Archive for the 'General' Category

Why I read paperbound books only

November 17th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, on a Facebook post, I casually mentioned in passing
that I get a lot of my books to read at the local town library.

My Facebook friend LW wrote:

“Bob, why the public library when there is Kindle?”

My immediate thought was:

“LW, why Kindle when there is the public library?”

I absolutely prefer paperbound books over digital books — and I
am a regular patron at my town library.

As Louis L’Armour writes in his book “Education of a Wandering
Man” (Bantam), “Education is available to anyone within reach of
a library.”

My fellow copywriter and FB friend DG says:

“I’m a public library guy and I also buy books. I only read
paperbound books myself, and I’m already way out of room to store
the ones I have.”

Now, I understand the many reasons why people tell me they love
their Kindle readers. I just don’t find them personally
appealing.

One of the big reasons people advocate Kindle is the ability to
easily carry dozens or hundreds of books with them wherever they
go.

But since I almost never go anywhere, there’s no benefit to me.

And in those rare instances when I do travel, one thick paperback
is enough to get me through the round-trip flight.

There are legions of people who just love paperbound books as
physical objects: the feel, the look, even the smell and feel of
the paper.

I’m one of them. And Kindle takes that all away from me.

As the author of more than 90 books from mainstream publishing
houses, one of my greatest rewards is holding my published
hardcover or paperback book in my hand — and putting a few
copies in our bookcase.

Holding electrons in my hands just doesn’t give me that same
pride of authorship.

(Similarly, I get much more of a charge holding a magazine with
my article in it than I do seeing my article on some website.)

Another big advantage of physical books is the venues where I get
them: bookstores, libraries, and used book catalogs, my favorite
of which is Edward R. Hamilton, though Bas Bleu and Daedelus are
not far behind. (Especially Bas, because they often carry my
books.)

When you are in a library or a bookstore, or thumbing through a
book catalog, you encounter all sorts of books, information, and
subjects that you otherwise would never have thought about
before.

Yes, this can also happen online

But in a bookstore or library, with the actual book in front of
you, the compulsion to browse is, for me, even greater than
online. And yes, like so many people, I like web surfing.

Now, you may be thinking that I am a hypocrite, because I
publish, sell, as well as read PDF ebooks.

But when I buy a PDF ebook, I don’t read it on a screen. I print
it out, put it in a 3-ring binder, and read it has a hard copy
document.

And I suggest to my PDF ebook buyers that they do the same.
Although, of course, they are free to read it on a screen if they
prefer.

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The 2 ways reading makes you a better writer

November 7th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the most common questions I get is, “Bob, what book are
you reading now?”

And most people are shocked to find that it is a novel, short
story collection, play, nonfiction narrative, social issue,
science, math, history, economics, or informational book on a
topic other than marketing or business.

The 2 best ways to get better as a writer are to write a lot and
read a lot. And to read widely. Not just about writing,
copywriting, marketing, or business.

And there are 2 reasons reading a lot and widely helps you become
a better writer.

First, you read the books for the content. So your brain’s
storehouse of information, from which you pull content for your
writing, is large and varied.

Second, you absorb the techniques and tricks of the trades other
writers use, and incorporate the best of those in your own
writing.

Sounds simple. It is simple. But it also takes a lifetime and
only stops when you die.

So, what do I like to read? Well, without further preamble, here
in no particular order are my 15 favorite books of all time:

1–“A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.

2–“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

3–“Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.

4–“The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.

5–“Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy.

6–“Essentialism” by Greg McKeown.

7–“Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny.

8–“Drought” by J.G. Ballard.

9–“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.

10–“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

11–“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes.

12–“Deathbird Stories” by Harlan Ellison.

13–“The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski.

14–“Mockingbird” by Walter Tevis.

15–“The Shootist” by Glen Swarthout.

If you asked me for a list of my top 100 instead of just these
15, I could fill it easily.

I can’t help it. I just love books and reading; the addiction is
beyond my control.

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Is the writing profession doomed?

October 17th, 2017 by Bob Bly

We recently saw War of the Planet of the Apes, where intelligent
apes take over as the dominant species of our planet.

Well, it’s happening … only instead of apes taking over, it’s
smartphones and laptops!

According to an article in ClickZ, Gartner predicts that by 2018,
20% of all business content will be written by machine.

