The Complete Writer: Ethics for Bloggers

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 22. Ethics for Bloggers

The Complete Writer
Part IV: Blogging

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

The Sanity Discount: Integrity, Small Businesses, and Bloggers

Bloggers who run ads are small businesses, of course. A couple of ripples in the daily flow of things led me, over the course of several days, to ruminate about integrity and ethics, and about how they should direct the course of the seemingly ubiquitous American side businesses, including our blogs.

Fair play for a client

First, a very nice new client had recently wandered in through the door [his character is irrelevant to the issue, but nevertheless: a very sweet human being he was]. He said he wanted someone to edit website copy for a successful small business in the trades. I sent my rate sheet, which frames my rates on a per-page basis. He wanted to know what I would charge by the hour. I said sixty bucks, not an unreasonable amount in the large scheme of things (twenty years ago a friend here was getting $120 an hour for similar work). He, doing business in a large city far, far away where employees’ and independent contractors’ pay is not throttled by right-to-work laws, didn’t even blink.

So I dove into the project, which was kind of fun. “Kind of fun” because it didn’t entail a lot of technical language or esoteric theory, unlike most of the stuff I do. Mathematical biosciences this was not, nor was it abstruse postmodernist blather. But there was a fair amount of it, and it needed substantial reorganization, rewriting, and new research and writing. I enjoyed this little endeavor over the course of about twenty-two hours. Eventually I wrapped the job and added up my bill, and . . .

Holy mackerel! At $60 an hour, the tab came to enough for me to buy a condo in the guy’s expensive city. It really did seem out of line, given the relative ease and mild entertainment value of the work.

Okay, it’s true that if I based my fees on how much fun the job is, I’d have to edit novels for my favorite genre publisher for free. But still . . . there’s a limit.

Seeking a fairer arrangement, I calculated what it would cost the client if I charged my highest page rate—justifiable, I figured, because of the amount of actual writing I did—and came up with an amount that was enough for The Copyeditor’s Desk to buy itself a couple of laser printer cartridges. Fairly respectable, but not enough to break the bank.

So that was what I ended up billing: about four or five hundred bucks less than the hourly rate would have commanded. But at $60 an hour, the bottom line added up to a figure utterly beyond reason. It didn’t seem right to charge that much for that kind of work.

Call it the Sanity Discount.

Hard on the heels of that exchange, an ongoing conundrum resurfaced.

Black-hat “advertising” in the blogosphere

Funny about Money is large enough to attract the attention of various individuals and groups who bill themselves as advertisers. Almost all of them want me to run paid text links. And they’re willing to pay pretty well for the privilege. I could easily double or triple Funny’s revenues by selling paid text links.

These people and their brokers approach the blogger by saying either that they want to buy ad space on the site or that they are generously offering a guest post, “absolutely free to you.”

Trouble is, doing so puts one afoul of Google’s arcane rules, designed to protect its search engine algorithm. To simplify a complicated story, if Google catches you publishing paid text links (as sooner or later it will), your page rank (a metric that dictated where your site appeared in a Google search but that has, in recent months, been abandoned in favor of “blog authority”) would magically drop to zero.

So, after you’ve worked for months or years to build a respectable page rank, these folks come along and take advantage of it; then when their practices kill your page rank, they of course abandon you.

That particular aspect is not at issue here, though. What we have at issue is the so-called advertiser’s strategy to evade discovery, which is to produce copy for a post that fits the blogger’s site theme. The paid link is then embedded in the post, in such a way that the link appears to point to something relevant to the post’s subject.

It’s important to understand that paid links are not advertising. They’re a device to suck link juice from a site with a relatively decent page rank into the buyer’s own site, as a strategy to cause the other site appear at or near the top of a Google search.

In other words, what looks like a real post is a deceptive device to mount self-serving links whose purpose has nothing to do with the host site’s content. Often it contains a link pointing to some outfit selling a service or product that runs counter to the host site’s reason for being. Why, for example, would a personal finance blogger who urges readers to get out of debt, manage money wisely, and avoid loan sharks recommend taking out a payday loan?

Why? To collect a hundred bucks for publishing two words attached to a live do-follow link, that’s why.

Such a post is, in short, advertorial. Actually, it doesn’t even rise to that level, because the articles are not really intended to be read; they exist to carry the links, which exist to use the host’s page rank to jack up the search engine page rank on the link seller’s site. While they’re billed as advertising, they’re actually a form of black-hat SEO.

Editorial vs. advertorial

Over the years since I started in journalism, I’ve worked for some of the most prominent regional periodicals in my part of the country. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as journalistic ethics, and after some thirty-two years of practicing and teaching, they tend to inhabit your thinking. When I came up, there was a sharp divide between advertising and editorial—in fact, the ad and circulation departments were housed on the other side of the building from where the editors and artists worked.

Magazines did publish crass little “articles” written by highly paid ad copywriters—earning far more than any of us did!—whose purpose was to plug paying customers. This was not surprising: magazines survive on ad revenue. Subscription income doesn’t suffice to support a print publication. However, ethical publishers mark advertorials as such: with a running header or footer saying something like “Advertisement.” Often advertorials are set off typographically and even printed on slightly different paper from the rest of the rag.

