Friday, January 30, 2015

On the Run in the Nastiest Corner of the Galaxy: A Freelance Writer's Life

Getting back to Los Angeles two years ago this month after 28 years away, I resolved to do whatever it took to make my living as a freelance writer. I was already writing 12 little air travel essays per month for Flyertalk, and that put a reasonable wad of rumpled bills in my pocket each month, but then they noticed how indignant some of their readers were about my constantly ridiculing Republicans and other undesirables. They informed me they would henceforth publish only pieces without bias, and reluctantly assigned me a piece about how fashionable it is among holidaying young Brits to defecate in foreign swimming pools. They found what I wrote insufficiently objective. I gathered, too late, that they’d wanted me to approach the subject of shitting in hotel swimming pools with an open mind, and here my distaste for the practice couldn’t have been more evident!

I was thus relieved to discover that there are now nearly limitless opportunities for a freelance writer to supply…content to Websites for real money, and that one could earn as much as a dollar per paragraph, provided his article got clicked through to a lot. Given that in my heyday I was getting $1/word, though, I thought maybe I’d work on my fiction instead.

Months went by. I didn’t get the videography job I’d been hoping for. I applied for a lot of graphic design jobs, but most of those who screen prospective new recruits don’t know good design from Shinola, and are about as qualified to make such decisions as a deaf person would be to screen prospective members of a new opera company. 

I began applying for writing jobs too, and hit what I’m pretty sure is rock-bottom in my (and maybe anyone else’s!) writing-job-seeking experience when I responded to the posting of Whorde Worldbuilders, which offered “an exciting opportunity to help…develop a unique high-volume division from the literal ground up. We are looking for 15 or so very special, highly intelligent, articulate, enthusiastic, skilled, and determined workaholic individuals to…[produce] novels at an average rate of one per day, using a 20-day production model.” Each hired writer would “produce prose copy of an average of 10,000 words of content daily from well defined synopsis treatments.”

My reading of “develop[ing] a unique high-volume division from the literal ground up” was that they didn’t plan to provide desks in the early going, nor even a floor. But maybe I was being too literal.

And the compensation? Well, they weren’t actually going to pay, per se, but Whorde Worldbuilders were offering a generous 3% Gross Profit Share. And if the workaholic didn’t kill himself trying to churn out 50,000 words per work week, he or she might eventually be put on an annual salary of up to $72,000, whereby, writing 10,000 words per day, he would be earning almost 2.8 cents/word, downright magnanimous compared to $1/paragraph!

I nonetheless had the temerity, when I got his email suggesting we set up a phone interview, to point out to the mastermind of the whole operation, Mr. Travis Grundy, that he was running a sweatshop, and should have sex with himself.  

Travis’s company Zharmae turns out already to have published a great, great many books, mind you, and their descriptions are uniformly intriguing. Take Frances Pauli’s Shrouded, for instance: Vashia’s father is the planetary governor. Unfortunately, he’s also a complete bastard. When he promises her to his lackey, Jam, she panics. On the run in the nastiest corner of the galaxy, Vasia seizes her one chance at escape and signs on as a bride candidate for the elusive race of aliens known as The Shrouded, unaware that she very well may be chosen as the next Queen of Shroud.

Thoroughly intrigued, feeling as though I might be looking into the very face of Pure Evil, I read up on Travis, and learned that “he enjoys reading, writing, jogging, Neiman Marcus, and caramel macchiotos.” Thus, I am now able to offer this benediction: Choke on your macchioto, Trav, whatever it is.


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