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4 simple steps to make your writing 4X better

October 16th, 2018 by Bob Bly

The quickest and simplest way to make your writing easier to read
is with the “4 S” formula:

#1: Small words.

Small words make writing easier to read because almost all your
readers know and understand the small words you use.

Conversely, when you use long words to impress readers with your
vocabulary, many of them won’t understand the words you are
using.

And if they don’t understand the words, they don’t understand
what you are trying to say.

Back in the day, our elementary school teachers told us that, any
time we encountered a word we did not know, to look it up in the
dictionary — a popular method of improving one’s mastery of
English.

But your readers are busy adults who have neither the time nor
the desire to look up a word in their paperbound or online
dictionary.

And so if you use a word whose meaning they do not know, they
won’t get the full message you want to convey.

Use small words. Remember, you write to express, not to impress.

Mark Twain said, “I never write ‘metropolis’ when I get paid the
same penny a word for writing ‘city.'”

#2: Short sentences.

Short sentences are easier to read than long sentences.

How do you know if your sentence is too long? Use the breath
test.

Read your sentence out loud, at a moderate space, without taking
in a breath before you start.

If you run out of air before the end, the sentence is too long.

Easy fix: divide the sentence into two or more sentences at the
point where a new thought or idea begins.

#3: Short paragraphs.

At the beginning of your document, the first three paragraphs
should be one or two sentences each — no longer.

If you lead with an extremely long paragraph, the large chunk of
text is a roadblock to readership, and it will discourage many
people from reading further.

If a paragraph it too long, break it up by starting a new
paragraph wherever a new thought is introduced.

#4: Short sections.

Sections should have boldface subheads or be numbered.

Numbering makes it easier to have a table of contents.

Short sections and subheads make scanning easier for the reader
and also enable them to find the information they need more
rapidly.

Plus, overlong sections bore readers, and the temptation is to
skip ahead to a shorter section.

These tips won’t make your copy, in and of themselves, more
persuasive.

But they do encourage readership, which helps increase clicks and
conversions.

And that’s the 4 S formula in a nutshell — easy to follow, easy
to execute.

Don’t worry about hitting it on your first draft, either.

It’s easy to take your first draft, make these 4 simple changes,
which all relate to using smaller words, shorter sentences,
shorter paragraphs, and shorter sections with subheads.

Use them and your document will be 2X to 4X clearer and easier to
read.

You will get your message understood and save the reader time and
frustration.

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Category: Success, Writing | 3 Comments »

Let others publish — and pay for — your sales literature

October 12th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Back in the day, we referred to all sales materials we published
and distributed to our potential client as “collateral.”

Lots of freelance copywriters and other small businesses take
great pains to write, design, illustrate, and print their sales
brochures — a process that can be both time-consuming and
expensive.

But here’s an easy hack that can get a superior piece of
collateral designed, illustrated, printed, and widely distributed
… without costing you one red cent:

Write an article for a trade journal and use reprints as your
collateral.

Why is this better than distributing a sales brochure?

>> The brochure is to a degree self-serving and all about you,
while the content of the article is useful to your prospect.

>> Material that looks like information (article reprints) gets
higher readership than material that looks like marketing (sales
brochures).

>> The article reprint has the magazine name or logo on it,
implying a third-party endorsement.

>> An article with solid content is often kept for reference,
while many slick sales brochures are quickly round-filed.

Here’s how easy it is to make articles work as collateral:

#1–Make the content pure how-to or other useful information — not
sales talk about your product or service.

#2–Numbering your points makes the article easier to write and
easier to read. Use the number in the article title; e.g. “7 ways
to improve pump performance.”

#3–A 2-page article can be reprinted on both sides of an 8 ½ by
11-inch paper. A 4-page article can be printed in an 11 X 17-inch
paper folded once vertically to form 4 pages.

#4–Make sure yo ur “about the author” box concisely states who
you are, what you do, and gives your contact information
including phone number, email address, and website URL.

#5–Publish the article in the most prestigious or widely read
trade journal in your niche market.

#6–Post the article on your web site and send an email to your
list inviting subscribers to download it.

#7–Retain copyright and “first rights” to your article. That way,
once it appears in the magazine, you have the right to reuse and
recycle it however you wish; for instance, as a chapter in a
book.

#8–Buy reprints from the magazine or make copies yourself and
mail the hard copy with a cover letter to prospects and clients.

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Category: Direct Marketing, Writing | 2 Comments »

Dream big; start small

October 2nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the late 1970s, when I first became a professional writer, the
most sought-after assignment in freelancing was writing magazine
articles.

