I Have No Patience for Lazy Writers

A brief rant.

This morning, I got this email from someone who is apparently farming out parts of his books to people with better description skills than he has:

You are the perfect person to help me. I’m writing a book about birding adventures that I had in 2011. One tense incident happened along the Rio Grande when armed cartel waded across the Rio Grande. To make a long story short, for the next forty-five minutes or so two helicopters (border patrol) circled overhead. Here is my question:

How would you accurately describe the sound these helicopters make?

Border Patrol at Rio Grande
Photo of Border Patrol helicopter over Rio Grande from gallery on U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

For the record, I’ve never been birding along the Rio Grande while Border Patrol helicopters circled overhead for 45 minutes. How would I know what it sounds like?

Yet this guy was apparently there and can’t describe it. He figures that since I’m a helicopter pilot and a writer, I can describe it for him. So he sends me this email message.

Here’s a tip: if you can’t accurately describe something with words, you shouldn’t be a writer.

And yes, I addressed this in my blog back in 2009: “Writing Tips: Writing Accurate Descriptions.” If you do read that post, pay close attention to the first paragraph under the heading “Do Your Homework,” since it pretty much covers my thoughts on getting email messages like this one.

Phishing Scam: Mailbox is Almost Full

Here’s a new twist on an old scam.

Got this email today:

Phishing Email

If you can’t read it, it says:

Your mailbox is almost full.

Dear [redacted]@marialanger.com,

3840MB 4096MB
Current size Maximum size

Please reduce your mailbox size. Delete any items you don’t need from your mailbox and empty your Deleted Items folder. Click here to do reduce size automatically.

Of course, the “click here” link takes you to a PHP page on a site that has nothing to do with my email server, my domain name, my ISP, the sender’s domain name, or even Google, which, for some reason appears in the footer with yet another link to the same page.

Come on, folks! Don’t be fooled into clicking links in email messages, especially if they’re from someone you don’t know. This is how hackers get into your email and social networking accounts or even your bank accounts. This is how they send email messages to your friends, trying to lure them into the same phishing scams.

Spread the word, educate the folks who don’t know better.

Want to Learn How to Hover?

Practice.

Sheesh. This is the kind of email I get:

Maria, I just recently found you when I was researching the R44.
I am a new helicopter student, roughly three hours, and hovering or the cyclic in general, is kicking my butt! I have a good grasp of the movements and how you push in the opposite direction and so on, but I tend to move it too much or over-compensate. Would you have any pearls of wisdom you could pass on about how you were able to lick this difficulty? Was there anything you practiced on at home or did you try visualization techniques? Anything would help.
Thanks a lot in advance.

Okay, so this guy thinks that any 3-hour student pilot should be able to hover. That’s there’s some magic trick I can teach him that will make him a whiz at this. Or that he can “visualize” something and it’ll just work.

Sheesh.

The answer is easy: practice.

Seriously: practice makes perfect. Ever hear that one? It’s true.

Learn to Fly HereIt takes, on average, 5 to 10 hours for a student pilot to learn how to hover. To hover, you need a feel for the controls. You can’t get a feel for the controls without actually manipulating the controls. The more you manipulate the controls, the better you learn how they feel.

In other words, practice makes perfect.

This guy is new and naive and somehow thinks he’s dropping the ball on this. He’s not. He’s floundering the way every single one of us did.

I blame his CFI for not explaining to him that hovering isn’t easy. I’m wondering if his CFI is one of those cocky know-it-alls who is just doing time as a CFI, hating every minute of it and taking it out on his students. The kind of CFI who’ll likely die in an accident on his first or second job — if he isn’t lucky enough to get fired first — because his crappy attitude causes him to cut corners or let complacency take him by surprise. Or he attempts one too many “watch this” moments.

We all know the type. You can read about some of them in the NTSB reports.

In fact, hovering is probably the hardest thing a helicopter pilot learns to do — and we have to learn to do it first. You can’t fly a helicopter unless you know how to hover.

So my answer to him and any other new helicopter pilot who is struggling to learn this basic skill is simple: practice.

And one day soon, you’ll just be able to do it. It’s as simple as that.

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?

About My Instagram Profile

It doesn’t exist.

Instagram LogoScammers/Spammers will say and do anything. Here’s proof.

I got this email today via someone (or somebot) on my website’s contact form:

Hi there, I have just been to your Instagram profile of aneclecticmind.com and I absolutely enjoy your shots! I think your Instagram profile should have a lot more followers and likes! Did you know that you can in fact buy followers and likes on websites like [redacted url] ?

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you are performing a terrific job! Looking forward for more of your pictures!

Have a great day!

I don’t have an Instagram profile — or at least I don’t think I do. If I did, it would be in my name and not my website’s URL. And I know for a fact that I haven’t posted any photos on Instagram, at least not in the past few years. And why the hell would I want to buy followers or likes?

Just another ploy to get me to click a link for a service (or a scam) I have no interest in.

The Spam Source Experiment

Let’s see who’s selling me out.

I get a lot of email and much of it is spam. That’s why I have a special email account I use for anything that’s not important. It’s a disposable account. Every few years, I simply stop using it and create a new disposable account. Then I slowly but surely update my records where I need to. The spam virtually stops.

For a while.

Eventually, it builds up again and I’m back to the point where I need to delete that account and create a new one.

And don’t talk to me about spam filters. Yes, I have one in my email client. Yes, it does work. But no, it doesn’t catch it all and, unfortunately, it misidentifies too much as spam. So I can’t trust it.

The other day, while drivinge, I came up with a novel idea. Instead of creating one disposable email account, why not create one for each organization that asks for an email address? Then use that account for just that organization. And then, when the spam starts coming, I can easily identify its source — it’ll match the name of the account.

I own multiple domain names, each of which can have as many email addresses as I like. So there’s no limit to the number of addresses I can create. And I don’t even have to set them up in my email client software! I can simply check for mail on the web if I’m expecting something. And let it accumulate on a distant server if I’m not.

Verify Address
Sure, this email address is mine. But don’t expect me to monitor it for your junk.

I started this today. I decided to use Microsoft Excel for iPad to maintain my helicopter Hobbs book (a record of hours flown) and Due List (a record of when various maintenance items were last done and next due). In order to access an Excel file stored in Dropbox from my iPad — and be able to edit it — I had to create a Microsoft account. That account needed a valid email address. So I logged onto my server and created one named microsoft @ one of my many domain names. And I used that email address to create the account for Microsoft Excel. I checked the email on the web, got the code I needed to complete the account setup, and am done.

And I never have to see any junk from that account again.

But I can always look if I need to.

Let’s see how far I can take this. I’ll report back, maybe next year.

Amazon Reward Points Scam

Come on folks — don’t fall for this!

I’ve been getting so many of these in email lately that I figured everyone else must be, too. It’s a scam. Don’t click any of the links. Throw it away.

Amazon Reward Points Scam

If Amazon.com was writing to you, they would use your name, not your email address. There is no Amazon.com Loyalty Department. When you point to one of the links, it displays a URL that is not on Amazon.com.

If all that fails, look at it logically: are they promising “reward points” or a “$50 Amazon Gift Card”? A real promotion would be clear. Don’t let the placement of a few Amazon logos fool you.