I can’t believe I haven’t posted about writing since August of last y ear! The problem is, when you’re mired in work it is hard to think about blogging for yourself.
However, I should be coming up for air soon. So stay tuned.
To some extent, if the economy slows, so does every aspect of it. So freelance writers shouldn’t be surprised that it gets harder to find work.
That being said, even if the economy were to genuinely recede, businesses and non-profits would still need written communication. I was reminded of this fact recently while at the website of the financial guru Dave Ramsey. He had this to say about radio, which I think applies to all sorts of freelance writing as well.
The recent RAB convention in Atlanta had some great answers. Selling Radio in a Challenging Economy, a seminar presented by Mike Mahone and Dave Casper, suggests thinking LONG TERM (Now there’s an idea!). In the last century, advertisers who held out and even bumped up their advertising budgets ended up “on top” during and after an economic crisis. Although money might get tight and the country as a whole might seem worried, people aren’t going to stop buying. The advertisers that stay focused and continue to brand themselves can expect huge results.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- Back in the 1930s, Kellogg maintained its advertising during the Great Depression while Post did not. As a result, Kellogg gained domination of the dry cereal market and held onto that domination for half a century. (Casper, 32)
- Heavier advertising was also credited for the improved performance of Revlon and Philip Morris during the recessionary years of 1974-75, while sales of Avon Products and Hershey Foods slumped after advertising cuts. (32)
- During the 1975 recession, Chevrolet increased their advertising while Ford cut theirs by 14%. In the end, Chevy’s market share rose by 2%, and five years later, Ford had not regained its share points. (33)
Obviously, cutting advertising budgets during a recession or economic slump can have major, long-term, negative results. We tell our listeners all the time that choosing the easiest way out is rarely the answer when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You have to work hard and look at things with a long-term perspective in mind. And that’s exactly what your advertisers need to do starting today. The minute you bail, you start losing brand recognition in the marketplace.
For the full Selling Radio in a Challenging Economy PowerPoint presentation from the RAB conference, go to http://www.rab.com/rabEcon.ppt. This information is fantastic and will revolutionize the way you view advertising and the economy. The RAB is an excellent resource for your staff and has a wealth of tools to begin implementing today.
Not only does this point obviously apply to writing and those in a position to make decisions about writing, it also applies to freelance writers themselves. No doubt there are plenty of people who made a living by writing during past hard times, and that will be true in this bump in the economy.
I mean even the worst writers. “Black hat” writers, in google-speak. Congress has passed laws against spam. But they can’t pass laws against hiring rapists and murderers without drivers licenses or against exploiting teens to sell magazines door to door.
…for tough questions, Buckley refers reporters to the NFSA’s Washington, D.C., attorney, Dan Smith. Smith has lobbied for the group, most notably in 2000, when legislators proposed the federal Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act. The bill was a response to a 1999 wreck in Wisconsin that killed seven agents and paralyzed another. It occurred when the 20-year-old driver of the van — whose Iowa license had expired and who previously had his Wisconsin driving privileges suspended — saw a police car and panicked. Not wanting to get busted again, he tried to change seats with a passenger while driving 80 miles per hour. The coordination was a bitch. Twelve passengers were ejected. The owner of the company the crew worked for never skipped a beat — she just hired a bunch of new kids and started up under a new name. Smith was the guy who handled the lobbying against the proposed safety act — lobbying that worked.
The bill called for making sure crews stayed in hotels that met certain safety guidelines, and making the companies keep an itinerary of where their crews were at any given time. Such a schedule would have helped when, in Houston in 2005, a sales agent raped a 17-year-old mentally retarded girl who answered the door of the apartment she shared with her mother. To gain her confidence, that agent acted as if he had a disability as well. If the Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act had passed intact, there’s a very good chance authorities would be able to find out which crews were operating in Houston on June 5, 2005. As it is, the case remains unsolved.
There is a national will to criminalize behavior that annoys your inbox but when it comes to small stuff like killing, raping, looting, and fraud–hey, we can’t legislate everyone’s private business. By the way, I’m not in favor of spam. But I think the rhetoric against direct mail (“intrusion marketing”) of often overblown, especially in light of the alternatives.
Writing to persuade readers to act is not pure logic. Sometimes this raises suspicions. What are those manipulative writers up to? Why not just make the case and be done without all that emotional rhetoric and red type? (I’m just being hypothetical without implying anything good or bad about red type.)
So here is a true story. I know a man who had a job interview involving a weekend trip to meet his potential supervisor and get acquainted with the workplace. He had a great time and, after he returned, he quickly sent a thank you note to the boss. The boss responded to him that he seemed like a great candidate and had performed well in the interview. Nevertheless, since the candidate had signed the note, he took it upon himself to do some lay handwriting analysis. And he decided on that basis that the candidate was completely unfit for the job.
This is an extreme example, but it is an example of something that happens all the time.
I suppose in some sort of strange society where everyone was trained to only respect strict syllogisms, sales writing might be able to restrict itself to a logical argument with nothing else. But in the actual world, you can’t escape the presence of factors that our outside of logic. The “irrational” is always there to subvert your logic and bypass your arguments.
No writer can afford to ignore this fact–not when he or she is writing for human readers.
If you read the literature in books or on the net, you know that people claim there are all sorts of tricks to sales writing.
But a recent visit to Branson, MO on the part of some friends of mine reminded me that it depends on how you define “trick.”
