Thoughts on the end of the year

It hasn’t been a good year for me as a free-lance writer. I am bothered by that certainly, but I am more bothered by the fact that I don’t know why I haven’t been successful. Of the dozens of query letters and job proposals I’ve drafted, only one has generated a form letter rejection. That despite each proposal being individually crafted. Lacking any kind of feedback, I stumble forward. Although guesses aren’t a good way to explain the past, it is all I can do. Here, therefore, are my conclusions about writing in 2014.

The hardcopy magazine business is certainly dwindling. Fewer titles mean fewer markets. And while each magazine has a website to complement it, these sites aren’t new opportunities, they are merely an extension of the title, an archive and showcase, rather than a market for additional writing.

Opportunities to write abound if you don’t need to make money. You can write for free for the local newspaper or one of  thousands of websites covering your interests. Everyone wants content if they do not have to pay for it. Revenue from advertising for most web sites has to be scarce to non-existent. I can think of dozens of sites that are so covered in ads that you accidentally click on them as you scroll down the page. But if you need to write, if you are really driven to that, never mind getting paid, the world is wide open.

Developing new skills like video does not mean that a writing pitch will be more successful. Each query letter that I wrote in which I mentioned developing complementary video was met with silence. Working with sound files or developing an app mean little as well unless you have someone interested in a project beforehand. Being versatile and skill rich is a good thing, just don’t expect that to get your proposals answered any more than when you didn’t have those talents.

Any bright spots? My gardening video on YouTube has been a tremendous hit, with over 2,700 views at this point. Although I think the gardening market is saturated, perhaps there is room to grow here.

What’s next? I am developing a motorcycle website. I hope to attract a sponsor at some point but I have tempered my expectations lately. There are so many websites covering the trade that I may be irrelevant or simply overlooked amid all the sites. In the spring I will probably return to nursery sales part-time as a way to earn extra money. Right now, I can’t think of a way to do that on the web.

 

 

Working on NewMotorcycleRider.com

I don’t mean to abandon this blog, but right now I am working at the site I want to develop into something commercial: NewMotorcycleRider.com (external link). In the last week I’ve been writing on changing a motorcycle battery, tire care tips, and replacing an air filter. I should probably write something positive here, to counteract the negative feelings about that failed job fair, but right now I can only work on one thing at a time. I’ll be back here soon enough.

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USPS to conduct nationwide online job fair on Wednesday

Even freelancers have to eat. The Postal Service is holding a nationwide job fair on Wednesday, November 19th, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00. p.m. You can go to http://www.usps.com (external link) to learn more. Look for the “Careers” area. The process is supposed to work like this: you register first, get an invitation to join, then log in on Wednesday. Somehow, someway, the USPS or their hiring contractor will hold a live chat with the applicant. I assume by text but I am not sure. At some point you’ll probably have to set up an account with a user name and password. I registered a hour ago but I’ve not yet received an invitation. I’m interested in part-time work only but I want to see what’s available. One note: you need Internet Explorer or Firefox to get through the process.

November, 17th update. No word or invitation yet from the USPS.

November, 18th update. I just got an e-mail from the, apparently, contract employer for the USPS. The group is called the ERP Workflow System. Anyway, I now have login and password information. If you are really serious about getting on with the USPS, and have an hour or two to spend putting in your resume, you may want to create an employment profile. Here’s the page with the link to register your employment profile: http://about.usps.com/careers/welcome.htm?WT.mc_id=jobs&ns_campaign=jobs (external link). At this point I think you don’t have to put up a profile in order to go through the on-line job fair. But don’t hold me to that conclusion. Oh, and remember, Explorer or Firefox!

November 19th, update. FYI, according to the web page I am being directed to, the following language exists: “You’ll need a valid email address and an eCareer Profile to apply for jobs with the Postal Service.” But when I go to complete the profile I started a day ago, no information can be entered. Either the version of Firefox I am using (the newest) is unsupported, or there are too many people on-line. These are just guesses. But the bottom line is that I can’t complete the form on my profile page. Also, there seems to be some malware floating about with the latest version of Firefox, which I downloaded for this occasion. No fault of the Postal Service, just something to be aware of. Always download from the source and not a third party. At this point I don’t know if I will actually be able to log into the event.

The job fair has started but I have run into numerous problems, all of which do not let me proceed. When I finally found the log in button, it’s at the upper right, my profile name and password were not recognized. It did give me the chance to log in using LinkedIn, which I did, however, I got to a point where I needed to enter an ID code I had been e-mailed. No matter how many times I entered the correct number, the system kept rejecting it. I may try again in an hour or two but I am completely baffled on how to proceed. Here’s the screen that has stopped me dead cold.

