Welcome to the internet. Sucker.
Scams are nothing new and at this stage neither is the internet. Whether it be someone offering to enlarge your penis – in the porn sense, the dating sense, the dysfunction sense, or the extra inch sense – or someone encouraging you to hate an out-group, the internet appears to be filled with scammers.
It was only this morning I received a very convincing looking invoice for a large order of books from a publisher I have been known to buy books from. Fortunately, I know some people in high places, like my friend the Nigerian prince, and they were able to warn me that I hadn’t actually ordered any books this week and should probably not click on the link to pay for them. Targeting readers and writers with scams are where I have to draw the metaphorical line in the metaphorical sand.
Most writers are hobbyists, writing because they love it. The handful that do get paid enough to be full-time writers are few and far between. So targeting writers with scams means that somewhere a monkey at a keyboard is not being fed today.
Let’s dissect a writing scam to see if we can spot the tricks used to part you from your potentially hard-earned money. This article was for a New, Amazing, Adjective, program that promises to give you the tools to write a 400-word article in 7 minutes. My comments are in blue.
Dear Fellow Article Writer
TA: This is a strong start. It creates kinship from a cold open. It wouldn’t read as well if they just called you a mark or sucker. Unless your name happens to be Mark. Or Sucker. But why would anyone call their child that? I mean, no offense to any Marks, but it’s a terrible name.
Did you watch the video above? It’s hard to believe so many people would send me such raving, unsolicited testimonials about my product, “How to Write an Article in 7 Minutes or Less“.
TA: I haven’t included the video but it is amazing how many unsolicited video testimonials appear to be shot with professional lighting and cameras.
If you did watch the video, you saw with your own eyes how I was able to take people who spent more than an hour writing an article down to as fast as 5 minutes per article!
TA: 5 minutes? I thought you said 7 minutes. Does this mean I get a 2 minute abs program as a bonus?
Would you like to experience the same results, without risking a penny? If so, then let me extend to you this unusual guarantee:
If you don’t cut your current article writing time down by at least 65% in less than a week after trying my methods, then not only will I refund every single cent of your purchase…
I’ll Give You DOUBLE Your Money Back!
TA: Cool, cool, cool, cool. But what if my average article writing time is 30 minutes and you only manage to bring it down by 65% to 10 minutes? Do I get 65% of my money back?
All you have to do is show me three articles you’ve written using my simple “7 minute formula” and tell me honestly that it didn’t at least increase your article writing speed by 65% while still maintaining the same quality and…
I will give you double your money back.
TA: This, folks, is called a caveat.
Also, if for any reason at all you are unsatisfied, you can always ask me for a refund — no matter what — and I’ll promptly and quietly return every penny you paid in full.
TA: Is anyone else’s cynicsense tingling?
Either way you can’t lose.
How I Stumbled Upon the
Secret for Writing Articles Quickly!
Not too long ago I earned my keep ghostwriting for internet marketers.
If you read articles, forum posts or follow the “gurus” in anyway, chances are you’ve read something ghostwritten by me.
I have written thousands of articles for my clients, and along the way discovered a simple process for generating content quickly for almost any topic.
TA: Notice that this pitch pretty much precludes any allusions to quality writing.
Here’s how it works.
- Open my 3 special research sites. TA: Wikipedia?
- Use my “skim and grab” research technique to find your
3 main points (Takes about a minute). TA: Yes, because reading comprehension is for suckers.
- Outline each main point with two “sub points.” (another minute here). TA: What if there is only one point?
- Use the “opening paragraph” template to quickly create the first paragraph (About 30 seconds). TA: Insert generic filler paragraph, got it.
- Use the “main point” template to write paragraphs for each of your three main points. (2-4 minutes total time) TA: So, standard writing….
- Use the “conclusion paragraph” template to quickly create the conclusion. (another 30 seconds). TA: Insert generic filler paragraph at the end.
- Proof read your article, and then submit it to the appropriate directory. (1-2 minutes) TA: Click spellcheck and hope it doesn’t miss anything.
The cool thing about using these templates is you never have to pause to think…but… you also enough leeway so each article remains 100% unique, and of the highest quality.
TA: Yes, why would you want to actually put any thought into your writing. Highly overrated for quality content. This approach screams quality writing.
Don’t worry: My method has nothing to do with plagiarism!
TA: Of course not, copy and pasting clearly takes too long.
Anyway, you can learn all about my 7 minute article technique by reading my special report, “How to Write an Article In 7 Minutes”, and by watching the videos I made showing step by step how I do it.
But that’s not all… TA: Steak knives? Please be steak knives.
