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‘Thank God we have that’: Wattpad author says writing gig became coronavirus emergency fund – National



When Caroline Richardson’s husband was temporarily laid off in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, money became a concern.

The family of four was down to one income and the bills kept coming. There was the mortgage, car payments and two kids who wouldn’t stop growing and needing new clothes just because the economy was going through a rough patch, she recalls.

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Luckily, though, Richardson’s long-time hobby came to the rescue. Government employee by day, Richardson is a writer of — in her own words — “mature, steamy romantic stories with a happy ending” in her free time.

It’s a labour of love she’s kept up for years, says Richardson, who has four book-length stories under her belt. But it wasn’t until one of her most recent works took off on Wattpad, an online storytelling platform, that her pastime became a lucrative side-gig.

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Richardson’s novel Two Cream, No Sugar — later re-titled Out of His League — became a Wattpad sensation, eventually hitting 1.1 million reads. The platform quickly included it in Paid Stories, its paid content program, where readers can buy novels in full or as chapters.

Soon, Richardson received her first cheque at the beginning of 2020.

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Richardson had planned to use the money for a trip overseas to visit an old friend in England, but when the pandemic hit, the money became a much-needed financial cushion.

“Thank God we have that,” she says.

Richardson has since received another quarterly check from Wattpad for an amount she calls “very helpful.”

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Born as a free platform for readers and writers of fiction, Wattpad has grown into a juggernaut, with a monthly readership of over 90 million and five million active writers.

It launched its paid content program in 2018 and is also now publishing its own books and co-producing its stories for both TV and film.

The company says it has seen a 151-per cent increase in the volume of new submissions from writers between January and April, as the world huddled inside amid COVID-19 restrictions.

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Are freelance platforms a good way to make money in a pinch?

Amid record job losses linked to the pandemic, millions have turned to online gigs to make ends meet.

A recent study by Upwork, a freelance job platform, found the share of U.S. professionals who freelance full-time has reached 36 per cent of the U.S. workforce, eight percentage points above its level in 2019.

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Onlyfans, a subscription-based social media platform famous for its racy content, reported 3.5 million sign-ups in March, with 60,000 of them new creators, according to the Daily Beast.

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Substack, which lets writers monetize newsletters, has seen its number of readers and active writers double, according to WIRED.

In Canada, the COVID-19 outbreak has also driven up interest in online freelance platforms.

The volume of links to Wattpad shared on Twitter in Canada between March and October was up more than 40 per cent between compared to the previous four months, according to audience intelligence company Pulsar.

Substack, online freelance workplace Fiverr and Teachable, which lets users create and sell online courses, have each seen growth of 20 per cent or more, a Pulsar analysis shows.

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Platforms that connect freelancers to businesses and individual clients can be a quick way to monetize work-from-home skills, says Jackie Lam, a freelance personal finance writer and expert on gig work.

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It doesn’t take much to create an account or profile page and start advertising your services or bid on projects, she says. If you’ve never side-hustled before, platforms are an easy way to survey what other similarly qualified freelancers are offering, how much they’re charging and how they’re promoting themselves, she says.

They can also help you quickly get an idea of what kind of work you like to do and how long different projects take, she notes.

But be prepared for competition, Lam warns.

Platforms, she says, “can be a very saturated market.” Unless you can carve out your own niche, there will probably be lots of people offering the same services or vying for the same projects.

“It could easily be a race to the bottom,” Lam says.

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While platforms can be a freelancer’s training wheels, seeking out clients on your own may eventually turn out to be more lucrative, according to Lam.

But Pulsar’s Davide Berretta calls the likes of Substack and Teachable the “next generation” of platforms.

They’re “for creators who want to have that direct audience relationship, that is not just about content, but it’s also about commerce and it’s also about selling access to that premium content.”

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On Wattpad, writers retain the rights to their work, says general manager Jeanne Lam. They can approach literary agents and publishers on their own — success on the platform can serve as proof of concept — or they can publish through Wattpad Books.

The company uses machine learning technology — combined with flesh-and-bone editors — to sift through millions of stories and identify those with publishing or paid-content potential.

So far, there are more than 400 writers in Wattpad’s paid stories program Lam says. And nearly 1,000 stories from the platform have been turned into books or adapted for TV and film.

