While I consider myself a fairly eloquent person and a skilled writer with many good things to offer the world, I also am a member of the real world and need to sometimes do things which go against my conscience in order to make the ever-present “ends meet.” In 2007 I moved to Los Angeles after having gotten married; my new wife and I moved into a great apartment, we had a little savings from our marriage and previous lives in New York City and we were both feeling good about our prospects for the future. I had been writing for the online world for some months by the time we’d moved; much of that time was spent writing in other mediums than Associated Content, much of it very fast, very repetitive, very dense, anonymous work. This was all for the purposes of SEO or something; while I’m not really sure what 250 word piece like “Flags of Ghana” has to do with anything, still, I did it. The money was good, it kept us living, and I was finally able to call myself a writer. A paid writer. It’s what I’d always wanted and despite being in a medium I wasn’t all too familiar, it was what worked for the time.
However that’s not even what I consider the ‘hack’ portion of my title worth confessing over. After all, I didn’t have my name on any of this SEO stuff; I didn’t know who I was sending this work to, and it wasn’t causing anyone any harm. No it’s the part after this for which I have come to apologize for. Just after we’d moved to Los Angeles was the beginning of our current (still ongoing) economic downturn; the fast work for anonymous sources suddenly dried up; Google had asserted itself as something of an intolerant presence in the world of search; even the pieces available at Associated Content were changing. Hustling to keep up, I took whatever work I could find. So I responded to an ad for ‘for-hire’ book work and was quickly accepted. I was presented with something like 30 different choices of topics for available titles. I was told to choose 5 I could write about. This wasn’t as I imagined my first published work but nothing ever works out the way you imagine, right? I made my selection of five titles and was told that all the topics I’d chosen had been selected. Hmmm. Still, I was presented with 30 more choices. Choose 5. This went on for some time; back and forth, back and forth; until finally I choose the topic about which I would finally write my first book.
Needless to say this was not a topic with which I was at all familiar. No bother, I thought, I can just figure it out. Just figure it out was what I’d done for all my ‘flags of the world’ SEO articles. Plus, what the publisher did was send me four or five books on related topics; I was to read these books and from these books write my book. When I got the books in the mail, I was immediately given a deadline for the first third of the book (20K words) – this deadline was in three weeks.
This was where I had to man-up. I could do this; a 60K non-fiction book in a month and a half. No worries! However the literature the publisher had sent me for my research was broad and generic to say the least. It was frustrating for me because I’d really wanted to write a good book; I felt directionless and the only help I got from my publisher was them dropping in with a terse email reminder that my deadline was approaching.
So I did what any hack writer would have done; I pushed out bad material in too fast a fashion with the hopes that I’d get more time. Actually that didn’t happen. The only thing my publishers cared about were some grammar issues I’d had (I was using the voice activated Dragon software; needless to say there were going to be a couple of misinterpreted speech mistakes in a 60K word book.)
My book went to publication and I felt like I’d really given it the old college try. Unfortunately I should have left that “try” in college. This was the real world and all the various instant feedback message boards where folks could mouth off really didn’t help my ego too much. But what can I do? I was the one who delivered the goods. Such was my experience as a hack writer. I don’t recommend it for anyone, but if you’ve taken such work now or in the future, I can’t say I blame you.