USPS

Well, the event still has three minutes to run, but I’m pronouncing it an utter failure. Couldn’t even enter the event. I’ve been on an Apple computer since 1978, so I think I know how to overcome technical problems. But the only solution I saw was to delete the current Firefox program and hunt for an older version. Maybe that would have worked. But generally you create more problems than you solve when you go back to an older version of a program. I did leave two notes to the USPS. It will be interesting to see if they respond. With absolutely no technical support during the event, I am little encouraged that they will.

November 26, 2014 update: No, the USPS or their contract employer never did respond to my messages. But, seemingly clueless, they sent me this e-mail today. I should not have expected anything more.

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The mystery of the freelance sites solved. At least, partially.

I’ve complained that the vast majority of jobs I’ve bid at freelance sites (internal link) appeared to have never been awarded. I’d put together an individually crafted bid, wait weeks, only to have the job disappear from the system. There would be no word on what happened. I think I now know what goes on.

Over the weekend I entertained a number of e-mails from a person that seemed intent on hiring me. He also seemed serious about conducting our conversation outside the Guru.com communication system. It seems obvious: once people find a good prospect, they then circumvent a site’s mail program, all to avoid paying fees to the site which was responsible for putting them together in the first place. This is why the jobs never seem to get awarded; both parties have dropped off the site and are communicating privately.

Is there any reason to continue drafting bids at these sites? Freelancer.com has new language on their site which declares they are better monitoring the jobs being posted. Perhaps. But I won’t be back until I hear from other people that they have cleaned up their act. Showing me that jobs are actually awarded would be a good first step. Until then, I’m not participating.

 

Increasing click-throughs from YouTube

Five months ago I posted a video to see what results a YouTube video would produce compared to a static HTML page on the same subject. The results were dramatic. While my WordPress page on dividing Agapanthus has floundered with a handful of hits, the video has been viewed over 1,600 times! (You can read about how I set up this experiment here (internal link).) Briefly, I paid close attention to the captions Google produced, cleaning them up to make them more sensical to Google’s search engine. And while I am pleased with the number of plays, this success hasn’t resulted in any more hits for the website you are at now. What follows are ideas that might increase traffic; I’d be interested if they work for you.

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Originally, I so concentrated on producing my video that I didn’t look around at all the options YouTube has to offer. As you can tell by this screen shot, there are at least 12 different choices to explore. The first one, marked by the pencil, calls up the “Info and Settings” menu, which leads you down the main rabbit hole of YouTube. But first things first. Notice how I ran the two words together? When I first posted the file I wasn’t sure if a space would prevent its uploading. In The Old Days you had to have a character between file words names, even a dash or an underline, lest a server reject it. Now, however, after seeing countless files with spaces on YouTube, I went back today and separated the two. I am sure this will help Google index, now that the two are properly separated. Having located the navigation points surrounding my video, and having done some light housekeeping, I was ready to tackle a goal that made perfect sense: find a way to produce a clickable link from my video to my website.

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As you can see from the above screenshot, I was able to make that clickable link happen, although it took many hours. The captions at the bottom of the frame are what I first worked on when I posted the video, the link above is the one I just made. I will probably go back and edit it. Make it say something like “Visit my website” instead of just giving out a URL. Before I outline some of the steps I took, I would advise you not to go through with this process if you have just a few videos. It’s far easier to upload a video to YouTube and then embed it into your website (internal link), than going through what is a long process to produce a clickable link. But if you have an entire channel of YouTube videos, well, I think you are committed to going the whole route.

You’ll need personal accounts at Google and YouTube to get things going. You’ll also need to identify your website to Google and eventually YouTube will have to verify your ownership. All of this means keeping track of codes and ID numbers. You’ll probably deal with both Google’s Webmaster Tools (external link) as well as Google Analytics (external link). Get to know them. I think YouTube wants to make sure that videos linked to sites only go from video posters and site owners who are the same. This process is harder at sites hosted by WordPress.com. People who can access and manage settings at their servers directly will have a much easier time. Just to give you an overview, let’s say you’ve uploaded a video to YouTube. I assume you’ve already corrected the captions to get your best chance at proper indexing. Now then, you:

1) Select Video Manager.

2) Click on Info and Settings.

3) Select the frames in your video where you want your link to appear.

4) Pick Add Annotation.

5) Select Spotlight. There are other choices but that’s a good one.

