Archive for May, 2018

The awful truth about “flimsy” books

May 22nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently, a colleague handed me a book on communications she got
at a seminar on that topic from the speaker.

I flipped through it and immediately thought of a comment I read
in a book review once: “This is a book that should never have
been written.”

And increasingly, in this era of self-promoters and CreateSpace,
the rise of books that should never have been written — or
published — is increasing at a tremendous rate.

I call these works — most not worth the paper they’re printed on
or the price of a Kindle download — “flimsy books.”

And I urge you to neither read, buy, nor heaven forbid, write and
publish such books.

They are 9 times out of 10 a waste of both the writer’s and the
reader’s time, effort, and money.

Why?

Because these flimsy books have a number of characteristics in
common, which make them good for lining bird cages or starting
fires in the fireplace — but not so good for actually reading.

>> To begin with, flimsy books are actually flimsy. That doesn’t
make them bad in itself, but is an identifying trait.

When you see a flimsy book, your first impression is that it’s a
pamphlet, not a book. And actually, that is essentially the case.

The communications book I was given has barely 50 pages with text
on them … and the page size is small.

Reason: Authors of flimsy books are more interested in having a
published book for use as a marketing tool or to enhance their
reputation, rather than writing a good book.

So they tend to dash them off quickly, often without much effort,
thought, research, or editing.

>> Second, the vast majority of books I am referring to as
“flimsy” are self-published, more often than not today on
CreateSpace.

Again, that doesn’t make them bad in itself.

However, anyone who has written a book for a big publishing house
knows that those books almost always get a lot more attention to
detail — especially in the editing, proofreading, and production
process — than self-published books.

My editors at these publishing houses are tough, and don’t let me
get away with being lazy or doing a half-assed job, or being
unclear or incomplete.

Most self-published authors I know don’t hire a copy editor, and
so their books lack this essential quality control.

“Submitting a book for publication is also submitting to the
discipline of the market,” says my Facebook friend WC.

“Indeed, there are worthy self-published books, but I tend to
agree that added prestige is given when books are published by a
major publisher.”

>> Third, you don’t get much for your money with flimsy books.

The flimsy communications book I am using as an example is, as I
said, barely 50 pages and less than 15,000 words total.

By comparison, my average 200 to 300-page trade paperback for the
big publishers is 80,000 to 100,000 words — so the buyer gets 5
to 6 times more content than in a typical flimsy book.

>> Fourth, as mentioned in my first point above, the motivation
for publishing a flimsy book is more often than not marketing —
either to sell for maximum profit with minimal effort … or to
serve as a sales or reputation-building tool.

As Dr. Jeffrey Lant notes: “A book is a brochure that will never
be thrown away.”

>> Fifth, most flimsy books I review are — uh, how can I put this
— just not very good.

It is painfully obvious that they have not been fact-checked,
proofed, researched, or written with careful attention.

In so many flimsy books, the writing is disorganized, the text
meanders and is full of pointless digressions, and the coverage
of the topic is woefully incomplete — with much of the key
information missing.

But — why am I complaining? Why bother to protest? Is there
really any harm caused by the growing practice of writing,
publishing, and selling flimsy books?

Answer: Yes — some. And here’s why I think the world would be
better off without so many — or even any — flimsy books….

Reason number one: The existence of flimsy books cheapens the
value of real books.

When I started writing books in 1981, having a book published was
prestigious. But flimsy books make people think less of books and
authors.

Reason number two: People write and publish flimsy books to
convince others they are experts.

To write a 300-page book that is vetted by a top publishing house
does require some expertise or at least a lot of research.

Writing a flimsy book, not so much.

Reason number three: Flimsy books are a major source of “content
pollution” — which I loosely define as books, reports, courses,
and other materials that, to put it charitably, should never have
seen the light of day.

You may disagree. But that’s the way I see it.

Before you ask or say anything, yes, I have written a few
books that are small and slim.

But, of my 95 published books, I have written many that are
200, 300, or 400 pages — and in one case 800 pages.

So my average book is indeed a real book, and not a flimsy
pamphlet.

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The 2/24 formula for turning a no into a yes

May 18th, 2018 by Bob Bly

So many people allow themselves to be defeated by either
rejection or lack of persistence.