My first thought upon seeing the claim that you could learn to write an article in 7 minutes was that it was bullshit. The fact that people would find this plausible left me a little stunned, a little thirsty, and thinking about having a nap. Clearly, some people are going to be taken in by these kinds of scams. So I want to just illustrate my critical thinking process and how I avoided being scammed for $37 (I know, huge amounts of money).
Drawing from personal experience, I know that I’d spend more than 7 minutes just copying in the links to the research I’d be citing, let alone reading the 3 magic research sites. So the first check is to understand just how long certain tasks actually take you. This scam works on the idea that you don’t really measure the time it takes for common activities. You may know how long you spend on a full article or day’s writing, but not on the little parts, like one paragraph or one sentence. So when someone presents you with some figures, you are bound to think, “Well, I do spend a lot of time staring at the screen and checking my Twitter feed.” Suddenly you are partly receptive to the con.
Let’s have a look how long writing actually takes the average person. Being a science nerd, I like to have a few figures around on writing, reading, average number of Facebook posts per hour; you know, important stats. The average person has a typing speed of 60-100 words per minute, which gives you 400-700 words written in 7 minutes. The page claims a 400-word article with 5 minutes of actual writing time. So the claim is physically possible. Just. But that is typing speed, not writing speed. Typing is just mashing a bunch of keys in the correct order, writing requires a little more thought as to what those mashed keys actually communicate.
What about editing? Nothing is perfect on a first draft, nothing! So even if this is a 400-word article written in 5 minutes, you still need to edit. Reading speed is not the same as proofreading speed, with average speeds of 180-200 words per minute. That’s another 2-3 minutes.
Aaannnddd, we’re out of time. Sorry, folks.
Just the physical act of writing and reading your new article chews up the time allocation. Unless this program comes with a Deloren or Time Turner it is unlikely to have you churning out 8 articles an hour.
But what if the program can reduce my writing time by 65%, I hear a brave new bridge owner chewing on brain pills ask.
Well then, send me $40 and I’ll send you some templates that I guarantee will improve your writing by 69%, add inches to your IQ, and make Nigerian royalty give you money. Trust me, no-one lies on the internet.
I’ve written before about plots and how there aren’t as many of them as you’d think – somewhere between 1 and 36 depending upon how you want to break them down. Often writers utilise some of the well-known plot structures, such as The Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat or The Plot Hole.
Some 70 years after Kurt Vonnegut proposed the idea of mapping story shapes for a rejected Masters thesis, some researchers decided it was time to crunch some data. They analysed 1,737 fiction novels to figure out how the story arcs are constructed. Let’s pretend there is a big difference between a plot and a story arc…
The study used Project Gutenberg – i.e. public domain works – and the results suggest that there are only really six story arcs:
Fall-rise-fall: ‘Oedipus Rex’, ‘The Wonder Book of Bible Stories’, ‘A Hero of Our Time’ and ‘The Serpent River’.
Rise-fall: ‘Stories from Hans Andersen’, ‘The Rome Express’, ‘How to Read Human Nature’ and ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’.
Fall-rise: ‘The Magic of Oz’, ‘Teddy Bears’, ‘The Autobiography of St. Ignatius’ and ‘Typhoon’.
Steady fall: ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘The House of the Vampire’, ‘Savrola’ and ‘The Dance’.
Steady rise: ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’, ‘Dream’, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ and ‘The Human Comedy’.
Rise-fall-rise: ‘Cinderella’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Sophist’ and ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’.
The most popular stories have been found to follow the ‘fall-rise-fall’ and ‘rise-fall’ arcs.
Or for those that prefer to read graphs because it makes them feel intellectual:
For those that just saw a bunch of squiggles in those graphs, what you are looking at is the story arc plotted over time for each story analysed. They’ve broken these into similar groups then added an average (the orange line). You can see how some of the story arcs follow the average more, whilst some types vary more. To see an individual story arc, they picked out Harry Potter as an example in the paper, but have the rest archived here (Project Gutenberg books) and here (a selection of classic and popular novels). As they note:
The entire seven book series can be classified as a “Rags to riches” and “Kill the monster” story, while the many sub plots and connections between them complicate the emotional arc of each individual book. The emotional arc shown here, captures the major highs and lows of the story, and should be familiar to any reader well acquainted with Harry Potter. Our method does not pick up emotional moments discussed briefly, perhaps in one paragraph or sentence (e.g., the first kiss of Harry and Ginny).
It is interesting to see how close Vonnegut’s proposed shapes aligns with the research.
The above is from graphic designer Maya Eilam and can be viewed at her website.