Today, among AWAI students and other copywriters, the most
sought-after assignment is a long-copy promotion such as a
magalog or video sales letter (VSL) selling a product via direct
response.

Anyway, back in the day, the writers’ magazines … and the
speakers at writing conferences … virtually all gave the same
advice to newbie freelance writers: start big.

They said to avoid the literary journals, the little magazines,
trade journals, and other no-pay/low-pay markets.

Instead, right off the bat, target the top-tier magazines; e.g.
Cosmopolitan, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, Omni, and so on.

In freelance copywriting, some — certainly not all copywriting
teachers — say to write for big-name companies paying top fees
and royalties right from the get-go.

This may be great advice, and I may be a chicken about it, but I
largely ignored it and did the opposite.

For articles, I went after smaller outlets, including smaller
papers in the cities where I lived — and magazines in
specialized niches with smaller circulations, such as Chemical
Engineering Magazine, Science Books & Films, Democrat &
Chronicle, Bergen Record, and Writer’s Digest.

When I started freelancing in my spare time right out of college,
my first freelance articles appeared in the Baltimore City Paper
— these were medium-length feature pieces for which I was paid on
average $50 each:

www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/PDFs/journalism-city-paper-stock-racing.pdf

And I had a ball writing them.

But why didn’t I set my aspirations somewhat higher? For several
reasons.

First, I was a beginner with no credentials, so I felt I had a
better shot at these mid-market periodicals.

Second, they were small enough that you could have a personal
relationship with the editor.

To get into City Paper, I went to their offices and pitched my
stories face to face with the editor — and it worked.

Third, I was getting paid, albeit small sums, for learning my
craft.

Fourth, I was getting clips, which helped me break into better
markets and assignments, and also looked good on my résumé.

Fifth, I have always preferred getting published to not, and
here, I could do it.

Similarly, in direct response copywriting, newbies today approach
big-name direct marketers in highly competitive markets —
financial and health — and ask to do a full promotion.

Even if you are hired, these marketers regularly engage the top
guns — and your chances of beating Clayton Makepeace, Richard
Armstrong, or David Deutsch as a beginner are slim to none.

Start with smaller financial publishers, supplement makers, and
other direct response offers such as books, coins, and
collectibles.

Get winners and keep working … and the bigger companies will
slowly take notice and approach you about writing for them.

In the interest of giving you more balanced reporting, sometimes
a newbie takes a shot going after a big client — and it pays off.

In the early 80s I was working for medium-sized industrial
manufacturers and getting decent but not spectacular fees, mainly
writing brochures and print ads.

A newbie I was friendly with approached International Paper about
writing for them.

They took the bait and hired him. He did well and was earning in
his first month of freelancing pay scales it had taken me 3 years
to reach.

So really, what do I know?

However, as a rule, I think my advice here to start smaller and
work your way up is fundamentally sound.

That’s my philosophy. And I’m sticking to it.

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Category: Success, Writing | 6 Comments »

10 ways to increase your writing confidence

September 3rd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber RF writes:

“Bob, I would love your advice on how you silence the derogatory
voice in your head that says, ‘You’re not a good writer.’ Writing
can never be a pleasure if one is haunted by negative thoughts.”

Here’s how I handle it:

1–I post testimonials from satisfied clients and readers on my
website, and when I doubt myself, I click on the links and look
at a few.

2–I thank my subscribers who say they like my writing, always.

3–My 95 published books are in two bookcases in our living room.
I go upstairs and briefly look at them on the shelves.

4–I take pleasure in writing copy that I think is particularly
strong — and I’m even happier when the client likes it, runs it,
and the copy performs well.

5–After work, I often read books by writers in all genres whom I
admire. Most are out of my league … but not SO far out of my
league that I can’t learn from and emulate them.

6–If my deadline schedule permits, I turn to the project on my
to-do list that is the most fun and the most engaging to me, and
I work on it for several hours.

7–I realize that if I was really as bad as the voice in my head
is telling me on any particular day, I would not have the repeat
clients, income, or longevity as a copywriter that I do.

8–I take comfort in these words from copywriter Lou Redmond: “We
never write as well as we want to; we only write as well as we
can.”

9–I also heed these words from Max Ehrmann: “There will always be
those greater and lesser than you.”

10–I take a writing course or go to a lecture or reading by an
author I like. The most recent one was going with my sister and
daughter-in-law to hear Stephen King reading from his novel
“Sleeping Beauties” in Brooklyn a few months ago.

