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Archive for November, 2017

The Village of the Damned

November 28th, 2017 by Bob Bly

A few months ago I sold my car to my oldest son.

When we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), I had to
stand in line for more than 2 hours.

It gave me an idea to film a documentary about the DMV which I
would title “Village of the Damned.”

If evil people are in fact sent to Hell, I envision that it is
not a burning inferno — but rather a DMV where you stand in a
line that never moves … forever.

But it’s not just the motorists who are tortured at the DMV. It’s
also the workers.

The clerk who served me said, “We have had huge lines the entire

I asked, “Is that unusual?”

She replied, “No, the lines are huge the whole day every day.”

And to serve the people in line, they perform the same
mind-numbing rote tasks over and over, again and again.

To me — and I am guessing to you do — this would be pure

Above all else, it is boring beyond description.

And — rightly or wrongly — I have designed my life, above all
else, to avoid jobs and tasks that bore me.

I hate being bored more than almost anything else. Boredom is my

Other than the health and happiness of my family, and helping my
clients achieve their goals, avoiding boredom has been the
driving force of my life.

For instance:

>> I don’t volunteer for committees; I find them a thundering
bore and an enormous time-suck.

>> I don’t do household repair or chores. I hire people to do
them for us. Assembling a piece of store-bought furniture can
quickly put me into a coma. I hire Larry the handyman instead.

>> I have a full-time employee, a CPA, and a bookkeeper who
handle the administrative tasks and paperwork of my business —
freeing me to devote almost all of my time to my core activity of

>> I don’t take on projects that bore me or even those that don’t
excite me, because I write my best copy when I am enthusiastic
about the client, the product, and the project.

Now, I admit some of you might find my behavior selfish or even
repugnant in its selfishness.

But as Popeye says, I am what I am. And I am a guy whose
nightmare is being bored at work, at social gatherings, and at
all other times.

That’s why I became a writer: I love writing, thinking, research,
reading, and books to an extreme.

And if that makes me a bad person, I can live with that. Although
I actually do not think it does make me a bad person.

In fact, I strive to be a good person, and I think I achieve that
for the majority of my activities and relationships.

Some of my subscribers may agree and others not. You can’t please


Category: General | 104 Comments »

Is going to college a waste of time for aspiring entrepreneurs?

November 24th, 2017 by Bob Bly

There is a lot of debate today as to whether going to college is
still worth the effort and investment … or is now a complete
waste of time and money.

For an accurate analysis, I believe the experience of college
life as well as participation in extracurricular activities must
be factored in along with the value of the classroom education
and degree obtained.

An article in my alumni magazine Rochester Review (8/17, p. 13)

“[For] students who spend 4 years at elite, residential
universities, what they learn from immersion in activities
outside of the classroom can be as important as what happens in

People who find college archaic, unnecessary, or indulgent may
laugh at this claim.

But for me, it was absolutely true.

When I went to the University of Rochester in the 1970s, I got
two educations for the price of one.

The first was my BS in chemical engineering.

This is what I paid tuition for and spent 4 years of study at the
University of Rochester (UR) to learn and earn.

And having a STEM (science, engineering, technology, math) degree
— and the knowledge one acquired to get it — was then, as it is
today, a good investment.

The second was the education I got as a writer.

I was both the editor of the monthly college literary magazine
and the features editor of the daily college newspaper.

When I entered the UR, I didn’t even know they had a campus
newspaper, much less a daily one.

Turns out, the paper was daily. Almost every other school in the
nation our size had a weekly paper if they had one at all.

This worked out for me because, as a result of the paper and the
magazine, I spent about 130 hours a semester writing stories and
articles for these publications.

Mark Ford, Malcom Gladwell, and others say that to become
competent at a skill, you have to do it for about 1,000 hours.

Because of my extra-curricular activities, by the time I
graduated UR in May 1979, I had more than a thousand hours of
writing practice.

And even though I was a chemical engineering major, and not an
English major, I had become — well, not a great writer — but a
competent writer.

With that skill plus my BS in engineering, I quickly and easily
landed multiple job offers in positions where the companies
wanted a writer with a good grasp of science and technology —
positions they told me they had real trouble filling.

So I took one, got hired as a staff marketing and technical
writer at Westinghouse, and my writing career began.

I also know that getting a STEM degree allowed my youngest son to
make six-figures immediately upon graduating college a couple of
years ago.

So I understand that not everybody is a fan of or needs a college

But I wouldn’t universally knock it as it is so fashionable to do

One other thing….