“Persistence” is the ability to keep moving forward … and
pursuing your goal or objective … even in the face of failures
and setbacks.

“Rejection” is a more specific case of lack of persistence after
a disappointment: giving up too easily when people say “no” to
you.

Calvin Coolidge said, “Your ability to face setbacks and
disappointments without giving up will be the measure of your
ability to succeed.”

But most people don’t. They give up quickly. Fold too easily. And
as a result don’t get what they want.

The solution is the “2/24 formula.”

It’s simple.

Say you have a negative result. It could be anything from a
publisher rejecting your book proposal — to a potential speaking
client choosing your competitor to deliver a keynote.

The 2/24 formula says that, within 24 hours of your rejection,
you make not one but TWO more pitches for the same project or
work with two new prospects.

So in the case of the book proposal, you turn around and submit
it to not one but TWO other publishers.

Why does the 2/24 formula work?

For three reasons.

First, because it is a formula, following it becomes almost
automatic. So it gets done by you consistently.

The 2/24 formula removes the decision of whether to wallow in
misery … or get up, dust yourself off, and try again … because
the formula says you HAVE to move forward and do so immediately.
It’s mandatory.

Second, the “2” part — by making TWO sales calls for every
rejection, you double your chances of closing a deal.

Third, the “24” part. The formula requires you to take swift
action — within 24 hours. And as my friend Joe Vitale and others
have said, “Money loves speed.”

One more thing….

The old saying … “There is no failure, only feedback” … is mostly
true.

You only really fail when you stop trying and give up.

Rocky Balboa states this idea eloquently here:

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Advice for writers with wide-ranging interests

May 15th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber CG writes:

“What advice would you give a writer who has many interests and
talents and finds it difficult to choose a topic, theme, or genre
to write in?

“If they are new to writing full-time for a living, must they
choose a focus area to be successful?”

This aspect of freelancing — generalist vs. specialist — has
changed somewhat during my 4-plus decades as a freelance writer.

When I first started freelancing, the magazine market was wide
open — and welcome non-specialist writers with welcome arms.

The vast majority of freelance magazine article writers wrote on
almost every subject imaginable — for any magazine they could
sell their idea to.

As for books, in the early part of my author’s career — I wrote
my first book for McGraw-Hill in 1982 — I felt pretty confident
that if I came up with a good book idea, my agent would be able
to find a publisher for it.

And it pretty much worked out that say for a decade or three.

In copywriting, I was niched from day one as an industrial
copywriter, primarily because I had an engineering degree and was
a techie.

But most of the copywriters back then — and there were fairly few
freelancers — came from ad agencies and would work on any type of
product for any type of client. They were generalists.

Today, it’s a bit different….

There are still plenty of magazines buying articles from
freelancers, but magazine publishing is in a downward spiral …
and so writing articles is no longer the plum assignment it was
back in the day.

Books are even more difficult.

Book publishers today only want to buy books from author’s who
have something known as a “platform.”

The two components of a platform are (a) the author has
credentials and experience in the subject matter of the book he
wants to write and (b) also has a built-in audience which
presumably will buy his book.

And of these platform components, (b) — the ability to sell lots
of copies of the book — is much more important than (a), the
author background and qualifications.

The problem is that it is difficult if not impossible to have a
strong platform with both components, (a) and (b), for more than
one or two niches or topics.

Therefore, if you publish through mainstream publishing houses,
as I do, you cannot get publishers to buy books from you in
multiple niches — e.g., gardening, computers, marketing, pets,
and whatever else interests you — because you simply can’t have
strong platforms in more than one or two areas.

The problem still exists if you self-publish.

For instance, I publish an online marketing newsletter with
65,000 subscribers.

These people trust me for marketing advice and many will buy new
marketing books from me.

But if I tell them about my new book on real estate (and I have
coauthored two), most won’t be interested or buy — because they
come to me for marketing and not real estate advice.

So back to CG’s question: “If they are new to writing full-time
for a living, must they choose a focus area to be successful?”

I’m afraid, CG, the answer is: yes, they must focus on a niche,
topic, or area — at least at the beginning.

There are so many more freelance writers and copywriters today
than when I started, competing with one another, that
specialization is often the key to gaining competitive advantage
and succeeding.

