Archive for the 'Writing' Category

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.

Share

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

Is copywriting the most humbling of professions?

January 20th, 2017 by Bob Bly

It mystifies me how it has come to pass that so many copywriters
have huge egos.

After all, copywriting is one of the most humbling professions I
can think of.

My colleague BC explains it this way:

“So many times I have put together a campaign, launched it, and
sat back and said ‘work, damn it, WORK’ — and it did not. Very
humbling.

“And by the same token, I launched what I thought was watered
down drivel — and saw it pull like gangbusters.”

Any copywriter who says every campaign is a winner and claims he
has never had any losers is either a liar, or putting out very
little work, or not swinging for the fences to beat strong
controls.

Once, I mentioned to a big-name client that I thought their top
go-to copywriter, a famous freelancer, was great.

She snorted derisively and said, “He has more losers for us than
I can count.”

Another big-name client confided in me that a legendary
copywriter they used wrote 7 promotions in a row that bombed for
them.

Once, my client PN called me and said, “You want a laugh?”

On my recommendation, PN had called Mr. X, a famous copywriter,
because PN’s company had way too much work for me to handle
alone.

“I asked the guy what percentage of his promotions were winners,”
PN told me. “You know what he said? 100%! Ha! I sure hung up the
phone fast!”

Another famous copywriter wrote a package for a new client that
was so brilliant and creative, the client began recommending the
writer to all his cronies.

Then weeks passed, until one day, the famous copywriter got a
phone call from the client who said abruptly: “Remember that
package you did for me? Total bomb. Didn’t work.”

The copywriter was stunned … and the referrals all dried up.

By the way, all of the copywriters I am talking about here are
actually tops in the field.

The point is that even the best copywriters don’t write winners
every time.

Like Mr. X, any copywriter who says every single one of his
promotions is a home run is a liar.

And given that even the best copywriters write packages that
bomb, it is a mystery to me why so many copywriters out there
have huge egos.

If anything, being a copywriter is a humbling profession.

One day you can be king of the world, and the next week eating
humble pie.

And that’s the way it is, despite all the bragging you read by
copywriters on Facebook and elsewhere to the contrary.

Share

Category: Writing | No Comments »

Enthusiasm: the key to great writing

January 10th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the factors that can elevate your writing to the next
level of effectiveness and power is enthusiasm.

By that I mean enthusiasm both for the subject matter as well as
the particular piece you are writing, whether it’s an essay,
article, book, ad, blog post, or sales letter.

When you are enthusiastic about what you are writing, that
excitement and caring will shine through in your words.

But some writers tell me that mustering enthusiasm is a problem,
because they don’t think what they are writing is unique,
valuable, or important.

A sales trainer writing a book on selling so he could get more
speaking gigs said to me, “There are already so many books on
selling, I question why I am even bothering to produce one more.”

And I see his point.

A copywriter working on a promotion for a prostate supplement
told me, “There are so many products in this category, and they
all seem to have the same ingredients — plus, not having prostate
problems myself, I can’t say from personal experience that this
one actually works.”

Well, the great novelist John Steinbeck had a simple solution to
putting enthusiasm into your writing even in situations such as
these.

He said: “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the
most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this
illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

For instance, I am not a truck mechanic, so I am never going to
use the tools for fleet maintenance my client sells. I wouldn’t
even know how.

But DS, my client, loves what he sells. Tools and truck
maintenance are his passion. He communicates that love to me when
I interview him, and so I am able to muster what I call
“temporary enthusiasm.”

You see, you do not have to love everything you are writing
about. What you DO have to do is become excited and jazzed about
it during the weeks or months you are writing about it. I call
this “temporary enthusiasm.”

And that you can do. I do it all the time. You can too.

Now, there are two additional methods in addition to “temporary
enthusiasm” that can help you have a more positive attitude
toward your writing assignments.

The first is to gravitate toward clients whose products or
industries you absolutely love, or if not love, at least really
like or are interested in.

For instance, one of my copywriting clients is a major science
fiction publisher. I love SF (I am a published science fiction
writer), so doing their work is pure joy for me.

Another makes chemical agents for fire suppression. While I don’t
“love” fire suppression, I am a chemical engineer, and I DO love
writing about interesting technology — and theirs is indeed
fascinating.

The second technique for avoiding lack of enthusiasm in your
writing is to turn down projects in which you have zero interest
if not outright disdain for.

In 1982, the first year of my freelance copywriting career, when
things were lean, a mainstream book publisher asked me to write 5
direct mail packages, one each for a different book.

Thrilled to get the call, I asked him the subject matter.

When he replied that it was hunting, I was crestfallen, and —
painfully, because I needed the work, the portfolio samples, and
the money — I turned it down.

Why? Because I love animals, and knew I could not write with
enthusiasm or credibility about the joy of killing them —
something I would never do.

The client was actually offended, because he thought I was saying
hunting is wrong or evil.

(Quickest way in the world to start an argument: tell a hunter
you think hunting is wrong. He will immediately say: “You eat
meat, right?”)

