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31 January 2009
I've joined the Alice in Wonderland Collectors Network on Facebook. I don't collect but I'm always interested in the fantastic things which people create on the "Alice" theme. Although I don't collect I did buy a lovely hand knitted Dormouse a few years ago. I gave it to Arthur in the days when he was a Dormouse himself.


25 January 2009
A few months ago I decided to give the online magazine Suite 101 a go. It is easy to join them as a writer. You don't get paid directly for doing the work, but you share in the revenue your articles generate for the site.

I have now given a pretty good trial. I have around 100 articles on their site - the articles are around 400-800 words long, mainly in the travel, children's books and food categories.

I have also seen what other Suite101 writers think. So now, I feel in a position to draw some conclusions.

So, is Suite 101 really a "a fulfilling writing job in your area of expertise" as the owners claim?

The bottom line for most people is probably the money. If you are a pro writer, have good web skills and a large body of articles which can be easily recycled, then it may be worth spending time recycling them all for Suite 101.

If you have absolutely no other way of making money by writing, then my conclusion is that Suite 101 is better than nothing, but probably (though not inevitably) not much better. Here's why.

How Much Money Will You Get From Suite101?

You do get paid but you are not paid upfront by the owners of You post your articles on the site, and the amount of money you make depends on how many page views (or PVs) the articles have, PLUS (or mainly) how many readers click on the ads on the site and what those ads pay. Suite 101 pays a few cents or fractions of a cent each time into your Paypal account. On top of this you get a bonus, either 10% as a contributing writer or a higher rate if you progress through the system by taking more responsibilities and becoming a Feature Writer or Editor.

Under a Dollar A Day
I have remained as a lowly contributing writer and with about 100 articles, I am currently getting enough money to buy me about four cappuccinos a month - maybe five, if I go to a downmarket coffee shop. Feature writers and above get a little more because they get a higher Suite bonus, but not necessarily much more.

I have basically recycled paid articles which I'd already written for magazines, but nevertheless it's taken a fair bit of time over this past year just to get them into the Suite101 format. Many writers on the forums seem to be getting about the same as me, and some are getting less. Some are getting more. The higher earning people seem to be promoting their sites from elsewhere, and also writing on subjects that attract more readers and the Google ads which pay higher per click than others.

What Are These Golden Subjects?
Suite 101's management is coy about what these "golden" subjects are, but I gather from other writers that they are aspects of technology and finance and money-making. They also have a strong US bias - one popular article recently covered top offers in a large US chain store. These top paying articles are also often promoted from their authors' other (popular) sites.

So What Are Potential Earnings?
One writer I talked with on a forum claimed to be able to pay her mortgage on her earnings, although she didn't say what her mortgage was. Another claimed enough to take a partner out to dinner near her home in rural America. One travel writing colleague of mine claims $100 or so a month earned from several hundred articles. I assume these comments are true, but most writers I have met or read in the forums seemed to be living in great hope of earning more than a few dollars a week.

Against these negligible fees is the fact that the articles have so far kept on earning even when the writers have gone away and done something else. Several professional writers I know say they wrote 100+ articles for Suite101 years ago and then got fed up, but they have continued to get their earnings every month. Suite101's own website says that this is a "long term game."

Software That Screens Out Ads
However, that's not necessarily going to remain so. The advent of software which enables users to screen out ads will, if it becomes sufficiently widespread, remove one of the main planks supporting the whole Suite edifice. As I think I have read somewhere before, "past performance is no guarantee of future success."

So financially, I have to say that unless you already have a huge body of recyclable work, you might well be better off building up a different type of business than devoting time to Suite 101. However, there's more to Suite 101 than this. THe other pros and cons are set out below.



A. Free Web Writing Tutorial
The website and its editors offer a comprehensive free home tutorial on writing for the web. If, like me, you can't wade your way through all that detailed and boring stuff, you'll find you just have to, otherwise your articles get taken offline. You do learn how to use keywords and Google adwords to the best effect. They also teach you about making "content webs" and they help you structure your articles to make maximum impact.