To publish advertising or SEO masquerading as a normal blog post without cluing the reader to the fact that the stuff is paid advertising: that’s dishonest, in the same way passing off an advertorial as real journalism is dishonest.

That is why many publications don’t print advertorial at all, and why those who do, if they have any decency at all, label it prominently as advertising.

Times have changed, of course, with the advent of the brave new world that is the Internet. And blogging is and is not journalism, though it has readers who presumably expect some standard of honesty from their writers. Here’s what journalistic webmaster Robert Niles says about the issue, writing at the Online Journalism Review[1]:

The old rule: There must be a wall between advertising and editorial.

The new rule: Sell ads into ad space and report news in editorial space. And make sure to show the reader the difference.

Drawing the line in the shifting sands of ethics

Accordingly, I marked the paid-link peddler’s copy as a Sp0nsor3d P0st! The numerals were intended to throw off Google’s nosy bots, which go around searching for clues to paid links.

This elicited a squawk of dismay. When I refused to remove the notice saying the post was a paid article containing links to the author’s clients’ sites, the deal fell through. Cheerfully, I removed the post from my site, and good riddance to it.

To cope with the practice of secreting paid links in fake stories, Google began to demand that all links to commercial sites be coded as no-follow links, robbing them of the coveted “link juice.” Would-be advertisers hated this, of course—because the link juice is what they were paying for—and usually they would then decline to place a paid link unless it was do-follow. Many bloggers simply take a chance[2] that Google will never catch them, and they justified the potential swat-down by arguing that PR didn’t matter anyway.[3]

Maybe it didn’t, maybe it did. The technicalities of page rank were way above my pretty little head, and so I didn’t trouble myself with them.

But one could argue, with some justice, that Google’s policy on paid do-follow links[4] was hugely unfair, since Google AdSense places plenty of paid links on your site. And because Google pays nothing like what these sometimes sleazy “advertisers” will pay, Google itself takes on a whiff of the exploitive.

About that, I say it is what it is.

Ironically, while Google’s policy is self-serving (its motive has nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with the way the company’s business model works), it in fact fed into that fundamental journalistic ethic: the effect of the rule was to discourage deceptive content and to encourage separation of advertising and editorial.

Old-fashioned . . . but then so is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

[1] http://www.ojr.org/p1623/

[2] Check out Martin Langfield’s discussion at NiemanLab: http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/03/the-flip-side-of-black-hat-seo-if-your-news-site-publishes-paid-links-you-risk-googles-wrath/

[3] Eventually Google tried to suppress PageRank as a device for assessing a site’s influence. Today an advertiser will ask what a site’s “authority” is. Danny Sullivan discusses this in “RIP Google PageRank Score: A Retrospective on How It Ruined the Web,” March 9, 2016, Search Engine Land, http://searchengineland.com/rip-google-pagerank-retrospective-244286

[4] “Link Schemes,” n.d., Google. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en&hl=en&rd=1

If You’d Asked Me…Child Guest Turns Up Nose at Dinner?

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25. Was I wrong to not give a five-year-old guest child the food that she wanted?

I had snacks (veggies, cuties, cheese, pretzels) and she refused it. She also refused the pizza because it had veggies. She later told her mom that she hadn’t eaten.

On the other hand…broccoli???

No, you were right to stand your ground. A kid is not going to starve to death in a few hours. If it had been a couple of days . . . maybe. But maybe not: maybe that’s the time to call the mom and say “come get your little darling.”

Though five is a bit young to learn this, she should be made aware that it’s rude to refuse what is offered to you at the dinner table, especially when you’re a guest in someone’s home. The only time this is acceptable is when you are genuinely allergic to something—for example, shellfish allergies can cause anaphylactic shock in some people. But “I’m not eating because I want you to go out and get me a McDonald’s?” Don’t think so, kiddo!

Ella’s Story: Chapter 24

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

24

The late part of the day-cycle was often slow in Ethra Station’s bookkeeping department. Just now it seemed especially slow to Ella. She had entered all the incoming and outgoing lading statements: Everything offloaded from the gigantic freighters standing off the surface, including a few new convicts headed for the planet just as she had been a couple of years before. Everything (and everyone) onloaded to surface-going carriers, vehicles small enough to maneuver a planet-sized body’s atmosphere, geography, and gravity. And conversely: everything hoisted from the planet’s surface into orbit near Zaitaf, and from there transferred into one or the other of those big freighters, depending on the cargo’s destination.

She now had two assistants working under her supervision. Her eyes were starting to glaze over as she checked their entries when Lohkeh poked his head around the corner nearest to her work station.

“Pretty woman!” As though he’d made a discovery.

Ella felt her body warm in response. “Hello, there,” she greeted him. He slid onto a stool beside the desk. “Who let you loose?” She set her hand on the table top near him.

“Just got in from the loading dock and thought I’d come by and see what you’re up to.” He touched her hand and stroked her fingers. If a Samdelan could purr, she would have.

“Not much,” she said. “Just working on today’s lading sheets.”