In July 2017, Google invested over $800,000 in the Press
Association’s initiative to generate news stories solely through
the use of AI.

The frightening future for writers is that AI machines may make
us totally obsolete by doing our jobs as well or better than we
can — and for a lot less money.

And it’s not just writers whose jobs are in danger of vanishing.
It’s a much bigger portion of the working world.

In his book The Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford reprints a
perfectly adequate sports article and reveals it was written
entirely by computer — without the touch of a human hand. It’s
not spectacular, but it’s certainly competent B-level sports
writing.

Swedish programmer Sverker Johansson built an AI writing
algorithm that has authored nearly 3 million articles now posted
on Wikipedia.

And it’s not just writers who are in danger of losing their jobs
to a computer.

In China, human customer service representatives who handle live
chatbot calls are now being replaced by algorithms.

[x]cube, a maker of automated chatbots, says that 34% of
businesses surveyed believe that half of all customer service
calls could be handled by robot chatbots without a human agent.

Elon Musk believes that by 2030 to 2040 computers will be able to
do anything a human can do.

It makes me wonder why Musk, Google, the Chinese AI chatbot
maker, and other clever tech entrepreneurs are so darn eager to
put billions of human beings permanently out of work.

Years ago, I had this debate with AN, an old college friend.

AN gave the party line about automation and robotics “freeing”
people from dull, repetitive jobs so they can do more rewarding
and creative work.

What AN and others miss is this: there are a number of people who
don’t have the skills or ability or drive to work at a higher
level than the “dull, repetitive” jobs they hold now.

So when you “free” them from their current boring jobs, you move
them into permanent and boring unemployment.

For instance, in the early 1960s, as a kid my mom would take me
to visit my dad at work.

His building in downtown Paterson, NJ, the city where we lived,
had a manual elevator run by Joe, a friendly elevator operator
who was always nice to me, because he liked kids.

One day mom and I went to visit dad, and Joe was gone.

“Where’s Joe?” I asked.

She pointed to the self-service buttons labeled G and 1-5 on
the control panel of the new shiny automatic elevator that had
replaced the creaky old manual — and eliminated Joe’s job.

“What’s Joe going to do?” I asked.

She shrugged.

So I still think about what happened to Joe. He was older, and I
suspect he had trouble finding another job, if he was able to at
all.

And I also think about what will happen to us in 2040 if Musk is
right.

And he probably will be, even if his date comes a little sooner
or a little later.

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Category: General, Writing | 7 Comments »

The 10 greatest marketing books ever written

October 13th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber RK writes:

“Bob, I am trying to read some of the classic marketing books you
recommend, such as those written by David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins,
John Caples, Robert Collier, and Vic Schwab.

“But all the examples in them are print ads, and it’s hard for me
to see how these relate to app banners or email follow-up
sequences.”

I hear this a lot from millennial marketers: They believe that
the rapid pace of change has made the marketing of the 20th
century irrelevant to marketing in the 21st century.

Here’s why such thinking is fallacious:

Yes, the technology, media, and methods — newspapers and network
TV commercials vs. social media, programmatic advertising, and
hyperlocal marketing — are much different today than they were
yesterday.

But the core of marketing is not channels, technology, databases,
or media.

Rather, the most important element of marketing and selling is
human psychology — or more specifically, the psychology of
persuasion.

And as the great Claude Hopkins noted, human psychology has not
changed in ten centuries.

That means the core persuasion techniques of Ogilvy, Caples, and
the other master marketers whose books I recommend have not lost
one microdot of their power and effectiveness.

And here are the 10 books I fervently believe every marketer, and
that goes especially for you young folk, should devour:

1– “How to Write a Good Advertisement” by Vic Schwab, Wilshire
Book Company. A common-sense course in how to write advertising
copy that gets people to buy your product or service, written by
a plain-speaking veteran mail order copywriter in 1960.

2– “My First 50 Years in Advertising” by Max Sackheim,
Prentice-Hall. Another plain-speaking, common-sense guide that
stresses salesmanship over creativity, and results over awards.
The author was one of the originators of the Book of the Month
Club.

