Writer Warning: Suite101

OK. No one can say that I didn't go above and beyond in promoting Suite to writers. If anything I was one of their strongest advocates before I quit Suite101 earlier this month. I can't even count how many writers I brought into the network whether directly in my role as editor, or indirectly bringing writers into other sections, who I had met through this or other blogs, online communities, etc. I still get emails from writers shocked that I'd leave after promoting them so heavily, not to mention plenty of emails about other things.

Those "other things" are the interesting bits actually. While I'm obviously unable to give specifics on how the site is run and such, I'm going to share a few very general observations that any writer considering joining Suite should be aware of, in light of some of the emails I've been getting (and am still getting from various writers even today).

It's no secret that I despise nearly everything about About.com. That's why working with Suite was such a breath of fresh air last year. Management, especially the editor-in-chief, actually listened to what the editors and writers were saying, and very often acted on it. After changes in the editorial / writer roles earlier this year, that started to change. Despite claims from management that they "listened" to us, the facts generally proved otherwise, with the same things having to be repeatedly brought up just to have us asked what we were even talking about down the road (just as one example of the quality of "listening" going on). Frustrating didn't begin to describe it.

Later on, the atmosphere became more tense, and the general attitude of some in management became more "unbearable" to put it mildly. On one hand it's a matter of sweet-talking everyone to keep things civil and get people to shut up, and on the other hand there were a lot of insulting private comments and accusations (including to myself, as well as quite a few insulting remarks towards writers that I've had forwarded to me over the last few weeks). If it weren't a matter of protecting their confidentiality, I'd post a few examples. It's definitely not a one-time problem over there. And since I was vocal in promoting them previously when they were getting things right, I'm going to also be vocal about keeping writers in my networks informed of general problems, so they can make the best decisions as to whether or not to join this or other content networks.

So here are my thoughts in a general sense. While I hate to say this, if you want to write for a network, go apply at About first if there's an open topic in your area of expertise. They'll treat you like shit if you don't kiss their asses 24-7, but at least they'll pay you for your trouble, and frankly having the NY Times Co. on your resume is more valuable in getting future gigs anyway for most writers. As much as I support content networks in general as a way for writers to network and gain added perks, under no circumstances should any of you have to put up with the kind of drama some of these companies dish out. It's really a shame though. Suite had (and probably still has) a lot of potential. But they need to get their heads out of their collective asses first, and hire some people who actually have some competency when it comes to running a Web publishing company.

Now given, I'm not bashing every member of Suite management. But here are a few tips / thoughts for them:

1. Stop thinking that a strong background in the print publishing world gives anyone any sense of quality Web publishing. If you can't understand that they're two entirely different animals, that really doesn't bode well for the company's future.

2. Pissing off any kind of significant group of writers when you run a content network just isn't a smart idea. Face it... those writers are your biggest asset. Lose them, and you lose your company... unless of course you simply believe that everyone's replaceable, so you honestly don't care... who knows? If that ends up the case eventually, don't count on getting quality writers, b/c despite the lack of general Web knowledge by some in management, writers are amazingly well-networked online. Upset just a few, and the whole Web writing community can hear about it amazingly quickly.

3. Don't act like you know exactly what readers want in all of your 400+ topics and subtopics. You can't. That's why you have expert writers and specialized editors who actually know what the hell they're doing in a niche. Listen to them. Value them. Don't take that knowledge for granted.

4. Stop acting like being online for 10 years is enough to justify blowing off other issues. It doesn't mean you're a success. It means that your biggest competitor is a year or two younger than you, getting enormously more traffic than you, working with much better advertisers than you while you continue to be predominantly Google slaves, and says that after 10 years, you still have a lot to learn about Web publishing. You don't have to "be About." But you do need to have enough sense to learn from their past mistakes instead of making them all over again, and to understand that just because About does something doesn't mean it should be avoided. Believe it or not, as much as I hate to admit it, About occasionally does do something right. Knowing what real blogs and forums are, knowing how to keep a reasonably logical navigational structure, etc. isn't an "About thing." It's Web common sense.

5. While this list could go on and on, I'm going to cut to my most important piece of advice that no one's going to give a damn about.... Before spending more money hiring more programmers to throw at problems, instead hire a Web consultant to help you work through your basic issues, especially regarding usability. It's pretty pathetic from a visitor standpoint still, as far as any real interactive qualities go. While I have no doubt that the intentions are good, there's going to be a steep learning curve ahead to really improve your most basic problems (which despite "look" changes really haven't changed much at all). You're at the point where you really need an independent third party to do a thorough evaluation to help you improve, b/c it's just not happening despite all of those good intentions.