6) Choose the style you want your text to appear in. This is what people will see when deciding to click on the link. Don’t forget to put a blue border around your caption.

7) Click on the Link box.

8) At this point you will have many choices. You will usually want Associated Website. This means a click will take a person from the video to the website associated with your video. Don’t see this option? You won’t if you haven’t properly identified your website and yourself to Google and YouTube.

9) Your caption text won’t appear unless a person hovers over the caption area with a mouse. Use the link capability around something you want people to click on, like your website address. In other words, at some point in your video, have a frame that clearly and boldly spells out your site. After you upload your video you can use the linking capability to tie that title page to your site.

Unfortunately, according to Google, the annotations will not show up on tablets or mobile devices. More on annotations here (external link). I am aware that some people say that, in fact, annotations do show. Not on my iPad.

In closing, I think this process is worth the time if you have many videos and a single site for them to link to. Otherwise, try imbedding. Also, be sure to create a link in the caption or comments box that accompanies a description. Simply type out your URL like this: http://www.thomasfarleyblog.com. No brackets or HTML needed. YouTube will recognize the link when you type it out.  Lastly, I am thinking of taking the text of my captions and including them in the video’s description box. I’m not aware of any limitations on length. It may further help Google to index. Good luck.

 

 

Figuring out WordPress

The differences between a WordPress site hosted at WordPress.com and a WordPress site hosted somewhere else are significant. At WordPress.com, as in the case of this blog, you have limited options with which to format your text, but a less confusing interface in which to edit. At WordPress.com certain features are built in to your editor, whereas at a self-hosted site you need to add them through installing what are called Plugins. Let’s take an example.

The editor menu bar for my template or theme at WordPress.com is below. No ability to change text style or text size within a page. If I want a sans-serif font like Arial for my headings, and a serif-font like Times for my main text, well, I can’t do it. At least not with a text editor. If you know how to write code in the programming language called CSS, you can make individual changes within a page. But to my thinking, having to write code defeats the purpose and simplicity of WordPress.

screenshotwordpressdotcom

The editor menu bar for my WordPress site at JustHost.com (external link) is pictured below. In this case I have supplemented the built in editor, which looks very similar to the above, with a free piece of software called TinyMCE Advanced (external link). This allows options like Font Sizes and Font Family to be activated. Installing a Plugin is very simple. A built in search engine on your WordPress site allows you to pick which plugin you want. There are thousands, all to do different jobs. An “Install” button appears when you’ve made a selection and within a minute of clicking your site has a new feature. Not all plugins are compatible with all themes.

 

screenshotTinyMCE

As with everything on the web, things can break down in a hurry. Yesterday I battled with a problem at newmotorcyclerider.com (external link) that appears to be related to a  plugin. The solution was a combination of things, some of them old techniques.

Try as I might, I could not change photograph captions from italics to straight text. While trying to correct this I managed to wipe out the navigation bar at the top of every page. Eventually I had JustHost restore my site with a backup they had made a few days ago. Then I deleted the offending plug-in, cleared the cache on my browser, then reinstalled the plug in. Everything works now. What’s next? More learning. I’ve yet to figure out how to integrate background images to my pages. I’ll report back here if I accomplish that.

Update! I figured out the background image problem. Nothing in my Creativo 4.0 template (external link) had any language saying that selecting a background image would be a problem. Quite the contrary. Doesn’t this selection bar seem easy and hopeful?

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But no matter how I tried, no matter what images I selected, nothing would work. I even tried going away from the individual page and working on the problem from an overall theme perspective, whereby the background image would be displayed across all the pages at my site. No luck. It was only until I went to the developer’s website that I discovered this wording:

“Custom Background Image – this option allows you to upload / select an image for the background of the post page – this will only work for Boxed Layout”

Boxed layout?! Turns out that you have to select that option, buried elsewhere, before a background image will work. Nothing in the above selection bar gave a hint that making this choice was needed. Sigh. This is why I say that creating a website is not just about writing. At least half of your time will be spent in formatting, adding photographs, making illustrations, producing videos, and chasing across the web for solutions for adding same. Even with a simple blog, a website is not a novel, it is a complicated multi-media presentation.

Experiment with YouTube video and WordPress

I’ve managed to embed a YouTube video into my WordPress website at newmotorcyclerider.com (external link). Well, let’s see if it works here, where WordPress.com is doing the hosting. Hmm. I just did a preview. Maybe it will work.

For those that want to watch the video, it starts off very slowly. I’ll correct that with the next one. And for some reason, YouTube’s stabilization process made my video more stable, but my titles more shaky. Sheesh. Much to learn.