Archive for the 'Writing' Category

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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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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7 ways to double your writing output and income

August 22nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

As a practitioner of a Protestant work ethic and semi-workaholic
writer, I have long had a fascination with prolific authors.

Isaac Asimov, my writing role model, wrote and talked about his
prolificity frequently, and wrote more than 500 books.

Asimov worked 7 days a week. He thought the U.S. Postal Service
were slackers because they would not deliver mail on Sunday.

When Barbara Walters asked Asimov what he would do if he found
out he had only 6 months to live, he replied without missing a
beat: “I’d type faster.” My kind of guy!

But not many people know that Asimov’s friend and fellow SF
author, Robert Silverberg — who never talked about his output —
was even more prolific.

According to my research, Bob Silverberg has written under his
own name and pseudonyms 966 books.

RL Stine is also impressive at 422 books — and for a time was
writing a new Goosebumps every 2 weeks.

Barbara Cartland wrote over 700 romance novels, with total sales
of more than a billion copies.

The Guinness Book of World Records says the most published works
(books, articles, stories) by one author is 1,084.

That honor belongs to L. Ron Hubbard. His first work was
published in February 1934 and the last in March 2006.

With 19 New York Times best-sellers and more than 350 million
copies of his works in circulation, L. Ron Hubbard is one of the
most widely read authors in literary history. He also holds
Guinness world records as the most translated author and for the
most audiobooks.

English writer Charles Hamilton wrote 100 million words during
his lifetime, published mainly as stories in magazines — the
equivalent of 1,200 average-length novels.

For many writers, writing faster and increasing their output of
saleable material is one of the few ways they can make more
money.

All else being equal, if you write twice as fast, you produce
twice as much.

And if you sell twice as much writing, you double your writing
income, right?

That means if you are making $50,000 as a freelance writer now,
boosting your productivity and doubling your output can take you
to $100,000 a year.

And I’m sure you could use an extra 50K in annual income, right?
I know I could!

So here are a few tips to help you increase your writing
productivity and production:

1–Make being prolific a goal in and of itself. Prolific writers
want to be prolific and take pride in doing so.

2–You must practice and get good so when you double your speed
and output, you do not sacrifice quality. Not one iota.

3–Work longer hours. The great Claude Hopkins, who was the
highest-paid copywriter of his era, said he made more money than
other copywriters because he worked more hours.

4–Love your work. The most prolific writers are so productive
because they absolutely love writing. Even the physical process
of keyboarding and watching the words appear on the screen, as I
am doing right now.

5–Always have multiple writing projects in the hopper. That way,
when you start to run out of steam on project A you simply put it
aside and pick up on project B. So you never feel blocked or
burned out.

6–Use the right keyboard and writing instrument. As a high-speed
touch typist, I am only productive on a desktop PC with a
typewriter-style keyboard with raised keys. I am slow as molasses
on a laptop with flat keys.

7–Devote your life to writing. The two activities I spend the
most time on in my waking hours are writing and reading. Those
are the only things I love to do. Yes, there are many things I
like to do. But love to do? That’s it.

Having just now handed in my 94th book to my publisher, I am a
slacker and a piker compared to the authors I have listed above.

But to be fair, writing books was their full-time job. Mine are
writing copy for my clients and running a small internet
marketing business. Writing books is my avocation.

And given that it is a sideline, on which I spend only an hour or
two a day if that, I am okay with not being in their league.

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Advice for aspiring novelists from a very successful one

August 4th, 2017 by Bob Bly

My friend Hunter Shea is a successful and prolific horror writer.

He is the author of more than 17 published novels including “The
Jersey Devil” (Pinnacle), “They Rise” (Severed Press), and “We
Are Always Watching” (Sinister Grin).

Anyway, Hunter recently told me an interesting story with a
lesson for writers that I want to share with you.

Take it away Mr. Shea….

“I attended only one writer’s conference in my life. It was close
to home in New York City, held in a college during the semester
break.

“Following my printed schedule, I went to a classroom to listen
to a famous thriller author talk about his path to publication.

“It was a packed room, so I had to take a seat in the back. I
noticed an old man sitting next to me.

“He leaned over and whispered, ‘You spend a lot of money on this,
kid?’

“‘You could say that.’ I’d spent nine hundred dollars I didn’t
have at the time.

“‘You see all these people?’ he said, pointing at the back of
everyone’s heads.

“‘Yeah.

“‘None of them will ever be writers. Come back here in ten years
and you’ll see the same faces.’

“‘Do me a favor. Hold onto your money. You want to be a writer?’

“I nodded, hoping the guy would quiet down once the author
started talking.

“‘Then go home and do two things. Read a ton. Then write a ton.
That’s all there is to it.’

“I quietly thanked him for the advice, enjoyed the talk by the
thriller author, and attended as many sessions that morning as I
could.

“Imagine my surprise when I saw that old man during the lunch
event stride up to the podium when he was introduced as the key
speaker for the day.

“That man was Elmore Leonard.

“Boom! I took his advice, and never again spent a dime on a
writing conference.

