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How I Ego Surfed My Way to a Paycheck (And How You Might Too)
by Melaine Ryther

I have a confession to make: I ego surf.

If you're not familiar with that term, it means running a search of your own name through an Internet search engine. I engage in this seemingly narcissistic behavior for two very good reasons: (1) to keep track of my published articles, and (2) to find out if anyone's talking about me.

Not that I'm paranoid or anything.

Usually my ego surfing turns up no surprises. Until recently.

There I was, scrolling down the Google list of familiar web entries bearing my name when I saw one I had never seen before. Hmm. Point. Click. There was my article, all right, When Man’s Best Friend Becomes a Foe, a little perennial piece about preventing dog bites I had shotgunned out to several regional magazines a long time ago. Reading through it, I noticed some new information had been woven into the text to give it a local, south Florida, slant. Then I saw the date that the article had been posted. It had been floating around in cyberspace for over a year!

By now I vaguely remembered submitting the piece to this Florida parenting mag, but decided I better check with my foolproof record-keeping system before taking righteous action. Sure enough, I found a short e-mail from the editor saying she was accepting the article and that a check would be coming shortly. That was the last remark I had noted. Okay, I know I should have followed up better. But you see, that’s why my record system is foolproof: If you forget to actually use it, it proves you’re a fool.

Back to the story. I decided to approach the magazine in a friendly and professional manner. There was no need yet to expose anyone to the wrath of my alter ego, Ripped-Off, Ticked-Off Writer, so I e-mailed the editor whose name I had recorded and inquired about the article, admitting to the ego surfing (how else would I have found it?) and stating that according to my records, I hadn't been paid. Was payment still forthcoming? Did they need an invoice, perhaps?

Two days later the now ex-editor of that publication replied, expressing her surprise that I hadn't been paid. "That was over a year ago!" she wrote. "I know!" I cried, to no one in particular. She gave me the e-mail of the new editor and wished me the best of luck. For some reason, I felt I needed it.

Smelling blood as R.O.T.O. Writer struggled to emerge, I dashed off an e-mail to the new editor. I have to admit that in the back of my mind I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake and forgot to enter their check into my records. The more I thought about it, though, the more ridiculous that idea seemed. It's not like I'm inundated with checks from my freelancing. I know each and every one that comes through my mailbox. I can tell you its color. I can describe its watermark.

Anyway, about a week later I heard back from the magazine. And whaddaya know? Their records showed I hadn't been paid! Would I accept their apology and send in an invoice? the current editor asked.

No sweat, I replied. But what amount should I put down, as no fee was ever agreed upon? I was fully expecting to be offered a reprint payment (aka, laughable), as the piece had since appeared in several other regional tabloids.

Well, you could have bowled me over with a goose feather when she asked if $150 was okay. Okay? I chuckled to myself. A week ago I didn't even know the article was in existence!

So, what's the moral of this story? Take up ego surfing, my friends. The results could very well fatten your wallet as well as your head.

Tips For Better Results:

If you have a commonly misspelled name, do a search on all possible versions. (I always check both Melaine and Melanie Ryther.)

Don’t rely on just one search engine. A recent test of my name in Google, Northern Light, and Alta Vista resulted in 39, 22, and 7 hits, respectively.

Check your local library’s website, if they have one. Most offer links to document databases like Proquest and Electric Library, which you can’t access via a general search engine. You will need a library card number in most cases to use these services.

Set a reminder (like you’ll need one) to ego surf every month or two. New content by the zillions is added daily to cyberspace. You might be in there, rightfully or not.

© Copyright 2001, Melaine Ryther

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