Archive for the 'Writing' Category

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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The 80/20 formula for freelance writing success

May 26th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I hear from hundreds of freelance writers each year, many of whom
are not entirely happy with their careers.

And they fall into two distinct groups:

>> The first group is freelancers who are primarily pursuing
their literary or journalistic calling.

They mostly write plays, poems, movies, novels, nonfiction books,
articles, essays, short stories, screenplays, and whatever else they
are passionate about.

They love what they do. And find it fulfilling.

Only problem is: most writers in this first group tell me they
are hardly making any money … and are barely getting by.

>> The second group is freelance writers who pursue high-paying
commercial projects.

These assignments include technical articles for scientific and
medical journals … white papers … long-form direct response sales
letters … video sales letters … web sites … speeches … and many
other lucrative gigs.

Most of the writers in this group who reveal their income to me
say they are earning $100,000 to $200,000 a year or more.

As a result, they can afford to live in a nice house in a good
neighborhood … pay tuition for their kids at Ivy League colleges
… take great vacations at five-star resorts … drive late-model
luxury cars … and build a big enough IRA to retire secure for
life.

Only problem is: many tell me that, while this commercial writing
pays the bills, it doesn’t fulfill them artistically.

The solution for both groups is simple. I call it “the 80/20
formula for freelance writing success.”

The formula says you spend 80% or so of your time on high-paying
projects for commercial clients — and the other 20% on your
literary, journalistic, and artistic writings.

By spending 80% of your time on high-profit writing, you earn
enough money to provide well for your family — while remaining
freelance and avoiding having to work at a 9-to-5 job for someone
else.

But by spending the other 20% of your time writing for fun and
artistic fulfillment, you also get to write the things that
matter most to you.

And because of your cash flow from the high-paying 80% of your
work, you don’t even need to make a dime from your more literary
endeavors — although for some of us it does in fact generate
additional, and in some cases even significant, cash flow.

By the way, the magic of the formula is that you spend some time
writing what others will pay you a lot of money to write … and
some time writing things for your own pleasure, self-expression,
and amusement — whether they pay well, poorly, or not at all.

There is no magic, however, about the actual ratio. You can
adjust it to fit your temperament and needs. For instance, I do
90/10, not 80/20, and that works for me.

Full disclosure: the great advantage I have is that I actually
love writing the high-profit stuff — in my case, copy.

Some writers do. Others not so much. But the 80/20 formula works
in either case. Try it!

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Is great research really necessary to write great copy?

May 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JL writes:

“Bob, I was hoping that you could do a few posts about research.

“How much time do you spend just on product research for a
copywriting job?

“Where do you start and how do you know when you are finished?”

Well, as to the first question, I would say that of the total
time I spend on a copywriting project, 25% to 40% is devoted to
research.

By “research” I mean:

–Reading the background material the client provides.
–Reading the additional research I request from my freelance
online researcher.
–Doing additional research on my own.

I start by reading everything the client gives me, and then going
on to supplement that with additional research by me and my
researcher.

The research materials I study for a copywriting project
generally cover three areas:

1–Information about the product.
2–Information about the market.
3–Promotions for competing products.

As to JL’s second question, I created this short video to give you
as precise an answer as to when you know you are finished:

I’ve already said where I start — with the background materials
the client has provided.

And as for when to start, I would say: start within 24 hours of
getting the assignment.

Reason: If you put off research, you may find that when the
deadline is around the corner, then it’s too late.

So you don’t have enough time to do a proper research job and
still get A-level copy written on time.

The late, great David Ogilvy said, “Advertising people who ignore
research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy
signals.”

One more thing….

My client AS has said to me repeatedly, “To get a big idea for a
winning promotion, you have to do research until you find the
core idea in the research materials.”

I would add that sometimes the great promo idea leaps out at you
and strikes like a bolt of lightning the instant you come across
it.

Other times, it doesn’t come easily. You have to dig and dig. But
you almost always find something good eventually in the research.
And if you are lucky, you often find something great.

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