Archive for January, 2014

Why every writer needs a second pair of eyes

January 30th, 2014 by Bob Bly

The awkward paragraph below appears in a Kindle e-book of my
short stories I just published:

“No problem,” Van Helsing said, looking them up and down
appraisingly. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of goulash for
everybody.” He looked at them appraisingly. “Though I may need
to use a bigger pot.”

The flaw, of course, is the repetition of “appraisingly.”

What makes this error particularly awful is that I read the
story half a dozen times before publishing it.

Yet it wasn’t until I sat down to read a copy of the published
book that I finally noticed the error.

Worse, my fiction writing teacher read and edited the story
before the book was published.

So did the professional proofreader I hired to review the book
in galley. And they both missed it, as did I.

My point is: whether you are a fiction writer, nonfiction
writer, copywriter, or any other kind of writer, it’s a
challenge to prevent these kinds of sloppy and obvious errors
from slipping in.

Therefore, it’s my belief that you should NEVER submit a draft
to your publisher, printer, or client without having your copy
checked over several times … by you as well as by at least one
other person.

In my freelance copywriting business, when I come up with a
concept for a new promotion – usually consisting of a few
headlines and a lead of a few hundred words – I always run it by

IB is on a monthly retainer to me for the express purposes of
being available to review and render an immediate opinion on
almost everything I write – not only copy for my clients but
blog posts, essays, articles, and e-mails and landing pages for
my information marketing business.

I often show my concepts to one or two other trusted associates
in addition to IB to be sure that my ideas are on the right
track – in other words, that they are compelling, fresh, and

When I have written the copy, I then show it to JK, my
proofreader, who goes through it to catch any typos I may have

The benefits of this in-house review process are twofold.

First, it enables me to be confident that I am showing only good
work to clients, publishers, and subscribers.

Second, it allows me to submit very clean copy, which in turn
gives clients and publishers confidence in the work I give them.

Typos and other errors – such as in my example of repeating
“appraisingly” twice in one paragraph – jar readers. Spotting
even a minor error can go a long way in ruining their opinion of
the rest of the piece. Unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

Very early in my career, my client ZC, to my great surprise,
told me he thought my copy for his software brochure was weak.

I read it again and didn’t see any problem, so I asked him what
was wrong.

“You wrote it too quickly and didn’t take any care with the
work,” he said in an annoyed tone.

I asked ZC how he reached this conclusion.

His answer: “You must have rushed it because on page 3, you
misspelled ‘algorithm.’”

I don’t ever again want to have the client or reader become
unfairly prejudiced against a great piece of copy for the sole
reason that it contains a sloppy typo.


Category: General | 2 Comments »

How to get more sales, fewer refunds

January 22nd, 2014 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DN, whom we heard from last week, asked yet another
interesting question:

“Bob, I’ve purchased information products from you, and found
your information to be sound, but nowhere near as good as your
sales letter makes it out to be.”

Talk about a back-handed compliment….

She continues: “I am sure your refund rates would reduce if you
avoid the hype, clever copy, and amplification in your sales
letters … but so would your sales. You can’t have it both ways.
So what say you?”

DN raises an extremely important point that I have struggled
with daily in my 34 years as a professional copywriter –
namely, balancing the promise of benefits in the sales copy with
the delivery of those benefits by the product.

A common piece of advice to marketers is to under-promise and

The idea is that customers are happy when they get what they
paid for … but are ecstatically happy when they get MORE than
they thought they had any right to expect for their money.

My friend, ace Internet marketer Fred Gleeck, has a rule of
thumb: the product should be so good that if the customer had
paid 10X the price, he would still be happy and not ask for a

That ratio is sensible in theory, but difficult to achieve in

For instance, one of my copywriting heroes, GB, sold a $5,000
copywriting boot camp to his list – an amazing feat in today’s
troubled economic times.

As good as it no doubt was, I am not sure the attendees would
have felt they got their money’s worth if they had paid $50,000
each. Or that he would have gotten any registrations at that

So here are the rules I follow as a copywriter and an
information marketer when writing my sales letters and creating
my products:

1-Write the strongest sales copy possible within the limitations
of being ethical and truthful.

Remember, you must convince the reader that your product can
solve their problem … and do so more ably than competing

Your competitors are pulling out all the stops in their copy. So
yours can’t be meek and mild.

2-When in doubt, it is in fact better to under-promise and
over-deliver. The customer should feel that she has gotten more
than her money’s worth.


3-Do not deliberately set the bar so low in your copy that you
write bland, ultra-safe promotions. When you do so, you won’t
make sales.

4-If you feel compelled to write low-key copy as an apology for
a mediocre product, you should instead write the strongest copy
you can – and then improve your product so it will delight
anyone who buys in response to that copy.

My copywriting teacher at NYU, the late Milt Pierce, told us
that he was hired to write a direct mail package to sell a book
written by a famous interior decorator.

