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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 | 201 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 | 146 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 | 137 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 | 238 Comments »

The absolute best thing about mainstream book publishing

July 20th, 2018 by Bob Bly

MM recently wrote on my Facebook wall:

“Bob, for the life of me I can’t understand why you knock indie
publishing, since you’ve published a ton of work independently.

“Last I heard you make several hundred thousand a year by selling
ebooks and courses through your own websites. Seems like you’re
being a hypocrite to me, by knocking indie publishing.”

I told MM that my preference for traditional publishing over
self-publishing can be summed up in two words:

“Quality control.”

The way I see it, traditional publishing is a quality control
system for producing books — one that self-publishers lack.

For instance, all of my publishers and editors, bless them,
absolutely put me through the wringer on every book I write.

The result: the final book is much better than it was when my
manuscript first crossed their desk.

And for that, my publishers and editors have my undying
gratitude.

By comparison, 97% of self-publishers don’t come close to this
level of quality control for their product.

In fact, many do not even have their books copy edited,
fact-checked, or proofread by anyone other than the author.

Result: a huge quality differential between mainstream and
self-publishing.

My FB friend KS agreed with me, saying, “Quality is one reason
why traditional publishing will keep a foothold in the book
world, no matter what happens.”

RH commented: “I expect there to be a rebound toward physical
books and quality books that have been vetted by a publisher.
Maybe consumers will realize the value of publishers….”

BTW, I corrected MM in that I am not critical of indie
publishers; several of my own publishers are small independent
presses.

What I think often produces inferior books is self-publishing —
that is, an author publishing his own books without an outside
publishing firm.

The reason in a nutshell?

When it comes to editing, reviewing, and rewriting their own
work, most self-publishers take it too easy on themselves.

Editors with mainstream publishers, on the other hand, are tough
as nails on me. As they should be.

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Category: Writing | 809 Comments »

Is a hardcover worth more than an ebook?

July 10th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber AW writes:

“I read your recommendation on the sales book by author X. It
sounds interesting, but I am not sold on spending $40 on an ebook
— though I would for a hardcover copy of the book. Thanks for
sharing the recommendation, though.”

While I have great respect for AW and like her a lot, I believe
her thinking on this topic is wrong-headed.

The reason is simple: the value of specialized information
targeted at a narrow niche audience is enormous. And the value
is in the content, not the format of the book.

Louis L’Armour wrote, “Books are the building blocks of
civilization, for without the written word, a man knows nothing
beyond what occurs during his own brief years, and, perhaps, in a
few tales his parents tell him.”

My late friend, the great info marketer Jerry Buchanan, said, “A
book that instructs in some profitable field is a priceless
treasure. And if the bookseller offers it and you fail to assume
ownership, who will be the poorer, you or he?”

He also said that people who wanted to make money or start a
business and did not avail themselves of good books on the
subject were “starving to death with a loaf of bread under each
arm.”

The value of a how-to book is in the information between the
covers, not the covers themselves.

I am confident that the knowledge in the book I recommended to AW
could have increased her annual income by $10,000, which is a
250:1 return on investment — regardless of whether the book is a
PDF or paperbound book. Why would you pass up on an ROI like
that?

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Category: Writing | 178 Comments »

Is this the end of writing as a profession?

June 22nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

In a recent issue, I talked about whether freelance copywriting
is still a viable profession.

So subscriber TK then asked me, “Well, what about regular
freelance writing?”

By “regular” freelance writing, he was referring to a variety of
things writers commonly produce to make a living — and that are
not directly related to selling or marketing, but rather, are
written to inform or entertain.

These can include: magazine articles … newspaper articles …
nonfiction books … novels … short stories … plays … poetry …
essays … comic books … TV shows … movies.

TK wants to know: Is traditional freelance writing doomed?

My Facebook friend RK is of the opinion that yes, there’s no
future in freelancing.

RK writes:

“There is so much wonderful writing on the internet, which is
free. Eventually, writing will be like musical recordings.
Everyone will have access to everything.

“You can find the books of the greatest writers of all time for
free on the internet. The greater the writer, the more likely you
can find copies that can be read for free, because people upload
things in order to share these writings.

“The world is changing–has changed–considerably. Many excellent
writers give away 200-page books for free–really excellent.
Digitization is creating an entire new world.”

Some years ago, I interviewed writer Harlan Ellison for Writer’s
Digest magazine.

I asked him if the outlook for freelance writers looked gloomy.

He answered: “Bob, in terms of money, condition of work, and
approbation, things are worse today than they were when we first
met in 1979. Life is a lot harder for writers now.”

Then I asked Mr. Ellison, “Do you directly blame it on the
internet.”

He gave a strong affirmative reply, criticizing the “slovenliness
of thinking” on the web as well as the “slacker-gen philosophy
and belief today that everything should be free.”

“These mooks don’t think of writing as craft or even an
occupation,” he said. “They think it’s some kind of dilettante
behavior. Much like their own lives.”

With all the sites publishing articles and short stories for
which authors are not paid, and which readers don’t pay to read —
well, what would you expect?”

Ellison again: “The amateurs ruin it for the professionals,
because they write for free just to get published.”