B. Write About (Nearly) Whatever You Like
You can write about whatever you like (within bounds of decency) and that is liberating and fun. I feel that the owners of certain places have tried very hard to offer top quality and deserve any publicity I can give. Writing these articles gives me a nice warm fuzzy feeling because I think I've done my good deed for the day. I don't think Suite 101 likes you openly plugging your home business, though.

C. Build A Larger Web Presence
If you are aiming to build up a good web presence, then Suite 101 can be a useful tool. If you use it carefully, you can cross refer readers to other things you have written on other sites and build up a "content web" to link all your online material. The most successful Suite 101 writers seem to use their work as part of a larger strategy. Their other outlets cross-refer readers to all their Suite articles.


1. Formulaic Writing
If you are concerned about your writing style - forget it. You can't write quirky, gripping or literary articles for Suite 101 because of the constraints placed upon you. The articles are written to a rigid formula which, among other things, requires you to repeatedly use your "keywords" at certain points and provide "lead-ins" and "conclusions." These demands can sometimes become ridiculous.

For instance, when I wrote some "trivial pursuit" type articles, they were repeatedly taken offline because I had not provided a "meaty conclusion" summing up the points I had made. Just try writing a trivia quiz and summing up your conclusions in a couple of paragraphs - it's impossible!

Eventually the trivia articles were taken offline because the editor just didn't know how to deal with them, and my work on them went to waste. It was frustrating because they were earning more than my other articles and were not recycled, involving quite a lot of research.

Cog in a Machine

Worse than this, if you care about your writing style, and prize your individual voice, then it can be embarrassing to have all those Suite articles up under your name. You're not allowed to take them down. You are very much a cog in a machine at Suite.

2. Clunky Software
The software for uploading articles is very clunky. Sometimes the text doesn't save properly, or the finished version has layout problems which were not there in the draft. I found that a good deal of my time was spent in going back and fixing sentence run-ons, or type-faces which did not display properly.

3. Bzzz Bzzz....Being A Drone?
Although there are good forums, the chain of command is by no means clear and you are not protected from incompetent editors. There seems to be no dispute resolution process. I suffered a difficult and unreasonable editor at one stage and there seemed no way to deal with him. This reinforced my existing feeling that the magazine was run for those who were at the top, and they had persuaded thousands of people to devote lots of time and effort for free (or almost-free) to making the thing a success. Not surprisingly, they did not want the drones to run the hive.

4. Not Much Professional Recognition
The website promises you "business cards, media passes, PR and free products to review." Most of the PR companies I work with in my "real" writing life either do not know Suite 101 or do not regard it as worthy of consideration. They are rarely interested one way or the other if I offer to write Suite articles, but if I do offer, they want these as well as a piece for a magazine or newspaper.


For a novice writer it could be worth having a go. At least you get something, even if it is only enough to keep you in chewing gum - and at least your material gets read.

Likewise, if you can be bothered to spend the time building up an article body, Suite 101 could help you widen your presence on the web - although there may be better ways of doing this.

If you are a professional, it is probably not worth bothering unless you can recycle. All but two of the professional writers I have spoken to about Suite 101 have given it up because they ultimately felt they were losing more time than they gained money. Most professionals follow Dr. Johnson's advice and only write for money. Unless times are truly hard, the time we spend on Suite101 articles, however easy they may be to write, is money in which we could be writing proper paid stuff that we can be proud of

Indeed, if you already have a professional reputation, you may like to consider whether writing on a click-per-view site will really enhance it.

The solitary pro I know who continues full steam ahead on Suite has been running down the "real" writing activities and wants to build up enough Suite 101 articles to help finances in their old age. I hope it works (the person is a wonderful writer) but I feel they're relying overly on the model continuing to be workable and do as well as it has done in the past.

Jam Tomorrow...

Or, as Lewis Carroll would have said (and in fact, did almost say) : "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but rarely much jam today!"

24 January 2009
People have suggested I find another subject for a biography, but I suspect it won't be another children's writer. "Alice" transfixed me at the age of seven, and I yearned to know the author.

