Sunday, September 04, 2011

'Twas brillig, and I are very unhappy with this unhappy situations.

I'm juggling quite a writing workload on my new(ish) job these days, so we've found it expedient to engage the services of freelancers to churn out relatively low-priority blurbs pursuant to our ambitious SEO goals.* More exactly, we've engaged the services of a company that specializes, or so it says, in taking on the writing overflow from small-staff firms, like mine, that find themselves temporarily overwhelmed.

I have two primary reactions to this experience, thus far:

1. It's a good thing these blurbs are relatively low-priority, because the general quality of the writing supplied by these freelancers can be summarized as GACK.

2. I would assume that the company to which we outsourced our writing employs people who have in some way documented their fitness to produce verbiage worthy of being read by other actual homo sapiens. Therefore I must also assume that the company believes that the GACK-inspiring writing to which I alluded in (1) should be accepted by my firm as credible professional work, and maybe even paid for. I further assumethough you can't imagine how this pains and even terrifies me, as a lover of writing and a former professor of the genrethat the people churning out this garbage actually graduated from some institution of higher learning with a degree that theoretically certifies their competency to write something.
Is it mean-spirited or overly demanding of me to expect writers not to use phrases like "aware about" (as in, "they are aware about the financial concerns..."), "dedicated in" (as in, "the company is dedicated in teaching consumers how to better handle their finances...") or "translate towards" (as in, "this doesn't always translate towards a better opportunity")? Is it unrealistic to ask people who call themselves Writers to avoid writing sentences that begin, "For the average person who struggle to fix their finances to make sure it works for them" or "With the economy presently in its current state of economic instability..." Jesus H. Christ!

What are they teaching people in English classes nowadays??

* Some of you may be wondering, How do you reconcile "low-priority blurbs" with "ambitious" SEO goals? I'm told that in SEO, which is quite far from my area of specialization, the point is merely to repeat the key names and phrases as often as possible in as many different online settings as possible. So the core objective is just to get the material out there, almost regardless of how it reads. Still...if you're going to write something...yanno?


Anonymous said...

Too bad we can't have a look at the copy...

Steve Salerno said...

No can do, Anon. I'm trying to be somewhat discreet here, on several grounds. But trust's all pretty bad. In fact, I may have actually picked out some of the highlights (i.e. most skillful writing) in the post.

a/good/lysstener said...

I agree with you, Steve. There are so few people who are competent in writing, even among people who consider themselves writers. I remember when we would have paper exchanges in writing class, it was appalling, the clumsy and even infantile way so many of my classmates would write. Believe me, I'm not setting myself up as a Joan Didion. I'm just saying this post of yours doesn't surprise me at all.

Anonymous said...

All due respect, I find your writing excruciating to read. There's no need to make your sentences as purposely complicated and unlike normal conversation as you. Do you ever go back over your work and edit for clarity or flow? Maybe you should consider looking inside your own glass house before you throw stones at others who have also proved their ability to make a living as writers.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, geez, tell me how you really feel. ;)

But at least my writing is grammatical. And rendered in our native tongue.

Anonymous said...

This is anon again. What I really feel is that people like you should not assume you are the be all and end all of writing.

Rational Thinking said...

I'm with you on this Steve - some of what you quote reads as though it was produced by translation software! I take it these blurbs don't receive a copy editor's attention prior to sending to a customer? Pity :-)

Steve Salerno said...

RT, interestingly enough, one of our company officers who works closely with the SEO firm on other matters theorizes that they may indeed outsource their work to "offshore" freelancers--like the infamous IT departments of so many marketing companies.

What I want to know is: How far off is that shore? And does anybody there speak English?

RevRon's Rants said...

We recently learned that a prospective client had opted to have his book ghosted by the "professionals" at e-lance, where a whole book can be created for a few hundred bucks. Had to laugh, yet at the same time, feel for the guy, whose public credibility is bound to suffer as a result.

