FAQ: What are some good websites to self-publish my work?

Aspiring writers have asked me how they can get their work published, and they often express frustration with obtaining their first job. Many outlets such as newspapers and magazines will not hire newbie scribes for paid gigs, and if a writer is new, then how can they create a body of published work to get noticed and become "experienced"? It sounds like a circular problem, but luckily, with the internet, writers can bypass the old school gatekeepers and make a name for themselves by self-publishing.

Below is a list of self-publishing options:

1. Blog!  Blogging through sites such as Blogspot, Tumblr, or Wordpress is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get one's writing out there, and blogging has evolved from the "Here's what I ate today"-diary stuff to a more sophisticated approach of sharing a writer's knowledge on a particular subject. Nowadays, blogs that share unique, fresh content can create a substantial readership base, and this can lead to making money through advertisements. For instance, a popular home decor site could become sponsored by Home Depot or a cooking blog can become sponsored by Whole Foods. The key to having a blog is to have a theme/topic and stick with it.

2. Examiner.com I previously wrote a Online Dating Column for Examiner.com, and what I liked about the website's format was that: 1) It paid by how many unique readers read my articles 2) It was an established user-content-generated website with millions of readers 3) I was my own editor and could come up with my own ideas and publish at my own pace 4) Examiner was a legitimate online news brand that allowed me to gain access to interview people and attend events as press. When I was a writer for Examiner, I had a thousand readers a month, which at the time I did not think was very much. However, I had a thousand readers of a niche market, and I don't think I would have gotten that exposure if I did not write for this site.

3. Createspace/Amazon's Kindle Direct For those who have prose to share, one of the best and biggest self-publishing companies is Createspace, which is an Amazon affiliate. I used Createspace to self-publish my books  and I had a very positive experience with the service. (See my article about self-publishing: Should I self-publish my fiction?) Through Createspace, one can make professional books that will be sold through Createspace, Amazon, and various other sites, and unlike other presses, books are only printed when one is purchased, which makes it a low/no cost option for the author. After a person sets up a book through Createspace, he is given the option to create a Kindle version. A person also can skip the printed books and only do an e-edition of his work.

4. EZArticles This site is similar to Examiner. Its focus is user-generated content, it has millions of readers, and it allows a writer to upload well-written, original articles. However, unlike Examiner, a writer's work is reviewed by two editors before it is allowed onto the site, and unlike Examiner, writers can use pen names. I have not had personal experience with this website. However, I am impressed by the articles I have found here, and I noticed that EZArticles often pop up in my Google searches, so the SEO is very well-done.

5. Scripted.com If a writer knows he has the expertise to write quality online content but perhaps does not want to deal with self-publishing websites that pay only if readers click on his work, then Scripted.com is an option. This site pays writers per written item (ranges from $49-150/per item), and writers can apply for jobs writing tweets, blog posts, press releases, Facebook posts, etc in a variety of subjects. Writers must submit samples to be approved to submit for certain topics. For instance, if a writer is an expert on healthcare, he submits a healthcare article. Once approved, he is only allowed to apply for healthcare-related writing jobs through the site.

What do you think of the list? Are there any that I have missed? What has your experience been with any of the aforementioned sites?

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Social Media 101: Facebook vs Twitter

The biggest motivator and the greatest desire for all human beings is not money or power or anything else materialistic. The greatest motivator and desire is to be appreciated. After all, think of all the favors you have done for people because you cared about them and they showed gratitude when your work was finished. Then think about how miserable and unmotivated you were at a job where your boss never acknowledged your accomplishments or even seemed to know your name. No matter how much money you were making, you probably were one foot out the door.
The biggest motivator and the greatest desire for all human beings is not money or power or anything else materialistic. The greatest motivator and desire is to be appreciated.
Now that you know the fundamental psychological incentive for all people, you can apply that not only to your real world experiences but to Social Media.

The key to success in Social Media is to engage and acknowledge your audience. Don't just bombard them with "Look At Me!" tweets or Facebook announcements. Show that you appreciate their interest, and that you are as interested in them as you want them to be interested in you.