Get 'em young, and you've got 'em for life, as the Jesuits (almost) said.

Star in the Hand
A couple of other books made a deep impression on me as a child, though. One was "Star in the Hand" by E.F. (Elizabeth) Stucley. It is about a Cornish fisherman's son who becomes a theatre director. It has a tremendous sense of place and period and as a child I remember thinking she really understood everything she was writing about. I was stuck in dreary Army quarters in Germany, but E.F. Stucley offered a door into Edwardian Cornwall, with its joys and its limitations.

So Who Is E.F. Stucley?
I've turned up a few other books by E.F. Stucley but none has the artistry perfection and truthfulness of this story. Wish I could find out more about her, but almost all I know is that she was Cornish.

Children who don't like reading and don't have access to stories miss out on such a lot.
22 January 2009
Only the Best Butter

Just been to Northern Tenerife. In Santa Cruz there's a square where all the benches are tiled with old fashioned adverts. The Mad Hatter would perhaps have appreciated this one, which advertises the "best butter."

Lewis Carroll never went to Tenerife. The only place he ever went on holiday was Russia, although he stopped off in Paris and Germany on the way.
20 January 2009
Been discussing the question of what makes a good blog on a Facebook group for children's writers and illustrators.

Led me to thinking what is it that makes me bother to read anything - and read it again? There's usually humour involved.

The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere

I recently discovered Sue Limb's "The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere" and I just love, love, love it. It's supposed to be Dorothy Wordsworth's diary, and that didn't sound a bit promising at first. So I left the book unread on the shelf for ages.

A Houseful of Poets and Madmen
Then one day I took it down and was instantly hooked. It's in the form of a handwritten diary, illustrated by Dorothy herself. The poor woman deals uncomplainingly with a houseload of scrounging, self indulgent poets and madmen, dodging embraces from the lecherous but enchanting Lord Byro and slaving around after her lazy brother William.

The book starts when they have just arrived at Vole Cottage in the Lakes "I am worn out with carrying wardrobes and beds upstairs..." writes Dorothy "No sign of the Teapot. Am obliged to make tea in another Vessel..."

Please Write Another One, Sue Limb

Sue Limb has a huge talent as a writer and I have enjoyed many of her other books, including several for teenagers (like "Girl, 15, Flirting for England"). Wish she'd write another diary of a historical character. It has quite made me want to go and read the real Dorothy's diary, although it is bound not to be as riveting as the goings-on in the Wordsmiths' little cottage under Flabbergoat Fell.

15 January 2009

We've still been discussing what makes a successful blog - there's some interesting stuff on one of the children's writing lists.

Successful bloggers are usually specialists, give sought-after facts from the horse's mouth, or are just fun to know. They are interested in new things, love to chat and pass the time of day. So, people like to drop by on their blogs and see what they are up to.

Dear Byrnie
I had a friend called Byrnie who was just like this, the neighbourhood's granny. Any time of the day (and almost night) you could knock on her door and she'd REALLY be glad you'd called, REALLY want to know what you were up to, and always had some interesting comment to make.

She died a few years ago aged 92 so blogging was never an option for her but if she'd been - hm - 80 years younger, I bet she'd have had lots of followers.

Except she'd probably not have had time to write, being too busy always dealing with her callers and making them cups of tea.
14 January 2009
I've finally delivered my manuscript! But Kath got her PhD on the same day and actually I am far more thrilled about that. Still the bottle of champagne did for both of us.
07 January 2009
A friend has just had a book published with a small publishing house. His editor irritated him by laboriously changing every line of conversation to make it strictly grammatical.

When he realised his child characters were suddenly sounding like Little Lord Fauntleroy and saying the likes of "Mummy, to whom may I give this?" or "Whence have you come?" my friend invoked the line he'd prudently inserted into his contract before signing, which said that no text changes could be made without his permission.

Do You Have This Line In Your Contract?

So he changed them all back again. And the moral of that is, be sure you've got that particular line in your contract.

Er...have I?

02 January 2009