When you are a writer, you have great limitations. You can’t keep people in your presence for three hours, when you promised they would only have to listen to a two-hour presentation. You can’t watch a couple and find the weaker “link” in the chain of resistance and work on that person. You can’t develop strategies of deception so that, when a couple seems resistant to your initial offers, your partner suddenly comes into the room claiming that some new properties have unexpectedly opened up and, even though it is their normal practice to only offer these to members, they’ve decided to give the prospects an opportunity to buy in.
Writers don’t have tricks–not like those possessed by salesmen with a captive audience in a resort sales presentation. They share techniques in order to be as persuasive as possible. But they have nothing compared to salesmen with real tricks.
Writers never have a captive audience. Even the guy writing copy for the placard over the urinal knows that anyone using it can simply space out and not read the words in front of him. He can’t force the urinating man to stand there until he reads it. There is no way to obstruct his exit from the restroom in order to make a second offer “that just became available.”
Writers don’t have tricks. They either persuade you first to read and then to make a decision, or else they don’t do one or the other.
Writers leave their prospect free to choose. No tricks. Just persuasion.
I was reading a book on business by one of the more famous freelance writers (while the book was on starting a writing business, the section could apply to any small business start up). The author was giving guidance for how to network at meetings and generate leads. One of his first points was this:
Do not try to sell services or products; that is not why you are there.
If you are using or starting or thinking about starting a corporate blog, you should keep this advice in mind. It applies as much to blogging as it does to networking.
Blogging is not like making a sells pitch. It is like going to an event, a meeting of some kind, and trying to meet people. Blogging is networking. You have your business card to give away; that’s your sidebar. But people do not come to your blog or leave comments because they have made an appointment with you to receive a sales pitch. They come for the conversation, the entertainment, and the information.
Naturally, you want your blog to generate leads. Who doesn’t? But trying to sell stuff will kill any chance of that happening. Just like it will be self-defeating when you try to meet people and network. No one will converse with you if they feel pressured to buy something from you every time you open your mouth. You generate leads from networking by being conversational, entertaining, and informative. That is what makes people interested in you and willing to take your business card.
Posted also here.
“Five Words You Can Cut,” is a helpful reminder. I would have added “very” to the list (I almost used it in the previous sentence). My personal weakness is for “perhaps.”
What is you special weakness? What word attracts you but is not helpful to your writing?
Since one of my jobs at S&Q is literary agent, I found this blog entry by Colleen Lindsay to be really helpful. Here are the bottom line facts that she lists:
YA fiction 50k – 80k
urban fantasy / paranormal romance 80k – 90k
mysteries and crime fiction = cozies: usually 60k – 70k mark), most: 80k to 100k
mainstream fiction chick lit: 60k to 80k words; literary fiction: possibly as high as 120k but lately less; thrillers: 90k – 100k; historical fiction as high as 140k. Nothing under 50k.
science fiction and fantasy = Should be the same as adult fiction; a few editors consider 100k ideal for good space opera or fantasy; \ a truly spectacular epic fantasy: maybe 120k /130k. (Sequels may be allowed longer)
On the last point made by Lindsay, I noticed the other day that the Inheritance Trilogy no longer a trilogy. It is now planned as a four-book series for exactly this reason. Christopher Paolini had the third and final book all planned out, but when he wrote it out it grew way too long (see the video here).
I have to wonder why Lindsay is dealing with so many gargantuan manuscripts. My suspicion is that writers are thinking only of “the story” and not about selling themselves to a publisher as a profitable person with whom to partner. Being obsessed with “the story,” is just fine if you don’t care about being published. But then why bother to even submit the manuscript?
Publishing companies have a great many expenses. No doubt they all hope that some one book will take off and be a huge seller. Who wouldn’t want to be the beneficiary of a J. K. Rowling popularity bomb?
But you can never plan on that. Rowling’s books are great but that does not mean that there are not plenty of other great manuscripts out there that no one ever hears about. One can’t plan to be a world famous multi-millionaire from writing a book any more than one can plan to win the lottery. And publishers can’t plan on that either.
What you can do with a reasonable chance of success is become a reliable hard-working writer who creates material that a publisher can trust to produce. If you have some giant of a book you must get published, your best chance is to succeed at conventional works so that publishers will give you a chance when you propose a mamoth book.
By the way, Lindsay provides a lot more commentary and discussion so make sure you visit her post.
Freecycle — a fantastic community that’s also home to some of the most extreme social cluelessness and gaspingly funny avarice in the online world. This blog will document it all. Posts are reproduced unedited in their entirety, with only identifying information removed.
One might guess from this sort of phenomena that trying to find freelance work through a bidding website may not be a productive use of one’s time and energy. Here is one witness that such a guess is accurate. I’ll reproduce just a couple of his exhibits without his commentary:
I need someone to write 100 articles for a web site. I can only afford to pay $1 per article but this may lead to more work later. Also, all articles you submit will be checked through Copyscape.
I’m looking for someone to write 10 product reviews of (insert product type here). They need to be done quickly and I’ll pay $30. Just to be clear, that’s $30 for all 10, not per review.
I recently watched Arrested Development – Season One and got a sad chuckle at the mention of the video series, “Girls with Low Self-Esteem.” Wouldn’t it be great of sleazy productions would be that honest about what they are doing?
But it would also be a great title for one of these bid-for-a-writer sites.
WWLSE.COM — BID FOR YOUR PROJECT HERE!
The bottom line is that they are looking for people who think their work is of no value and their only hope for approval is to give it away cheap.