“That sounds exciting. Are you almost done?”

“Should be, by knocking-off time.”

“Mmmh, that’s good.”

He lifted her hand to his face and brushed her skin his lips. She felt the prickle of a day’s beard growth. A delicious little shiver coursed down the back of her neck.

“Would you like to do something for me?” he asked, his voice low and sensual.

“Sure,” she replied: Something having to do with a bedroom?

He pulled a sheet of paper out of the bag on his workbelt. “We need to update these figures,” he said, as though this were something they both needed to get right. He unfolded it and spread it on the desk. “See, the received goods numbers are wrong. It says in the accounts that 700 cartons were shipped from Tamehal. But that’s not correct. The actual number shipped was 690.”

Reaching around her to the electronic lading system on her desk calculator, he deftly brought up records from the freighter of the day, which had come in from Tamehal via Krae. “So this” – he seemed to know exactly where to highlight the line indicating the specific shipment – “should be the same as this.” He pointed to a line on the printed sheet, reading 690 containers.

“Uhm…it should?”

“Well, yeah. This is what was unloaded.”

“Why would what was unloaded be less than what was loaded?”

“It wasn’t. This – 690 crates – is what was loaded. Somebody just made a mistake.”

“So, whoever made the mistake needs to fix it.”

He gave her a look: was it the are you stupid look or the don’t get on my nerves look? She wasn’t sure but sensed neither was good.

“No. Then we’d have to jump through a dozen hoops. We need to move this stuff planetside now, not sometime next year. And besides, if we start with that bullshit, whoever made this mistake will get in hot water.”

“Maybe they should.”

“We watch each others’ backs. Don’t we.” It wasn’t a question. This was Syndicate doctrine. Ella grew up with it, no less than Lohkeh did.

She nodded. And, without further comment, changed the entry.

§

The favor did not go unrewarded.

The Complete Writer: The Weirdness That Is Adsense

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 21. The Weirdness That Is Adsense

The Complete Writer
Part IV: Blogging

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

The Weirdness That Is AdSense

I used to enjoy exploring the mazes of Google AdSense’s labyrinthine reports and policies. Every now and again, one would see phenomena that were truly mysterious.

One of the things AdSense could do was to identify the type of computer used to access a page. If you selected “Performance Reports” and then clicked on “Platforms,” Google would tell you how many views of your site were made by people with desktops, mobile devices, etc. This still amazes me. It creeps me out: who needs Google spying on users in quite that much detail?

Over the one week, for example, Funny about Money readers viewed 563 of the site’s pages with “high-end mobile devices.” Some of them apparently clicked on ads, since they generated a couple of bucks that week. The first time I discovered this blandishment, a few people had been accessing the site through their mobile gadgets, but none rose to any advertiser’s bait. Over time, though, some of them began to bite.

Meanwhile, 5,005 pages were viewed from desktops. Unclear whether a laptop is regarded as a “high-end mobile device” or whether a MacBook (for example) is included among desktops.

Equally unclear what is meant by “unmatched ad requests,” a line that appears on the “Platform” page. Whatever it is, it can’t be very significant: it always registers “0.”

AdSense kindly includes a sort of glossary with its reports page—it’s really an agglomeration of FAQs, I think. Look up “unmatched ad request” and you get the answer to some customer’s question about why this item appears in his reports:

An ad request is counted each time your site requests an ad to be served, even if no ad is returned. Unless your coverage[1] is 100 percent, you will have more ad requests than matched requests (ads that are returned and displayed on your site), resulting in some unmatched requests.

Some reports have columns that are meaningful only for matched requests. For example, the Targeting type report shows how ads displayed on your site have been targeted. When an ad request is unmatched, there are no ads to consider, so the request has no targeting type.

This is why unmatched requests appear in a separate row.

Moving on, the Biggest Mystery of AdSense is why some days and some weeks vast lucre (oh, say, $1.95 a day!) comes pouring in, and at other times pay is in pennies. For a few weeks, FaM would crank more pennies than usual (in the dead of summer when readers should be vacationing at the beach!). But shortly thereafter it wouldn’t turn enough to get AdSense off its duff to send a payment. I never did, for the life of me, figure out what I was doing (if anything) to cause AdSense revenues to increase in some weeks and flatten out in others.

It does seem as though spikes in revenues may increase when you discuss certain topics. For example, one spike occurred around the time I was holding forth about credit cards. A bunch of ads for banks, credit cards, loan sharks, and the like came up (at least, they did on my computer—apparently these things are tailored according to what Google can see of your browsing habits as it spies on you). Maybe ads from well-heeled institutions pay better . . . that is, maybe Google charges ING more than it charges some local air-conditioning or pool company and then passes a few pennies of the profit along to the site publisher?

That would explain why some bloggers create whole sites devoted to nothing but discussing credit cards. Boring, but profitable.

AdSense occasionally performed moderately well for Funny about Money. Not well enough to retire to the Côte d’Azur, by any means, but well enough that if I could just be certain it would behave that way all the time (it did not!), the S-corporation could have afforded to buy me a cell phone.