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Category: Writing | 16 Comments »

Copywriting for clients or for your own products — which is right for you?

August 31st, 2018 by Bob Bly

Ben Settle and I had a brief email exchange last week on the
fact that there are two types of copywriters today:

“Traditional” copywriters write copy on a contract basis for
clients.

“Alt” copywriters write copy to sell their own information
products.

So which do I recommend for you — the first? The second? Both?

I recommend you either become a traditional copywriter or do both
… but do NOT limit yourself to being an alt-copywriter only.

Today, I am primarily a full-time traditional copywriter earning
a six-figure active income stream from writing copy for clients.

I have a second, spare-time, passive income stream writing copy
to sell my own line of information products and at one site,
merchandise.

I like this set-up because I think it’s beneficial for writers to
have multiple streams of income.

I have several including contract copywriting, info marketing,
writing books, professional speaking, and consulting.

Ideally, strive to have two six-figure income streams, one active
and one passive.

This is the surest path to financial stability and even security
for freelance writers.

Now, while I love info marketing, I think that, if you want to
develop into an A-level copywriter, you cannot limit yourself to
writing for your own products only.

Reason: An essential skill to become an A-level copywriter is the
ability to rapidly understand all sorts of products and markets,
and to write copy to sell those varied products to those
different markets successfully.

In other words, you must be a quick study. Here — yours free — is
my “discovery process” for rapidly getting up to speed on
different products and markets:

https://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/documents/HTPFAC.html

But if the only products you write copy for are your own —
products you created and sell to an audience which you know well
— you will not master the discovery process, which in turn will
hold you back from being the best copywriter you can be.

And if your product line is strictly about marketing and
copywriting, you’ll be even more limited and less well-rounded as
a copywriter.

I always tell my subscribers that if the only thing an author of
expensive courses in copywriting and marketing has sold is
courses in copywriting and marketing, save your money and run in
the opposite direction.

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Category: Writing | 7 Comments »

Can’t decide which book you want to write?

August 28th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber TT writes:

“Maybe you can help me with my issue: If you have three ideas for
books in your head — how do you go about deciding to commit to
one?”

Many writers, including me, face this problem frequently.

We have so many interests, so many subjects we want to write
about, that we have a hard time choosing the one we want to do
next — especially with bigger projects like books.

So I told TT my simple formula for deciding which of multiple
book ideas will be the one that I commit to writing.

To begin with, here are the 6 criteria I evaluate when deciding
whether I want to write a given book:

1–Will it be fun for me to write?

2–Do readers need yet another book on this topic?

3–Will having written it benefit me in some way; e.g., elevate my
reputation or bring me more business?

4–Is it important to me personally to write it and get it
published?

5–Do I have something worthwhile to say in it?

6–Does it have the potential to sell many thousands of copies,
and am I in a position to help make that happen?

Rate each book idea in each of these six categories on a scale of
1 to 5 with 5 = highest and 1 = lowest.

Then add up the total score. And do this for each book you are
thinking about writing.

And whichever book has the highest total score is the next one
you should write.

TT also asks: “If you DO commit to writing a book, how do you
stay committed until it’s done?”

I accomplish this by writing virtually all my books for
mainstream publishers.

When you do that, it is easy to stay committed — because you have
signed a contract promising to deliver the manuscript to a
publishing house on or before a given date.

If you don’t hand in a publishable manuscript by the deadline,
you don’t get your money … the book won’t be published … and your
name will be mud with your publisher.

That’s all the motivation and incentive I need to stay committed
… and probably all you will need, too.

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Category: Writing | 7 Comments »

The #1 mistake writers make when trying to get published

August 14th, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the pre-internet days, the most popular assignment for
freelance writers was doing magazine articles.

The way it works: You sent a “query letter” outlining the article
you propose to write.

Based on the strength of your query letter, the editor said yay
or nay.

Freelance writers typically got the name and address of the right
editor from a reference volume called Writer’s Market, which is
still published today.

And so many writers made a terrible mistake that got them
rejection after rejection on their queries.

Namely, they never actually looked at or read the magazine they
were pitching.

As a result:

>> They did not know whether the magazine was entirely staff
written or also used freelancers.

>> They did not know what stories the magazine had run recently
and so often pitched something the editor had just published —
which meant the magazine was unlikely to buy another article on the
same topic.

>> They did not understand the audience for the magazine — who
they were, what interested them, and what they wanted to know.

>> They did not know the departments and columns that were most
open to freelance contributions.

So most of their queries were off the mark and fell on deaf ears.