When discussions of this nature pop up on Facebook, somebody
invariably says, “Become an entrepreneur — you will make so much
more money!”

Maybe. But the reality is that the average small business owner
in the U.S. today has a respectable but nowhere near spectacular

A lot of people view living on campus as play time —
self-indulgence for spoiled rich kids.

For me, it was a maturing experience.

To pay for college, I took both students loans and a job washing
dishes in the school cafeteria for 15 hours a week.

The debt, the job, the magazine, the daily paper, and the rigors
of STEM study made me more mature than I was when I entered —
although granted, I was an immature teen.

So again, for me, it worked out, and I can’t knock it.

Though I understand why some people, when they see videos of
Spring Break in Mexico or Florida (neither of which I ever did),
think college kids are spoiled brats.


Category: General | 3,295 Comments »

Should you ever give a talk for free?

November 21st, 2017 by Bob Bly

I was recently asked by a trade association to give a
presentation at their national meeting, which is out of town and
would require a plane trip to reach.

As a member of the organization, I know they do not pay speakers.

And out of loyalty and fondness for them, I offered to waive my
usual 4-figure speaking fee and do it for free, as long as they
covered my expenses — and of course let me attend the event on
the day of my talk free of charge.

They immediately responded:

“Bob, the terms you specify are eminently reasonable. However,
they are not what we had in mind.

“Paying your travel expenses would not be possible, and we also
normally expect speakers to attend the conference at a reduced
fee — though there is possible flexibility there.”

I quickly sent off a quick email:

“Thanks for the kind invite, but I have to pass.”

Was I insulted?

Not really.

Many organizations don’t pay their breakout session speakers …
and many people accept these invitations gladly.

In my early days, I did too, because speaking at meetings
attended by potential clients was a good way to promote my

However, for many years, the demand for my copywriting has
greatly outweighed the supply, which is sharply limited by time.

And so the incentive to speak without fee is no longer present.

In fact, when the group first invited me to present at their
upcoming event, my original response was as follows:

“Thanks for asking me. I’d love to do it.

“When I speak without my usual fee, I attend the conference … on
the day of my presentation only … for free.

“The sponsor organization pays all my expenses including airfare,
ground transportation, food, and lodging.

“If the presentation is videotaped, I get a copy of the mp4 and
the right to use it however I wish.

“I also get one ad in the organization’s e-newsletter, also for

But they would have none of it.

So there’s little or no motivation for me to go.

And that’s the end of the story.

Except for this:

I am still a member. And will be for as long as I live.

I love the people in the association — both those running it and
my fellow members.

And if they ever have the meeting in NYC, which is just an hour’s
drive for me, I’ll do it for free in a flash.

But pay for my own airline ticket and hotel?

That’s where, rightly or wrongly, I draw the line.


Category: General, PR | 255 Comments »

Why I read paperbound books only

November 17th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, on a Facebook post, I casually mentioned in passing
that I get a lot of my books to read at the local town library.

My Facebook friend LW wrote:

“Bob, why the public library when there is Kindle?”

My immediate thought was:

“LW, why Kindle when there is the public library?”

I absolutely prefer paperbound books over digital books — and I
am a regular patron at my town library.

As Louis L’Armour writes in his book “Education of a Wandering
Man” (Bantam), “Education is available to anyone within reach of
a library.”

My fellow copywriter and FB friend DG says:

“I’m a public library guy and I also buy books. I only read
paperbound books myself, and I’m already way out of room to store
the ones I have.”

Now, I understand the many reasons why people tell me they love
their Kindle readers. I just don’t find them personally

One of the big reasons people advocate Kindle is the ability to
easily carry dozens or hundreds of books with them wherever they

But since I almost never go anywhere, there’s no benefit to me.

And in those rare instances when I do travel, one thick paperback
is enough to get me through the round-trip flight.

There are legions of people who just love paperbound books as
physical objects: the feel, the look, even the smell and feel of
the paper.

I’m one of them. And Kindle takes that all away from me.

As the author of more than 90 books from mainstream publishing
houses, one of my greatest rewards is holding my published
hardcover or paperback book in my hand — and putting a few
copies in our bookcase.

Holding electrons in my hands just doesn’t give me that same
pride of authorship.

(Similarly, I get much more of a charge holding a magazine with
my article in it than I do seeing my article on some website.)

