Monday, November 17, 2014

5 questions to expect from a freelance copywriter

Wouldn't it be nice if freelance or contract writers were mind-readers? Sorry, here in the real world, most aren't. To avoid hassles and get the results you want and need from a business copywriter (or just about any other contractor), make sure everyone involved has a clear understanding of the project.

When I start a new project, these five questions are among the first I ask:

1. Who is this directed to? who else might read it?

This helps define your audience and target the message

2. Why are you talking/writing to them?

And why might they listen?  The answer is usually your goal; e.g., "We want them to buy tires during the sale! Tires are half off, so they can buy 4 tires for the price of 2!" The answer is rarely so obvious - which makes the question all that much more important. 

3. What do you want them to do?

Call us for a quote. Buy 4 tires before December 1st. Break your contract and sign ours. Pay on time. Whatever it is, your writer needs to know the end goal. As clearly as you can possibly state it. 

4. When do you need this (from me, the contractor)?
Because deadlines are when things get done.

5. How do you want it?

Do you expect a Word .doc, a .pdf? What about images? Would you rather just see copy emailed in the body of a message, or should it be tied up with a bow? If you have a style guide, by all means, share it with your copywriter. 

Answering the five questions above usually takes less than 30 minutes, and on the average project, saves both you and your contractor, roughly speaking, about a gazillion hours.




Saturday, November 1, 2014

Purple Haiku About Politics, Too?

Red and blue mix-up
Sangria-colored bruises
Can't ignore the stain.

##

This haiku was originally submitted to a Yahoo! voices haiku contest. I've archived several of my articles that were published by that Yahoo! channel (which was shuttered in July 2014). This was the only haiku I published there. I always thought it could be about politics as much as about the color purple. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Right Time to Write: NaNoWriMo

Have you heard about NaNoWriMo? November's annual words-fest is designed to encourage folks to write a novel in 30 days. There's an official website and registering gets you encouragement/nagging and the virtual company of a lot (a LOT) of other writers - and people with good intentions.

Great title; sorry- taken.

You're Ready to Write that Novel! 

Some eager folks insist you can show up November 1 with nary an idea 30 days later, you too will have a complete manuscript. I am not convinced. But I am an optimist, and I believe everyone has a novel inside, it's just a matter of (an almost indescribable amount of) dedication to get it on paper. Or hard drive.

Or Get Ready for NaNoWriMo

I like the approach suggested by Jennifer Mattern, business copywriter and head-honcho of the super-practical and useful site, All Indie Writers. Mattern says a little preparation goes a long way, and offers a host of helpful tools to give you an edge over all those just-show-up-and-write types. So, get ready and write - and you'll show them!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Content takes time - lots of time!

Nobody minding the store?
Raise your hand if your last blog post was more than a week ago. More than two weeks ago... more than a month ago?

Raise your hand if you've been looking into a company, interested enough to read the blog...only to lose confidence in said company when you see the last post was more than three months ago.

OK, now that EVERYONE has a hand or two up in the air, put 'em down.

Content creation takes time. Be realistic about managing your blog and 88 social media profiles. And if you think your time is better spent elsewhere - like running the company or managing the sales staff - you're probably right. So, hire a ghostwriter.

That is all. ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A guide to style guides

So now that everyone's in the content business, don't you think it's about time we all had a little style?

Let's Talk Style Guides

Whether your company has a website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or "just" a print presence, you have a style. And you need a guide.* And then, for heaven's sake, you need to make sure all of your employees know it exists, and why, and that they are expected to follow it.

Many large corporations and publications of all sizes have their own style guides. Some of those organizations even update said guides every-so-often. (If you keep your style guide up to date, please, give yourself a pat on the back.)

While creating a style guide sounds like a lot of work without a measurable payoff, reconsider: If half of your sales literature states the company name in ALL CAPS and the other half uses title caps, the company looks a little sloppy. If your website varies noticeably from page to page; if your sales presentations don't reflect the same style as your sales literature and websites, prospective customers can lose confidence in the company. And if there are more significant inconsistencies, especially on contracts (did I just get your attention?) they could have legal ramifications.

So. Have a style guide. And use it.

