Vanity searches and the usefulness of Google Alerts


A couple of my columns for the Free Press over the last month or so have made their way to the greater social consciousness, specifically one about Nader and another one about Generation X. The latter was especially popular on a news aggregator site and generated a decent amount of comments and feedback, not all of them good. Still, it was great to get the publicity, and any freelance writer at the beginning of her career can tell you that even bad publicity can be good for your business, as long as the publicity is focused on your content and not on your person.

In any case, the Gen-X one prompted me to do a quick Google search on the article. Lo and behold, I found several blogs and other aggregators that had picked up the column and had cut-and-pasted it in its entirety onto their sites. Now, technically, this would be considered violation of copyright, even with the attribution or links to the original article on the Free Press Web site. However, as I’m fairly unknown and am still working this whole freelance writing thing like mad, I don’t generally spend too much time worrying about it. I have written to a couple of the sites and asked that they at least link to my Web site or blog. It’s the least they can do considering that they’ve basically scraped my content. I’m a pretty easy-going person, though, and won’t worry about it too much until I get all J.K. Rowling-rich-and-famous and can hire a team of attorneys who’ll do all the copyright infringement fighting for me.

However, one little neat trick I learned while doing all this Googling is to sign up for Google Alerts of my name. I already do this with subjects I’m especially interested in for work or research or even just for fun, such as comfort women, Flight of the Conchords, Singapore World War II, and others, but this particular Alert just pops up when my name gets mentioned elsewhere on the Web.

Check out this addictive feature sometime, especially if you’re beginning to create a name for yourself and want to know what people are thinking/writing about you. Sure, it’s a bit of a vanity exercise, but you’d be surprised at where your content ends up. Most of the time, it’s all harmless, and people just want to continue the discussion you generated with your original article/blog post/column. It’s always good to know what others are saying about you and your work. And yes, it’s a great way to keep track of scrapers*, on whom you should definitely keep an eye in the future.

*Scrapers: People who “scrape,” i.e., steal your content, from your blog or Web site and post it on their own. This gets more worrisome if your content only gets partially scraped so that, say, your outbound links are eliminated, including to your site or the original article. It can also be of concern if the scrapers are posting your content to pornographic or otherwise illegal sites. If you have the time to monitor this, you might consider doing more comprehensive Google Alerts so that you catch violators as they accomplish the dirty deeds. Once you’ve found evidence of copyright infringement, don’t hesitate to contact the blog host (i.e., the administrators for,,, etc.) and let them know that one of their members is violating their terms of agreement.

I have a Web site!!!


I’ve been putting off getting my Website up, mostly because from previous experience setting up my old one, I know how time-consuming (we’re talking days of working on it for 6-8 hours on end) it can be for someone without a lot of programming experience. Even a super-easy template like FrontPage (not recommended, by the way) can be daunting, especially if you’ve no familiarity with it. My previous Website was so dinky that I gave up on it soon thereafter. Better to have no presence on the Web than to have one that distracts from the professional image I want to convey.

Enter VistaPrint. I’ve ordered most of my personal and business stationery (business cards, letterhead, envelopes, address labels, even postcards) from them for years, both for my writing biz and for my and B.’s old wedding photography biz. They’ve been super-easy to work with, have great rates for small businesses, and a ton of free graphics for you to choose from so that you don’t have to worry about uploading your own. (Although you can certainly do that for a minimal fee. B. and I did that for most of our wedding photography stuff, since that would obviously allow us to advertise the work we do on our business cards and postcards.)

I hadn’t logged on to their site in months, though, so when I did just that this morning to order another round of business cards, I was surprised to find that they now offer Web hosting services. Plus, you can even use the same graphics you already use for your stationery, allowing you to maintain a consistent image for your business.

I was already thinking of changing the design of my business card: an image of a sailboat drifting across a blue-green sea, with a lush, green island serving as the backdrop. I thought, You know, do I really want to look as if I’m all about slacking in the Caribbean? Then I realized just how important that image is to me, how it speaks to the part of me that loves the ocean, sailing, endless blue sky. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy — anyone who knows me will be familiar with my workaholic ways — but rather that the ocean is my talisman. Nothing wrong with that.

Anyhoo, I found the perfect Website template on VistaPrint to match my cards. No sailboat here, just a graceful palm tree and that ever-present blue sky. You get a free, 30-day trial, although you have to provide your credit card info when you sign up. The Site Builder allows you to customize your site using a few templates as a guide. I was able to set mine up in about two hours. It would’ve taken me even less time, except I’m kinda picky about font and things like that, so I played around with it to see what size and style font would look best. That time frame also include the time I spent writing my bio, Contact Me, and Portfolio pages, plus the Home page itself.

All in all, I daresay it was a fun experience. Definitely beats the week or so I spent putting together the Website for our now-defunct wedding photography business. (Although in all fairness, that was very heavy on graphics and included photo galleries, which can be tricky.) Since I really only need a basic Website that will highlight my published clips, I just wanted a simple, clean, attractive, and easy-to-read-and-navigate format. No Flash, Flickr pages (although I may include that sometime), or anything else fancy.

I highly, highly recommend checking this out if you haven’t already. Like many writers, I’ve been relying too heavily on my blog to claim my share of Internet real estate, but that’s very limited in terms of what I can offer potential clients. Plus, unless you’re highly skilled in HTML programming, you’re very likely not going to be able to add very many additional options to your blog if you’re just using one of the many templates out there (e.g., Blogger, WordPress, etc.).

If you do decide to opt for the free, 30-day trial, make sure that you post a reminder somewhere in your calendar of the date on which to cancel your subscription if you ultimately decide to discontinue it. Otherwise, they’ll start charging you for your monthly dues. I opted for the Professional package, which offers an unlimited number of pages and 500MB of disk space for $14.97/month. The Standard package gives you 5 pages and 100MB of disk space for $9.98/month. The Basic package gives you 3 pages and 25MB of disk space for $4.99/month.

Right now I only have 5 pages, but 5 I expect to expand that soon with other options. At about $15/month, that’s a bargain. I paid about that much for my previous Web host, but I had to pay for the entire year upfront and design it myself. This was super-easy, plus I could just use the same designs I use for my stationery. Win-win.

I’ll give it the full 30 days to see how I like it. At the moment my prediction is that I will love it, but I still have a month to really decide. In the meantime, if you want to check out the initial layout (I’m waiting for my Domain Name Registrar to begin pointing my URL — — to the new site, which should take about 24-48 hours.), knock yourself out. I’d love your honest-to-goodness, no-holds-barred feedback!

Marketing vs. Writing


Just out of curiosity, would anyone care to share the percentage of their worktime that they spend marketing their service as a freelance writer? As I’ve only recently become a full-time freelancer, I still spend about 75% of my time marketing myself, from writing queries to responding to posts on Craigslist and other sites from employers/individuals looking for writers/bloggers. That’s more than I would like to spend on it, but unfortunately it’s still necessary until I build up enough of a network and a reputation to be able to just pick up the phone and pitch a quick story to an editor already familiar with my work. (At the moment there’s really only one editor with whom I have this relationship, but I value it tremendously.)

How many hours a week do you spend marketing, and how many do you spend actually writing/researching?