“Elmore Leonard saved me enough money over the years to buy a
brand new car. I wish he were alive so I could thank him
properly.

“If you’re going to spend your money, spend it on books to read.”

Thanks, Hunter!

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Writers, money, and the 9-to-5 grind

July 28th, 2017 by Bob Bly

As I turn 60, I look back and recall how different young writers were in the 70s when I started submitting my stories to magazines for publication — as compared with the new money-focused young wordsmiths today.

Back then, there was some odd notion that many writers had about
it being somehow romantic, cool, and even hip to be struggling in
poverty and obscurity …

… eating Kraft mac and cheese for dinner every night — and being
the proverbial writer “starving in a garret.”

The garret for me being my crappy, tiny, walk-up tenement studio
apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The goals were art, publication, literature, fame, and the
best-seller list first … and after that, then yes, money.

But for today’s writers, who aspire to getting rich in mere weeks
by selling information online rather than a novel to
HarperCollins (a publisher to whom I sold two paperback books on
Star Trek), money is the main thing, front and center …

… as is evidenced by the astounding popularity of all the
high-priced “make a million dollars with information marketing
online” programs being sold today.

In my day, you learned your craft in copywriting by reading used
copies of Ogilvy and Caples books you bought for a dollar at the
Strand.

Now people of all ages, from all walks of life, hand over their
credit card to buy training in info marketing and copywriting for
thousands of dollars a pop … without batting an eyelash.

But back in the day, the brighter writers were too smart to buy
into the “starving artist” mentality that many others embraced.

In his book Factotum, Charles Bukowski, who was poor for a lot of
his life, wrote:

“Starvation, unfortunately didn’t improve art … the myth of the
starving artist was a hoax.

“A man’s art was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much
better after eating a porterhouse steak than he could after
eating a nickel candy bar.”

How true!

And, like J. Jonah Jameson in the first Spiderman movie — who
tells Peter Parker, “Freelance is the ticket” —

–Bukowski, like so many other writers, was an advocate of
freelancing … and abhorred 9 to 5 jobs (which he was forced to
take for decades until he finally started making good money as a
freelance novelist and poet).

Bukoswki in Factotum again:

“How in hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30am by an
alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, piss, brush
teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where
essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were
asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

I get this: when I had a 9 to 5 corporate job, I hated having to
set and waking up to an alarm, perform morning ablutions, put on
a suit and tie, and commute to be at work by 8 or 9am.

Ironically, as a freelancer, I get up every morning at 6am —
without an alarm clock — and have done so for decades.

Within 3 minutes of getting up each morning, I walk down a flight
of steps to my home office, turn on the PC, and start writing
immediately.

No need to waste valuable time making sure I am clean shaven, my
shirt freshly laundered and ironed, my shoes shined, my pie-hole
rinsed with mouthwash, and my hair neatly combed — as I did in my
days as an employee in corporate America.

I arise naturally, bright and bushy tailed, eager to dive into
the day, because I love freelance writing.

Always have. And hope, think, and am pretty confident I always
will.

We’ll see.

But now in my 38th year of being a writer — so far, so good.

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Should you ever work on spec?

July 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC writes:

“In my many years as a freelance copywriter, occasionally a
potential client has asked me to write a free ‘test piece.’

“I’ve always refused but today the marketing director of a huge
European logistics company contacted me with this request:

“‘I am evaluating external support for various projects. One such
project is for small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and
logistics.

“‘Can you give me some draft ideas of content (blogs, white
papers, etc.) that would appeal to SMEs who are looking to
broaden their horizons and get more involved in international
trade?'”

“So he wants free editorial consultancy work with no guarantee of
a contract or payment, and of course he could just take my best
ideas!

“This is a variation of the infamous free test piece and it shows
how careful we must be about speculative projects.

“I’m sending you this story partly to help other freelancers and
I hope it’s useful in your excellent newsletter.”

I agree with DC: Avoid working “on spec” — writing for a
potential client with no promise of getting paid.

In spec work, if the client likes what you do and decides to use
it, they pay you something.

If they don’t like it, the project is over — and you don’t get a
dime for your time and effort.

The idea of working on spec to me is patently ridiculous and
grossly offensive.

Try driving to your local gas station today and telling the
attendant: “Fill my car with gas, and if it runs well, I will pay
you for it … but if not, I owe you nothing.”

Order a meal at a local restaurant and say to the waiter: “Bring
my steak and baked potato; if I like it, I’ll pay the bill; if
not, I won’t.”

So if someone asks you, “Write my ad for free, and I will pay for
it only if I like and use it; if not, I won’t” — well, what
writer in his right mind would agree to that?

Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any
reason other than money.”

So if you write on spec for a potential copywriting client, you
are the blockhead.

And when you don’t get paid, you have no one to blame but
yourself.

After all, you asked for it.

Are there ever any exceptions to the no-spec-work rule?

Answer: Precious few.

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The rise of the non-book

July 7th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I call it “the rise of the non-book.”

