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Archive for April, 2013

Accelerate your success with focus

April 29th, 2013 by Bob Bly

The other day subscriber LG wrote to me to tell me that the
Kindle version of my book “The Copywriter’s Handbook” (Henry
Holt) displayed some odd symbols on some of the pages.

Though I thanked him, the truth is: I don’t care and, not being
the publisher, I can’t do anything about it.

In fact, I was unaware that there was a Kindle version of this

Does this fact – and my lack of interest — shock you?

The reason I don’t care is: bandwidth and focus.

While an author with one or two books may agonize over every
screen of the Kindle version of his book, I have 80 published
books. And I don’t have time to proof the Kindle version of even
one of them, let alone all of them.

Also, I have a full load of copywriting assignments, and my
copywriting clients are my #1 business priority – and serving
them takes most of my time.

It comes down to bandwidth: I have a finite amount of time and
energy, and therefore I can only attend to a limited number of

And it also comes down to focus: I have to set priorities, which
means focusing on only the most important tasks – and letting
the others go.

I must do this if I am to be successful in my copywriting
business, which is of prime importance to me.

I find almost universally that people who have not achieved the
level of success they desire lack focus: they feel they have to
pay attention to everything, no matter how small or trivial –
even though doing so can seriously impede the achievement of
your goals.

For example, there is a small group of people who scan the
dozens of articles on my web site and seem to take great delight
in finding and pointing out a typo to me. I wonder why they are
doing this instead of perfecting their own web site. Do they not
value their time?

Here are my recommendations for accelerating your progress
toward your goals:

1-Don’t waste your time on unimportant, trivial things.

2-Focus on tasks that are important and contribute to your

3-Treasure your time like, as Dan Kennedy says, the gold in Fort

4-Get busy. Most successful people I know are busy.

5-Work hard. Whoever said “work smart, not hard,” was wrong.
Successful people work smart and hard.

6-Focus on what you do best. Farm out everything else.

7-Don’t feel you have to do something just because someone asks
you. Learn to say no.

8-Set priorities, because your bandwidth, like everyone else’s,
is limited.

9-Become obsessed with ROTI – return on time invested – for
every activity you undertake.

10-There is plenty of success advice out there from people who
are not successful. Ignore it.


Category: General | 92 Comments »

The secret of transparency

April 22nd, 2013 by Bob Bly

One of the differences between traditional print writing and
online writing is the principle of “transparency.”

Transparency means telling the reader all sorts of personal
things about the writer.

Why should the reader care about you? I don’t know.

In the good old days, my mentor SR wrote:

“Don’t tell the reader what YOU did or like. Talk about her
fears, her concerns, her desires, her dreams.”

That’s still the primary interest of today’s prospects. But now,
they also want to know more about you.

A possible reason: the Internet is a more interactive, two-way
communication medium than print.

Therefore, your readers have a stronger desire to connect
directly to you, and part of that is to know more about you.

So in the interest of transparency, here are 21 things you may
be curious or interested to know about me – or not (I am not
100% sold on this transparency thing):

1-I am 5’7″ and have a hang-up about being short. If I could
change 7 things in my life, one would be to become six feet tall.

2-I embarrassingly weigh a little over 200 pounds, and have
struggled with a weight problem for the past few years (I used
to be 175).

3-I absolutely love my work, which primarily is freelance
copywriting and secondarily book writing, Internet information
marketing, and speaking. There is nothing on the planet I would
rather do than write, and my favorite writing is copywriting.

4-One of my great writing pleasures is writing essays. Years
ago, Thomas Nelson published a book of my essays, Count Your
Blessings, though it was hardly a best-seller.

5-I am a hardcore introvert. I like being surrounded by my wife
and kids, but other than that, I prefer to spend time alone.
Prolonged exposure to people wears me out.

6-Aside from writing, my favorite activity is reading The New
York Review of Books. I read every word of every article in
every issue, and if you know NYRB, you know that’s a lot of

7-Unlike some entrepreneurs who work 24/7, I seem to need the
normal amount of sleep, although I often have trouble sleeping.
One of my guilty pleasures is I take an hour nap on the
weekends, and it is the best sleep I have. I agree with Fran
Lebowitz, who said, “I love sleep because it is both pleasant
and safe to use.”

8-My favorite movie is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My
favorite comedy film is Rat Race.

9-I also love horror movies, especially the old ones. My
favorite horror movie is Dracula Has Risen from the Grave with
Christopher Lee.

10-My favorite book is Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Of
course, that’s a play. My favorite novel is The Prince of Tides
by Pat Conroy, who is also my favorite writer.

11-I love science fiction and have a web site dedicated to it, My favorite science fiction
novel is Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. I’m also a fan of
Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov, who is my writing role model
for his prolificity and clear prose.

12-Although I am not a hardcore Trekkie in that I do not go to
conventions, I love Star Trek, and I wrote a trivia book for
HarperCollins titled The Ultimate Unauthorized Star Trek Quiz

13–For decades my hobby was keeping fish tanks, both saltwater
and fresh, and at one point I had 4 tanks, including one with a
freshwater stingray and another with an eel. Now I have cut down
to one 92-gallon tank. I also have a web site dedicated to this

14-When I was a kid my passion was science, in particular my
chemistry set. And yes, I have a web site on this too: I have a B.S. in chemical engineering from
the University of Rochester.

