 percent for foreign payments.
Limits on incoming payments: $500 per month (if you go over this, you will be forced to upgrade your account in order to receive your money).
Limits on incoming credit/debit card payments: 5 per year.

The premier and business accounts:
Fees on outgoing payments: None.
Fees on all incoming payments: $0.30 + 2.9 percent for domestic payments; $0.30 + 3.9 percent for foreign payments.
Fees on all incoming payments if you qualify for merchant rates: $0.30 + 1.9-2.5 percent for domestic payments; $0.30 + 2.9-3.5 percent for foreign payments.
How to qualify for merchant rates: Fill out a one-time application and meet an unnamed (and possible arbitrary?) level of transaction activity every month.

All accounts:
Fee for transferring money electronically to your bank account: None, but is estimated to take 3-5 days.
Fee for withdrawing money from an ATM using your PayPal ATM/debit card: $1 per transaction.
Fee for requesting a withdrawal in the form of a check: $1.50 per check.
Fee for withdrawing money from a bank that requires a signature using your PayPal ATM/debit card: $3 per transaction (!).

My comments:

1) Even a personal account is not really "free" anymore, if you take advantage of the 5 credit/debit card payments you are allowed every year. Plus, you're on a very tight leash and could be forced to upgrade to a more expensive account if you are paid more than $500 in a single month (even if you never get that much again).

2) The fees for receiving credit/debit card payments on a personal account are nearly twice what they are on the premier and business accounts.

3) The fees on the premier and business accounts are ridiculously high unless you qualify for merchant status, but they don't state in their legal agreements how much you have to receive each month in order to do so.

4) The time estimate on the electronic withdrawal (3-5 days) may be overstated in order to make the debit card, with its $1-a-pop fee, seem more appealing. Withdrawals to my bank account are usually completed within 2 days.

5) Why does a signature cost you $2 when you withdraw money from a bank using your ATM/debit card?

All of this information comes directly from PayPal's Legal Agreements as it appears on March 9, 2008. Of course, PayPal reserves the right to change any and all of this at any time, and without really telling you. If you want to know about upcoming changes, you will have to regularly check the "Policy Updates" page of their website, to which of course they don't provide you with a link — you have to find it yourself. I've done the legwork for you, though, and you can find it here: PayPal Policy Updates.

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By Katharine Swan On At 12:50 PM 2 comments

Poll: Which bio pic do you like best?

I'm still working on the website updates I started eons ago, and as part of that I'm putting a new picture on my website homepage. I'll also use the same picture for my Blogger account and any bios I'm asked to provide.

The thing is, I can't decide which picture I like best, so I want to get my readers' opinions. Scroll down for a poll, and feel free to elaborate in the comments if you'd like.

Here are the three I'm trying to decide between:

Picture 1:



Picture 2:



Picture 3:





And the poll:



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By Katharine Swan On Friday, March 07, 2008 At 12:03 PM 8 comments

PayPal alternatives

Since my post about PayPal's sneaky account changes, I've been looking into PayPal alternatives. Here are three alternatives I'm interested in so far:

Google Checkout

I actually signed up for Google Checkout a year or more ago, but never used it. Compared to PayPal's business account fees ($0.30 + 3 percent of the payment amount), Google's fees are a little more reasonable ($0.20 + 2 percent of the payment amount). Plus, if you use AdWords, Google allows you to receive 10 times the amount you spent per month free of charge.

In other words, if you use AdWords, getting paid via Checkout is a really good deal.

Neteller

Neteller appears to be another well-known PayPal alternative. I can't seem to find on this site how much you'll pay in fees to receive money from other people, but it appears that withdrawing your money to a bank account costs $1. I've emailed them to confirm that amount, and to find out what fees apply to incoming payments.

Update regarding Neteller: I just received a response to my email, and evidently they don't offer their services to U.S. residents anymore. Too bad!

Obopay

Obopay is a rather interesting idea. While you can still use the Internet to send and receive money, Obopay is actually intended to be used from your cell phone. ("Hobo" pay?) The fees seem reasonable: To load money into your account from a credit or debit card you pay 2.5 percent, but the fees are waived if you load from a bank account. Sending money to someone costs a flat fee of $0.10 each time. Transferring money to your bank account is free.

In other words, Obopay's fees for your clients would be virtually nothing unless they are paying via credit card, and it's free for you. For obvious reasons, I find this very appealing!

What PayPal alternatives do you use?