I’m talking about the increasing number of extremely short Kindle
e-books being published and sold on Amazon.

My FB friend TJ describes Kindle as a place “where anyone can
string 10,000 words together, make a cover, call it a book, and
present it to the world.”

Back in the day, when I wrote my first book in 1981, you had to
write an actual book to become a “real” author.

For a 200-page trade paperback or hardcover book, that meant
writing, on average, about 80,000 words.

Not a monumental task, but quite a bit of work.

Among my 93 published books (plus two more under contract and
being written by me even as you read this email), most are around
200 pages.

Yes, a few are only around 100 pages. And I have written half a
dozen published children’s books which are even shorter.

However, these short ones balance out with several adult
nonfiction titles that are over 300 pages … and one that is a
whopping 800 pages — “The Advertising Manager’s Handbook,”
published by Prentice-Hall.

But today, as TJ points out, you can write a short document —
just 10,000 words, 5,000 words, or even less — slap a nice cover
on it, create a Kindle e-book, and sell it online.

When people see it on Amazon, most don’t realize it is a
glorified report or article — and they mistake it for the author
having written a real full-length book.

To self-promoters who want to inflate their guru status,
publishing a series of short pieces as individual Kindle e-books
is a quick and easy way to make yourself look like a more
prolific book author than you really are.

But for actual book authors, like me, it devalues your work and
production — because to the untrained eye, it looks like everyone
has written as many books as you have.

This is why I am a fan of paperbound books over Kindle e-books,
and of books sold by mainstream publishing houses vs.
self-published.

Having a paperbound book with a major publisher doesn’t guarantee
quality.

But at least the book has been vetted at several levels beyond
the author himself — including the literary agent, publishing
house editorial committee (they make the decision whether to buy
and publish your book), book editor, copy editor, and
proofreader.

I know many of you today are self-publishing and Kindle fanatics.

But to borrow phrasing from “Make Mine Marvel” Stan Lee, “Make
mine McGraw-Hill (or Macmillan, or Morrow.)”

You get the idea.

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Avoid writing boring copy or being a bored copywriter

June 20th, 2017 by Bob Bly

“There are a lot of sins in life,” Senator Lindsey Graham was
quoted as saying in New York magazine (3/5/17, p. 24). “But the
one that’s intolerable is being bored. I hate boring.”

The problem with saying that something is “boring,” however, is
that the statement is meaningless unless you ask: “Boring to
WHOM?”

For instance, I recently had the assignment of writing, for a
chemical company, a white paper on “clean agent fire suppression
systems for data centers.”

While this topic would put the majority of copywriters I know
into a coma, for me, being a chemical engineer and former
chemistry major, it was absolutely fascinating — and pure joy.

Especially in sales copy, being boring is an absolute sin and a
sure road to lack of interest and dismal response rates.

As David Ogilvy once observed, “You cannot sell the consumer by
boring her to death.”

So … how do you avoid being bored with your copywriting projects
as well as boring prospects with the copy you write?

Making sure the copy you write is not boring is a five-step
process:

>> Step one is to, as much as is humanly possible, only take on
assignments that — if they don’t absolutely fascinate you — at
least are interesting to you.

That way, you don’t have to fake enthusiasm, because you will
enjoy learning about that product and selling it to others.

>> Step two is to dig into the topic to find the area of it with
the greatest interest to the reader.

One high-tech copywriter told me, “The most fascinating thing
about technology is that people invented it.”

Joseph Kelly, a former speechwriter for Eisenhower, said: “There
is a kernel of interest in everything man or God made.”

Your job is to find that kernel. In copy, it must either arouse
curiosity, lure the prospect into reading the copy, or make her
want to own the product being advertised.

>> Step three is to do the hard work of research.

Most copywriters I know enjoy learning, so the research is often
fun and intellectually stimulating.

Research is important because, in copy, specifics sell.
Generalities bore the reader and cause her to quickly lose
interest and click away.

But wait. There are two additional steps that can help ensure you
are never bored as a copywriter….

>> Step four: Always have multiple writing projects.

Isaac Asimov said the secret to his great writing productivity
was having many projects, so when he got bored or tired or just
felt he could not go further with his book that day…

…he switched to his columns and articles on other topics, which
kept him fresh and interested.

>> Step five: Write things other than copy.

My 80/20 rule for copywriters is to spend 80% of your time
writing copy for clients.

This is the key to a six-figure annual income year after year.

But to vary things up, spend 20% of your time with non-copy
writing projects that are purely yours.

Mark Ford writes poetry, short stories, and movie scripts.

The late Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote and produced grade B horror
movies.

I write short stories and had a book of them come out from Quill
Driver Books last year:

http://amzn.to/2r7qtyd

I have had a blast on writing nonfiction books on everything
from sex and Star Trek, to careers and satire.

I also did cartoons and wrote the occasional newspaper or
magazine article, published in periodicals ranging from
Cosmopolitan to the Baltimore City Paper.

This keeps me fresh and ensures I am virtually never bored, except
by paperwork, which I loathe.

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