15-I used to enjoy playing chess with my kids, but now in their
20s, they have lost interest. So I don’t play anymore. No great
tragedy; I am not that good anyway.

16-When in high school, I played clarinet and baritone sax, and
I was not terrible. I enjoy listening to bari sax, especially
Gerry Mulligan. A big thrill of my life was meeting Benny
Goodman in an elevator at a club where my father had taken me to
listen to the Buddy Rich band.

17-I used to listen to music in the office 12 hours a day. Now I
prefer silence when working. But I still love a wide range of
music: jazz, classical, rock, and pop. I occasionally listen to
and enjoy a Barry Manilow CD. So sue me.

18-I love dogs. Our golden retriever, Princess, died a couple of
months ago and I am still not over it.

19-A few people I find funny: Louis CK, Demetri Martin, Sean
Morey, Ricky Gervais, Seth McFarlane, Ray Romano. I like Chris
Rock but his mouth is too foul for my taste.

20-If I could do one thing over again in life, I would have had
my kids in my 20s instead of my 30s. But my wife had cancer when
we were young, so we couldn’t.

21-My favorite food on the planet is a kosher hot dog. And yes,
I wrote a book about them: All-American Frank: a History of the
Hot Dog (Publish America). Oranges come in second.


Category: General | 81 Comments »

4 steps to a better, happier life

April 8th, 2013 by Bob Bly

Ted Nicholas, Russ Dalbey, and other success writers have in
numerous publications identified – accurately, in my opinion –
the 4 elements needed to attain a happy life:

1-Relationships … you need to have family and friends – people
you love and people you like.

John Donne said “No man is an island.” Even introverts, loners,
and recluses need people in their lives — and interaction with

Having friends not only makes people happy but can even improve
mental health: A study from the Harvard School of Public Health
found that people with the most active social lives had the
slowest rate of memory decline.

I have a few good friends, but I am not very social, and I don’t
see them much. We communicate mainly by phone and e-mail.

My wife and I both feel that our two sons, Alex and Stephen, are
the center of our life.

2-Money … Mark Twain did NOT, as many people believe, say that
money is the root of all evil. What Twain really said was: “Lack
of money is the root of all evil.”

Many people erroneously believe that rich people think of
nothing but money.

The fact is that those who think constantly about money are
those who do not have enough of it. I’ve seen this up close: I
have relatives who are bankrupt, and every discussion comes
around to lack of money and how it hamstrings them in daily life.

Like many people, I grew up without much money. We were not
poor, but many others we knew obviously had more than we did.
But I never had to worry where my next meal would come from –
literally, because my mother is a great cook.

3-Work … next to my family, there is nothing as key to my
happiness than loving the work I do.

In my early life I held corporate jobs. I did not like working
in a corporation, and the days passed with glacial speed.

I have been a full-time freelance copywriter since 1982, and it
is still loads of fun to me every day I do it. What could be
better than that? Conversely, to me there are few things worse
in life than hating your job.

Thomas Carlyle: “Blessed is he who has found his work; let him
ask no other blessedness.”

Noel Coward: “Work is more fun than fun.”

4-Health … it is impossible to fully enjoy life if you are
seriously ill or even sick a lot of the time.

There is more health advice out there today than at any time in
human history. The trick is evaluating the source and knowing
what to listen to.

I have said in other e-mails that if you wake up in the morning,
and you are in good health and have a roof over your head, it’s
a good day.

I know this from having several health scares with my wife,
including the time she was misdiagnosed with stage 4 ovarian
cancer and told (erroneously) that she had only months to live.
Our whole world was destroyed by that one sentence until, many
weeks later, we found out she was OK.

I find that enjoying the 4 conditions listed above is not a
given. Most of us have to work for them, me included. Here’s
what I recommend:

>> Family – treasure your spouse and your children. Spend lots
of time with your children when they are young and still want

>> Friends – don’t let lack of time make friendships disappear.
Make a proactive effort to reach out to and stay in touch with
friends. In this I often fail.

>> Money – make it a goal to become financially comfortable. I
suggest you create a plan to amass a $2 million net worth by age
55. That is made easier by earning an annual income of $200,000
or more.

>> Work – find the intersection of your passion and the needs of
the marketplace. As Aristotle said, “Therein lies your
vocation.” In other words, find something you love that others
will pay you handsomely for. Dr. Seuss points out: “You have
brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer
yourself in any direction you choose.”

>> Health – guys especially, don’t avoid going to the doctor
because you’re afraid or you are being macho. When in his 60s,
my father waited too long to have a lump on his leg examined.
When he finally went to the doctor, it turned out to be sarcoma,
and he died 18 months later after a prolonged and painful
illness. During my dad’s long decline, no one in our immediate
family was very happy.


Category: General | 277 Comments »