I like the benefits of getting my payments instantly, but I certainly don't want to be paying through the nose for that luxury. If you use a PayPal alternative to receive payments from your clients, I'm interested in hearing from you. What do you use, what are the fees, and what do you like/dislike about it?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, March 06, 2008 At 3:53 PM 4 comments

Spread the word about PayPal's sneaky tactics

Since I posted about PayPal's personal account changes last night, I've been thinking a lot about how they've handled the changes. I've come to the conclusion that they are deliberately not telling members about the changes in order to trick them into having to upgrade to the business (read: expensive) account.

Think about it. Now that I know that I can only accept $500 via PayPal this month, I can start asking clients about alternative payment methods, and hopefully avoiding going over $500 (and therefore be able to keep my personal account as is). I have control over the situation, because I found out at the beginning of the month.

Now imagine I hadn't found out when I did. I would have reached $500 by mid-month at the very latest. When I received the payment that pushed my total for the month over $500, I would have been given the "choice" to upgrade my account in order to accept the payment. Which, of course, is no choice at all, because when you are expecting — and needing — the payment, who is going to deny it?

I recently read a book called Gotcha Capitalism, which talks about how businesses use sneaky fees to rob their customers. One of the things he talks about is how credit card companies and banks can send their Terms of Service changes on little itty-bitty slips of paper, and that by doing nothing you are in effect agreeing to them.

That's bad enough, but in my opinion what PayPal has done is even worse. Their Legal Agreements start out by saying:

This User Agreement ("Agreement") is a contract between you and PayPal and applies to your use of PayPal's Services. You must read, agree with and accept all of the terms and conditions contained in this Agreement. We may amend this Agreement at any time by posting a revised version on our website. The revised version will be effective at the time we post it. In addition, if the revised version includes a Substantial Change, we will provide you with 30 Days' prior notice of Substantial Change by posting notice on the "Policy Updates" page of our website. We last modified this Agreement on January 25, 2008.

In other words, they "notify" you by posting changes on their website. It's your responsibility to check for changes. Whether you know about the changes or not, you've agreed to them simply by continuing to be a PayPal member.

This whole thing seems sneaky and a little dishonest to me, and many people are going to have a rude awakening when they hit $500 in incoming payments this month. Therefore I'd like to ask everyone to spread the word about PayPal's policy changes, either by blogging about it or by sending emails to everyone you know who accepts payments using a PayPal personal account.

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By Katharine Swan On At 9:14 AM 0 comments

Time to part ways with PayPal?

I have been a big PayPal fan for a long time. Even when I've heard of instances of PayPal hackers, I've always given PayPal the benefit of the doubt since it's been so good to me.

I'm rethinking that now.

I just found out that PayPal — abruptly and without telling its members — changed their policies. Now, personal accounts (read: free accounts) can only receive up to $500 per month in payments.

On the bright side, personal accounts can now receive up to 5 credit/debit card payments every year. Unfortunately, this change hurts me more than it helps me: I bring way more than $500 through my personal PayPal account most months.

This is how PayPal justifies the changes on their site (though I had to really dig to find any mention of it at all):

Q: Why does my Personal account now have a receiving limit?

A: Personal accounts have always been intended for personal use only and are not designed to be used for business purposes. We have not changed the intent behind the different types of PayPal Accounts, only the enforcement on our account types. PayPal considers the receipt of payment types that include Goods and eBay Items in excess of the Personal account limit to be beyond the normal level of personal use. By requiring Premier or Business accounts for all accounts that receive a large volume of payments, PayPal ensures that all high activity selling accounts are treated similarly.

This irritates me, primarily because eBay has made it clear that they'll stop at nothing to make an extra dime. I knew PayPal was owned by eBay, but until now they haven't been too money-hungry.

My guess is this change is to compensate for the break in listing fees they just granted eBay sellers.

I'm really annoyed. Everyone knows that eBay and PayPal are far from hurting for money, so couldn't they just quit picking on little self-employed folks? Save the fees for the really big earners. It's not fair to hit all of us lowly writers with them.

And it's especially not fair to even tell us about them. I would not have known until I reached $500 for the month, had a client not accidentally paid with plastic.

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 05, 2008 At 11:38 PM 2 comments

Favorite quotes meme

Shannan Powell has tagged me to participate in a unique new meme. The goal is to share a favorite quote and dedicate it to three other bloggers. Those three then have to do the same with their favorite quotes.

