Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Should you “audition” for copywriting work?

December 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, I wrote an essay on why I am firmly against writing
on spec.

My subscriber KR, an experienced and successful freelance
copywriter, responded:

“Bob, regarding spec work: Yes, if someone asked me to write
something on spec, I would run away.

“But sometimes if I’m pitching a very profitable-looking project,
and I see that I can add a lot of value, I’ll tell them that I’ll
write a few paragraphs to give them a feel for what they’ll get.

“In other words, I VOLUNTEER to spec a little bit — and I can
honestly say, I don’t remember anybody ever turning me down after
they get a look at what I can do for them.

“It only takes me a couple of minutes to do a little writing, and
it pays off. I think the key is that I am confidently suggesting it; not
proving myself to a doubting Thomas.

“Of course, I would not recommend this to novices, but it works
for me.”

Well, as much as I like and respect KR, I am totally opposed to
what he suggests here — which is essentially “auditioning” for a
copywriting project by doing some spec writing — for 3 reasons.

>> First, there is a rule in selling that says, “Never be the
dancing monkey.”

The dancing monkey is desperate.

He needs or wants the work.

So to get it, he will do or say whatever the prospect asks him to
do or say.

The problem is, some prospects lose respect for dancing monkeys;
they feel the monkey is perhaps a tad TOO eager — and therefore
turn away and do not hire him.

>> Second, despite KR’s insistence that “it only takes a couple
of minutes,” my experience is that almost NOTHING takes “only a
couple of minutes.”

Let me ask you: How often have you estimated a certain number of
hours to do a project … and then, well into that allotted time and not
nearly done, realize you have once again badly underestimated how
long it will really take?

We usually underestimate the numbers of hours a given task will
take and only rarely overestimate the time required.

Also, let’s say KR delivers his spec work in a flash.

That’s also a problem, because many people believe that it is
axiomatic that the quality of a piece of writing is directly
proportional to the amount of time it took to write … even though
that is often NOT the case.

Therefore, if you deliver your little spec audition pronto, the
prospect will either think it can’t be any good, because you did
it so fast.

Or, he will believe that your price for his project is too high,
because after all, look how little time it took for you to write
the first part of it, right?

>> Third, when you dash off a quick spec writing sample as your
“audition,” you are not doing the extensive groundwork and
research required to write great copy.

For me, that research usually accounts for 25% to 40% of the
total labor involved in a copywriting project.

And that research is all done before I write word one of the
copy.

So to write and submit headlines and leads before doing my due
diligence is shortchanging the client and delivering copy to him that
is not half as good as it could be — which in turn makes you look
half as good as you are.

Also, offering to write a free sample on spec says to the client
that you are not busy, and you need the job.

And clients prefer hiring vendors who seem in-demand and
successful, and not so desperate or needy that they work on spec.

After all, if you already have a full dance card, why would you
give away what you sell?

That being said, KR insists that spec auditions work for him.

And since I know him to be an honest man, it therefore must work
for him.

But it would never work for me.

I doubt it would work for most people.

And if anything, it has the potential to unsell you more than
sell you, for the 3 reasons just given.

So I adamantly advise against auditioning for a copywriting
client with even a short spec submission — despite KR’s advice to
the contrary.

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Have video and the web rendered copy obsolete?

December 1st, 2017 by Bob Bly

When I was just starting out in the corporate world in the late
70s, I gave one of my product managers the first draft of a
brochure I had written for his product, a complex radar system.

As he read it, he smiled: “You know, no one reads the copy
anymore.”

I smiled back: “In that case, why not just print the brochure
with just pictures?”

He was not amused.

And so within a year, I left for another job — this one with an
industrial manufacturer where the product managers thought good
copy was key in making the sale.

Yet, when the radar brochure was in fact published, it was of
course filled with many words describing the product, the
technology, and the features in great detail.

As for the idea that one picture is worth a thousand words,
that’s debatable.

But one thing we do know is that our visuals communicate more
clearly and effectively when they have captions.

The fact is that many pictures, though convincing, they are much
better understood by the readers when there is a caption to
explain what the person is looking at.

Also, no airport is going to invest a huge sum of money to buy a
radar upon which air traffic safety is absolutely dependent
without learning everything they can about it — and you can only
communicate that with lots and lots of words.

I stick by what I said to my radar product manager, and ask the
same question of the “no one reads” believers in marketing today.

Namely, if no one reads the copy, why do you agonize over every
word in the approval process?

In his book “The View from the Cheap Seats,” Neil Gaiman
explains:

“There were noises made a few years ago about the idea that we
were living in a post-literate world in which the ability to make
sense out of written words was somehow redundant.

“But these days, those noises are gone [and] words are more
important than they ever were.

“We navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto
the web, we need to follow, to comprehend what we’re reading.

“People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas.”

When I wrote copy for FDA-approved medical devices aimed at
doctors, my client said, “Doctors are busy and do not have time
to read.”

But a person who does not read cannot graduate medical school and
get an MD. And a doctor who does not read cannot keep up with the
many medical journals in his field.

So the idea that MDs do not read is patently absurd.

I have interviewed many medical doctors for copywriting projects
— and most were absolutely information junkies when it came to
learning about medicine.

In consumer direct marketing, we also hear “people do not read
anymore.”

What marketers do not realize is that the people who do not read
are not your prospects — not if you sell business-to-business,
publishing, or direct response offers.

Buyers read copy, and as a rule the more of your copy they read,
the more likely they are to buy.

These days, I write mostly for clients who are in direct response,
health, financial, high-tech, industrial, and business-to-business
marketing.

In other words, clients for whom the words in the copy matter.

There are other clients who place minimal value on copy, and
focus instead on pictures, video, or other bright shiny objects.

They are not a good fit for me, and I assiduously avoid them.

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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 | 15 Comments »

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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