Just as free article and short story sites and blogs are
destroying the time-honored profession of writing articles for
pay, Kindle is destroying the traditional book publishing
industry brick by brick.

Back in the day, writing a book and actually getting it published
by McGraw-Hill, John Wiley, or another mainstream publisher was
something of an accomplishment.

But now, thanks to Kindle and Createspace, every Tom, Dick, and
Harry can instantly become a “book author.”

And when everyone is an author, there’s nothing special about you
being an author, right?

There are very few safe havens for freelance writers who, like
me, want to continue to be freelance writers and earn a decent
living at it.

One of these safe havens is direct response copywriting. Why?

Because the old adage that “everybody writes” — and can write —
is beginning to rear its ugly head again.

But those of in direct response know that in fact very few people
can write DR copy that makes millions for their clients and
produces clicks and conversions through the roof.

So areas where a piece of writing’s ROI can be measured down to
the penny still have high demand for writers … and limited
supply, because frankly very few people are good at writing
direct response copy that works.

Another way to survive and thrive in the downward spiral of the
freelance writing profession is to build a “platform” — a
combination of expert credentials plus a built-in audience for
your writings.

Example: Rachel Ray sells truckloads of her cookbooks. Not
because she is the world’s best cook, but because she has a
popular TV show.

Maybe you can’t get a network TV show right away, so start
building your platform on a smaller, more modest scale — anything
from a weekly column in your town newspaper to a 15-minute show
on a local radio station.

It’s not like being Dr. Phil. But it’s a start. And you’ve got to
start somewhere.

Plus, the more you build up your platform, the more likely you
are to be in demand as a freelance writer, have a loyal
readership, and have editors and publishers buy your work.

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Category: Writing | 145 Comments »

A winning formula for freelance copywriting success

June 19th, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the last issue of this e-newsletter, I promised to give you
some advice on how to succeed as a freelance writer in today’s
highly competitive, over-crowded market.

So without further preamble, here are some suggestions for
surviving and thriving as a copywriter — and in particular, as a
newbie freelancer — in 2018 and beyond:

#1–Get good.

Your competitors are studying the books, taking the courses,
attending the conferences, watching the videos.

If you are not similarly a student of copywriting, you will soon
be left behind, unable to compete on their level.

#2–Next, get even better.

If you think you’re already a decent writer, don’t stand still.
Move forward.

Keep learning. Improve always. Continue reading the books, taking
the workshops, and studying.

Remember this famous saying: “School is never out for the pro.”

#3–Read.

There are only 3 ways to get better as a writer: study (see #1
above) … write (see #4 below) … and read.

Read a lot. Read books about business, marketing, and writing …
and about all sorts of other topics.

The books about business, marketing, and writing improve your
ability to write kick-butt copy.

The books on all other topics give you a storehouse of knowledge
on all sorts of subjects you can draw on to add interest and
verisimilitude to your copy.

They will also teach you how to write better through example.

#4–Write.

Isaac Asimov wrote for 10 hours or so a day, 7 days a week.

Stephen King has said he writes every day of the year except
Christmas and his birthday.

Write every day. If you want Sundays off, that’s fine.

#5–Avoid generic assignments.

The worst projects are writing articles and blog posts on general
subjects that anyone can look up on Google.

That’s because writers of these articles and posts essentially
just search Google for other articles on the same topic, pull
something from 4 or 5 of them, and cobble together a new piece.

Since any idiot can do this, it doesn’t — and never will — pay
particularly well. It’s a commodity service. And boring. So why
bother?

#6–Choose a niche.

All else being equal, in whatever field you look, specialists get
paid more and have a much easier time getting work than
non-specialists.

For instance, neurosurgeons make more money than family doctors —
and patent attorneys out-earn local attorneys with general
practices.

As a writer, you can specialize either in a medium (e.g., white
papers, case studies), a product or industry (e.g., chemicals,
investment newsletters), or both (e.g., SEO for chemical companies).

#7–Acquire specialized knowledge.

Once you’re in a niche, become an obsessive student of the topic,
and if you can, acquire some credentials to make it evident to
others that you are a subject matter expert.

For instance, in the 1980s, when I was inundated with assignments
from computer and software firms, I trained to become a certified
IT professional. And as an engineering graduate, I already knew
some programming.

#8–Compete.

Any writing field where the success of your copy can be measured
and proven — and that is most notably in direct response
marketing — will pay you more than writing disciplines where ROI
cannot be measured.

By “compete,” I mean specialize in areas where results can be
measured.

You don’t have to win every time, and you won’t.

But if you get known as a top gun in a writing area with
measurable ROI, you can get paid top dollar.

#9–Know what pays.

Some specialties and writing tasks pay better than others.
Gravitate toward one or more of those areas, and you’ll make more
money.

For instance, writing white papers pays well; writing blog posts
does not.

#10–Persist.

You will have frequent setbacks, failures, and disappointments
that will knock you to your knees repeatedly.

But as long as you get right back up, you will come out a winner.
As my Facebook friend Mike says, persistence breaks resistance.

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Category: Writing | 128 Comments »