Archive for the 'General' Category

How many drafts do you need to do to get it right?

February 24th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber RL sent me this comment from the late suspense
novelist Robert B. Parker — one of my favorite commercial authors:

“I do first draft. I don’t revise. I don’t reread. I send it in.
They edit it. But they don’t make any significant changes.”

By comparison, Hemingway revised every morning. He claimed to
have written one of the pages of “A Farewell to Arms” 59 times.

George Plimpton asked him why. Was there some technical problem?
What was so hard?

Hemingway replied: “Getting the words right.”

Poet Donald Hall said he rewrote one of his poems 600 times.

And William Zinsser wrote, “The secret to good writing is
rewriting.”

Yes, but how MUCH rewriting?

The problem is this…..

For most of us, if we don’t revise and rewrite enough, our
writing is not as good as it could be.

On the other hand, if we do endless rewrites and edits, the piece
never gets finished — and if we are working on a flat project
fee, we end up making less than minimum wage.

To answer this question about the ideal number of rewrites, I
made a short video on the subject of “How many rewrites should
you do before you consider the piece finished.”

You can watch it free here:

I agree with actor Michael J. Fox, who said, “Strive for
excellence, not perfection.”

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Why I personally respond to your e-mails and questions

February 22nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

I get a lot of e-mail from subscribers.

And even though it’s time-consuming, I respond to as many as I
can — which is most.

Why?

I believe that when you make your e-mail marketing a two-way
communication, you build a stronger relationship with your
subscribers.

The result: greater engagement, more readership, and increased
sales when you offer your list a product they might like.

A week or so ago subscriber JI sent me this brief e-mail:

“I enjoyed your article today. I like the way you communicate
what you believe and how you respond to people.

“At the same time, I see that I can leave a conversation with you
while taking away my own view of life without hurting your
feelings.

“It’s nice getting to know you over these years and I do love you
as a person for what you are giving the world. Thank you.”

And subscriber RM writes:

“Wow! Thank you so much for your timely response. That was the
first time I had responded to a posting by someone as famous and
accomplished as you and I in no way expected to hear from you so
quickly.

“This speaks volumes to me about your quality and dedication to
helping others. A fairly rare quality in this day and age from
my experience in the business arena.”

I know from publishing The Direct Response Letter for more than a
dozen years that, like JI and RM, many of my subscribers
appreciate that I am accessible — both via e-mail, Facebook, and
phone.

Conversely, I have heard many say they dislike it when they write
to the publishers of their favorite e-newsletters, and all they
get in return is a canned auto-responder message — usually saying
the author is too busy to reply personally.

Maybe I am stupid to maintain a dialogue with my subscribers —
Lord knows I’m busy enough.

But I do it for three primary reasons:

>> First, I think if you have a question or comment, you deserve
a personal response from me.

>> Second, I enjoy hearing from and talking with my readers. Some
reach out to me only once in a blue moon. Others are regulars. I
like both.

>> Third, it lets me know what you are interested in, so I can
produce content that is useful and relevant to you.

I believe the give-and-take interaction between an editor and his
subscribers enhances the experience of getting the e-newsletter
for readers and adds value.

So I plan to continue it for both the immediate and long-term
future.

And thanks for reading my e-mail essays. It’s much appreciated.

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Category: General, Writing and the Internet | No Comments »

Are typos a big deal?

February 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber TW writes:

“Bob, here’s a question I’d love to see you address in one of
your e-mails: Have you noticed the constant misspellings and
incorrect homonyms on the web and in e-mails? People not knowing
the difference between ‘to,’ ‘two,’ and ‘too’ — or ‘there’ and
‘their’? Terrible grammar?

“Did you think that the ability to dictate on smartphones and
other devices and our reliance on spellcheck and text shorthand
(“r u home?”) is dumbing us down? Either that or is it
desensitizing us to these types of errors?”

Well, we have always lived with spelling and grammar mistakes —
but yes, they have definitely increased in e-mail and on web
sites. What’s the reason for the proliferation of typos online?

In e-mail, it’s two things.

First, people are crushingly busy today. So they dash off their
e-mails as fast as they can, without reading them over or even
using the e-mail proofing function.

Second, some people believe that e-mails don’t have to be as
flawless as a traditional letter. And so they are sloppy e-mail
writers.

Unfortunately, many of their e-mail recipients are aghast when they
see bad grammar and spelling errors. As a result, such mistakes
distract your readers, diverting attention to the typos and away
from the content of the message.

Some readers even lower their opinion of you and what you are
saying if there is even a single misspelling.

As for web content, there are also two reasons for the
proliferation of spelling and grammar mistakes in web pages,
white papers, blogs, and other online writing.

First, back in the day, before the Internet, when our writing was
all print, we proofread carefully, because if an error was found
after a magazine article, direct mail letter, or product brochure
was printed, it would cost a fortune to go back to press. So we
were much more careful.

Today, if you write and post a new web page, and someone spots
typos, they can quickly and easily be corrected at virtually zero
cost. Easy peasy, no biggie.