And Steve, perhaps you need to offer a dumbed-down version of your blog, specifically for those who find intelligent prose excruciating to read. Perhaps a few nice little cartoons, just to make things even clearer... :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Many SEO gurus seem to be all about hiring cheap labor to churn out keywords. On the discussion following Salty Droid's September 6 blog post there's a mention of a scheme cooked up a couple of years ago by some Internet Marketing gurus. The scheme (or flopportunity, as Salty would call it) was called Project Mojave. One of the things they taught was an SEO outsourcing system that one of the partner gurus said he used. He described it as: "the paint-by-numbers, cut-and-paste SEO system I give to my virtual assistants so that THEY can do my SEO for me . . . at $5/hour. This system trains them how to do SEO on my behalf."

It's one of those "you-get-what-you-pay-for" situations. Supposedly Google has become more sophisticated about weeding out nonsense content, but you wouldn't know it by the amount of nonsense (but keyword-rich!) content that continues to flood the Interwebz.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, that is a very good point and a very sad comment on how the digital revolution is devaluing, if not destroying, what you and Ron and I (and a remaining, stalwart handful of others) regard as good writing. The other day I was watching a special about the lifelong friendship between Jefferson and Adams--of course, they famously died on the same day, July 4, 1826--and I had to laugh when the narrator read excerpts from the letters they wrote to one another late in life. (Letters! Remember those?) The power of the language, the evident thought put into each chosen word, the grand sweep of the rhetoric, taken as a whole...but now we have text messages. Or sext messages, as the case may be.

Swell. At least we can arrange flash mobs.

Henriette said...

Tell me Steve how these people got jobs, and who is hiring them? I'm a writer. I have an English degree, and am in a prestigious (or so they tell me) MFA program yet cannot get these types of jobs. May I apply?

Henriette said...

Oh, I miss letters! I miss how tactile they are. Another person touched the same page as me. There is something very beautiful about that. No text will ever get to the level of a letter. Even if it is...gasp...well-written.

Steve Salerno said...

Henriette, I don't think you were asking seriously (about "how to get" those jobs), but I'm sure you'd be dismissed as overqualified. You know, I was joking when I wrote that the copy was probably written by the same people who staff the overseas IT departments, or however I put it, but a colleague later informed me that that's entirely possible: Companies hire cheap labor in Bangladesh or wherever--people with just enough English competency to "write" a web entry.

Re letters, I don't think you were around at the time, but I've previously lamented the debut of e-cards and--my favorite--e-flowers. I mean, really...

Cosmic Connie said...

Ron and I were having a discussion today with some friends who'd had a bad experience with eLance. Now, I don't know if the work they'd contracted was writing work or not (I suspect not, since one of them is a capable writer), but I do know that eLance is notorious for listing dirt-cheap writing jobs. And since that's the area I'm interested in, those are the job listings I've searched on the few occasions when I've visited eLance and similar sites.

Our friends apparently decided to go with another online work site, which they mentioned by name in the discussion. I wondered if perhaps that site had higher-quality job listings and if it might even be a viable one for Ron and me to list on. So I did a superficial search in a category that has been our bread and butter for many years: book ghostwriting. And here is one of the first listings I found:

Motivational Book
Fixed-Price - Est. Budget: $200.00 -

Job Description


I am looking for a ghostwriter to write my motivational book. I will provide all ideas and topics for you to research on. It needs to be 200 pages. I will provide subject matter and articles which could be rewritten.

Title page, TOC and foreword are required.

The book should be conversational, fun and witty.

Bids are requested from experienced writers who have written on topics like motivation, success and coaching. Please send relevant writing samples along with your bid.

Timeline: 20 days.

When your bid, please also include some suggestions for titles to prove your bid is not copy and paste.

I have more book projects and will award to those that work well with me.

Do not bid if you are not interested in a long term partnership.


So far the listing has 11 applicants.

This is beyond appalling, and I seriously suspect the finished product will be all but unreadable, but it's just one more indication of how writing has been devalued.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: I would say "thank you" for posting that story, but I'm not sure the phrase quite applies. Jesus.

Think about it: That probably means there would've been at least 5 bids if the max bid was set at $100...

Mary Hickman said...

nice job.