And that's enough for now. I've been asked quite a bit about what my "real" feelings are about leaving Suite, and so there you go... you can get the gist of my frustration and anger. At this point I'd urge writers to steer clear until they get their act together. I hope in the future they'll finally get it together to a point where I can enthusiastically recommend them again.... now just isn't that time.

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31 thoughts on “Writer Warning: Suite101”

  1. Thanks for posting this. There are definately some issues that Suite needs to take into consideration. Like supporting their writers. All their writers. Instead of leaving select groups of writers “out in the cold” so to speak becuase that group won’t adhere to the new contract we were told was optional. It doesn’t feel optional when supportive tools are only given to writers under the new contract.

  2. I feel for you. If the number under an old contract are in fact small, it certainly wouldn’t be a drain on programming time to copy/paste stats code to that smaller number of subdomains. It’s just a flat out business decision to serve whatever purposes they have, no matter what kind of spin they may try to attach to it.

  3. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Jenn. Their reputation was bad in the beginning and it remains bad. I don’t think they will ever recover. The ships a-sinking…blub, blub

  4. Someone posted in the forum today: “UP UNTIL NOW all changes in terms of layout, new features, tools, etc have been made in tandem regardless of the method of pay. This is the first time Suite has dicriminated between old and new in this fashion. It is, in my opinion (and not just becuase I’m still on the old) a dangerous and scary trend. ANYTIME a business begins to see one group of employees as “not worth the effort” it does not bode well for ANY of the employees.”

    I think this about sums the situation up.

  5. Unfortunately, b/c the writers are independent contractors and not “employees,” they can discriminate if they really want to. Being sneaky about it, and offering a BS story about the “why” is the real issue. Yes, they can do what they want as a business. But that company is a real PR nightmare… not only do they not know how to deal with their target audience of readers (by giving them even somewhat intuitive navigation), but their relations and communications with their contractors is just atrocious. They’ll only screw themselves over in the long term, so they’ll get what they deserve if they don’t straighten up their act. Karma is a beautiful thing. Who knows… maybe the next full management overhaul will actually get it right… maybe.

  6. What an eye-opener. Y’know, somehow I’ve been feeling all along that something’s just not right. Lately, my writing creativity is slowly going down the the wind. Ah, that Google Bondage! Grief!
    Thanks Jenn, a lot.

  7. Sorry… I meant to write “has been slowly going down with the wind.”

    After reading your post, I just know I have much re-thinking to do before going high gear with my energies over there.
    Danke Jenn…

  8. I agree with everything you’ve said Jenn.

    Even if navigational issues are addressed and fixed (which I don’t see happening any time soon) Suite has a long way to go before they even approach the likes of About. The quality of content overall just doesn’t even come close with Suite. There are too many people throwing articles up in sections that they have no experience in, just to try and make a buck or two through AdSense.

    Lately there’s no sense of community either. It feels like we’ve gone from a group of supportive writers and editors to a bunch of individuals trying to find their own path, with little help. My section editor has posted to the topic blog once in the last four months. She doesn’t respond to e-mails. No one in my section has requested or suggested link exchanges since the new pay model went into effect. It’s like no one wants to talk to each other any longer.

    Sorry for the ramble there, but I think there are many of us “old timers” who are seriously rethinking their commitment to Suite. Not that management cares, of course.

  9. Yikes!
    …Well, the reason Suite101 will never become About is that the caliber of writers it can afford to pay will never be About’s equals. And the reason writers will continue to flock to Suite is because most of them aren’t qualified to write for sites that pay a decent wage. If people write for free (Associated Content, Bella), then even 25 bucks a month is a boon.
    Not that I’m a cheerleader for Suite, the HO obviously don’t have a clue. But for writers just starting out, or who don’t have any info regarding the behind-the-scenes editor disenfranchisement, well, it seems like a good place to get one’s feet wet.

  10. There are certainly benefits to working with content networks if you’re a starting writer, which is why I’ve so actively promoted them in the past (meaning not just Suite, but networks in general). But with as much time as I spend helping new writers out and trying to show them a better way to make a living from their work (as do the other SFW writers here), sometimes the aggravation simply isn’t worth whatever other perks you might get out of it. (And on that note btw, formerly 3 of the SFW group were associated with Suite… now we’re down to one… that certainly says something for the people who follow what we have to say on the issues.)

    AC isn’t free necessarily. If anything, a lot of writers have a better shot at getting paid a decent amount there if they produce regularly. Or better yet, they’d do better writing for themselves. A lot of writers just don’t know where to start or how to promote it. It’s not hard, despite what a lot of writers think. I’ve always been a strong advocate of writing “for yourself,” and maybe that’s something I’ll need to jump into more here, from a how-to perspective to give people better options (like getting major corporations to partner with you when it’s a one-man operation w/o network backing… again, not hard). If anyone’s already up on this stuff, or if you just want to learn more about earning from your own sites, you can follow one of my newest blogs (pardon the mess while it’s under construction graphics-wise) at ChickTech.net. 🙂

  11. Thanks, Jenn. I did wonder why you left, and you are sadly missed. I understand a lot of what you say. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Just in case you feel like keeping updated on the situation:

    And here I was hoping this would finally end it and keep the questions and general Suite drama out of my hair. Oh well….