3– “The Robert Collier Letter Book” by Robert Collier, Important
Books. While Schwab and Sackheim concentrate on space ads,
Collier focuses on the art of writing sales letters. While some
of his letters may seem old-fashioned and dated, Collier’s
timeless principles still apply.

4– “Reality in Advertising” by Rosser Reeves, Alfred A. Knopf. The
book in which Reeves introduced the now-famous 3-part concept of
Unique Selling Proposition; not one marketer in a hundred today
knows the 3 essential parts of a winning USP.

5– “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz, Boardroom. A
copywriting guide by one of the greatest direct-response
copywriters of the 20th century.

6– “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples, Prentice-Hall.
Presents the principles of persuasion as proven through A/B split
tests.

7– “Confessions of an Advertising Man” by David Ogilvy, Atheneum.
Charming autobiography of legendary ad man David Ogilvy, packed
with useful advice on how to create effective advertising.

8– “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins, Bell Publishing. A
book on the philosophy that advertising’s purpose is to sell, not
entertain or win creative awards — and that only testing, not
subjective opinion, can determine what actually works.

9– “Method Marketing” by Denny Hatch, Bonus Books. A book on how
to write successful direct response copy by putting yourself in
the customer’s shoes.

10– “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word” by Joseph Sugarman,
DelStar. How to write ad copy by a master of mail order
advertising.

Have I left any out? Yes, many. But this list is a good start.

How many have you read? If not all, you ignore them at your own
peril.

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The 90/10 secret of writing and info marketing

October 10th, 2017 by Bob Bly

My Facebook friend CR writes:

“As a relative newcomer, I’d love to find my way into the passive
income world. I get stuck at the very beginning: topic.

“I have the same problem trying to create articles to build
reputation in my new copywriting niche.

“What do I know that anyone else would want to know? I ponder and
ponder, but so far, nothing.”

Here is the answer….

The mistake people make — whether creating info products, or
writing articles or books — is to say, “What can I write about? I
don’t know anything special” … just as CR says above.

But she — and they — and you, if you believe her — are wrong.

My good friend Dr. Gary North says:

“The great mistake most small-business people make is to imagine
that their detailed knowledge of their niche market is widely
dispersed.

“On the contrary, hardly anyone knows it. They are owners of a
capital asset that others do not possess and have no easy way of
possessing.”

Dan Kennedy notes, “You know something that someone will pay to
learn. There are plenty of opportunities to help people get the
most out of their business and life.

“You just need to grasp a few key strategies for presenting
yourself as an expert advisor and people will gladly pay to get
that guidance from you.”

Ray Bradbury said every writer was capable of producing unique
writing, because each person’s experience is different.

Now, when I repeat Dr. North’s statement, the next objection I
hear is:

“Well, I know something about a few things … but I am not a top
expert in these subjects. So I have no authority to pontificate
about them.”

My friend, top info marketer Fred Gleeck, overcomes this argument
with his 90/10 principle of content.

Fred says yes, maybe there are a few people … say as many as 10%
of the world’s population … that know as much or more about your
topic than you do.

But, you are not writing for them. They are not your audience.

You are writing for the 90% or more of readers who know less
about your topic than you do — for they are your audience.

Gary North says you already know more than 90% of people about
your topic because of your extensive experience.

Or what Dan Kennedy calls “expensive experience,” because (a) it
cost you a lot in time, study, and effort to acquire and (b) you
can sell it for a profit to others.

One famous speaker I know said he became an expert in his topic
by reading a couple of books every week on the subject for an
entire year — 100 books in all.

Mark Ford says you become knowledgeable in a skill or field once
you have spent 1,000 hours practicing the discipline … and if you
work at it 20 hours a week, you’ll have logged those thousand
hours in about a year.

As for becoming a master, Mark says that takes around 10,000
hours of practice.

One other point: People read as much for repetition as for new
knowledge.

So if your book, article, or info products mostly tells them what
they already know, they’ll enjoy and learn from it — think you,
the author, really know your stuff, because it jibes with their
own understanding — and feel they have gotten their money’s
worth.

And if in that book, article, or info product you also give them
a couple of new ideas, they’ll be even happier.

So I say to you and to CR: Ponder my advice above, if you wish.

But really, the best way to overcome CR’s objection and worry is:
just start writing.

What you produce will be much better than you expect — most
likely surprisingly so.