I didn't have a favorite quote in mind, but I knew the Brontë sisters have some great quotes. Since the Brontës are my favorite classics authors, I started my search there, and found my new favorite quote — one I'm sure I've heard, but have since forgotten:

I'm just going to write because I cannot help it.
-Charlotte Brontë

That definitely speaks to the heart of who I am, since writing is not just my career, but also my identity. I have no doubt other writers will agree, so I'm tagging Kathy, Harmony, and Amy. (Yes, I know a couple of you have already been tagged, but think of it this way — at least you already had to do it.)

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By Katharine Swan On At 10:56 PM 2 comments

Freelance writing job ads

I blogged the other day about my first AdSense check and looking into some other ads. I also promised to let you know if I found anything useful.

Amy commented on the blog post and suggested Indeed.com's job search ads. It sounded like a good idea to me, so you'll notice a new block of ads in my sidebar. I'm going to experiment a bit with placement over the next few weeks, as I have found that where put the ads makes a difference in how much revenue you get. Of course, it's a balancing act, because you don't want the ads to be obnoxious, either.

Let me know what you think of the new ads!

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By Katharine Swan On At 1:29 PM 0 comments

My first AdSense check

I received my first AdSense check today.

Granted, it was just a little over $100, and it took me about a year to get there, but still — there is something delightful about getting a hundred-dollar check for something I do on a regular basis anyway. At the very least, it covers the annual expense of registering and hosting my website.

My Amazon.com affiliate ads accrue earnings much more slowly — only if people make a purchase through my links. I recently discovered that my own purchases don't count (darn it), but that my husband's do.

I'm also thinking of looking into other advertising and affiliate opportunities for my blogs. I'll let you know if I find anything worthwhile!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 03, 2008 At 6:20 PM 4 comments

A meme to break my fast

I haven't done a meme for a little while now, but Dorit from Pieces of Me just broke my fast by tagging me to write 7 random facts about me.

Here we go:

1) I'm working out on the porch right now. It's a little windy, but sunny and about 70 degrees. Gotta love Colorado weather!

2) Speaking of loving Colorado weather, I'm heliotropic. That means that the weather affects my moods. If it's sunny, I'm happy. When it's overcast or rainy/snowy, I have to fight the urge to stay in bed all day. Apparently a lot of longtime Colorado residents are like this, because we get so used to seeing the sun almost every day.

3) I had my first boyfriend when I was four. He was in my preschool class, and he gave me a purple clip-on earring to remember him by. He kept the other one.

4) I kept that earring through two moves. In fact, it's probably still in my childhood keepsakes box.

5) Sushi is one of my favorite foods.

6) My favorite flowers are roses, preferrably peach in color.

7) My favorite color is blue, which caused a lot of problems when I was really little — back then it was supposed to be a boy's color, even more so than now.

According to the rules, I'm supposed to tag seven people. However, I've never been much of a conformist, so I'm going to break the rules, and grant a break to the usual recipients of my tags. Instead, I'm issuing a general tag to anyone who feels like being tagged — just leave a comment on the post to let us know you've blogged about it!

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, March 01, 2008 At 3:41 PM 3 comments

Good advice for newbies

I hate it when people assume that writing is something that "just anyone" can do.

Case in point:

Dear Katharine Sawn,

Hey there..!! First and formost I just want to "Thank You" personally for takeing the time out of your personal schedule for takeing the opportunity to read my following e-mail.

I was putting some consideration on freelance writeing, and I just had a few question's to ask of you.

1. My first question is..I want to write on certin topics, and can I sell my personal views or personal advice..to the public beside's magazines and newspaper articles?

2. I want to sell my articles on my own with my own materials how much should I charge..?

3. How long does it have to be meaning pages..? Can freelanceing go into writeing book's..?

I think thats all the questions I have to ask at the moment until these questions get answered. Again I just want to "Thank You" personally takeing the time out of your busy schedule to read my following questions..

Sincerely Yours,

F.M.

F.,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, before you attempt to sell your work as a writer, you need to work on your spelling and grammar. There are many errors in your email, leading me to believe that either English is not your first language, or you lack some of the necessary education. Writing is not like flipping burgers at McDonalds: You can't start your career without first getting the necessary education and skills.

Writing is a profession. Please treat it like one. Once you have a good understanding of English spelling and grammar, I'd be happy to advise you on your career.

Sincerely,
Katharine Swan

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By Katharine Swan On At 3:19 PM 2 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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