Richardson, for her part, says she wasn’t thinking about the money when she joined Wattpad. She cherished the ability to reach out to readers all over the world and the chance to hone her craft, she says.

The cheques have been a nice surprise that happened to materialize exactly at the right time.

And if her book one day becomes a movie, she says, “why not? Wouldn’t that be fun?”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Egypt wants to register millions of gig workers for state insurance, aid




CAIRO: Egypt will start registering millions of gig workers in order to offer them health insurance and emergency state aid during the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a particularly heavy toll on the nation’s ad-hoc employees, officials said.

There are at least 14 million gig workers in Egypt, and while some workers and campaigners welcomed the government’s drive, others warned that many workers could be reluctant to sign up – fearing tax and social security payment demands.

The government said it plans to identify and support two million gig workers in the country of 100 million people by the end of this year, labour ministry spokesman Haitham Saad El-Din said on Saturday.

“It is part of a government plan to give assistance to this segment of the society which has been majorly affected by the pandemic,” he said, adding that officials were focusing first on identifying casual construction labourers.

Gig workers who have their employment status registered on their national identity cards under a new “irregular employment” category will be given free social security insurance and be eligible for state welfare programmes.

Egypt’s state-run insurance plan includes life insurance and disability cover, as well as covering healthcare costs.

The announcement is the latest in a series of government measures aimed at shielding vulnerable groups from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Soon after the coronavirus outbreak began, it launched a programme that supports irregular workers with monthly aid, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for financial support to be boosted when a second virus wave took hold.

State welfare spending surged 36% in the first half of the current fiscal year, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said recently.

On the books

Some daily labourers hailed the registration drive as a positive step, saying it would help bring them into the formal economy and recognise their economic contribution.

“Millions of Egyptians have been affected by this pandemic but it’s really good that the government is not leaving us behind,” said Farouk Mahmoud, 35, a temporary worker from the city of Sohag.

Still, while the latest data puts the number of gig workers at 14 million, the real number may be much higher – making registering them a daunting administrative task, said Bassant Fahmi, a member of parliament’s economic affairs committee.

Some workers may also be wary about being on the books.

“Many of them may fear being asked afterwards to pay taxes or insurance. That could mean a lot of gig workers avoiding being identified by the government,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But besides any misgivings about being under the government’s radar, many gig workers in Egypt are more concerned about the dearth of permanent job opportunities – especially for young people – and the health of the wider economy.

“It isn’t crucial for me to have a job on my ID,” said Abanoub Lotfi, a 26-year-old driver for ride-hailing service Uber, who has a degree in commerce.

“What really matters is that the government offers me a stable job that suits my academic background and helps me afford my needs and those of my family.” – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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Self-employed, gig workers still waiting on PPP rules for bigger loans




Virojt Changyencham | Moment | Getty Images

The self-employed and gig workers are anxiously waiting for the Small Business Association to update guidelines to its Paycheck Protection Program, which could mean bigger loans for the group.

The Biden administration announced last week changes to how the SBA will calculate forgivable loans for sole proprietors and other small businesses without any employees. The updated formula — which will likely lead to larger loan amounts for non-employer firms, including sole proprietors and independent contractors — will be announced this week.

It’s still unclear when in the week the SBA will update its guidelines, meaning that those who would benefit from the change should still wait to submit their applications for the program.

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“Loans submitted prior to the official rule changes are subject to the rules in effect at the time of application,” said Carol Wilkerson, an SBA spokesperson.

That’s led to frustration for some who want to take advantage of the two-week priority application window for the smallest businesses that went into effect on Feb. 24 and ends the second week of March. Of course, sole proprietors will still be able to apply for PPP loans until the program deadline at the end of the month; they just won’t get priority treatment once the 14-day exclusivity window closes.

For now, lenders are working to help borrowers prepare what they can to be ready for the updated guidelines.

“We’ve always taken the approach of, ‘Hey, we don’t have all the answers, but let’s proceed as far as we can without the answers,'” said Ed Barry, CEO of Capital Bank, based in Rockville, Maryland.

Barry added that the bank is also working to build awareness among small businesses that may not realize that they’re now eligible for a PPP loan.

What is known about the formula change so far

For firms with employees, maximum PPP loans are 2.5 times average monthly payroll costs, per the SBA. As a stand-in for payroll costs for solo workers, the SBA used net profit information from tax returns, even though payroll and profit are different measures.

In addition, the net profit line includes deductions, which reduced or eliminated profit numbers for some, yielding small loans or making them ineligible for the program.

The updated formula will instead use gross income as a stand-in for payroll costs, a larger number than net income, meaning many firms will get more money in forgivable loans.

Loans submitted prior to the official rule changes are subject to the rules in effect at the time of application.

Carol Wilkerson

SBA spokesperson

“It’s a tremendous change,” said Keith Hall, president and CEO of the National Association for the Self-Employed.

The change is important, as sole proprietorships are the most common business structure in the U.S. The IRS says there are some 41 million self-employed people in the country and, in 2018, more than 27 million had filed a return with an IRS 1040 Schedule C form for sole proprietors, according the agency.

Many of these businesses have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. About 70% of such firms with no employees are owned by women and people of color, and 95% of Black-owned and 91% of Latino-owned firms are sole proprietorships, according to SBA data.

But so far, very little forgivable funding from the SBA has gone to sole proprietorships — according to a recent survey from NASE, nearly two-thirds of its members said they didn’t get any money from the program.

Much of that was due to confusion in the early days of the program around eligibility and forgiveness, which are hopefully clearer today, Hall said.

“Many of the reasons that those small-business owners did not either apply or get approved for a PPP loan — I think many of those barriers have been removed,” he said.

Questions remain

To be sure, other changes to the PPP program that the Biden administration announced last week do go into effect today, March 1 — some student loan borrowers, legal non-residents and those with certain criminal records are now eligible to apply for forgivable loans.

Still, there are further questions for sole proprietors around the timing of applications, especially for those who already got a loan approved but would get more under the new formula. So far, there isn’t a process for amending a dispersed loan, or holding back an application that’s currently pending.

“All unknowns right now,” said Alex Cohen, CEO of Liberty SBF.

If you’re a small business with a story to share about PPP, email Carmen Reinicke at

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Dream realised in compelling live gig




Mary’s Underground, February 28


In another bid to reach beyond the musical horizon, Matt Keegan composed Vienna Dreaming as a tribute to his great grandfather, Heini Portnoj, an Austrian Jew forced to abandon his musical career in Vienna to escape the rising tide of Nazism. Three years after releasing a recording of the suite, Keegan finally presented this ambitious music in concert.

Matt Keegan and Veronique Serret. Shane Rozario

Matt Keegan and Veronique Serret. Shane RozarioCredit:Shane Rozario

Its strength lies not only in the imagination brought to bear, but in Keegan’s empathy for his subject, his intent being to slide inside the mind of his great grandfather, both as events unfolded in 1930s and in the aftermath, with Portnoj looking back after settling in Australia.

The concert’s instrumentation and personnel differed from the album, with only Keegan (clarinet, saxophone) and drummer Miles Thomas being shared. The album’s cello now became Veronique Serret’s violin and the double bass became Brendan Clark’s electric bass, with Ben Hauptmann (electric guitar) and Freyja Garbett (keyboards) completing the cast. These changes were much more than cosmetic, with the improvisational aspect of the work expanded, allowing for some startling individual contributions, most notably from Serret.

As consistently strong as the suite was, the opening Vienna Overture was especially compelling, with the main waltz-time theme materialising from skimming fragments of sound, dissolving back into those fragments and reassembling itself yet again – an evocation of an elderly Portnoj musing on an impossibly different time and place, long, long ago.

As with the album, the sound was carefully calibrated to shift between the familiar – the bruising intensity of Keegan’s baritone saxophone, for instance – and an extreme use of electronic treatments, including occasionally radical reverb and delay on the drums, amplifying the work’s prevailing oneiric quality and intentionally blurring clarity of outline. Ghosts of Johann Strauss, Frank Zappa and Miles Davis all seemed to materialise and dematerialise at various points, but without any sense of appropriation.

Providing an instantly engaging opening set was Yulugi, with Gumaroy Newman’s arresting voice and yidaki leading us deep into his ancestral culture, in dialogue with Keyna Wilkins’ piano and luminous flutes.

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