The following is a list of tips for two of the most popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Timelines:
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  1. Facebook Timelines are for personal use, and for this account, it is best to only add people you know and want to gain access to your personal information. (If you choose to add strangers or people you don't like there are some restrictions on their access that you can place, but those Friends still are able to send you direct messages and event invites.) If you stick with only having actual friends as your Facebook friends, you can interact and engage with a select audience who is interested in what you have to say and vice versa.
  2. Facebook is more intimate a social media medium than Twitter, so you should respect other people's decision not to add you as a Friend and vice versa. Only send requests to people you know. 
  3. When Facebook Friends write on your Timeline wall or send you messages, RESPOND! It seems like such a simple concept but you would be amazed at how often these things get ignored. When Facebook Friends reach out to you, you ignore them, and they see you active on Facebook, it hurts their feelings. The best way to avoid this scenario is to not accept Friend Requests from people you do not know. However, if you know someone personally but just don't like them, you should still respond politely or you may suffer the real life social repercussion of that person thinking you are a jerk. 
  4. If you do not want to/have time to respond to wall posts, then it is best to remove your wall.  As of now, I am not aware of a way to stop Friends from sending you direct messages. Direct messages from Friends should be answered in 24 hours or less.  
  5. In my opinion, it is okay to not respond to non-Facebook Friends, especially through direct messages. An option to avoid the situation all together is to set up your account to only receive direct messages from Friends.
Facebook Pages
  1. Facebook Pages are for business use. These accounts work best if you are a public figure or have a business. What's great about Pages is that it is meant to serve as an announcement board for people you may not personally know, and with Facebook Pages, your audience does not expect you to interact personally with them. They will be satisfied to be acknowledged through a Thank You post on your wall. 
  2. If you join Facebook solely for marketing purposes, you can create an account solely as a Page and avoid the Timeline all together. 
  1. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a mass broadcasting tool (unless you set your account to private, which I think is a total waste of time. I will write about this in an upcoming Social Media Friday post.)
  2. Unless you are a celebrity, no one wants to read your "Look at me" posts. Just writing mundane comments about yourself will not attract followers, and may even lose you followers. So what constitutes quality content? Be unique. Be funny. Be informative. Think of it this way. What kind of content would make you want to Follow a stranger?
  3. To attract Followers, you must not only tweet quality content on a consistent basis, but you must also engage with your audience. This means acknowledging people when they Mention or Retweet you. A simple "Thank you" with their handles in the tweet will go a long way. 
  4. If someone follows you, follow back! This acknowledges that you acknowledge them. However, if that person is posting obscene content, suspicious links, or other questionable behavior, then it is okay to unfollow them. That person may be a Bot anyway.
  5. Don't over-promote yourself. Providing quality content will bring people's interest to you organically. Avoid being annoying by tweeting to people "Hey read my book!" "Hey, check out my album!" Start a conversation and let that person discover your work on their own through their connection with you. Being annoying will lose you followers. 

FAQ: What is it like to intern in Hollywood?

One way to break into any industry is to get an internship, and while some internships pay, most in entertainment do not. I have had three unpaid internships, one at a television show (The Late Show with David Letterman), one at a movie production company (Morgan Freeman's company Revelations Entertainment), and one at an industry newspaper (The Hollywood Reporter), so I have seen a spectrum of what's out there. I was very fortunate to intern at established companies, and while I was doing the typical intern duties such as getting coffee, making copies, and running errands, I also learned a lot from being in those environments and I used my time to figure out what I liked and disliked about each field.

Because of my experiences, people have asked me, "What is it like to intern in Hollywood?" My answer is that it's educational but tough. In addition to the usual entry-level tasks, entertainment interns also must deal with long hours, demanding personalities, and having to find their own financial backings to survive. The pros to internships are that a person can get their foot in the door, meet people, and possibly land a job at the company. Overall,  if one is serious about their career in entertainment, an internship is worth it. (Writer Dina Gachman breaks down all the things she had to do as an intern, and while those tasks weren't fun or glamorous, she thinks those who complain about their opportunity need to "Grow a pair." Check out her hilarious and informative blog post here.)

However, there is a downside to entertainment internships. Unscrupulous people will employ interns for assistant positions that should be paid, some people will verbally abuse their interns, and some companies have no clout to actually help their interns advance their careers. My best advice to avoid a bad internship is to research the company before you agree to intern, and if you do take an internship and get the vibe that it is not going to help you, then know it is okay to quit. If you quit early, they will probably understand but not give you a reference, but if you think the company is shady, then why would you want to list them anyway?

California and Federal laws have strict internship rules in place. I will not go into the laws in detail, but the basic rule is that the internship should be beneficial to the intern, not the employer. (For more detailed information, see this NY Times article or this site.) While this doesn't mean that an intern can sue a company if he finds menial labor inconsequential to his career, such law suits have happened in the past. In 2011, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight because their internship allegedly did not meet the Department of Labor rules for what constitutes an unpaid internship. The lawsuit against Fox Searchlight was thrown out, and you can bet that those two never worked in Hollywood again.

So in conclusion: What is it like to intern in Hollywood? It's hard work and unglamorous, but if you're willing to do the grunt work, then the benefits outweigh the negatives. However, the benefits may not come right away, so it is up to the potential intern to decide whether or not she is okay with that and go from there.

(I make fun of entertainment internships in my short story THE FUNNY LAUGHS SHOW, which is featured in my first book REALITIES: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. The collection is available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.com)