Thursday, September 17, 2009

Editorial Standards, Pulp Fiction and eHow

The front page article today on eHow has some typos in it (probably fixed by now). This has prompted much green-eyed discussion about how low eHow's standards are.

Don't get me wrong. Scads of typos in the front page top features article of the day doesn't look very professional. eHow should at least spend a little editorial time making sure that one article is perfect. It's not like it would cost much.

But eHow is not a slick (high end magazine). They don't pay hundreds or even thousands for a front cover article. eHow is more like a pulp magazine. They're down, they're dirty, and they are focused on giving the readers what they want. Pulps are more pragmatic and less polished. That's just the way it is.

I'll tell you a story I heard from Harlan Ellison. Ellison is an amazing, prize-winning short story writer. His stuff is gut-grabbing and literary, but he started in the pulps. He wrote for fractions of pennies per word, so he had to write a lot to make a living, and that volume made him fast and sure. Every word became like the strokes of a chef's knife, pretty only when necessary, but always accurate and to the point.

Now, the editorial needs of a pulp magazine are somewhat different than a fancier, high-paying magazine. They need what they need when they need it. For instance, the magazines would commission their lurid covers well in advance of getting the stories for the magazine. They'd just make up titles and author names, and writers would compete to get to write the stories. Of course, the biggest prize was the cover story itself - the story that matched the glowing yellow cover with the monster and the sexy babe on it.

Harlan tells of one time getting the cover story by luck. He found an editor one day all in a tizzy. The writer for the cover story of the next issue had flaked out on him. He needed a 20,000 words story the very next day, and he had nothing.

Harlan looked at the cover, which featured a giant glowing earthworm tearing the clothes off a buxom woman, and thought about it.

"You know, I've got a giant earthworm story."

"Great! Can you have to me tomorrow?"

"Gee, I don't know. It's only 18,000 words. I guess I could stay up all night working on it...."

Harlan got the assignment, got the money and glory for writing a featured cover story, and paid extra for doing the rush job.

The thing is, he didn't have an 18,000 word story about alien worms raping the women of earth. Until he saw the cover, he hadn't even thought about such a story. He just went home and wrote the whole thing from scratch that night, turned it in in the morning and got all the money and glory.

That story probably wasn't very good. Even with the Ellison touch, it probably would have been rejected by that same editor if it had come in over the transom (i.e., if it had been an unsolicited submission).

But because it was exactly what that client needed at that time, it didn't matter. It got the money and glory anyway.

That's just the nature of the business.

So, when it comes to the front page articles on eHow, let's spend less time being jealous and disdainful, and more time trying to understand just what makes that article so valuable to eHow - our client. Because when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter how professional or not eHow's standards are, our professionalism demands that we understand what they need.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photo Upload is working again!

It appears they finally fixed the photo upload bug last night. People on the forums are reporting success. (A few people report that it failed on first try though - second try worked.)

I figure there is such a back log of photos people want to upload, I'm going to wait a little before I started uploading mine. Don't want to swamp the system.....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Article Submission Guidelines Published

Rich published the new Article Submission Guidelines today in the forums. He said these will be available for download and in other places soon.

This is a great first step. I haven't had the chance to thoroughly read and ponder them. A few quick thoughts, though:

There is still some wiggle room for interpretation in some areas that people may want to argue about whether it applies to their article, but the purpose of the rules is now well set out. And the guidelines themselves state clearly "Writing is subjective by nature, so rules are not easily categorized into black and white terms."

The other thing I noted is how much time these guidelines spend talking about titles and the promise they make to the reader. Titles are very important to eHow. I think members focus an awful lot on SEO and the unique title rule, and forget that in the end, these are secondary considerations. The first is communication to the reader.

Again, here is the link to the new Article Submission Guidelines.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Spam Attack on eHow!

eHow is currently undergoing an attack of spammers in the comments area of most articles. The messages says, "hey. thought you should see this. make money from google! go here: " and then includes an url which looks like it goes to a site to make money on Google.


It's a hijack site, and may infect your computer with malware (anything from spyware that tries to get your passwords, to worms that use your computer to spread more spam across the internet). NEW NOTE: The specific virus this site spreads (that we know about) is Artemis. An eHow member thoughtfully wrote an article about dealing with Artemis of you clicked on the site.

What should you do if your articles have such comments on them? For right now, I think we should leave it be. When it started a bunch of us were flagging and reporting abuse - so it has been reported to eHow - but this is clearly an organized high power attack. They may even be intending to bring down eHow with too much activity, and our activity could make the situation worse.

If this is a "denial of service" attack, it isn't working yet. They are only clogging the comment system. The site has not slowed down and readers can still find our articles and ads are still posted on them.

It is possible that eHow's staff is already working on it, but it is also possible that they are mostly on vacation today and may not get to this until tomorrow. (That's why these attacks tend to come on a weekend.) Let's give them some time to fix it, and not overload the site ourselves too much.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is eHow Falling Apart?

It always seems like it, doesn't it? I've been here for nine months, and we seem to have some kind of crisis and oodles of bugs every month. (Big crises every other month.) But the one thing I do know is that they take payment seriously.

And when it comes down to it, that's what matters.

Seth Godin had a good article this week (among several) which made me think immediately of eHow. The Problem With Positive Thinking turns out to be positive is harder than negative, even though it is way more productive.

To riff further on that theme, it is understandable why there are so many negative vibes around. The economy already fell apart, nothing is certain, the future is scary. Everything is scary. It isn't just that negative thinking is easier, it's almost impossible not to give in to it's allure.

We're wired that way. If we suspect a threat anywhere, everything else goes out the window. Fear is the greatest distraction tool (and advertisers and politicians love it). Because of that negativity is a Black Hole: it will suck the life out of you. And while it does that, it lies to you. You get a surge of adreneline that makes you feel energetic even as it saps it all out of you.

"A life lived in fear is only half lived."

If the source of your negativity is eHow right now, you probably should take a break. (And if politics and the economy are killing you, turn off the TV and stop reading the papers for a bit.) Do something else for a while, write something else. But the most important thing you can do is to change you inputs. Read or watch or do things that renew and refresh. Find something positive.

Of course, if you are not being sucked into a black hole of fear and rage, then you might find it positive to do more writing and learn to write better articles for eHow. So on that that note, I am going to start a series of articles about specific criteria eHow uses to assess and delete articles.