The Most Common Style Guides 

Most custom style guides are actually just a few pages long, highlighting a few company- and industry-specific terms and how they should be used. And, on the first page or maybe at the end, there's a line that goes something like this: "For all other style questions, refer to the AP guide," or another standard reference. The most common style guides are -
AP  - From Associated Press, or as it humbly considers itself, the Journalist's Bible.
Chicago Manual
MLA - AKA Modern Language Association Style, while generally considered the style of academia and researchers, its more widely used than that - even if many users don't know it.
Now, if you prefer to wing it consider something like the useful guide Purdue University's Online Writing Lab put together. Or, if you're into creating a brand new style guide, from scratch, well, congratulations on your adventure! Reinventing the wheel completely could be fun.

From http://blog.dingbatpress.com/
Here are a few questions to get the gears turning:
What font (or fonts) will you use? You might choose two or even three to use for different sections, situations, or sales. That's OK - just be consistent in their use.
What about line spacing? Like your choice of fonts, how you use line spacing has a lot to do with how easy your copy is on the eyes.
And alignment? While left-justified, singled-spaced copy is the most commonly used, there's certainly room in the world for a little center- or even right-justification. Again, consistency is key. if you
Have you chosen your case? If you don't know your title case from your sentence case, learn before you create your style guide. (Please don't talk to me about camel case or bumpy case.) And when you decide on a case type, stick with it.
Bonus points:
You don't need to be a graphic designer, but it sure is nice if you can speak the language.

*I'll save my comments on how stylish a company's style might be for another day. Today I'm talking guides. No matter what your guide, here's the best advice you'll ever get: FOLLOW IT.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Writing Process: Q&A with Author Megan Cyrulewski

Megan Cyrulewski, who wrote about postpartum depression with sharp insight and no pretense in her memoir,  Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, recently opened up a little more - this time, about her thoughts on writing and publishing.  
Megan Cyrulewski
I offer my thanks to Megan, for this post, for her honesty and dedication to the the process, and for being willing to share her experience to help others. Thanks, too, on behalf of other writers wrestling with some tough questions - inspiration is always welcome! 

This is your first book. Did you grow up thinking, maybe one day I'll write a book? Or was "author" a label you never expected to wear?   
MC: I actually wrote a fiction book when I was in college (I think I was 19.)  It was awful but I think that was the beginning of wanting to someday write a book.
How did you make time to write your memoir with a young child, and the rest of life, swirling around you?  
MC: Luckily, Madelyne was in daycare 3 days a week. So on days that she was at daycare, I was able to write.  
What surprised you about the publishing process?  
MC: The marketing aspect.  I love my publisher but as with many small publishing companies, the author has to do a lot of marketing him/herself.  I didn’t even know where to start!  
Who in your life has inspired you to write?  
MC: My daughter.  She inspires me every day. 
How do you feel your writing may inspire others?  
MC:  Whenever I get an e-mail or a contact from someone telling me that my book helped them, any doubts I had about opening myself up vanish.
NOTE: Megan's frankness about the severity of postpartum depression is truly welcome. We need to talk about mental health openly. And as usual, we can count on moms to start those tough conversations
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“In order to write about life first you must live it.” 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have your fears stopped you from writing about personal experiences?  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blog rules to know and break

The Steveology Blog is always a great resource; in the series of interviews with Lou Hoffman, doubly so. I liked part 3, about storytelling, best. It highlighted some of the rules of corporate blogging that I'd argue most organizations break or ignore.

And there I go again, breaking the rules. See what I did there? You know I know you're not supposed to put an outside link in the first line of your blog. *Sigh* Go ahead, click away laughing - if you've read beyond the outside link in the past, you'll know why I do this. I think writing should be more useful to readers than it is to the writer - in this case, me.

Which may explain why I don't blog for a living. But I digress.

Engagement isn't easy, nor is it overrated

Your corporate blog needs readers and you need patience and commitment to get them.

Just because monkeys can write blogs and many blogging tools are free doesn't mean it's a good idea for monkeys to have blogs. *Ahem* Sorry, my snarkiness is showing.

If you've been charged with writing a corporate blog or any kind, don't fall into the content trap and think your task is all about writing. Blogging is copywriting, and copywriting is marketing. Or that word no one likes to say out loud anymore: advertising.

Call me old school: I came to copywriting via some great advertising classes taught by an adjunct who knew it, because he was doing it.

Copywriting vs. Content 

Copywriting, of course, is not just writing, or even storytelling. It's advertising. Meaning, before you write, you have to know your product (or service), your target audience, and how to reach them quickly and effectively.

Sounds a lot like content management, doesn't it?

Coincidence? I don't think so. And what's this? Another external link just as you finish reading this post? Another rule broken! Coincidence? Or valuable content, offered in trust? It's your call.