And with some rewrites and polishing, you’ll in short order have
a publishable and valuable work.

As Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote in his best-selling book Baby and
Child Care:

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

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Should you always charge the highest price?

October 6th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I recently told BL, a colleague, that I was pretty busy with
copywriting assignments (I usually am).

Like so many people, he immediately said, “You should raise your
prices!”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” I replied.

Like BL, many people say you should raise your prices when you
are so busy with orders at your current prices that you can’t
take on any more business.

The logic is that being so busy gives you leverage to make prices
higher, because if some customers balk at the new higher price
tags, you can afford to let them walk, being as busy and
successful as you are.

However, I don’t see being busy as an opportunity to charge more
… for 2 reasons.

First, it’s a form of price gouging.

Some of those who tell me to raise my prices, in particular BL
and other top people in my fields of copywriting and info
marketing, prefer to always extract as much money from every
client as they can.

They firmly believe you should always charge every customer as
much as you can — as much as they possibly can afford to pay.

I do not agree.

I prefer to charge a fair and reasonable price for the products
and services I provide.

But not more than that.

I know I don’t like it when a vendor — even one in high demand
and therefore arguably in a positon of power — squeezes me for
every last dime they can get.

If you don’t like when sellers charge you outrageously high fees,
rest assured your customers don’t like it either.

And I won’t do unto my clients what I don’t want others to do
unto me.

Even if it’s perfectly legal to do so, it is at best unkindly and
at worst morally reprehensible to take buyers for every last
nickel they have.

Like the pharmaceutical executive who overnight raised the price
of the life-saving drug, which only his firm could supply,
tenfold … so that many chronically ill people who needed it to
live could no longer afford to buy it.

In the lending industry, you can’t just charge any interest rates
you want. The rate is limited by law.

To make loans above the legal rate limit is called “usury” or
charging “usurious” rates.

And usury is actually a crime.

Second, charging prices that are affordable to your customers is
not only appreciated by them — it’s also good for your customer
retention rate, repeat business, referrals, reputation, and
reorders.

DM, another colleague, once said to me that if a freelance direct
response copywriter (which DM was) charged an outrageously high
fee … and the promotion she wrote was anything other than a
grand-slam home run …

… the client would resent the gouging, and never hire that
freelance writer again … which had in fact happened in the case
of the other writer we were discussing, who had just done this
with one of DM’s clients.

Years ago, GD, a pricing consultant, told me that in a service
business, you should charge a price in the middle of the top
third of providers.

His logic was as follows:

If your fee is in the bottom third, prospects assume you aren’t
any good.

After all, if you were any good, you would be charging more,
right?

GD also said that if you charged in the middle third, again you
would be viewed as midlevel in talent and skills — and prospects
want the best service provider, not a mediocre one.

So your price should be in the upper third of the cost spectrum.

But, if it’s at the extreme top of the upper third, your price is
then so high that you make difficult for clients to give you
repeat business.

Because your prices are so high, clients cringe whenever you
quote a fee … and begin looking for another good professional who
charges perhaps a bit less.

However, if your clients like you and your work, and you charge
in the middle of the top third, they will pay what you ask — and
not run every time you send an estimate to get other quotes.

And if you can get top dollar without losing clients by pricing
in the middle of the top third, there is no reason to lower your
fees to the bottom of the top third, right?

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Kindness does not always pay

October 3rd, 2017 by Bob Bly

I used to think, until recently, it always paid off to be nice to
everyone, or at least was the right thing to do.

But something happened recently that made me think that maybe
this should not apply to everyone in your life.

Here’s the story … and the one category of people I might no
longer apply my “always be nice” rule to:

When our new and expensive central air conditioner seemed to be
underperforming, I called CC, the HVAC company that installed it.

I had bought a premium AC unit, deluxe model, new custom duct
work, full warranty, and covered by 24/7 service.

And I paid a premium price for it.

So when the AC wasn’t working on a hot summer night, I called
CC.

Mike, their on-call emergency tech responded, said he was at
another job, and as soon as he was done with that customer, he
would call me, which he did.

At that point, it was night, the house was more comfortable, and
so I figured I could give Mike a break.

I told Mike to knock off early and go home — provided he or
another CC tech could come first thing in the morning, before the
house heated up again.