When the marketing director got Milt’s draft, she gasped: “This
is great copy – but this isn’t what’s in the book,” she

“It should be,” Milt countered. He says the publisher made the
author rewrite the book to deliver on all the promises made in
the copy.

5-There is a rule of thumb that refund rates on info products
should be less than 10% and ideally 5% or less. Our refund rate
a few years ago was around 2%.

Now, selling those same products, the refund rate is 5.2% for
the year to date. The most common reason for the refund request
by far: “This product has a copyright date of 2010 or earlier
and therefore I think it is out of date.” They are wrong, of
course, but you can’t fight city hall, which is why we are in a
massive program of updating our core info products.

Some argue that a zero refund rate is bad, because it means your
copy was so mild, it did not make enough strong promises. I
understand the logic of this theory, though I would not object
to a zero refund rate.


Category: General | 3 Comments »

Yes, I’ll take your phone call-and here’s why

January 15th, 2014 by Bob Bly

Reader FL recently tried to get in touch with his favorite
Internet marketing teacher … let’s call this guru Mr. X … with
disappointing results.

“I thought: why not reach out and connect with him?” says FL.
“Good luck with that idea – the guy lives behind an electronic
fortress … which is odd given the story he tells about
accessibility in his book.”

The guru in question, Mr. X – a guy I respect professionally and
like personally – is not alone in using the Internet to put
space between him and his readers. A lot of the Internet
marketing gurus, maybe even most of the gurus, do it.

I can’t blame them, and I understand their reasons: these are
busy guys, they make a lot of money, and their time is limited.

But I take the opposite approach: I make myself directly
available to my readers as much as is humanly possible.

My old friend, marketing guru Jeffrey Lant, referred to this as
being the “accessible expert.”

If you’ve ever tried to contact me, you know I promptly answer
all e-mails I receive … and if you call me, it rings the phone
on my desk which I pick up and personally answer.

If you e-mailed me and got no response, it’s almost certainly
because I didn’t see or didn’t get it. I do not ignore my

Being so available to my readers is a deliberate choice on my
part. I am not saying I am right to be so reachable, or that X
and his ilk are wrong to put so much distance between themselves
and their customers.

All I can tell you is that being an “accessible expert” works
better for me for several reasons.

>> First, although I’m pretty busy, perhaps I am not as busy and
in demand as Mr. X. So while keeping the lines of communication
open with my subscribers can sometimes be challenging, it is
certainly manageable. So I do it.

>> Second, my readers like being able to communicate with me
directly and easily. I know, because they tell me so. And my
philosophy is to do, within reason, what my customers want.

>> Third, it’s the way I want to be treated by the marketers I
buy from. I am frustrated by customer-unfriendly voice mail
systems that make it a trial to reach the person I want. And it
irritates me when a marketer shields himself from e-mail

So how accessible do you have to be to please your customers
while still having a private life? Here’s what I recommend:

1-Publish your phone number prominently on your web site and in
your e-mail signature file. Make it easy for people to call you.

2-When your phone rings, answer it, and give the time of day to
people who call.

Full disclosure: I do have caller ID. So when I am on a
copywriting deadline for a client, I may not pick up – and
instead will let your call go to voice mail. But once I’m free
again, I return the call – on my dime.

3-If an e-mail from a customer asks a question which I can
reasonably answer in a minute or two, I answer it – for free. No

4-If an e-email from a customer asks a question that is answered
in one of my publications, I send my correspondent a link to it.
If it’s free, I invite him to download it at no cost. If it
costs money, I suggest he buy it.

5-If a customer asks a question that is complex or requires a
customized answer tailored to his specific situation, I tell him
that to solve the problem for him falls under consulting and
explain the cost.

Regarding point #4, a few of my customers have complained that I
am a money-grubber for telling them to buy an information
product when they ask me a question.

I do not agree with their criticism. If the answer to your
question is clearly articulated and well thought out on page 187
of my book, I assert that it is reasonable and sensible for me
to suggest you buy the book, turn to page 187, and read the
answer there.

Why should I have to spend my time writing a long e-mail to you
without compensation, when I have already taken time to prepare
the answer for you in advance – and when my book buyers have had
to pay for the same content?

Regarding point #5, one thing that really irks me is that
subscribers who ask me questions clearly requiring customized
analysis by me virtually never offer to pay me for my time and
knowledge. They never bring up money, because they hope and pray
I will be a dupe and just answer without charge.

Unfortunately for me, I have to pay my son’s tuition at
Carnegie-Mellon, and I have only 24 hours in a day, both of
which make me disinclined to work for free. When the guy who
comes to my house to fix my busted washing machine does it for
free, then I will reconsider my position.


Category: General | 1 Comment »

There is no shortcut on the road to online success

January 8th, 2014 by Bob Bly

Subscriber MN writes, “I’m thinking of doing an online
business. Approximately, what would you charge to create the
product, copywriting, landing page, everything A-Z? Or can you
recommend an existing package where everything is already done
that I can buy?”

I have some bad news for MN. What he wants – a complete “done
for you,” online business-in-a-box – and by that I mean one that
(a) he can actually afford and (b) would actually work – does
not exist.