Another big advantage of physical books is the venues where I get
them: bookstores, libraries, and used book catalogs, my favorite
of which is Edward R. Hamilton, though Bas Bleu and Daedelus are
not far behind. (Especially Bas, because they often carry my

When you are in a library or a bookstore, or thumbing through a
book catalog, you encounter all sorts of books, information, and
subjects that you otherwise would never have thought about

Yes, this can also happen online

But in a bookstore or library, with the actual book in front of
you, the compulsion to browse is, for me, even greater than
online. And yes, like so many people, I like web surfing.

Now, you may be thinking that I am a hypocrite, because I
publish, sell, as well as read PDF ebooks.

But when I buy a PDF ebook, I don’t read it on a screen. I print
it out, put it in a 3-ring binder, and read it has a hard copy

And I suggest to my PDF ebook buyers that they do the same.
Although, of course, they are free to read it on a screen if they


Category: General | 135 Comments »

What you like vs. what works: not always the same thing

November 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DH writes:

“Bob, what are your favorite websites in terms of the copy they
have, so I can see myself which copy style you think is great?

“I was working for a client and came across a website from a
company that sells the same thing he does.

“I was blown away by the simple, fun, almost magical style of
their site vs. the more technical copy on my client’s site.

“But I wonder if I was right to admire the competitor site —
does that kind of copy draw customers?”

There are two key parts to the answer I gave DH.

The first is something copywriter Peter Beteul said that I never
forgot: “Don’t let personal preference get in the way.”

Meaning subjective judgment is absolutely the worst way to judge


Because countless marketing tests and many research studies prove
that there is no correlation between people liking an ad and
whether they buy the product.

Second, regarding DH’s websites, she has little or no access to
analytics and metrics measuring the website’s performance.

And results … not whether the site has a fun or “magical” style …
is what determines whether she should admire and emulate it.

In this case, she just doesn’t know. So following the competitor
site as a model would be questionable at best and unwise at

Back in the day, with print ads and direct mail, it was

Running newspaper and magazine ads, and doing postal direct mail,
is expensive.

And so marketers who use them test very carefully.

If an ad or direct mail test is not successful, they will not
repeat it.

On the other hand, an ad or mailing that is profitable is run
over and over until it stops making money.

So if you see an ad or mailing that runs continuously, you know
that copy is working — and in that case, it would be wise to

It’s pretty much the same for ongoing email campaigns and web
pages, although not as certain, because they are less expensive
to run than print — and therefore, are more forgiving of

One more point….

You only know whether someone else’s marketing is working if you
see the evidence with your own eyes, as indicated by frequency
and repetition.

If another marketer says response rates for their campaign are
through the roof, or that they are raking in money hand over
fist, the problem is you have no idea whether they are telling
you the truth.

As my good friend top info marketer Fred Gleeck says: “The only
numbers you can trust are your own.”


Category: Direct Marketing, Online Marketing | 97 Comments »

When internet marketing works

November 10th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Sometimes internet marketing is a pain in the ass.

You work hard on a product, launch it, and nobody is interested.

Now you have to salvage the product either by improving it or
bundling it with other stuff.

Another disaster scenario: You send an email marketing message to
thousands of people, driving them to a product landing page.

And then they start emailing you to let you know your landing
page is down — and it is — and as the minutes go by, you are
losing orders left and right.

On the flip side, when info marketing works well, it can really
put a smile on your face.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I decided to promote an existing
product with an existing email to drive traffic to the existing
landing page.

Total investment of my time: less than 2 minutes — because
everything was already done.

Within the next few days, we got 112 orders for the $29 ebook for
gross sales of $3,248.

Overhead aside, because it was an ebook, our net sales were also
about $3,248.

Now that’s peanuts compared to what some info marketers make.

But consider two points:

The average American has to work 3 solid weeks at a 9-to-5 job
that probably bores them to tears to make that much money — and
with the commute, that’s probably 130 to 150 hours of their time.

While my 2 minutes of “work” generated over 3K in sales, which
comes to an hourly rate for my labor of $97,440.

And this is not a freak occurrence: $3,000 or more from a single
email blast using existing copy, which means no labor on my part,
happens many times throughout the year.

Passive income and info marketing online don’t always work.

But when they do, it’s a beautiful thing.

Again, my info marketing business is a spec on the windshield
compared to the big boys.

But if I wanted to, we could live nicely on it with me “working”
about 2 hours a week.

I have no intention of ever quitting my day job as a freelance
copywriter, which I absolutely love.

But having a spare-time six-figure passive income … and being
able to earn 3K from one eblast with zero work … sure takes the
financial pressure off — and makes you more relaxed.