Second, with large web sites having dozens or hundreds of pages,
many of the pages come from different sources — product bulletins,
articles, blogs, press releases, newsletters — some of which were
created for other purposes and then repurposed on the site.

So many firms either just don’t have or are not willing to devote
the time to carefully proof each new page.

It’s not that they don’t think proofreading is important, but
rather it is not at the top of their priority list, and they do
not have the bandwidth or resources to get to it.

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Category: General, Writing, Writing and the Internet | No Comments »

Time: What Einstein and Hawking didn’t tell you

February 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

A kindly subscriber sent me as generous gift: a hardcover copy of
Stephen Hawking’s best-selling book “A Brief History of Time.”

I am now reading it, though slowly, as I find many of the
concepts difficult to wrap my mind around.

But here’s one thing about time that Hawking missed in his book.
Einstein also missed it in his book “Relativity: the Special and
General Theory.”

Namely, the older we get, the faster time goes. That’s Bly’s
Theory of Relativity!

Conversely, the younger we are, the more slowly times passes.

When you are 5 and your 6th birthday is a month away, that month
feels like forever.

When you are 12, the 4 or 5 years you must wait to get your
driver’s license seems like an eternity.

And as much as I liked college — and I did, for the most part —
it seemed to me at times during my 4 years as an undergraduate
that I would be there forever.

But now, I will soon turn 60 — and yet, it seems to me I was just
21 … and starting my first corporate job at Westinghouse … only
yesterday.

My sons recently turned 27 and 24 — and they have reached that
age in the blink of an eye.

Life itself goes by so quickly — and the older you get, the faster it
moves.

Also as we age, our opportunities and options become fewer and
fewer — a statement I know some of you will dispute, but hey, I
calls them as I sees them!

When I was 21, for instance, I briefly considered going back to
school to become a pediatrician — and I believe I could have done
so.

For me now, at 60, medical school and a residency are clearly off
the table.

I don’t know if any of this is helpful, but I can tell you my 3
guidelines for making the most of each day while you are alive:

1- Every day, without fail, tell your spouse and your children
(and grandchildren, if you have them, which I do not) that you
love them. Every day. Even if they complain that you say it too
much.

2–Be kind and generous to others. Do not exert power or show
meanness or cruelty, especially to those weaker than you.
Remember, just because you can do something to someone doesn’t
mean you SHOULD do it to them.

3–Find work you enjoy. Get good at it and keep at it. A career,
job, or profession you love can give you happiness every day. As
Max Ehrmann wrote in Desiderata: “Keep interested in your own
career, however humble, it’s a real possession in the changing
fortunes of time.”

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Category: General | 2 Comments »

7 small graphic tweaks that can create a huge lift in response

January 27th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Last week I asked ace graphic designer Dwight Ingram for some
ideas on how to improve the performance of our direct mail and
online marketing through changes in design.

Dwight replied:

“Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest
difference. I’m often called upon to ‘freshen up’ a fatiguing
control, and I’ve developed a toolkit of small design changes
that can revitalize a promotion without having to create a whole
new piece.”

Here are 7 of Dwight’s go-to design tips you can use to boost
response and breathe new life into your control:

1–Change the envelope or the outside of the mail piece. If the
design is too busy, remove or move something. If the design is
too simple, add something.

Use a new teaser, freshen up the design, and try new fonts. Use
the back … think of the extra space like a buckslip. It’s a great
place to showcase the product and reinforce the offer.

2–Use bigger buttons. For e-mails and landing pages, try a bigger
button, a different color, or change the shape. Add a button to
the top or bottom in a key location near the offer language.

3–Simplify. Make the order process clean and fast, especially in
digital efforts. Don’t make your audience jump through hoops to
order.

One of the first things to look at is how many fields are on a
form? Are there too many choices, and is the process intuitive?
Decide what information you must ask for and what you can
eliminate.

4–Change the order form. Enhance the format of your form by
adding a notch, or make it an L-shape. Strengthen your offer
language, focus on the key benefits. Add an offer summary box.
Stress the deadline. Use more personalization, but not too much,
and use it appropriately.

5–Add an insert. A lift note, buck slip, or other element can
focus your prospect on the right features or benefits of the
product. Highlight the guarantee, the premium, or a unique
feature of your product or service.

6–If you use a business reply envelope (BRE), change the color.
Using a different paper color for the BRE can lift response.

7–Make sure your e-mails, landing pages, and order pages are
coded to display optimally not only on PCs but on mobile
devices including tablets and smart phones. (I’ll have an entire
chapter on designing e-mails for smart phones in my forthcoming
book “The Ultimate E-Mail Handbook” from Skyhorse Publishing.)

Remember, it’s all about clarity and thinking like a potential
customer. If your offer is hidden, or too complicated, or if
you’re asking for too much information, your response will be
affected. Make it easy.

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Category: Direct Marketing, General, Online Marketing | 1 Comment »

Don’t state your opinions as facts when in fact they aren’t

January 24th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, I sent an e-mail marketing message to my list offering
one of my audio home study programs.

BP, a subscriber of mine whom I like and respect, was highly
critical of this offer.