Everyone wants the quick and easy way out. No one wants to do
the hard work. They want to wave a magic wand or rub a lucky
rabbit’s foot – and be handed the online business they seek on a
platter, already revved up and spitting out profits. Sorry, but
it ain’t happening, MN.

Reminds me of the scene in “A League of Their Own” where Gina
Davis wants to play baseball but complains to Tom Hanks that the
baseball life is too hard.

Tom snaps back: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard,
everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

I think that’s the case with entrepreneurship in general and
starting an Internet marketing business in particular.

The promoters promise it’s easy because – hey – we copywriters
know that “easy” sells.

But building a successful online business isn’t easy. In theory
it is simple. In practice – often tricky as heck.

Oh, in some ways DOING the business is physically easy – you can
work at home and make a good living devoting only an hour or two
a day to it.

I don’t have employees. I don’t have big overhead. I don’t talk
with customers on the phone or face to face. So in that respect
having an Internet business is not too stressful.

But it is not always easy to figure it all out, put the pieces
together, and make them make money.

Those of us in the business are constantly learning and
studying, and continually fine-tuning our e-mails, landing
pages, products, offers, ads, back-office systems, and just
about everything else.

There isn’t a day goes by that I am not reading blogs, trade
magazines, books, discussion groups, and online newsletters in a
frantic effort to keep up to speed on what’s new in Internet

Most of what I learn I will never use. But since I don’t know
what will be the next breakthrough until I learn and try it – I
am learning all the time.

To answer MN’s question: no, he cannot hire me or anyone else to
create the whole business for him, get it running, and then hand
it over to him to enjoy.

That’s because if I or anyone else puts in all that effort, we’d
make MUCH more money by just keeping that business and running
it ourselves than we could selling it to someone else, no matter
how much they offered us for it.

Yes, there are some promoters advertising “done for you”
Internet businesses-in-a-box. I haven’t reviewed them all and so
cannot comment on them all.

But the ones I have seen are thin. Typically the quality of the
products and promotions they sell you is pretty pitiful – a lot
sell 5-page e-books some elance freelancer probably wrote for ten
bucks — and the business is not actually making money for
anyone but the promoter selling it to others.

Again, if the products and landing pages the promoter was
selling really pulled in the dollars online, he’d be buying as
much traffic as he could to drive buyers to the micro sites …
and making his money on product sales … not trying to pawn the
whole kit and caboodle off to unsuspecting prey like MN.


Category: General | 3 Comments »

The awful truth about self-help

January 2nd, 2014 by Bob Bly

Self-help gurus and motivational speakers love to tell us that
whatever we want, we can do, have, or become.

Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe,
it can achieve.”

Earl Nightingale: “Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind
and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a

The problem with this is: it’s often not true.


** Unless you have a high IQ, you can’t become an

** Unless you are athletic, you won’t get drafted by the

** Unless you can sing, you probably won’t win American Idol and
get a record deal.

** Unless you’re strong and can fight, you probably can’t KO
Lennox Lewis.

What many positive thinkers ignore is that it takes more than
just positive thoughts to achieve a goal.

And here’s what it does take to do or become what you desire:

>> First, you need the equipment: the aptitude, affinity, and
knack for a particular field or profession.

Example: I am 56, short, dumpy, and nonathletic. I would like to
be the Giants quarterback. But no matter what I think, it isn’t
going to happen.

But I do have an affinity for teaching. So I have routinely been
paid thousands of dollars a day to give training classes and

>> Second, you need desire.

This is especially true in fields like acting, music, and sports
where competition for a limited number of opportunities is
incredibly fierce.

Unless you have a burning desire for the goal, you won’t stick
with it and make the effort it takes to get there.

>> Third, you must be persistent.

The old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Winston Churchill: “Never give up.”

In my observation, most people who want to pursue an
accomplishment or achievement give up way too early.

>> Fourth, talent.

You should have some natural talent or, if not, enormous
enthusiasm for the field in which you want to make your mark.

If you are not naturally talented, you can develop many of the
skills you need (e.g. web site design) through practice and

>> Fifth, skill.

In today’s competitive world, it’s tough to make a go of things
if you are poor or mediocre in your profession.

To increase the odds of success in your favor, you must get
really good at what you do. The key is: practice.

Mark Ford says you can get good at just about anything by doing
it for a thousand hours … and become a master when you have done
it ten thousand hours.

>> Sixth, training.

Your training may be on the job or in the classroom. It could be
night school, seminars, in-house courses offered by your
company, or college.

But you must acquire the basic knowledge practitioners in your
field are expected to have.

As a copywriter since 1979, I knew how to write.

But when SEO become a discipline some years ago, I took an
expensive Direct Marketing Association self-study course to
learn it.

>> Seventh, you need connections.

Very few people realize their dreams entirely on their own.

Cultivating a network of colleagues, specialists, and potential
clients or employers can give you an enviable shortcut to your


Category: General | 4 Comments »