  13. I was thinking of joining Suite, now I’m not so sure. It’s good to have this viewpoint. They are vague about the kind of income that you can expect – can anyone give me an approximate idea?

  14. Val,

    A part of the problem with Suite’s model (unless it’s changed again), is that it entices writers to cover high-paying Adsense niches rather than necessarily the areas they’re most knowledgeable or passionate about. And frankly (speaking from experience), if you’re going to put the time into knowing what kinds of niches and keyword phrases monetize well, you’re better off running your own site or blog – the setup for that these days is so quick and painless that there’s just no excuse to write solely for ad revenue share anymore. If Suite’s reputation were something that would make people take you enormously more serious as a writer, it could be worth it – but they’re just not that kind of site no matter how much they may try to be.

  15. A good and interesting article for someone such as myself, who is exploring ways to earn a reasonable income from freelance writing online – but how seriously can I take an article about writing that includes the made-up word “competancy”?

    • It’s not a made-up word. It’s a single letter typo on an instant publishing platform. Don’t make a mountain after a molehill. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and I’ll fix it. However, I think blowing up a one letter mistake says more about you than it does about me and the seriousness of the topic.

      • I disagree. Spelling your entire article correctly is a matter of basic competence. The fact that most people under 35 were never taught spelling in grade school does not excuse a professional writer who misspells words. When I went to journalism school in the mid-1980s, one misspelled word in a story meant an automatic F. That standard should be brought back so that we can rescue our language from the creeping return of nonstandardized language use (which existed in the time of, let’s say, Thomas Hobbes), and which eventually leads to people not being able to understand each other.

        • Michael, you’re certainly welcome to disagree. I hardly think typos on blogs are going to lead to people not being able to understand each other. As I’ve also noted quite a few times in the past here, I do not generally proofread comments and even on proofreading blog posts things slip by unless they’re caught at a later date. This is blogging. It is not journalism. The standards are quite different. The publishing platform is instant. That often does not allow the time it takes to be able to view something with fresh eyes again. You’re welcome to hold typos against whomever you want, and you’re welcome to either read a blog or find others that better suit your style, just as you can with other media sources. I’m sorry that you’re disappointed, but that doesn’t change my view on the issue or how I’ll continue to run my own sites and blogs. Nonstandardized language use is not something I’ll shy away from. The point of the blogs I own is to keep it conversational and quickly comment on timely issues — not to present heavily-edited pieces of journalistic excellence. Then again the blog is a very adaptable medium, so I’m sure there are plenty of other bloggers who can indeed offer what you’re looking for.

          • I’m a former journalist and 20-plus years experienced PR professional who remembers the days when we “professional” writers were a tiny group, highly thought of and highly sought. Today, any idiot with a laptop — hell, with a phone — can get paid to write and we professionals are lost in an ocean of mediocrity. That said, kudos to you, Jenn, for being good at what you do and boo to my fellow professionals. I’ve sure they’ve never committed a typo or let one slip through their editing ever in their lives (and taken half the flack you’re taking). PS: This piece and comments have convinced me to stay far, far away from suite101.com. Mission accomplished!

          • I find it rather amusing that people leave comments like that on 3+ year old posts. I know some writers who would have deleted all critical comments, fixed their typos and continued to pretend they were flawless. I just don’t see the point. I make mistakes. My readers make mistakes. So what? In most cases I’d rather the record of it stay there (either the typo or the comment calling me out so people can see what was fixed). I see no reason to be ashamed of them and find it incredibly silly for people to think I should be for whatever reason. To them I say, “hey, go start your own grammatically perfect blog and leave us fault-ridden humans alone.” But hey, that’s just me.

          • Since there’s no reply button on your comment I want to ask about (below), I’m going to try it here. Why do you “find it rather amusing that people leave comments like that on 3+ year old posts?” I see that from time to time on blogs and bulletin boards and it always puzzles me. You have have a topic here that has remained timely, in an evergreen medium, and ther poster’s comment–while bitchy and pedantic–was relevant to the content. Why does the date of the original post somehow serve to discredit the comments or inquiries of people who don’t come across it or participate until some time later? I see people dissed and snickered at for that all the time, and it’s simply beyond me. If your post is still showing up at the top of search engines and still generating response, you’ve obviously still got the definitive word on the subject. Why make fun of people for responding to it? My inquiry is genuine. I really, truly do not get that. I can see smacking him down for snottiness, and I thought you did a fine job of it. But what am I missing about the age of the original post? It’s not just you… it’s all over. But you do seem to be an expert on this kind of thing, so I’m asking. Clue me, please. Thanks.