I was not saying that hunting was immoral. If people want to
hunt, they have the legal right to do so. I just don’t understand
why they would do it … or how they could get pleasure out of it.

Some say, “Well, I like to be out in the woods and nature.” I
say, “So go out and enjoy nature — but don’t kill it.”

I simply don’t like the idea of hunting, and while I am not doing
anything to stop it, I certainly am not going to promote it,
either.

Share

Category: Writing | 1 Comment »

Copywriting: the good, the bad, and the ugly

January 6th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Is freelance copywriting being oversold as a business
opportunity, with those who write about it looking through
rose-colored glasses?

Well, in some ways yes. But so is just about every business
opportunity and profession under the sun.

One of the problems with business opportunities in general
and freelance copywriting in particular is you always hear the
great success stories … but no one is forthcoming about the
bad stuff that happens.

Nothing in this life is all sunshine and flowers. Every job,
career, business opportunity, or small business has its pros and
cons.

Freelance copywriting is no exception. There are a lot of good
things. But also some bad things.

The good far outnumber the bad; if that were not the case, I
wouldn’t still be a freelance copywriter after nearly 4 decades
in the business.

But almost everyone tells you only about the good stuff. And only
a few willingly tell the total truth — the bad along with the good.

One famous copywriter recently wrote to me and said:

“I’ll tell you a story about the week between Christmas and New
Year’s that shows what life is like for a freelance copywriter
like myself!

“This happened years ago. I just finished a magalog for one of
the big financial publishers a few days before Christmas.

“They got back to me on the day before Christmas and said it
needed a massive rewrite. So I spent that whole week between
Christmas and New Year’s working 12-hour days trying to rewrite
the whole thing from scratch.

“Then on December 31st, they called me–before I’d even submitted
the revised copy–and said, ‘Look, we’ve decided this is so far
off base, we’d rather pay you the fee and kill it.’ The worst
part was knowing I could’ve spent that week relaxing!”

The fact is, almost anything you can do for a living in this
world has both pros and cons.

Freelance copywriting is no exception.

And that’s the way it is.

Share

Category: Writing | 3 Comments »

Is simple writing the best writing?

December 20th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RS, an ad agency creative director, wrote the following in a
recent article on branding:

“Today, the emerging big brands among us are those that are
bringing the future to fruition — changing how we exist,
interact, and sustain our lives. They’re making social networks,
self-driving cars, hoverboards, and holograms.

“And most interesting of all, this new class of brand is led by a
visionary founder with a particular philosophy, not by a
corporate entity acting out a product roadmap against established
brand guidelines and architecture.

“People like Elon Musk, Evan Spiegel, and Mark Zuckerberg are
pursuing innovation across product and business lines that
sometimes don’t organize quite as neatly under a parent company
as the businesses of yesteryear had, and instead are branded in
siloes.”

Is this good writing?

I would bet that when RS read his draft, he was glowing with
pride at his highfalutin, breathless prose.

But in my forthcoming book on writing, I will use it as an
example of how NOT to write … and in my writing seminars my
students call this one, “What did he say?”

To me, it stinks, because RS violates an important rule of good
writing:

“Write to express — not to impress.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald mocked Hemingway for Ernie’s simple, basic
vocabulary and plain, unadorned style.

“He thinks I don’t know the ten dollar words,” Hemingway said of
Fitzgerald’s criticism. “I do. I just prefer the $1 words
instead.”

When I first started teaching business and technical writing
seminars for corporate clients, I would occasionally have an
attendee who, when I said simple and plain writing is best,
argued with me.

They said they had been taught all their life to write in a
formal, corporate style — and the conversational style I was
teaching in the class was wrong and inappropriate for business.

I would show these naysayers the Flesch readability test; they
usually remained unpersuaded.

But when I got into direct response copywriting, I finally had
objective proof — not just subjective opinion — to support my
assertion that simple writing is the best writing … at least when
it comes to communication.

And the proof is this: almost without exception, virtually every
successful direct response promotion is written in clear,
concise, conversational copy.

It’s the style used by John Forde … Clayton Makepeace … Richard
Armstrong … Ivan Levison … Paul Hollingshead … Steve Slaunwhite …
and just about every top six- and seven-figure copywriter I know.

Why? Because it is plain English that virtually always gets the
best response — proving that when it comes to communicating,
simple writing is the best writing.

And it’s not just my personal opinion that clear writing trumps
ornate writing, and that plain language communicates more
effectively than big words.

It’s a tested fact.

Share

Category: Writing | 1 Comment »

What to do when your client wants more than just the copy

December 9th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes, “I am finding clients who say they want a
copywriter, and then ask for additional services such as design
and web development, including programming. How do you sell them
on just the writing aspect that they need first and foremost?”

I do three simple things that solve the problem easily and
neatly.

First, I send them a link to my FAQ page where it states the
following:

“Q: What if I need graphics, not just the copy? Do you work with
an artist?”