He said OK. But when I called CC the next morning, I was told,
“The day service shift is on a big commercial job now, so they
cannot come until late in the afternoon.”

Not a big deal, I know. So I did not make a fuss.

But look: If I had been a bad guy, and insisted Mike come and
work late, my AC would have been fixed on the spot. I would have
gotten what I wanted.

Now, with another hot day, I was going to pay for my courtesy and
kindness by being made to swelter and wait.

Hardly seems fair to me, right?

As a rule, it does us, as businesspeople as well as consumers and
human beings, to be nice rather than nasty or even difficult.

That includes being nice to everyone you deal with professionally
— clients, employees, and vendors like CC.

Well, I feel I have to be nice to clients, and I usually am. Not
difficult, since I like them anyway.

But the day after the CC incident, I was considering that maybe
with vendors and others who sell services to me, being nice all
the time is a little less critical.

I was ultra-nice to Mike at CC. And in return, I was penalized
for it.

So what’s a nice guy to do?

I think I’ll keep being nice, because life is too short to be an
a-hole … although I sometimes am, despite my best efforts to the
contrary.

One more point….

If you are a service provider like CC, and a customer is nice to
you, and cuts you some slack, if anything you should show
appreciation — a short email, a note, or maybe a certificate for
$20 off the next service or product you buy from them, or a
Starbucks gift card.

Right?

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The flaw in the A/B split test challenge

September 29th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the most nonsensical — and fairly common —
conversations in marketing goes something like this….

The ad agency or copywriter submits a promotion.

The client says, “I don’t like it.”

The copywriter gets his dander up, bristles, and says
belligerently:

“It’s very strong. Test it.”

The client refuses.

The copywriter goes on Facebook and says:

“I have a stupid client who refuses to A/B split test.”

Other copywriters chime in and say the client is stupid.

But … in fact, he is not stupid.

A lot of the time, the client is well aware that the A/B split
test is the only legitimate way to test a promotion.

The reason this is true about A/B splits is because only a
marketing test definitively determines whether the copy is strong
based on results, and not on subjective judgment.

But despite this fact, subjective judgment will always be part of
the process of developing marketing campaigns. Reason:

Before your copy can be tested in an A/B split, the team has to
agree on pricing … offer … theme … bonuses … lists … the “big
idea” for the promotion … the headline … the lead … and more.

“Pre-test” and screening of what to ultimately prepare and test
for real with money has to come down to subjective judgment.

Now, you’ve heard the old expression, “Opinions are like
A-holes; everybody has one.”

But of those opinions, the one that counts the most in addition
to the copywriter’s is the client’s, because he is paying the bills
and putting his money on the line.

And having the final say does not make him an A-hole. Far from
it.

Fact of the matter is, you may know more about copywriting than
your client (although in some cases, not).

But the client almost certainly knows more about his business
than you.

Therefore, his instincts and opinions should be considered
carefully, and never ignored or dismissed by you out of hand.

Now, if you feel strongly that nothing beats your copy, and
client criticism annoys you, start your own online information or
merchandise marketing business.

When it’s your business, you can run all your copy exactly as you
wrote it.

But if having the final say is paramount, you should only be an
entrepreneur who writes his own copy.

And not a freelancer writing for copy for clients.

A number of copywriters have made the transition from doing
client work to 100% writing copy for their own products.

Nothing wrong with that. More power to them. I know several, and
a few are almost militant about why theirs is the smarter
copywriting path.

As an ancillary income stream, I also write copy to sell info
products I publish online.

And it by itself generates a six-figure annual income we could
comfortably live on.

But that’s not the way I roll.

Writing copy for clients has pleasures and intellectual
challenges I maintain you simply cannot get from writing only
about your own products.

And as a contract copywriting freelance, I absolutely love the
wide variety of products, services, offers, industries, and
markets I get to write about and for.

It’s more fun than I can shake a stick at.

So overall, no complaints — though on rare occasion I may grumble
a bit.

But for nearly 4 decades, I have been primarily a traditional
copywriter working for clients.

And secondarily an info marketer, book author, consultant, and
speaker.

That’s where I want to be in my copywriting business.

And as I have done what I wanted to, likewise, you should do what
works for you.

As the late, great David Ogilvy said, quoting an old Scottish
proverb:

“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”

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