But no.

AdSense is much like adjunct teaching: catch as catch can.

[1] For an incomprehensible definition, check this one out: https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/92360

Image: Shamelessly ripped off from Wikipedia.

Ella’s Story: Chapter 23

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

23

He was, she reflected, the studliest man she had ever known. In the solitary comfort of her bed, night flowing over her and through the resting dormitory, her body remembered. He filled her like no man had ever done, before or after. Filled her physically. Filled her emotionally, too, with his humor and his dark ironic eyes and foxy smile, with the endless stream of small kindnesses and gestures, with his company that filled their off hours and many of the hours that were on.

A satisfactory man, she thought. The best she’d known. But then, come to think of it, most of the men she’d been with on Samdela did not aspire to the category of “satisfactory.” And after Lohkeh, she hadn’t come to know so many men. Not so many at all.

Each morning he would meet her in the mess hall, share first-meal with her – or with her and a few friends – and then wish her a fine day before the each went off to their separate jobs. Lohkeh got around in his work. He seemed to be all over the place. Every day, two or three times a day, he would drop by her desk and say hello. Unless he had to go down to Takrai, he would – which he often did. Every eight or ten “day”-cycles, he disappeared into the dark tube to the mining center, never reappearing until after last-meal. Often not before Ella had gone to bed.

Vighdi made good on her promise to find them a private place to spend their off hours together. They made excellent use of it.

None of this went unnoticed. Her friends teased mercilessly, dubbing them Wista and Qarfan, the mythical Kanat lovers whose passion turned them into stars and caused them to drift into that strange, seasonless world’s firmament. Ella quickly grew aware that every unattached female and several who were attached wished they were in her place. So she didn’t mind. Much.

Lohkeh played a pitcher’s position for one of Ethra Compound’s eighteen-man bechabon teams. In bechabon, six pitchers tried to throw six balls each – red, blue, white, green, orange, and purple, in order, into a series of holes set high overhead in the walls of a octagonal playing field, while two team-mates tried to defend each pitcher them against three opposing players. Each team worked across six walls — three on either side of the court — and then if and when an entire set of balls had made its way through the targets, tried to throw all of them into the other team’s goal net.

This, she thought, was an amazing thing to watch from the rows of benches above the walled arena. In Zaitaf’s low gravity, each player could jump a good ten feet into the air, seeming to hover aloft several seconds. Throwing an object at the apogee of such a leap would shift the person’s balance. It took skill and strength to steer oneself so as to avoid coming down wrong and breaking an ankle. Lohkeh had both of those, in abundance.

Spectator sports had never called out to Ella. She could take them or leave them. But somehow watching Lohkeh dance and fly and throw made watching bechabon a lot more fun than it had ever seemed before. Before long she knew all the rules and what was a good move and what not so great, what was a foul and what was a brilliant move. And Lohkeh’s grace and strength put her whole body to singing for him. Watching him in action made her relish the action that would follow all the more.

That action could take place anywhere. Behind the spectator stands. Down a dark hallway. Inside a random vehicle that somehow materialized exactly when and where Lohkeh wanted it. Inside the greenhouse, hidden between of tall plants. Once, after he invited her to help him practice by chasing stray balls and returning them to him, inside a shower room.

Was there any retreat he didn’t know about? If there was, she couldn’t imagine where it might be.

 

Writing, Editing…Editing,Writing

Tireder than all my tribe…

Ran out of copy for Ella’s Story, so this week had to write the chapter that will go up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. And so I suppose it will be, until I come to the end of Ella’s part of the Varnis ramblings. It really is just a side story…there’s more, a great deal more, focusing on a different but related set of characters.

But meanwhile an editing job came in the day before yesterday. Haven’t even looked at it, because I’ve been so focused on trying to get Ella, Chapter 23 out by tomorrow ayem. This is an R&R (“revise and resubmit”) of an article I’ve edited before, so I’m hoping (against hope…) it won’t be too difficult to read.

Speaking of the crack of proverbial dawn, one would be a lot less tired (and get a lot more work done) if one’s dogs did not develop the habit of demanding to be let out at three in the morning.

This has gotten to be a nightly thing.

First Ruby starts to squirm — corgis are small dogs, exquisitely cute dogs, dogs that are smarter than humans, and so succeed in taking up residence on the human’s bed. She makes her musical whining noise, which is not really “let me down” but means something more like are you awake?

This works well to awaken Cassie, who having an aging digestive system has not done her thing before bed-time and so now is taken by an embarrassing urgency. If the human does not get up and let her off the bed, something even more embarrassing threatens to happen. From there, it’s race to the back door and shoot out into the backyard in search of satisfying relief.

Dogs go back to sleep forthwith.

Humans…not so much.

So by 4:30 or 5, time to roll out of the sack for a doggy-walk before it gets too hot, the human is in full zombie mode.

I’m thinking tonight I’ll take them for a walk as soon as it’s dark and the sidewalks have had time to cool off a bit. That will be soon — it’s already 8:00. If I can wring them out before bed-time, maybe they won’t roust me in the wee hours.

