Will Wheaton I, a humble copywriter and science journalist, salute you.
The former Star Trek star, now barrelslayer, tweeted this after a small dispute over pay with Huffington Post:
The tweet was then followed by another:
And a brilliant blog post fully explaining the situation also followed.
It's an important message in today's world where we are drowning in words. Tweets, status updates, emails and instant messages flood our screens giving the impression that words are an expendable commodity that anyone can use to good effect. To quote Mr Wheaton again: "50,000 monkeys at 50,000 typewriters can't be wrong."
But they are wrong. Good words don't come cheap. Good copy don't come cheap. I'd like to share with you a similar experience that I had.
Once upon a blog post..
A couple of months ago, I was in talks with a potential client about writing a series of blog posts for his technology start-up's website. It was a familiar scenario. He was snowed under with the usual ins and outs of setting up a business and wanted to hire in a writer with technical knowledge to establish his brand, connect with customers and boost the SEO of the website. He just didn't have the time to write the blog himself.
Then I received an email from the prospective client, let's call him Marmaduke, telling me he had decided to enlist a mutual friend who was only charging £10 per post.
We parted amicably and I thought that was that.
The other day, I had another email from Marmaduke. He was concerned about the blog posts. The writer had not captured the company's ethos, understood the technical side of the business and not thoroughly spell checked the posts. But then a competitor called to say one of the posts was pretty similar to one of their posts.
Marmaduke did a little more research on the blog and soon discovered his writer had been copying competitors' blog posts or regurgitating old news stories. The work was not original. In fact, it was downright plagiarism. No wonder it only cost £10 a post to produce.
How does cheap copy affect your business?
Bargain basement copywriting is a false economy and it can cost you and your business in more ways than one:
1. Your reputation
Readers will not realise your copy is written by a third party. They will assume it is you and your business so it's your reputation on the line. This is especially true for ghost written content. So remember, even if you didn't write the copy - your business and its values are at the forefront of your readers' minds.
2. Your business
A dodgy blog will not just raise questions from competitors, customers will notice. They will notice the typos, the incoherent messages and the dull copy. Rather than building a brand and connecting with customers, you'll end up alienating or boring them.
3. Your website
Google penalises copied content and copy that shoehorns in obvious keyword phrases. But it can get more serious than that. A site hosted in the US may be hit with a DMCA takedown notice, where the content must be removed from the website. If the owner does not comply, the entire site can be taken offline by the ISP.
When you invest in a professional writer, you don't just pay for a few lines of text. You pay for years of experience, original content, in-depth research, someone who will take the time to understand your business, brand, customers and voice, a certain level of professionalism and high-quality copy that's not littered with spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.
If your budget will not stretch to paying a freelance writer, it's usually best to write your blog posts and copy yourself. You can ask friends and family to proofread your work if you're unsure of your abilities. Or you could ask an experienced writer to proofread and provide feedback on the content for you - it will be cheaper than getting them to write a post from scratch.
Or you could take the same approach as the Huffington Post and convince writers to work for your for free. But, to paraphrase Mr Wheaton again, a writer can't pay their rent with "the unique platform and reach our site provides."
The ‘paperless office’ has been the stuff of legend since the late 90s. When I worked as a technology journalist, I was constantly bombarded with press releases claiming the paperless office was only a few years away.
Let’s skip to 2015. The paperless office is no closer now than it was back then. I’ve just moved house and I have no idea where my printer is. So I’ve decided to run a little experiment.
I work from home as a freelance science and technology writer and everything I do relies on technology in some form. I work in a digital world, but can I survive without paper? Can I exist in my own paperless office?
For the last month, I have shunned all things print. No newspapers. No books. No pen and paper. Nothing other than digital copy.
I’ve had to come up with some savvy solutions to work around a paperless existence. Business cards were replaced with LinkedIn requests. To do lists on the back of envelopes replaced by Wunderlist. Sketches were done on whiteboards instead of scraps of paper.
There have been highs and lows. Let’s look at those now:
The paperless positives
I was wrong to assume a paperless existence meant I would read less. If anything, I have read more. Online copy is littered with related articles, which meant I have consumed more news and soundbites than ever before. I’ve read articles on sites I may never have looked at before and relied on some social media favourites to recommend pieces that I may want to read.
I have also shared content and connected far more than ever before. My Twitter feed is full with interesting articles I have glanced online as I am spending all my time online. I’ve made more connections and learnt more about a wide range of topics as a result.
I’ve also been a little lighter on my feet. My bag is a paper dustbin. Articles, press releases, books and other such bumpf seem to collect here but I only had a phone and a Kindle to cart around. And, surely, I may have saved a few trees into the bargain as well?
And the negatives…
It’s not a new argument but I have to bring it up. An ebook is not the same as a real book. I would prefer my children to see me reading a book on the sofa than flicking through an iPad. And many books, particularly rare and older editions that I love to read, are just not available in a digital format.
The benefit of reading more also has a downside. Sure, I read a lot more but with quantity did not come quality. I flitted between articles without really focusing on the copy I was reading in the here and now. I was easily distracted and felt like I didn’t really take anything in.
Lastly, for me there was one deal breaker: interviews. I work as a freelance writer. I interview dozens of people every month and I need to be able to understand and take away quotes on some incredibly complex topics. I usually rely on my shorthand and a notebook, but these were swapped for Skype, digital recordings and a keyboard.
This is where the paperless office failed. Sure, the tech allowed me to record my interviews but navigating through hours of chat to find a couple of quotes wasted a lot of time. As a freelance writer, my time is now my money. It just did not work.
Falling off the wagon
OK, confession time. I didn’t last. I was 3 weeks and 5 days in when I relapsed and called on my trusty business cards, notebook, pen and shorthand. I was tasked with running the sole coverage of the Fuse 2015 event in London. I didn’t want to risk tech failure and career suicide should my recorder fail to pick up on the killer quotes and insightful talks held during the event aimed at building corporate and startup alliances.
As fate would have it, my digital recordings from the event did work. But so did my paper notebook.
Maybe the paperless office isn’t suited to the world of a freelance writer. Maybe four weeks was not long enough to evaluate a paperless existence.
Or maybe electronic books will never replace paper tomes. E-magazines will not replace glossy magazines. But having digital recordings on had to double check my quotes and listen to the context behind some pretty complicated topics did help.
Just as I found during my paper relapse, both will exist side by side. Paper side by digital side. It’s the best of both worlds.
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology