Keep Up Those Amateur Efforts

Keep Up Those Amateur Efforts

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

Keep Up Those Amateur Efforts

You never know when or how something you “don’t really do seriously” will pay off.

A few years ago, I was writing for the San Francisco SPCA magazine. There was no money for photography, so I took my trusty digital point-and-shoot camera along on my reporting assignments. My editor published a photo and entered it into a contest. It won first prize.

Judges’ comments: “She captures the complex play of emotions in the cat’s face-wariness, trepidation, and ultimately, trust, with the result being that the image is indelibly printed on the viewer’s mind.”

Today the photo helps promote the cat claw clipping service of Feline Minds, a cat behavior consultancy that keeps cats in their homes and saves their lives.

Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

The Best Time to Start Is Now

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

The Best Time to Start Is Now

A year ago, my neighbor overheard me talking about reading poetry at an open mic.

“I write poetry,” he said. “I should go read sometime. I don’t have a working computer. I need to type up the poems.”

“You don’t need to type them up to read,” I said.

I told him about a few readings in town where he could share his stuff — at a couple of bars, a library, an art gallery, a senior-citizen apartment building.

“I’ve never done it before. I’m a little nervous about it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “All levels of talent there!”

This evening, we crossed paths on the stairs.

“I read at the library today. It wasn’t so bad. It’s the fourth Thursday of every month.”

He’s 70 years old.

I’ll have to check it out.

Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

The Times Are A-Changin’

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

The Times Are A-Changin’

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend cast for sources for an article about interviewing for a job. I answered the call. I worked as a recruiter for a few years, and interviewing was one of my favorite parts of the job. She sent me a set of questions by email, I answered them, and voila, a few weeks later, the article appeared online in the jobs section of the The Telegraph (UK). The backstory is the fun part. The writer was my fourth-grade classmate; we reconnected on Facebook just a couple of years ago. The one unit I remember in detail from fourth grade was one about how The New York Times uses the front page layout to communicate the importance of each story, and how to fold the paper for comfortable and courteous reading during a crowded morning commute. Read Soozy G. Miller’s article featuring yours truly, or check out her book, ADHD to Honor Roll: How I Cured My Child’s ADHD Without Drugs (And You Can, Too!).  
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Copywriter, Consultant, or Coach – Which Should You Hire?

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

Copywriter, Consultant, or Coach – Which Should You Hire?

There was a time when solo professionals could get by with minimal collateral — a business card, a brochure, and perhaps an ad for the Yellow Pages. Now most people maintain Websites. People may chuck your business card, figuring they can find you on the Web. Not having a Web site may even make some prospects suspicious about your professionalism. The best Websites combine strategic user-interface design, a look and feel that supports your business culture, and content (text, video, audio, and graphic) that lets your best customers know they’ve found a provider they can relate to. If you are a solo professional who sells services or a small number of products, fairly simple design will do: use a good CMS, such as WordPress, with an affordable theme or “skin.” The best return on investment will come from getting the words right. Many business owners leap to the conclusion that they ought to hire a copywriter. This hire is often premature. If your writing projects often take 4 or 5 or more rewrites, including major changes to the structure, you are not making the best use of your copywriting dollar. Here’s a guide to what kind of writing help you need: Copywriter. You can make the best use of a copywriter’s time if, in the words of advertising giant David Ogilvy, you provide “the freedom of a tight brief.” * Who is your audience? * What do they care about? * What do they need to know? * What do you want them to do? The best copywriting direction I ever received was from a consumer electronics company: “Our prospect is the kind of person who is not an early adopter, but who wants to be known as the first on the block to have a product once it has become the product to have.” Whether or not you “are a writer,” you should be able to articulate the answers to these questions, in words, images, or mind maps. We manage our thoughts internally through words and images; if you can’t symbolize your thoughts, feelings, and ideas, your problem is not “writer’s block” or a lack of talent or skill: you just aren’t clear enough on what you want to say. If you’re hoping a copywriter will “take stabs” at your content as you figure out what you are trying to get across, consider hiring a consultant instead. Consultant. Take another look at those questions. Can you think them through with a little reflection? Do you know how to find the answers? If not, a consultant might be able to help. An expert can show you how to build business intelligence. * Can you construct a customer persona, or a profile including their demographics and psychographics? * Do you have strategies and roadmaps for product offerings or lines of business? * How will you measure the success of your messaging? Creating that “tight brief” comes much easier when you know what you need to say, what effects you’re going for. Still stumped? A consultant will be most useful if your business objectives are fairly clear, and when what you lack is expert knowledge or industry experience. If you’re fuzzy on objectives, coaching may be in order. Coach. Ultimately, many business owners know what to do. In fact, they know too much. They are overwhelmed with advice, options, tools, and professionals offering “solutions.” The trouble? Deciding what they want to do and committing to a course of action. If you’re torn between pursuing markets that seem most lucrative and the ones to which you are most attracted, are suffering from “impostor syndrome” about your best talents, or haven’t really committed to a business model, no expert can make decisions for you. What you write about your business will tend to be muddled. With the right support, you can find clarity and, as a result, develop much more effective communications.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

“Content Is King”

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

“Content Is King”

I’ve been looking for this for a long time and finally tracked it down: the text of Bill Gates’ 1996 essay, “Content Is King.” I have become increasingly irritated by the buzzword “content.” Gates’ words give me heart. He focuses, as one would expect, on commercial opportunity. What he does not do is erase the creator – and creativity itself – from the construct. This essay speaks of three distinct phenomena and three corresponding opportunities arising from the precipitous drops in costs related to producing, duplicating, distributing, and storing textual, audio, video, and graphic material. One is the opportunity for creators to become publishers:
“One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.”
Another is for suppliers – producers, publishers, broadcasters, and distributors – to operate at greater scale.
“But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.”
A third is for people with specialized interests to bypass “publishing” and simply share.
For example, the Internet is already revolutionizing the exchange of specialized scientific information. Printed scientific journals tend to have small circulations, making them high-priced. University libraries are a big part of the market. It’s been an awkward, slow, expensive way to distribute information to a specialized audience, but there hasn’t been an alternative.
These days, those ideas are hopelessly conflated. Certainly, creators must learn to use the tools and navigate the markets of our time. In both cinema and television, for example, artistic innovation has followed technological innovation – from the talkie to the multiple-camera sitcom to CGI. However, “content development” will never replace singing, composing, acting, writing, filming, or drawing. That’s the case whether the purpose is fine art, entertainment, or marketing. Gates again:
“Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”
I think it’s no coincidence that the “golden ages” of film and of television came when the technology was new and enthusiasm was high for novel modes of expression and the ability to reach more people. Watch an old Milton Berle show on kinescope; you can feel the excitement. The ubiquitous buzzword “content” has become an indicator of a cynical vision: lots of people and companies making lots of money by bombarding the public with anything at all; lots of other people making money by facilitating the transmittal; the ideas, experiences, and products we want and need turned into commodities and creative workers into cheap labor. Perhaps we should go back to the kind of language we used before Bill Gates’ essay gave us a new term to abuse, when marketers commissioned videos, corporate spokespeople wrote white papers or opinion pieces or columns, nonprofits sent out newsletters, researchers released reports, and the creative products of artists went by their everyday names — specific words that refer to the substance of what we make and consume.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.