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The 4th element in copywriting mastery

December 11th, 2018 by Bob Bly

I used to say there are only 3 ways to learn copywriting.

But I left out an important one, so there are really 4 ways to
become a good copywriter.

First let me recap the first 3 steps:

Step #1: Write.

Write every day. It could be sales copy, blog posts, articles, or
books.

But write something every day.

Step #2: Read.

Read every day.

And read everything: newspapers, magazines, newsletters, essays,
short stories, novels, history, science, and business books.

Warning: If you read only business books, that’s a mistake,
because you are not acquiring knowledge of subjects that can help
add depth to your copy.

Step #3: Study the promotions you receive.

Read direct mail, newspaper ads, email, and online sales letters
both as a consumer and a copywriter — as a consumer to see what
motivates you to buy, and as a copywriter to learn the techniques.

Now for the crucial step #4 which I have previously left out.

Step #4: Participate in numerous direct response tests.

The more test results you see, the better you will understand
what works and what doesn’t in copy.

The longer you are a copywriter, and the more tests you are
involved in, the more you will learn from testing and the better
you will be.

Remember, subjective judgment is of limited value. Only tests
show you what works and what doesn’t.

Some potential clients ask me, “Why should we hire you instead of
a cheaper copywriter?”

There are many answers, but perhaps the most important is this:

I have been writing direct response copy around 12 hours a day, 5
days a week, for nearly 4 decades.

Because of that, I have participated in and seen the results of
more tests than most other working copywriters.

For this reason, I have a slightly better handle than many of
these other copywriters on what works and what doesn’t in
sales copy.

The more tests you participate in, the more you’ll know about
selling your product or anyone else’s.

And that’s the fact, Jack.

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Category: Writing | 5 Comments »

Intellectual stimulation — from copywriting?

October 30th, 2018 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago, Ben Settle wrote an email comparing the two of
us.

Specifically, Ben said how he dislikes writing for clients.

He prefers just to write for himself to sell his own info
products.

Then he noted that I am the opposite: while I do write copy to
sell my own products, 94.7% of my time is spent writing copy for
a variety of clients.

Ben wrote, “I remember Bob telling me he loves writing for
clients because he’s easily bored and likes working on lots of
different products. It’s exciting and fun for him, and I am
assuming very profitable, too.”

Everything Ben said is true, but there are many additional things
I like about being a traditional freelance copywriter.

For instance, when a client emails to tell me that my copy
performed well for them, it absolutely makes my day.

But a less obvious perk for me of writing for a variety of
different clients and products is that it gives me something I
crave above almost all else: intellectual stimulation.

When you only write about your own products, they are almost
surely all in the same niche — for Ben and me, that’s marketing.

To me, writing about only one topic is boring.

Much of my intellectual stimulation from copywriting comes from
learning about new technologies, discoveries, markets, and
businesses.

I get that by working on a wide variety of products in multiple
industries. It keeps me fresh, and I am virtually never bored.

My recent copy assignments have ranged from a formula that makes
crops grow bigger and faster … to an automatic fire protection
system for data centers that’s safer than either water or carbon
dioxide for both equipment and people … to a dietary supplement
that keeps older people from falling and breaking their hip.

I’ve mentioned before in this e-newsletter TB, a writer who has
spent his entire career writing almost exclusively about silver.

Through this, he has built a reputation as an expert in investing
in silver — something I was heavily into years ago (both bullion
and coins), and therefore I got his newsletter.

But if I had to write about one subject, and the same topic over
and over again, I’d go batty.

As I said, I like variety, and I get it in both copywriting and
book writing.

Yes, I write a lot of books on marketing, and enjoy it, because I
am always improving my knowledge of marketing by doing so, as
well as teaching others.

But again, if all my books were about marketing, it would begin to
get tedious for me.

As a result I have sold books on a wide range of other topics to
my publishers — including science … science fiction … biography …
essays … popular culture … real estate … leadership.

Also public speaking … vocabulary … writing … self-employment …
time management … food … ethics … and even sex!

Because if all I did was write copy and content to sell my own
info products on marketing … well, I’d slip into a coma.

I hate boredom — and have taken great pains in my writing career
to avoid it — pretty successfully, I might add.

The secret is the old saying: variety is the spice of life.

And it’s absolutely true.

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Category: Writing | 8 Comments »

Cowards hiding behind their keyboards

October 26th, 2018 by Bob Bly

So, you may find this kind of interesting and maybe a little
bizarre or even unpleasant.

Weeks ago, I sent an email to my readers with the subject line,
“What kind of copywriting clients pay best?”

Immediately, subscriber LJ replied to me:

“I’m guessing not yours, or you wouldn’t be begging for attention
all your life.”

Puzzled by LJ’s unprovoked vitriol, I responded:

“What compels you to insult me, LJ?

“Have I ever been rude to you?

“As for the state of my business, I’m not exactly starving to
death; I earn six-figures annually and have a 7-figure net worth.

“And of course, in cowardly fashion, you do your insulting while
hiding behind a keyboard — no guts to say it to my face.”

There are two lessons to be learned here.

The first is, as I told LJ, if you insult someone hiding behind a
keyboard, you are in fact a spineless coward — even though you
may delude yourself to the contrary.

The second is a reminder that this formula, developed by my
friend Dr. Rob Gilbert, is so true:

SWL + SWL = SW

It is short for:

“Some will like you, your product, or your work.

“Some won’t like you, your product, or your work.

“So what?”

As long as you have enough clients, customers, fans, tribe
members, or whatever to earn a decent living, you should ignore
immature haters like LJ.

My problem in doing so is that my personality is such that I do
not suffer fools gladly.

The only reason I tell you the LJ story here is that I think
there is some value in the lesson it presents.

So maybe I should thank her.

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Category: General, Writing | 12 Comments »

The book publishing paradox

October 23rd, 2018 by Bob Bly

There is an amazing paradox taking place in book publishing
today, and it’s this:

There are more books being published now than at any other time
in human history.

Walk in your local Barnes & Noble; you could spend the rest of
your life reading the books just in that store.

At the same time, it has become much more difficult for an author
to find a mainstream publisher for his book.

Now, how is it possible that we are drowning in books, yet
publishers are making it tougher than ever for authors to get
their books published?

Here’s the answer….

Self-publishing has taken off like a rocket — with self-published
paperbound books as well as ebooks — largely because of Kindle and
CreateSpace.

Plus, thanks mainly to Amazon, the supply of used books available
for purchase has increased almost exponentially — and it’s
easier than ever to find and buy the titles you want online.

Because bookselling is so competitive, traditional publishers now
focus on publishing new books by authors whom they believe can
sell a lot of copies on their own or working with the publisher.

For instance, Rachel Ray is not the best cook or the best writer
in the world, but she has written 20 best-selling cookbooks. Why?
Because her TV show is a platform from which she can sell her
books to a huge audience.

Therefore if she writes a new book on baking pies, she will
certainly get a contract from a major publisher, a big advance,
and sell a ton of books.

You may be a much better baker than Rachel Ray, but if you are
not a celebrity, a TV host, a radio personality, or do not have
another platform for reaching a large audience, your chances of
getting your pie book published by a real publishing house are
slim to none, as are the odds that it will sell many copies.

By comparison, it’s easy to publish a Kindle ebook and sell it on
Amazon. But the vast majority of self-published Kindle ebooks
sell only a few hundred copies or fewer.

That’s why book publishing is a somewhat tough nut to crack
today.

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Category: Writing | 13 Comments »

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 | 13 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 | 15 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 | 30 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 | 23 Comments »