Thursday, August 25, 2011

Things That Make Me Go Hrm... or WTF, Rather

My fellow human beings often confuse me. If you know me in any capacity, whether personal or professional, then this is hardly news. Every so often though, someone I cross paths with in my travels will do something that no one I keep company with seems to understand.

This week, I've spent a decent-sized chunk of my time cleaning house in regards to my web presence, especially in regards to written content out there with my name on it. I've been having a major problem with a former client who -- for reasons I sincerely do not understand -- apparently started posting ghostwritten content I wrote for him a long time ago under my own name instead of posting under his own or using a proper pseudonym.

Why he did that in the first place, I honestly don't know. Most clients who hire a ghostwriter do so expressly for the privilege of taking credit for writing that is of considerably better quality than anything they could produce themselves. They don't often give the writer a byline because that defeats the purpose. Why this client didn't stick to our original agreement regarding my hire as a ghostwriter, I may never understand, but he didn't, nor did he bother to ask my permission to use my identity like that before apparently deciding it was A-OK that he do so.

Wait for it though, it gets worse. For reasons I really don't understand, this person has been continuing to post content under my name all over the web even though we no longer work together and haven't for a long time. However, the additional content in question is naturally not even written by me. Some of it is obviously spun content that some cheap abortion of a software program shat out onto a computer screen at some point in the past. The rest is just plain bad writing that seems like it was produced by cheap writers from third-world countries who are far from fluent in the English language.

The last thing I need is for potential clients or publishers interested in my work to Google me and think those are actual examples of my writing... yet there they are anyway, just as plain and day. It's embarrassing and considering the reason why it's happening, it's also completely unacceptable.


Obviously, I am livid about this whole thing -- especially about the fact that this has been an ongoing problem that has escalated over time. For one thing, I am very picky about what I will allow my name to be attached to. Clearly, anything I write and publish to the web for personal purposes on one of my own sites I will want credit for. Bylines in regards to creative writing or poetry of mine published elsewhere are imperative. I also far prefer to have a byline if I'm writing an article or a review that is actually reflective of my own unique views and opinions.

Ghostwriting is a different animal though. If I agree to ghostwrite content for a client -- especially any sort of advertising material -- I'm basically agreeing to assist them by simulating their voice in a way they can't do for themselves. If I help them produce a product review or some copywriting material that endorses their website or company based on information they provide, I don't want my name attached to the work. I may have written it, but those really aren't my words. They certainly aren't my opinions or recommendations; they are those of the client.

Forget the fact that he eventually started posting writing that had nothing to do with me whatsoever. By attaching my name to even the material I wrote without my permission, he basically impersonated me and told what potentially amounts to the whole world that I use and endorse his products. Yeah... how about no! Contrary to popular belief, writers aren't complete byline whores. We don't throw our hands up with glee when we see our names in print without any regard for the circumstances. These are our names. We care how they're being used and what's being done with them.

I'm not famous. I'm not well-known. I am honestly not even sure what this client thought he was going to gain from using my identity like that. He was in the habit of complaining constantly about my rates and trying to come up with reasons why he felt I should be giving him discounts or special treatment though. Maybe he planned on pointing out the fact that he was oh so generously giving me OMG FREE BYLINEZ as yet another "don't you think I deserve a discount" campaign at some point. Maybe he was just too lazy to make up a damn pseudonym. I honestly have no idea... and I'm not really sure it matters. It was a shady thing to do either way.


Anyway, a week or two back, I decided enough was enough and contacted him insisting that he either remove my name from the accounts he was using to post his advertising and link-building material or else delete them. I also told him it should go without saying that I don't want to see any more of this "writing" appearing with my name on it in the future either. 

Time went by and I never even received a response from this person, let alone an apology or anything. However, I did notice that many of the accounts and articles were either removed or changed just as I'd insisted on when I went to check on my own before e-mailing him again about the issue. There were still quite a few older postings that hadn't been touched though, so I spent the better part of a recent afternoon reporting the ones that remained for copyright infringement, abuse, and fraud. 