The scribbling for free and the editing for dollars projects are seriously complicated by the absence of the MacBook Pro. Apple, faced with at least one lawsuit (to which I happen to be a party now) and with a cacophony of more than the usual number of angry, bellyaching customers, decided to replace the machine’s defective keyboards for free.

Since mine intermittently declines to type a letter “b” or recognize the action of the “return” key, last week I dragged it down to the Apple story and turned it in to be fixed. I hope.

“Fixing” a computer, I’ve learned over the years, usually means “screwing it up in new and creative ways.” So as you can imagine, my enthusiasm for this process knows plenty of bounds.

The contraption is not supposed to be returned before tomorrow (Monday), and probably later than that.

In the meantime, I’m working and playing on an ancient iMac desktop, a big old thing that I use as a substitute television, streaming videos from Amazon and YouTube. And lemme tell you: that frikkin” HURTS!

Another function of old age, in addition to a certain tendency to insomnia, is hurting joints. Especially hurting hip joints. When I sit in an office chair — any office chair, for any length of time (even just a few minutes) — my hip starts to hurt so much I can barely limp around. The laptop brings a stop to that by letting me sit in a soft easy chair with my feet up on an ottoman. In its absence, I get to enjoy extravagant pain. After a couple hours at this desk, I have to perform a series of physical therapy exercises just to walk the dogs around the block.

Welp, I cannot write another word, and if I don’t get up from this bone-crushing chair now I will not be able to walk to the bathroom, to say nothing of a mile into Richistan and back to Normal Acres. And so, away…

The Complete Writer: Blogging for Dollars

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 20. Blogging for Dollars

The Complete Writer
Part IV: Blogging

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

 Blogging for Dollars

One of my favorite sites is Problogger,[1] a blog on blogging. Alas, I’m guilty of not visiting often enough: I rarely do subscriptions because there’s too little time to keep up with them all, and when it comes to proactively visiting various sites, I get distracted easily. No doubt, though, if a person read the thing every day and blogged every day and studied other blogs carefully, before long the person would become expert at the blogging game and even make some money at it.

One morning, feeling a bit annoyed at Google AdSense, I dropped over to Problogger to see if Proprietor Darren Rowse had any clues to improve one’s relationship with that outfit. And lo! Up popped an article[2] by Todd Fratzl, holding forth on two basic ideas: 1) that you should experiment with ad size and placement, and 2) that with AdSense, less is more.

The first is fairly self-evident: since no two blogs are the same and no two sets of readers are identical, it makes sense that placement, color, and frequency would yield different results for each individual blog. In fact, given the Internet’s fluid nature, it’s also reasonable to expect that blog readership will change as blog content evolves. So it’s probably a good idea not only to try different sizes and placements for your blog’s advertising, but to test new patterns at regular intervals—say, at least once a year.

Personally, I was far more taken by the less-is-more concept. Much as I craved to see Funny about Money make a few shekels, I wasn’t happy about having to mothball its original WordPress design (White as Milk, the most exquisitely minimalist design WordPress.com offered at the time) in favor of a three-column theme that lends itself to ad clutter. The idea of having only one or two ad blocks appealed . . . and it would appeal a lot if Todd was right, that more readers will click on a site’s advertising if fewer ads are offered.

I surely never could claim I was getting rich off Funny about Money. Nor did I expect to: from what I can see, PF bloggers whose sites earn enough to let them quit their day jobs are technologically adept, work at it six to eight hours a day at least five days a week, and are strong marketers. None of those applies in my case. In theory, AdSense caused FaM to earn a little more than other part-time bloggers claim to earn: as a paying hobby, the revenue was just OK.

In reality, though, it was paying nothing. Often the on-paper revenues that AdSense showed the site had earned were not paid, and I began to suspect I’d never see a cent of that money.

AdSense is extremely frustrating to deal with. It has exactly zero customer support. You can not reach a human being. The entire operation is designed to frustrate attempts to get answers to questions beyond the “frequently asked.” The only live people you can reach are equally frustrated fellow customers, who gather at forums so diffuse that you could spend days trying to find someone addressing your issue and still not get an answer that pertains to your circumstances.

And then we have its bizarre payment policies. No money is disgorged until you reach a certain threshold (just now, $100). After your site has accrued that much, you then have to wait upwards of two months for payment. Thus, when FaM became eligible for a payment in June, the payment was not scheduled to arrive at my mailbox until the end of August.

“Mailbox” is the operative word: the direct deposit function wouldn’t work for me. Because there’s no human responsible for addressing customer problems, there’s no way to find out what the problem is or how to get AdSense to deposit funds directly to my bank account. The “help” forums? Full of other people bitching that the direct deposit function doesn’t work.

So the August check didn’t arrive. In that case, your only option is to ask that Google cancel the check it allegedly has issued and cut a new check. Do that, and you delay payment another entire month! So, the soonest I could expect to see money earned in June was sometime near the end of September.