Once you have many long years of experience behind you, then
specialization is not as critical, because people hear about you
through the grapevine, and if your reputation is good, many want
to work with you … although even then, the specialist usually has
the edge over the generalist.

I suspect my answer will distress CG, whom I think is a
renaissance person with wide-ranging interests who wants to write
about many subjects — but will have trouble getting clients and
projects without choosing an area of focus and sticking with it.

I empathize, because I too love to write on a wide range of
topics.

But I was lucky in that regards, because I started in a day when
generalists, not specialists, ruled.

As a result, I was able to get contracts from major publishers to
write books on many subjects that interested me — everything from
sex and Star Trek, to careers and computers, to essays and short
stories, science and vocabulary … to name just a few.

I am glad I did that when it was possible, because today, it is
much more difficult to sell a book outside your main subject
matter expertise …

… although I just did, writing my first biography, to be
published in October by Quill Driver — enormous fun for me!:

https://amzn.to/2HXYaun

Times keep changing, and for writers with wide-ranging interests,
not always for the better.

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Why low-priced training isn’t always a bargain

May 11th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Regular readers of the Direct Response Letter know that I tend to
favor lower prices on information products — both my own and
others.

Yet despite that, I have to warn you that there is one major
drawback or risk of taking low-priced training.

And that is uneven and unreliable quality.

For instance, back in the day, I taught at the Learning Annex in
New York City, which offers courses on many interesting topics at
low cost.

As an instructor, I could take the occasional course for free,
which I did.

And while some of them were excellent, a few were taught by
subpar seminar leaders — who, as a former Annex instructor
myself, I know were paid very little.

Outside of NYC, I’ve had somewhat less luck with inexpensive
courses offered at local high schools and adult education
programs.

For instance, pre-internet, I had a traditional mail order
business selling paper-and-ink reports and books, which I ran out
of my basement.

The reports were “typeset” on an ordinary IBM Selectric
typewriter in Prestige Elite and “printed” on my office
photocopier.

The covers were actually typeset by a typographer and photocopied
on green paper, to add a more “expensive” look to the reports.

Anyway, to improve my business, I signed up for what looked like
a promising course — “How to Make Money in Mail Order at Home in
Your Spare Time” — at a local community college.

But when I got there, the instructor picked up a textbook and
began reading in a monotone, “Mail order marketing is defined
as….”

And I realized: she was just a business professor at the college,
and she had never operated a mail order business in her life.

She knew nothing about mail order outside of what she had read in a
textbook, which became immediately apparent to the bored and — as
she nervously kept reading — increasingly dissatisfied students.

Finally, I got up the courage to raise my hand — and when called
upon politely asked her, “Do you actually have your own mail
order business?”

She admitted she did not. I asked if anyone else in the classroom
did, and no one raised their hand.

“Well, I do,” I said, asking her, “Do you want me to teach the
course?”

She said yes, and I did.

Maybe I wasn’t great.

But my fellow classmates seemed thrilled to get first-hand
guidance in mail order by someone who had actually done it.

And the professor was obviously relieved at not having to fake
her way through material she clearly knew nothing about.

Now, if you take low-priced local training — which, unlike
courses you buy online, do not issue a refund if you are not
satisfied — you don’t risk much money.

But of course, you do risk wasting your time, which is arguably
even more precious.

So how can you profitably learn from “cheap” training in your own
backyard, without getting too badly burned?

Easy: Simply ask if the teacher is an active practitioner in the
topic.

For instance, if the course is about bookkeeping, is she or has
she been a bookkeeper? If it’s about training a puppy, is she a
vet, dog trainer, or even a dog walker?

If the answer is no, run.

Why?

Because if the instructor is a professor or other teacher, but
has never done the thing being taught, you are getting theory —
which in practical subjects like parenting, pet care,
bookkeeping, tax preparation, small business, or marketing, is
fairly worthless.

And the teacher being a great lecturer won’t make up for it: The
course might be enjoyable, but you won’t learn much that is
useful.

On the other hand, an instructor who is an active participant in
the field can pass on his “expensive experience” to you — giving
you a fast start and saving you from going down the wrong roads.

The expertise and rock-solid knowledge can more than make up
for the teacher perhaps not being the best seminar presenter.

And if she is not only a genuine expert but also a good lecturer —
as experts often are, in my experience — then you’ve struck
learning gold.