“A: I work with the best direct-mail artists and web designers in
the world, but it’s not a package deal. After you hire me, I’ll
give you some recommendations on the right artist for your job
and you can come to terms with him or her on your own. I can also
work with your artist or web developer, if you prefer. Either way
is fine with me.”

I stole this language from Richard Armstrong. We are in essence
saying, “We can get you the other parts of the project you need,
but we don’t act as an ad agency or manage the project for you.”

Second, I make it easy for the client to find vendors who can
provide whatever they need that I don’t do — by posting a vendor
directory page on my site:

http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/vendors.php

When a client asks “What will a mailing list or design for my web
site cost?” I don’t go out and get a quote from the vendor. I
point the client to the vendor’s page link above — and tell them
they have to contact the vendor directly to get the pricing.

Third, after all this, there will still be a few clients who will
only hire you to write their copy if you also act as a full-service
agency and deliver the entire package.

In such situations, you can say one of two things: Yes. Or no.

If you are in such demand as a copywriter that you have many more
potential clients than you can handle, then sticking by your
guns, saying you write copy only, and refusing to provide full
agency services is easy.

That’s the option I have chosen: fill my lead pipeline to
overflowing so I only have to take the jobs I want. And projects
where the client wants me to “do the whole thing” are jobs I do
not want. So I turn them down.

On the other hand, if you are hungry and need the work, turning
away good assignments from clients who demand a turnkey service
is more difficult, and you may choose to give them what they
want. It’s up to you.

Share

Category: Writing | No Comments »

Why I do not subcontract

November 25th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RT, a potential copywriting client, recently asked me:

“Bob, if I hire you, do you farm out the work to a junior
copywriter, or do you write the copy yourself?”

I directed RT to my home page at www.bly.com and told him to
scroll to the bottom. There, it states:

“Unlike many top direct response copywriters today, Bob Bly does
not hire junior copywriters to work on your promotions. If you
hire Bob, he writes every word himself — an advantage available
from no other source.”

I didn’t used to have this on my home page years ago, because
back then the idea that the copywriter you hired would fob off
the job to someone else was unheard of.

But things have changed in recent years.

And now, among senior copywriters, it’s commonplace.

But I have never done it. And I never will.

I figure if a client pays my fees, which are not astronomical but
also not cheap, he should get me.

If you are a client and you are going to use a “cheap” newbie
copywriter, why not hire him directly?

I told RT what I tell all my clients and prospects:

“When you hire me, I write every word. And I never subcontract
your copy or any portion of it to other writers.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to subcontract work out to other
vendors. It’s done all the time in many field.

I’m not even saying it’s inherently wrong in copywriting.

But I do know the clients who hire me very much care that the
copy is written by me, and not some junior copywriter.

And that’s what they get. Every project. Every time. Me. And no
one else.

Share

Category: Writing | No Comments »

Top 7 Reasons Why Anyone Can Succeed as a ?How-To? Content Writer And Make Money Online

November 4th, 2010 by Bob Bly

Excerpted from my new book, How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit.

1. It?s easy to get started in how-to writing: ?How-to writing provides a quicker, surer entry into publication than many other writing categories. Vast hordes dream of writing the Great
American Novel, but the group of writers who dream of writing the Great American Guide to Growing a Greener Lawn is a bit smaller.?

2. How-to writing pays extremely well: ?Some of the best-selling books of all time are how-to books. If you follow the plan in How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit, I think you can realistically get to the $100,000 to $200,000 a year income level within 12 to 24 months.?

3. You don?t need to be the world?s greatest writer: ?To succeed as a how-to, do-it-yourself, or self-help author, you don?t have to be the next Shakespeare or even the next Stephen King. Can you explain something or teach a skill in a clear, organized, entertaining fashion? Then you can succeed as a how-to writer.?

4. You don?t need to be the leading guru in your field: ?You do not need to be the leading practitioner, scholar, or expert in your field to write a book about it. As noted by author and speaker Fred Gleeck, you only need know more about your subject than 90 percent of the people out there. ?Don?t worry about the other 10 percent; they?re not your market anyway,? says Fred.?

5. Whether you know it or not, you have unique knowledge to share with a paying audience: ?If you think you are not an expert in any subject, I doubt that?s really true. Every person has unique skills, training, and experiences. You are an ?expert? in your life and many of the things that make up your life.?

6. Even when information is free, demand for knowledge is high: ?Even in a world dominated by Google, the wisdom, knowledge, and guidance people are seeking are in short supply. As librarian Richard Yates once observed, ?We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.? As a result, the public?s appetite for how-to material is insatiable, and?despite the Internet user?s mantra that ?information should be free??readers eagerly open their wallets to obtain it.?

7. The guided step-by-step plan in How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit shows you everything you need to do to be a success: ?By following the comprehensive plan laid out in this book, you can earn a comfortable six-figure annual income from your writing. And you can do it when and where you want, while writing what interests and pleases you. You can work at home?no boss, no commute, no suit and tie, no alarm clock.?

For more information visit:

www.bly.com/simpleinfo

Share

Category: Online Marketing, Writing, Writing and the Internet | 78 Comments »