In BP’s opinion, “An audio course is reminiscent of platform
shoes, the IBM Personal Computer, and when the Bee Gees were all
living” — implying that audio products are somehow old school and
antiquated.

A simple Google search would in an instant show BP that his
claim of audio being old hat is completely wrong.

According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), audiobook
sales in 2015 totaled more than $1.77 billion, up nearly 21% over
2014.

Also in 2015, 9,630 more audiobook titles were published than in
the previous year — bringing the number of audiobooks published
in 2015 up to 35,574.

I can also speak a bit from personal experience, not just
third-party Google research.

In my tiny online business, CTC Publishing, we have grossed
hundreds of thousands of dollars selling how-to information on
audio.

The take-aways from BP’s brash, subjective, and uninformed claim
of audio information obsolescence:

1–Google makes it so quick and easy to do some research, you are
being foolish if you do not take a few minutes to get the facts
before writing or speaking on a topic.

2–Don’t give subjective opinions on topics that have factual and
undisputable answers. Want to debate with your friends about
whether Trump will be a good president? Feel free. Want to
convince me that TV psychic Theresa Caputo can speak to the dead?
That’s a tougher position to defend, given there is no scientific
evidence supporting the existence of the afterlife.

3–Don’t defend so many of your positions so rapidly and
vehemently. We are not always right. We are often wrong. That
includes me. And you.

In his best-selling Spencer novels, the late Robert B. Parker
said of Spencer’s sidekick Hawk: “Hawk always knows what he is
talking about. Not because he knows everything. But because he
only talks about things he knows.”

My version: Don’t proclaim your opinions to be facts unless your
certainty is 99.7% or higher. That purple is a color is a fact.
That purple rugs are beautiful is an opinion.

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Category: General | 1 Comment »

Do you sweat too much of the small stuff?

January 18th, 2017 by Bob Bly

On January 7, 2017, a gunman opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale,
Florida airport killing 5 people in the baggage area.

What makes this personal for me is that my mother and her
boyfriend were standing in that same baggage claim in the same
airport one week earlier.

Many people, and I am one of them, complain too much over minor
things.

For instance, I lose my cool when the traffic going into NYC is
at a standstill or my Internet service goes down for 20 minutes.

Yet if my mother had left for Florida a week later, she might be
dead today.

Global terrorism has made it clear that whoever said “don’t sweat
the small stuff” had it right.

The week before my mom went to Florida, I was in an automobile
accident that totaled my car — on Christmas Eve.

Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt — not a scratch on me,
though I had some bruises.

Was I upset that my car, which I loved, was destroyed?

No, because after all, it’s just a car.

I have no doubt that some other people had car accidents that
same evening — and were seriously injured or even killed. Game
over.

So complaining over the demise of a 2008 Prius seems to me rather
silly.

Not being a natural Pollyanna, I feel funny saying this, but it’s
true: any day you wake up healthy, with food to eat and roof over
your head, in a house with working heat, is a good day.

I close with this Scottish proverb quoted by David Ogilvy: “Be
happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”

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The gold mine hidden in your files

January 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

There is hidden gold in content you have already written.

For most writers, that content sits idle in file cabinets and on
hard drives — wasting away and not earning them a dime.

Except, in the explosive information marketing industry, content
owners can now generate thousands of dollars of additional
profits from content they already have!

For instance, over the years, I developed many documents used in
my freelance writing business — model letters, client agreements,
checklists, press releases, invoices, and so on.

One day, I said to myself, “Why not sell all these documents,
which I already have and are proven to work, to other copywriters
and aspiring copywriters as an e-book?”

It took me only 2 hours to assemble these documents, all sitting
on my hard drive as Word files, into an e-book manuscript.

I gave the manuscript to a graphic artist to design a cover and
the interior pages, and turn it into an e-book with the title
“The Copywriter’s Toolkit,” which he did for $200.

Result? To date, we have sold 2,317 copies generating $117,663 in
gross revenues — all from content I had already written.

And you wonder why so many people just love online info
marketing!

3 tips I give to writers and others who create intellectual
content that can help you sell your words and ideas over and over
again, quickly and affordably, online:

1–Keep everything you write, published and unpublished, with
clearly labeled files in easy-to-remember directories and
subdirectories. You have to know where your content is stored and
be able to retrieve it in electronic format quickly.

2–Same goes for speeches, seminars, workshops, lectures,
webinars, podcasts, and the like; make sure it is recorded and
you get a master of the mp3 or mp4 file.

3–Retain all rights to your written and spoken content. Negotiate
this with the producers and publishers if not offered
automatically.

One way to do this with written content: Type the words “first
rights only” in the upper left corner of every article you submit
to a magazine, newsletter, or web site. By doing so, you retain
the right to use it as you wish once it appears that publication.

Content creators who either give up the rights to their material
or do not save and store it properly for easy retrieval are
throwing away the potential fortune hidden in their “content
goldmines.” Remember, I made over $117K selling a bunch of
documents, forms, and letters I had already written — creating
nothing original for my Toolkit!

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