Try it. You’ll like it.


Category: Online Marketing | 91 Comments »

The 2 ways reading makes you a better writer

November 7th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the most common questions I get is, “Bob, what book are
you reading now?”

And most people are shocked to find that it is a novel, short
story collection, play, nonfiction narrative, social issue,
science, math, history, economics, or informational book on a
topic other than marketing or business.

The 2 best ways to get better as a writer are to write a lot and
read a lot. And to read widely. Not just about writing,
copywriting, marketing, or business.

And there are 2 reasons reading a lot and widely helps you become
a better writer.

First, you read the books for the content. So your brain’s
storehouse of information, from which you pull content for your
writing, is large and varied.

Second, you absorb the techniques and tricks of the trades other
writers use, and incorporate the best of those in your own

Sounds simple. It is simple. But it also takes a lifetime and
only stops when you die.

So, what do I like to read? Well, without further preamble, here
in no particular order are my 15 favorite books of all time:

1–“A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.

2–“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

3–“Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.

4–“The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.

5–“Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy.

6–“Essentialism” by Greg McKeown.

7–“Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny.

8–“Drought” by J.G. Ballard.

9–“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.

10–“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

11–“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes.

12–“Deathbird Stories” by Harlan Ellison.

13–“The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski.

14–“Mockingbird” by Walter Tevis.

15–“The Shootist” by Glen Swarthout.

If you asked me for a list of my top 100 instead of just these
15, I could fill it easily.

I can’t help it. I just love books and reading; the addiction is
beyond my control.


Category: General | 144 Comments »

A short course in making money with microsites

November 3rd, 2017 by Bob Bly

A “microsite” is a small website dedicated to selling a single
product, service, or offer.

I am frequently asked, “Does each microsite need its own domain
name, or can I just make it an extension of my main domain name?”

For instance, if your main site is and you
have a separate microsite selling your healthy eating cookbook …

… your domain could be an extension — — or a unique URL; e.g.,

For my product microsites, each has a unique domain name.

And an article in ClickZ (7/26/17) agrees with this domain
strategy, saying:

“As a general rule, a microsite should have its own dedicated
domain or subdomain.

“While it might be appealing for a microsite to be hosted on a
primary brand domain for SEO purposes, and there are instances in
which this might make sense, more often than not, it’s best to
host the microsite on a dedicated domain.

“There are numerous reasons for this. For one, a dedicated domain
is typically easier to promote.”

They point out that a dedicated domain such as is
easier to remember and type in than

For instance, the domain for my microsite on how to write and
sell your first ebook is

Having an easy-to-remember dedicated domain is especially helpful
when someone asks me about one of my products, because I can
instantly recall and tell them the site domain.

Now, you may object, “But that means I have to buy a separate
domain for every microsite I have and every product I sell!”

Well, last time I looked, you can buy a domain name on for an annual fee of around $12.

Domain names are the real estate of the web.

That means for $12, you can own a piece of real estate online
that produces for you sales of $5,000 a year … $50,000 a year …
even $100,000 a year or more.

Owning actual real estate doesn’t give you anywhere near that
kind of return most of the time.

And having just spent $4,500 to fix problems at a rental property
we own, I can tell you microsites are a lot less of a headache to
manage than houses.

To be fair, my best microsites make just thousands of dollars a
year each — not $100,000 or $1 million or more like the big boys
of ecommerce do with their websites.

But with dozens of sites each making a few thousand bucks a year,
my little online info business makes me a nice spare-time annual
income … in the six figures … with me “working” on it just a
couple of hours a week.

Another key to having a business with a lot of microsites is to
get a hosting service that allows you to host an unlimited number
of sites for one flat monthly fee.

For instance, one hosting service is, on the surface, very cheap
at just $19 a month.

But, it’s $19 per site. That’s OK if your business has one big
website, as many do, such as my CPA and my attorney.

My hosting service is more expensive at $49 a month — except, for
that fee, I can host as many sites as I want at no extra charge.

And with my 100 microsites, that means my hosting costs are less
than half a dollar per site per month.

Very affordable.

One more tip…

Your microsites should offer only one choice of action; e.g.,
download a free white paper or leave.

Or buy the product or leave.

Nothing else.

No navigation … no links to other pages … no free content.

If you have navigation on your squeeze pages for lead generation
… or on microsites for product sales … strip it off immediately.

Then sit back and watch your conversion rates rise like bread
dough in a hot oven.

And make more bread online!


Category: Online Marketing | 2,269 Comments »