Online, you are a bit safer, because if the course is not to your
liking, you can — at least from an honest seller — get your money
back.

Locally, though, you — as the old saying goes — “pays your money
and you takes your chances.”

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Why I avoid meetings like the plague

May 8th, 2018 by Bob Bly

The other day, I got an e-newsletter with the lead article
titled, “How to Improve ROI from Your Business Meetings.”

And my immediate thought was: that’s easy — don’t HAVE business
meetings!

In my nearly 4 decades in business, I have yet to find a bigger
waste of time than face-to-face meetings … with the possible
exception of social media.

Back in the day, pre-email, pre-internet, and pre-skype, I did go
to some meetings with local clients here in NJ.

For out-of-state clients, we typically had the meeting over the
phone.

And guess what?

I consistently found that we could accomplish the same thing in a
20 to 30-minute phone call with the distant clients …

…as I did in a 2-hour face-to-face meeting with local clients.

And 2 hours was the actual meeting time. When you added in the
round-trip car ride — an hour each way — the meeting took 4
hours, or half a day of my time.

So now, no matter whether the client is down the block or in
Australia, our meeting is via phone, email, or Skype.

I just don’t meet with people in person, unless they are willing
to pay a hefty fee to do so. And often not even then.

My Facebook friend PO writes: “Business meetings are the death
knell of profitability, productivity, and employee morale —
senseless.”

Another FB friend, BM, cites a study about meetings from the
Organizational Development group at MIT.

This computer-simulation study concluded that the optimum number
of people to have in a business meeting for maximum productivity
is 1.3 — which can mean just me if I’ve gained some weight!

DG comments, “Business meetings should be concise and pertinent.
And if they fill up someone’s calendar, my suspicion increases as
to their necessity and value.”

JF opines: “The bigger the organization, the less productive the
meetings in my overall experience.”

JL says this about meetings: “If you take an hour’s salary
for each person in the room plus the cost of someone making an
agenda and a report and then compare that with what came out of
it, you’d have to ask yourself why you did that. Meetings: yuk,
gag, awful.”

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How to rid yourself of Writer’s Block

May 4th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Louis L’Amour, best-selling author of more than 100 books, had a
simple method for overcoming Writer’s Block.

I use it too and find it work well.

He said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow
until the faucet is turned on.

“You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will
happen. Start writing and it will.”

If you look around, many of the most successful and productive
authors essentially used the same method to keep the juices and
words flowing.

Georges Simenon, author of over 500 books, said he used a small
vocabulary so he wouldn’t have to get up from his desk to consult
a dictionary. His goal was to keep his butt in the chair in front
of his typewriter and not be distracted by anything.

My personal writing hero, Isaac Asimov, also wrote more than 500
books. His secret? Asimov wrote 7 days a week, usually for 8 to
10 hours a day or more.

I remember Stephen King in an interview once saying he wrote
every day except Christmas and his birthday.

A common excuse for not writing is that the writer says he does
not feel inspired; the muse has not struck. To me this is the
height of absurdity.

In his book “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser said: “The
professional writer who waits for inspiration is fooling himself.
He is also going broke.”

Another writer — I think it was Joe Haldeman — put it this way
(and I am paraphrasing):

“The idea of not writing because you don’t feel like it is
ridiculous. If I work in the chicken plant, and I don’t feel like
going to the chicken plant, do I not go to the chicken plant? Of
course I go.”

You may not have the muse at your side, but write anyway.
Remember this old Caribbean saying: “Every day is not a catching
day, but every day is a fishing day.”

I also use another technique for never having Writer’s Block,
which Isaac Asimov advocated.

He said (and again, I am paraphrasing): “Always have multiple
projects. That way, when you get stuck on Project A, instead of
not being able to write, simply put it aside and move to Project
B, which keeps you fresh and energized.”

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Why I love libraries

May 1st, 2018 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
appealing.

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

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 of the
paper.

I’m one of them. And Kindle wants to take all that all away from me.

As the author of 95 published books, one of my greatest rewards
is holding my latest hardcover or paperback in my hand — and
putting a few copies in our living room bookcase.

Holding electrons in my hands with a Kindle 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 sometimes carry my
books.)

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
before.

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.

——————————————————————

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 as a hard copy
document.

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
prefer.

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