Honestly, he's lucky I didn't directly contact the company that he works for to complain to his boss about how he's handling their marketing and link-building campaign! If I see any more fake Shannon Hilson articles going up in the future, I will though. I'm that pissed off.

I'm not enough of a jerk to actually name this company or anything so that this blog post comes up in Google searches under their name despite the fact that they potentially spoiled my professional reputation the same way. However, I will assure you that anything you happen to see on the web that appears to be written by me, but has anything to do with aluminum briefcases or related products is not an actual reflection of any of my personal opinions or views. 

Regardless of what it looks like otherwise, I'm certainly not encouraging you to go out and buy briefcases from the company in question in any way whatsoever... at all. Why the hell would I after their marketing director decided to pull something like this on me? For the record, I do not use aluminum briefcases myself for any purpose and I certainly don't use or care about these particular ones. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

3 Terrible Reasons to Start a Blog

I don't know why this keeps coming up as a theme in my life and in my conversations lately, but it does. "Blogging -- How does it work??" I'm finding out that an awful lot of people don't know and even worse, they don't know that they don't know. (Hrm... reminds me of how so many people view life or relationships, but I won't even go off on that tangent here.)

Blogging -- or any sort of web writing, really -- is just like anything else creative. A lot of people will probably try their hand at it at one point or another. Most of those people will wind up quitting as well because of the unrealistic expectations their heads were full of from the beginning. The following are some of the things I hear people say about starting a blog that make me instantly aware they're headed straight for disappointment.

1. "I'm going to make so much money!! I can't wait until I can quit my job in a month or two."

Yeah, that's not going to happen. Trust me. Anyone who says this obviously has no idea how difficult it is to make more than a few dollars here and there from Google ads or any other sort of advertising. To make even enough to be worth mentioning, you need to have traffic levels that are off the charts. If you're lucky enough to have traffic and popularity levels that are that amaze-balls, then you'll probably be able to sell ad space on your blog now and then as well, but that's not going to make you rich either.

Most blogs don't rake in the passive income by the bucket full and you'd best believe that the ones that do have had a lot of hard work poured into them over a number of years. Possibly months if you're really dedicated, have amazing content, and are a complete whiz when it comes to SEO, web marketing, and other such areas. You're not going to just open a Blogger account, yammer about your boring life or a couple of things you're interested in for a month or two, and suddenly be able to quit your day job though.

It's not just friends of mine who wind up disappointed by this either. I've written content for a great many clients who thought they were going to start a website, open up a blog, post two or three SEO'ed ghostwritten articles up there, and never have to work another day in their lives. Oh, don't I wish! If we writers were capable of laying golden eggs like that, why would we be taking on freelance work in the first place instead of just posting our own articles and rolling around in all the millions our words have the power to generate?

2. "My blog's going to get me discovered. I can't wait until the book deals start pouring in!"

Before you jump down my throat, yes. I am well aware that there have been writers who did get discovered via a blog they kept. Also, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I secretly daydream of something like that happening to me. However, if that's honestly why you're starting a blog, you're probably going to be disappointed. For every blogger out there that gets lucky and winds up attracting the attention of some big-name publisher who wants to take a chance on them "for reals", there are a million to whom no such thing will ever happen.

A number of those bloggers are honestly good... great even! However, the sad reality attached to any sort of creative endeavor is that being talented isn't a golden ticket to success. Talent doesn't automatically give off some kind of magic homing beacon that publishing houses will see radiating into the heavens. In fact, it often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Believe me when I say I know how frustrating that reality can be.

If being published is your ultimate goal, you really need to be sending regular submissions and queries in to publishing houses instead of sitting around waiting for someone to notice you. Most publishers have more than their share of work to do just going through the submissions they receive. They don't spend their days trolling the blogosphere looking to recruit the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling off of LiveJournal or anything.

3. "I know more about Subject X than anyone and produce great content, so it will be easy for me to build a readership."

