Are Writers this Desperate?

Another rant. I’ll keep it short.

This morning, I went through my email inbox (currently 1795 messages, 10 unread) and found this message from a few days ago:

Email Message
This is the email message I received from a video training company looking for authors.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive here — it certainly wouldn’t be the first time — but I’m trying to figure out why any author in his/her right mind would send a bunch of detailed ideas for potential video courses in response to an obviously boiler-plated email that doesn’t even include the name or title of the person sending it.

Testing for Legitimacy

A side note about Lynda.com

I honestly don’t know why LinkedIn bought Lynda when it’s only a matter of time before there are hundreds of copycat sites out there, all cheaper. And what of the free content already available on YouTube? Video content is already going the way of the print content I used to create. Why buy a book when you can Google it? Why pay for a video when you can find one for free on YouTube? Quality doesn’t seem to be a concern anymore.

With Lynda’s current policy of replacing freelance experts with in house (i.e., non-royalty) authors, they can’t even claim to have better courses anymore. Those out-of-work experts have plenty of places to go — especially if they’re not as picky as I am.

I did some research. I looked at the website for the domain name the email came from. It looked legit — like a Lynda.com copycat site. A link at the bottom of the home page said they were looking for authors. I clicked it. No details at all: just a form to fill out with contact information. Apparently, they’d get in touch.

So at this point, I have no idea what kind of deal they’re offering authors. Do they even pay authors? I don’t know. I do know that I need to be paid — or feel confident that I will be paid — before I do any work, including developing ideas that it would be all too easy to have an “in house author” develop and record without compensating me. I’m not a complete idiot.

And anyone can whip up a real looking website these days. And was the grammar error in the email a typo or a sign that the email was sent by someone who doesn’t speak English regularly? Like someone at a content mill?

My reply was aloof:

I’m interested, but I need to know more about your author program before I make any proposals. I have a great deal of experience creating video courses, having authored and recorded about a dozen for Lynda.com over the years. Here’s a list: http://www.aneclecticmind.com/videos/ My areas of expertise include Mac OS, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Twitter, WordPress, and various niche software products. I’ve been writing books and articles about computing since 1990 and have had 85 books published since then.

If you’re interested in working with me, you’ll need to do a bit more than leave an anonymous message for me through a form on my blog. I’ve worked with a lot of publishers since 1990 and have learned that the serious ones are the ones who make personal contact and help me understand why I should want to work with them. I know I can benefit you; what can you do to benefit me?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Maria

I don’t expect to get a response.

Another Site, another Courting

This reminds me a bit about a personal email I did get from another video training company about two years ago. This guy was in full sale mode, doing his best to tell me why I should be a writer for them, and why they wanted to get a bunch of my courses for their launch. There would be generous payment — 50% of the take on each course sold — but I’m smart enough to know that 50% of nothing is still nothing. Could they sell the courses they put online? I didn’t know.

I decided to wait a while to see how things went. After all, the whole thing could be a web version of vaporware. Six months after launch, I checked in. The site appeared to be up and running and there was content, although the courses weren’t very meaty. I emailed my contact to ask about sales figures. I never got a response. A year later, the site was down.

It would be nice to hitch up to a new wagon, but I need to be careful whose wagon I hitch up to. I don’t want to waste my time writing content for a publisher that I might not be properly compensated for.

How Desperate are Writers?

But again, these contacts and pleas for authors have me wondering: just how desperate are writers that they’d respond to an anonymous message like this with course ideas and outlines?

And how little do content publishers care about authors and content quality that they’d send out messages like this to anyone they think might take the bait?

How bad has the situation in publishing and content creation become?

3 thoughts on “Are Writers this Desperate?

  1. You ask how bad the publishing situation has become. Answer: ‘very bad indeed’.
    If a person enjoys writing then they should write and they will write. Only a tiny fraction of writers will ever make a living from creative writing. Perhaps rather more will earn proper money from technical writing and instruction. But it is probably the least predictable means of earning a living.
    I can think of scores of bad and mediocre writers who have done well and far more excellent writers who have died poor or been discovered as geniuses after their deaths. Much the same applies to creative music and composition.
    Writers and composers trying to establish a reputation are exploited and pimped-out in the most cruel a flagrant ways. I think it has probably always been a bit like this, take as an example the case of P.G. Wodehouse, who actually did make money from writing. He tells the story of his time with MGM in the 1930’s. His scripts were largely ignored while he was an ‘in house’ writer. Then the boss read one of his earlier short stories published in an obscure English periodical. The boss said “we must hire this guy, he’s a genius”. Scouts were sent to England to get him to sign with the studio. Eventually, they discovered that this ‘genius’ was already signed to the studio and living in LA.
    Chance, prejudice, conformity, whim and accident are more predictive of success than ability, in the writing game.
    Personally I have fallen for every scam in the book. I have even paid to take part in competitions! How dumb is that?

    • I made a very good living as a technical writer for about 10 years. Of course, I did it for more than 20 years. :-)

      Writers, write. That’s the way it is. It’s in our blood. But as you said, making a good living at it these days depends largely on “getting discovered” or a lucky break. It’s just so unfortunate that there are predatory publishers — including vanity presses — just waiting to take what they can from writers while giving back as little as possible — if anything at all.

  2. I think writing will eventually go the way of music, with some form of subscription service (like Spotify or Apple Music) granting access to a vast array of short stories, articles, periodicals that are equivalent to magazines, and novels.

    Owning anything that can be transmitted digitally seems to be becoming passse, I suspect that the market will develop to the point where we will all basically “rent” our content for a flat fee per day/week/month/year, or that it will go the micropayment route similar to pay-per-view on TV today.

    The millennial generation especially seems disinterested in actually owning even basic physical items that we take for granted such as cars and houses, let alone digital content. Even the mobile phones which are the center of their attention sphere are ephemeral items, to be swapped out whenever a newer and shinier model comes along. Their lives are in “the cloud” and they seem fine with that.

What do you think?