It’s not a huge rip, but it is a rip. What it means is that AdSense is piggybacking free ad space on the blogger’s work. Effectively, I had been providing AdSense free space for the three months (June, July, August), and would continue to do so for at least another month (assuming payment arrived sometime in September). Multiply that by the 87 gerjillion bloggers who publish ads, and you get a clue how much Google profits by taking advantage of customers who can’t get in the front gate because there is no gate-keeper. The longer AdSense delays paying its ad publishers and the more publishers it stiff-arms, the more interest Google earns on ad revenues!

How much was Funny earning in never-paid revenues? Not much. It generated a modest amount each month (or would have, if I could ever get paid). It paid for the server space, more or less. Otherwise, you could say it earned enough to buy a bag or two of groceries each month.

Considering that I would probably blog anyway, the 30 cents an hour that AdSense revenue boils down to amounted to a spoonful of gravy. However, I could do without the hassle, and I could do without the frustration entailed in dealing with a megalithic corporation that sets up impermeable barricades between its employees and the unwashed customers. I began to realize that despite the passive nature of AdSense—after all, once you’ve accomplished the initial set-up you don’t have to do much to earn that 30 cents an hour—it’s probably not worth the page clutter.

Advertising may be the least of the effective ways to monetize a blog. Probably creating a product, such as an e-book or (depending on your blog’s topic) or some physical object that’s related to your content, will generate more profit. Trent Hamm, for example, sold Amazon books spun off The Simple Dollar and offered short spurts of advice, also spinoffs, downloadable from his site. He had to split his print book’s $7.95 retail price with the publisher and the middlemen, but every cent of those $2.00 PDF downloads went direct to his bank account. Since his readership was huge, he probably sold a fair number of self-published e-books and PDFs.

Regular blogging by its nature generates a salable product: copy. If the site is focused on a specific topic—or even covers two or three topics regularly—the blogger should have no trouble coming up with at least one publishable book and a number of DIY e-books. But there again, it’s a matter of marketing: books don’t sell themselves any more than blogs do!

[1] http://www.problogger.net/

[2] http://www.problogger.net/simple-changes-doubled-my-adsense-revenue/

If You’d Asked Me: Don’t need no steenkin’ vaccinations?

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

24. How did babies survive when there were no vaccines a long time ago?

They didn’t. Until the discovery of microbial pathogens led to understanding of the importance of hygiene and to development of vaccines and antibiotics, about half of children would predecease their parents.

My dissertation addressed 16th- and early 17th-century English and Continental history. In the course of the research, I learned this to be the case. If you reached adulthood, you were pretty tough. If you were female and you survived the endless pregnancies to which you were subject, you were extremely tough. Most people who lived long enough to have families saw about half of their children die, many in infancy and early childhood. Large numbers of women died in childbirth or from infections following on delivery.

People who imagine they can do without vaccines delude themselves. Most of us would not want to go back to those particular good old days.

New, Handier Way to Read Ella’s Story!

You’ll recall that I had to wrap the ongoing installments of The Complete Writer into PDFs, after the publishing a series of chapters maxed out WordPress. All things considered, I decided that was pretty cool. It allows readers to go straight to the content that interests them without having to unravel a roll of electronic toilet paper to find it. How, one wondered, would that work for Ella’s Story?

One does not read a piece of fiction for the same reason, though, that one reads a nonfiction book. Fiction, outside the sticky confines of a literature course, is read for pleasure, to pass the time of day (or night). There are no subject headings into which to divide a recitation of facts or advice. This is a challenge when the noveloid is really a kind of telenovela, a genre whose authors invent on the fly.

It struck me, though, that I could gather ten chapters of Ella’s Story at a time into a single PDF. Then let the E.S. page run the next ten, one at a time, until enough installments accrue to build the next PDF.

Yesterday I published Chapter 22 in blog format. So that presented enough material to create “Part I” and “Part II”: two PDFs containing the story as published so far, and then some. The PDFs, I put online last night.

Once I get to Chapter 30, I’ll take those new 10 pages off the E.S. page, post them all together in a single PDF (“Part III”!), and…so on to infinity.

As it develops, this will be a huge improvement for the reader. With the contents of each 10-chapter “Part” listed on the E.S. page and no more than 10 new chapters posted there, you’ll be able go straight to where you left off, rather than having to scroll endlessly to pick up the story.

Try it! You’ll like it!

Ella’s Story. Chapter 22 *FREE READS!

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

22

The tick-sized intercom pasted to her left bicep vibrated, a signal to get her attention. From Syo, on the security guard: Rysha had arrived at Skyhill’s front gate.

Having managed to coax about half of Tabit’s soup into Darl, Ella was carrying the dishes back to the manor house’s basement kitchen. Now she hurried along, popped in, and found Lior and Tabit working over the stoves and counters, where they were preparing dinner for four dozen staff – give or take. She dropped the tray on a counter, thanked Tabit for her work, and ran back up the stairs, headed for the main floor.

The intercom buzzed again: Talat.

“We’re still in Cinnora,” he said. “Dorin gave us enough money to cover dinner. All right if we eat here and come in a little later?”

He gives you enough for dinner, so you’re honor-bound to spend it? She flew in the ground-floor service door and raced up the hallway toward the central atrium. “How much later?”

“We’ll be back by curfew.”