For every one would-be blogger who is just completely blind to the fact that building a successful blog actually takes work, there are probably five who are aware of all that, but simply think it doesn't apply to them for some magical reason. They think that because their mothers pat them on the head and tell them they're fascinating, everyone else in the free world will naturally think so, too. They think that they're the one person who knows more about their subject of interest than any other blogger out there, so naturally people will want to read what they have to say. I've even known more than one person who entertains daydreams of a celebrity taking an interest in them and being willing to promote them to everyone they know for no good reason.

You guys, this isn't Field of Dreams. I don't see Kevin Costner or James Earl Jones anywhere. Therefore, "if you build it they will come" does not necessarily apply here. Even if you do have something truly unique to offer (and most of us don't, no matter what we like to tell ourselves), great content doesn't always equal a large readership. That takes hard work and a lot of self promotion. Then once you've got people's attention, you have to be interesting enough to keep today's fickle-ass internet surfers intrigued enough to actually come back. That's really not that easy to do.


So a lot of you are probably going: "So, if you don't get rich, famous, or discovered when you make a blog, why start one at all?" Well, self expression to name just one reason. If you love to write, are passionate about something, and are the sort of writer who really enjoys sharing your thoughts and opinions with others, a blog is a great way to get your thoughts down and put them out there for the consideration of others. 

This is probably the main reason why I keep blogs. I have always enjoyed expressing myself through writing, I feel like I know a thing or two about a couple of subjects, and I like to use what I write to connect to other people. No, it doesn't make me a ton of money, but then it's not supposed to. I don't complain if money does come my way because of my blogging addiction, but this is really more of a hobby for me. The regular practice and feedback from other people who stop by to see me have made me a better writer though, which has led to more opportunities as a professional, which have led to more money via avenues that are already open for me. I've made some interesting and very enjoyable social connections because of my blogs as well. 

Really, blogging isn't that much different from creative writing in that way. You're best off doing it because you really like to write, sticking with it for that reason, and trying not to put too many expectations on things beyond that. At the very least, you'll have fun, get better at writing, and make a couple of friends in the process.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More Forays Into Dark Art

Finished Bill Oberst Jr./MoreHorror T-Shirt Design

I know I haven't been particularly talkative in regards to specific projects I've been working on either privately or professionally. (This is despite the fact that such things were really the reason I opened this blog in the first place.) I think that's a bad habit I picked up from doing so much ghostwriting. I'm just used to having clients and whatnot prefer that I not blab too much in regards to things I'm working on for them, so then even when it's cool (or even advisable) that I do, it's just no longer my first impulse to share.

Nevertheless, I would really like to share this recently completed t-shirt design I helped to create. Some of you are aware of the fact that Seth and I own a pretty successful horror genre site called MoreHorror. This t-shirt was produced to promote both MoreHorror and a highly valued business associate of ours by the name of Bill Oberst Jr. Bill is an incredibly talented actor who specializes in the horror genre and he trusted Seth and I to design this for him. We felt very privileged to have been allowed to be part of this and we can't thank Bill and the rest of our associates enough for their continued faith and support.

My painting of Bill vs. the original photograph used as reference.

Not only is Bill himself very pleased with the design, but Seth and I are both quite proud of it as well. Those of you who are familiar with my artistic style can probably see that I was responsible for painting Bill's portrait. Seth did all of the post work and handled the additional design elements. I personally can't wait until the t-shirts are in production and I can have one to wear for myself. 

This piece is also very important for me in that it is the first piece of completed visual artwork that I have actually posted and shared with anyone other than the client it was created for in something like two years. It's made me remember how much I absolutely love connecting with others through art. It's been especially nice to be reminded of how pleasant it is to be able to share artwork and actually receive credit for what I've done openly as well. That's something that's been sadly missing in regards to my professional life... but also something I am all the more eager to recapture now. 

I've never been someone to whom a lot of praise and hand-patting has really mattered. That made it really easy to downplay the role public recognition actually played in regards to my ability to stay creative and prolific in regards to my own creative work over the years. However, being recognized for this design has really helped me remember how much I enjoy sharing and discussing my art with other people. I will have to make sure to do it more often. Maybe even this weekend sometime. Stay tuned!