Here is Vonnegut explaining the story shapes:
This is all nice and good, but why is this interesting? Well, aside from the study using my favourite statistical technique – principal components analysis – it shows that authors create, and the audience expects, structures that are familiar. The fact that two of the story arcs (rise-fall and fall-rise-fall) are the most common emphasises this point. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful and familiar to us. There is scope to play within the formula, but ultimately we desire stories that fit conventions.
So yes, there is no original art being made.
I’m a neutral plotter by day and chaotic pantser by deadline.
Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.
What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.
Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.
One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in
140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:
I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.
Can be replaced with:
This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:
Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.
Can be replaced with:
Well screw you and the horse you road up on.
The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The
140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.
In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.
* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.
** Obviously not the authors I follow.
By changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more.
Who makes the money in publishing? Nobody. This often repeated dark joke highlights a serious issue. The most recent figures show that Australian authors earn just $12,900 a year from writing work (the median, at $2,800, was even worse). Indeed, authors can gross less than $5,000 for Miles Franklin-nominated titles that took two or more years to write.
Fixing this isn’t as simple as reaching more deeply into publisher pockets, because most of those are empty too. While the major international houses are thriving (Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House recently reported 16% profits), publishing Australian stories can be financially perilous.
In independent publishing, 10% of the book sale goes to the author, perhaps another 10% to the printer, and up to a whopping 70% for distribution. What’s left has to pay the publisher, editor, marketers, admin staff and keep the lights on.
But we can improve our approach to author rights. Here are five lessons we can learn from elsewhere to help Australian writers earn more money.
#1: Give authors stronger out of print rights
Traditionally, contractual “out of print” clauses have let authors reclaim their rights when a print run has sold out and the publisher doesn’t want to invest in another. But in our recent analysis of almost 150 contracts in the Australian Society of Authors archive, we found 85% of contracts with these clauses allowed authors to reclaim their rights only when the book was “not available in any edition”.
These days, books can be kept available (at least digitally or via print-on-demand) forever – but that doesn’t mean their publishers are still actively promoting them.
A better approach is to allow authors to reclaim their rights towards the end of a work’s commercial life, determined with reference to objective criteria like the number of copies sold or royalties earned in the previous year. The Australian Society of Authors recommends authors only sign contracts that have this meaningful kind of out-of-print clause – but many publishers still try to get authors to sign up to unacceptable terms.
A growing number of countries (including France, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Macedonia and Brazil mandate author rights based on objective criteria. The French law is an interesting model. There, authors can get their rights back if a book has been published for at least four years, and they haven’t been credited royalties for at least two. This opens up new possibilities for the author to license it to another publisher, or even sell it directly to libraries or consumers.
#2: ‘Use it or lose it’: return author rights when they’re not being used
Publishers take very broad rights to most books: in our recent archival analysis we found 83% took worldwide rights, and 43% took rights in all languages. It’s easy to take rights – but if publishers do so, they should be obliged to either use them or give them back.
To that end we can learn from the “use it or lose it” laws that bind publishers in some parts of Europe. In Spain and Lithuania, for example, authors can get their rights back for languages that are still unexploited after five years.
#3: Introduce a ‘bestseller’ clause to contracts
Of course, it’s not always the case that there’s no money in publishing: sometimes a title that was expected to sell 5,000 copies sells 5,000,000. That changes the economics enormously: but in many cases, the contract only provides the same old 10% revenue for the author. For works that achieve unexpected success, we can learn from Germany and the Netherlands (and the proposed new EU copyright law). They have “bestseller” clauses that give authors the right to share fairly in unexpected windfalls arising from their work.
#4: Legally enshrine the right to fair payment
Even where there’s not much money to be made, the author should still receive a fair share. Again, Germany and the Netherlands lead the way on this. There, authors are entitled to “fair” or “equitable” payment for their work – and can enforce those rights if their pay is too low.
These laws don’t set a dollar amount, since what is “fair” depends on all the circumstances. However, such laws at least provide a minimum floor. If the contracted amount is unfair or inequitable, authors have a legal right to redress.
#5: Put time limits on transfers
In Australia, copyright lasts for the life of the author, and then another 70 years after that. Publishers almost always take rights for that full term – only 3% of the contracts between publishers and authors we looked at took less. But publishers don’t need that long to recoup their investments. In the US, authors can reclaim their rights from intermediaries 35 years after they licensed or transferred them.
In Canada, copyrights transfer automatically to heirs 25 years after an author dies. We used to have the same law in Australia, but it was abolished for spurious reasons about 50 years ago. If we reintroduced a similar time limit on transfers, it would open up new opportunities for authors and their heirs (for example, to license or sell to a different publisher, libraries or direct to the public).
It’s true that there’s often not much money in publishing. But by changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more and make Australian books more freely available.