“How about before curfew? Make it by first moonrise.” That would bring them in around fifteenth hour. Curfew shut everything down at seventeenth hour – after Wilig’s bed-time. She’d need to remember to tell Wilig’s parents, whenever they came in for dinner.

“All right. We’ll probably get in before then.”

“Let me know.”

She bounded into the entry hall and took her place next to Essio – another of the guard, scheduled to relieve Chadzar, his boss, after the kaïna was safely deposited inside the house. Dita joined them, a small bag of gear in hand, and the three formed a straight, identically uniformed line to one side of the entry. Shaban stood ready to open the heavy double doors when the mistress arrived in front.

Shaban gestured over a wall pad so it would read his embedded ID chip. “Lights,” he murmured, and glow panels in the vestibule and an adjacent tall-ceilinged reception room came on. A fountain burbled, calming, into a pond occupying a corner of the entryway. Against another wall, a willowy tree held court over mounds of multicolored, leafy plants. He took up his position next to a panel of windows that looked out across the broad, fern-covered meadow in front.

“And…here they be,” he announced when he saw Rysha’s vehicle float under the portico, settle to the ground, and release its passengers.

As the two walked up the shallow entryway steps, he opened the door. Chadzar, a large, snow-hued Michaian, his hair, eyebrows and even his eyelashes so blond as to appear white, took half a step in ahead of his mistress, glanced around, and nodded a greeting toward his colleagues. Ella never failed to feel a twinge of amazement at the grass-green eyes, though she’d seen them every day for…how many years? Fifteen, yes?

He stood aside. The empress of the known universe glided into the room. Smoke-blue she wore, as always: hereditary badge for the absolute ruler of a dozen civilized worlds, several score developed satellites and asteroids, another several dozen planets whose cultures had not advanced enough to be worth contacting or that had not sprung from the seed of the Mother World, and some uncountable number of outposts where organizd civilization had yet to develop among ancient Varnis’s far-flung offspring.

Yes, fifteen years, just about. Not so long after the Kaïna Djitti slipped away in her sleep and left this Rysha to grow by instinct and by blood into her place. Her little girl, as Ella came to think of her, now a lithe, dark almond-eyed creature, surely too delicate to own such power. Two layers of fine, silken fabric drifted like mist around her, one white bordered all the way around with a violet band, the second the faintest green. Green and violet, the House of Delamona’s colors worn over a blue body suit, very much like the ones all her slaves wore. Rather a nicer fabric, though, Ella knew.

Chadzar lifted a hand in the car’s direction and it rolled away to park itself inside its stable.

The waiting staff bowed their heads briefly when she entered, as custom dictated. First to step forward, Ella unfastened the long jade-colored outer tunic, slid it off her mistress’s shoulders, and folded it over an arm. Rysha smiled and gave her a hug. She looked tired, Ella thought: more than her fill of roundabout palavering, no doubt.

Shaban took the translucent tunic while Ella and Dita accompanied their mistress into the private sitting room off the entry foyer. The two guards stayed behind, so Chad could pass along whatever Essio needed to know before he took over his boss’s shift.

Rysha sighed with evident relief as she collapsed into her favorite overstuffed chair.

“Long day, hm?” More of an observation from Ella than a statement.

“Oh, my! Some people never tire of arguing.”

Ella knelt beside her to replace tight-fitting brocade shoes with a pair of soft leather sandals. Shaban, having put away the shimmering tunic, began to prepare a drink at the serving desk.

“The usual, madame?” he asked.

“Good. Fine.”

Ella felt the tension in Rysha as, briefly, she massaged each foot and ankle. Dita unpacked a collection of containers and combs and brushes. By the time Shaban delivered a ruby-red mug full of icy intoxicant, Dita was pulling out pins and clips, unwinding and unbraiding and untwisting the complicated ceremonial hairdo, and gently combing each newly loosed lock straight and tangle-free.

In private, Rysha’s shiny black hair fell below her shoulders. In public, though, the kaïna wore a distinctive, very elaborate hair structure that marked her as who and what she was, part of the symbolism of her authority. To construct it took special training, such as Dita had been given – it wasn’t something Rysha could put together herself. Today’s diplomatic meetings required the full costume. Sometimes, Ella reflected, it must take as much patience to wear the robes and the crown as it did to weave them.

“How was your day, dear?” Rysha asked Ella.

“Good enough, my lady.” Ella rested on her knees beside the chair. “It’s been quiet.”

“And our new man? How is he making out?”

What to say? “He’s been having a hard time of it, madame.”

“Ah. He doesn’t like it here?”

“Doubtful if he understands where he is. They…the blacksuits seem to have let him go a little too soon. He’s pretty much out of it.”

“I see. Can we handle it? You and Dorin, I mean?”

“Well. Yes, I think so. He ate a little this afternoon. There’s really nothing to do for him, other than let him rest and keep him warm. When you come right down to it. He’ll get better.”

“I expect. But meanwhile…it’s extra work for you two.”

That would be why we’re here, no? Ella nodded. After a pause she spoke again, in Samdi: “Kananei…” – My lady…

 This was a gesture whose meaning Rysha took. She glanced in Shaban’s direction: “Would you leave us for a moment, please?”