If you want to freelance for a magazine, get and read a number of
issues to get a feel for the points above.

Likewise, if you are a copywriter, and you get an inquiry, spend
a few minutes reviewing the company’s website before you call
them.

Today, the thing seems to be writers (and marketers) asking if
they can write a guest post for someone else’s blog. I get
several such requests a month.

And they are making the same stupid mistake magazine writers made
in the old day: not reading the blog they want to post to!

For instance, my blog is about writing, marketing, and business
success.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from HB who was looking to write
guest posts for me.

The guest posts he offered were all about cryptocurrencies; e.g.,
Bitcoin.

Anyone even glancing at my blog would instantly know this is not
a good fit for me, as I do not write about investing.

So HB’s post would be completely irrelevant to my readers. And I
politely turned down HB’s offer.

Frankly — not that he would care if he knew, which he doesn’t —
my opinion of him as a marketer is, based on this one contact
with him, pretty low.

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Category: Writing | 12 Comments »

8 ways for writers to overcome loneliness and isolation

July 31st, 2018 by Bob Bly

What do writers and scientists have in common?

This: for many years, the stereotype of each was a dedicated
individual working alone.

The full cliché had the writer banging away on his typewriter
sitting alone in a room, possibly in a cold garret furnished in
early poverty.

Novelist Philip Roth, for instance, has said many times: “Writing
in a room by myself is practically my whole life.”

For science geeks, the stereotype was the “mad scientist”
working along in his lab, surrounded by flasks and beakers filled
with bubbling fluids.

Some people find these stereotypes a bit romantic and appealing;
others see them as depressing.

But the fact of the matter is .. they aren’t true — for either
scientists or writers.

Or at least they don’t have to be. And probably shouldn’t be.

As far as scientists toiling away in solitude, Yale Professor
Priyamrada Natarajan writes:

“Although advances in science and technology are often portrayed
as the work of solitary men … science has always been a
collective enterprise, dependent on many individuals who work
behind the scenes.”

For writers, though we are more likely to work alone than on a
team, many of us either want or would benefit from more “people
time” and less alone time.

Why? Spending time with others helps overcome isolation and
loneliness, enables productive collaboration, and provides an
opportunity for support and feedback.

If you are a writer alone most of the time but want to increase
your “people time,” here are 8 ways to achieve that goal:

1–Join a writer’s group.

Many towns have writers’ groups, usually mostly amateurs, which
meet to read and critique each other’s work.

2–Attend writing conferences.

There are a ton of them all over the country, and they are
advertised in writer magazines such as Poets & Writers, The
Writer, and Writer’s Digest.

The advantage over #1 is that, unlike local groups consisting
almost solely of amateurs, at writing conferences the attendees
range the spectrum from rank amateur to working journeymen to
superstars — and often editors and literary agents as well.

Two I have attended and can recommend personally: ASJA for book
and article writers, and AWAI for copywriters.

3–Find a writing buddy.

Reach out to a writer you meet at #1 or #2, and pair up as
buddies, much like kids have a swim buddy at summer camp. You
can read each other’s work and give feedback, plus you can have
writerly chats and moral support.

4–Hire a coach.

We live in a coach-crazy world today. If you hire a coach, make
sure the coach is an active and successful writer in the niche
you are pursuing.

5–Join a Mastermind group.

According to an article in Forbes, Mastermind groups are
relatively new to most people, even though Napoleon Hill created
the concept around 75 years ago.

A mastermind group is designed to help you navigate through
challenges using the collective intelligence of others — some who
are your peers, others who may be ahead of you — and there is
often a large fee to belong.

6–Professional association memberships.

I am a chemical engineer and as such am also a member of the
American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Medical writers join the American Medical Writers Association.
You get the idea.

Benefits to association membership are many and varied — from
networking and self-promotional opportunities, to conferences and
education, to affordable health insurance and discounts on
products and services.

7–Build a team.

Hire a virtual assistant, proofreader, copy editor, website
designer, bookkeeper, CPA, and others to build a team that
supports you.

The obvious benefit: outsourcing everything but the writing makes
you more productive and increases your writing revenues.

Also, as you gradually build relationships with team members, you
are almost part of a virtual organization.

8–Take a class.

Many adult education programs at high schools and colleges offer
a variety of writing classes including creative writing,
copywriting, and journalism.

Bottom line: If you are a writer … and you feel too alone and cut
off from others, especially those in your line of work … these 8
ideas can fix that.

As Jor-El told Kal-El in the original “Superman” movie — you will
never be alone.

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Category: General, Writing | 16 Comments »