          • Sorry ae. The reply link only displays for a certain number of posts into the hierarchy because to automatically indent / nest them any further would make them practically unreadable.

            There’s actually a name for that type of comment. It’s called necro-posting (similar to necro-bumping on forums). And there are a few different reasons you’ve probably seen people call others out for it. Here are some of the most common I can think of as examples:

            1. Many posts are not as relevant years down the road as this one. I wouldn’t say this post is even relevant any longer as the management team has changed at Suite101 in that time and my comments about that period might not accurately reflect the current situation. In those cases the necro-posts can become a real nuisance for blog owners (and a lot of necro-posting is actually blatant spam because old posts have a higher Google PageRank and can pass the commentator’s sites more “link juice” if it’s a do-follow blog). Some blogs automatically disable blog comments on old posts to get around that issue. But on a blog like this where there are more evergreen topics mixed in with timely ones, I’d prefer not to do that and stifle other potential ongoing conversations.

            2. Many blogs feature recent comments — often in the sidebar. This blog used to (and might again in the future), but I’ve removed that feature currently. That becomes an issue because necro-posts cause those very old posts to be featured prominently on the site. That in turn can lead to a slew of new comments on old posts (which as I mentioned aren’t always currently relevant). That can cause people to think very old news stories are current, bring up old advice or opinions that have long since changed, etc. A review you wrote 2-3 years ago isn’t necessarily relevant today for example, and a sudden influx of comments on the post could lead people to buy (or register for or stay away from a site — like in this case) based on that outdated review that might not hold true anymore.

            3. A bigger concern for me personally is email subscribers. Many blogs, including this one, allow readers to subscribe to comments on posts they’ve read or commented on themselves. When people necro-post emails are automatically sent out to those subscribers (who are used to those emails stopping once the initial conversation dies down on the majority of posts).

            In this particular case my issue about a “comment like that” refers to the fact that someone was making a judgement based on a minor error 3 years ago. Do I still make typos on my blog? Absolutely. And that’s an issue I addressed in the comments above. Acting like a grammar nazi over a 3-year-old error is the very definition of trolling (and no blogger likes trolls). Had the individual commented on a very recent post calling me out for the poor proofreading, I would have thanked them for catching the error (since as I mentioned before it can often be days or weeks before I really have “fresh eyes” on things published via an instant platform). And then I would have fixed it. There’s a big difference between calling out a problem so someone can fix it and just trolling to be an ass on someone else’s site. In fact someone did point out a problem with my most recent post, and if you take a look at the comments there (the one on the September book club discussion) it was handled exactly how I mentioned — a thanks and a fix.

  16. But Bruce was trying so hard to be witty LOL

    I basically just told suite101 to kiss my ass due to the condescending attitude of the so-called editorial staff. A portion of my resignation letter reads: “. I have been a professional and published writer long enough to feel confident I don’t need micro-managing from faceless online editors whose credentials I don’t even know, although I’m not exactly filled with awe in light of my experience thus far.”

  17. Is one better off starting one’s own blog and writing self-assigned full feature articles, along with other interesting stuff to drive traffic to my own site, than writing for Suite 101 and revenue-share? How do you weigh the pros & cons. It’s been three years–have you heard whether S101 has improved or continue to have the same issues? Thanks, I appreciate your defense of yourself against the grammar police.

    • Diana — I’ve failed to see any quality improvements in Suite, and still consider them a poor online resource and one I prefer to avoid. I do know some management has changed. I also know some of the front-end problems still exist with basic understanding and competency in Web publishing. I cannot speak to the sense of community or lack thereof at this point, as most writers I knew there left around the time I did or shortly after.

      As for writing for yourself, yes, absolutely. Residual pay content mills and networks are really for the lazy — the people who can’t be bothered to do a bit of market research to know their audience up front and who don’t want to market their own site. The thing is, if you are willing to work at those things (and they don’t take as much time as some people seem to think), you can definitely earn more money than with residual sites. You keep the full ad revenue. You actually get to see how ads are performing so you can optimize keywords, ad placement, ad networks, or even individual ads to help you earn more. Traffic will certainly be slower at first than joining an existing network. But don’t mistake that for less earning potential. Keep in mind that you don’t have to share, and your articles aren’t competing for reader attention with all of the those other in-network writers. So when it comes to individual pageviews of your articles, you can absolutely do better in time with your own site or blog. And it’s very possible to outrank Suite101 and other larger sites in search rankings as well. Just have a solid marketing plan in place and stick with it through the beginning growth phase. It takes patience and hard work, especially early on. But you can earn more that way if you really try.


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