A quick bow, then he ushered Essio and Dita out the door.

Hkal?” Rysha spoke Samdi – the elite variety – almost as fluently as she spoke Varn. Yes, what? Part of her upbringing involved learning all the Empire’s major languages. The conversation proceeded in Ella’s native tongue.

“Is something going on somewhere? That we’re not being told about?”

Rysha gave her a sharp look and raised a finger: hush!

They could be heard inside the Kaïna’s private quarters? This was new to Ella.

“Eliyeh’llya, give me your hand.” Ella responded by offering her right hand. “No. The other one.”

Rysha tapped the back of her own left hand and spoke a single code word, one Ella had never heard. She repeated this with the passkey chip in Ella’s hand, then ran the back of her own hand over the back of Ella’s.

“We have five minutes,” she said. “Now: why do you ask, dear?”

“Well…” What to say to avoid getting anyone else in trouble? “I just wondered why…they told Dorin the reason they put him out on the market just about straight from the cooker is that they had a lot of criminal offenders to process. But…what kind of crime wave would max their facility, madame? Unless it was an uprising, no?”

“Mmm… That certainly could be.”

“Michaia again?”

“No. There’s unrest on Idaemas just now. In Odambra Nation.”

“Oh, my.” Odambra was the largest Idaemasan industrial center. “Is it very serious?”

“Any sedition is serious, Eliyeh’llya. So, yes, it’s serious. But we have it under control.”

“I see.” This was not the best of all possible developments. “So…what about Tabit? Will she…no one will bother her, will they?

“She and her husband are being watched. But then…everyone in service is watched, no?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ella felt her heart in her throat. And apparently Rysha sensed her distress.

“It’s all right, Eliyeh’llya. We know Tabit can be trusted – she’s been away from Idaemas for two decades, for heaven’s sake. And she’s never shown any interest in politics. Has she, to your knowledge?”

“No, my lady. Never.”

If she had, Ella wouldn’t dream of saying so.

“Can we let it drop? I’ll tell you or Dorin if there’s anything you need to know.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ella rose, walked to the door, and called the other three servants back in. While Dita finished unweaving the kaïna’s hair, Shaban set a place at the long table in the dining room. Ella followed him there, pulled back the drapes over the high windows to open the garden view, and went downstairs to let the kitchen staff know what Rysha had said she’d like for her light evening meal.

§

Everyone but Talat and Wilig was in and accounted for. Talat had called to say they were riding a public shuttle into Skyhill Village, whence they would walk out to the estate. Dinner was served and consumed, and this week’s after-hours kitchen team was cleaning up under Lior and Tabit’s direction.

In the cooling late dusk, stars twinkled overhead as black night pushed the last mauve glow of the sun below the distant, silhouetted hills. A few sticks of wood glowed and snapped in the outdoor firepit, a central focus of the patio and mossy fields where people gathered between the workday’s end and curfew. Dorin and Ella, having about finished riding herd for the day, sat near the hearth sipping one of his supposedly calming teas out of the same heavy mugs with which they had started the day.

Syndicato, she thought. If he was – if he was any good at it – he would know the silent sign language used when things were tight or dangerous. Wouldn’t he? She tapped him gently on a knee and, holding her hand between their chairs, let her fingers flicker a quick message.

He looked…what? Surprised? Puzzled, she thought. But he nodded, just so slightly as to be barely noticeable. He drew an appreciative sip of the hot tea and then remarked, “Beautiful night, isn’t it.”

“It is.”

“Why don’t we go for a walk and enjoy the evening air for a few minutes, before we have to herd this bunch off to bed?”

“Now there’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” she said.

They ambled toward the gathering’s periphery and then, coming to a path that led into the exotic flower gardens on the west side of the manor house, angled away from their charges.

“The ileeri fruit are starting to blossom,” she remarked.

“Yes. They smell lovely at this time of night.” By a path’s lamplight, she could see his fingers move. What’s this about?

“Almost as lovely as ileeri tastes.” The mistress told me the reason we got our healer before he was healed.

“Yeah. It’s one of the highlights of the summer.” So?

Uprisings. Ideamas, of all places. “We should have some put in the mistress’s sitting room for her.” She wasn’t inclined to say much. But I gathered it’s pretty serious.

“She’d like that, I expect.” So I’d heard. “Why don’t you suggest it to Shaban?”

 “Look at that sunset!” You know about it?

“It was outright amazing an hour ago.” Not much. How did she come to bring this up with you?

“There’s little Gathra coming up,” she observed. Gathra, the smaller moon, was just rising over the trees in front of the house. I asked her.

“I’ve heard it looks a lot bigger from Ethra Compound.” That’s probably not a great idea.

 “Oh, my yes. Because it’s so much closer to Zaitaf than it is to the planet.” She didn’t seem to mind.

“Didn’t we tell Talat to get back here by first moon?” Best not to bring it up again.

She glanced at him: was this an order? “Yes. Yes, that’s so.”

“We’d probably better get back to the party,” he said.