Category Archives: writing

How To Weasel Out Of A Deadline (When You Seriously Must)

Saturday 3:08pm
Reno, NV
Do the least damage possible to the client.” (Me.)

Howdy.

Recently, a good pal (and damn fine copywriter) had a bit of a meltdown…

… because Life inserted some truly cruel and unusual shit into his day, and he was in danger of missing a deadline. (That’s a photo of a deadline, above. Nasty thing.)

This is a no-no among most top professionals of all persuasions. You don’t miss deadlines.

People are counting on you. As a freelancer, entire businesses may be counting on you.

Back when I wrote for the largest direct mailing outfits in the world, a missed deadline might mean tens of thousands of bucks wasted, as printing presses sat idle. If my piece was meant for a print ad, even more money could potentially go down the tubes — my deadline was attached to a publication deadline, and no magazine or newspaper waits for you to get your shit together.

You don’t get your ad in on time, you don’t go into the publication. And you still have to pay (at least a penalty, and maybe the whole ad cost).

It’s serious stuff.

Still…

… because we’re all humans living in an essentially hostile world (full of danger, unpredictable risks, and lots of other gruesome horrors)…

you need a plan.

A plan for that day (which hopefully never comes) when… shudder… you may be forced to miss a deadline.

My colleague is a true pro. He understands that clients and printing presses and budgets and biz plans are counting on him to meet his deadlines…

… and over a decade as a freelance copywriter, has never to my knowledge missed one.

And yet, here he was…

… cornered by Life, and needing some advice on what to do.

So, I whipped out a short list of options.

And it was so good, I thought I’d share it here.

For you to use NEVER… unless there is absolutely no other choice.

So, ONLY for your deep Bag O’ Tricks-Maybe-Needed-Down-The-Line (and never for regular use), here’s that advice:

How to get out of a deadline…

… when you absolutely have to (cuz you’re faint from loss of blood, or space aliens kept you locked up all night doing anal probes, or your eyes fell out…

… which, by the way, are the ONLY real excuses a true professional would ever let get in the way of a deadline. Other than life-or-death emergencies.)

Let’s begin with the stark fact that I, for one, have never missed a deadline. Never. In a 30-year writing career.

A few colleagues have expressed shock over that. Cuz, from the complaints I’ve fielded over the years about my cohorts, the average copywriter misses approximately half his deadlines. From rookie to top dog. It’s appalling.

But it also opens up a huge opportunity for writers who want to stand out (as all the “A Listers” do). One of the reasons I earned the global reputation I enjoy, in fact… is by meeting my deadlines.

Deadlines are sacred. I made a vow early in my career, “biz before pleasure”, and I stuck to it.

Without that attitude, I would be just another run-of-the-mill copywriter. No fame. No fortune. Not worth much.

In fact, the whole notion of meeting ALL your deadlines caused me to create what I call “The Professional’s Code”. It’s good for anyone in any kind of job where people count on you.

Here’s that code: You are where you said you’d be… when you said you’d be there… having done what you said you’d do.

It’s just that simple. In biz, romance, hobbies, getting your hair cut, everything you do… you follow the code.

If you crave the respect (and rewards) of BEING a true pro…

… you move heaven and earth to make this code REAL in your life.

You become That Guy who can be counted on. Who follows through. Who you can trust with your life. Or the life of your business.

Still…

… nevertheless, there may come a time in your career when life interferes so drastically…

… that you are forced to miss a deadline.

If that happens, here are your options:

Option #1: Arrange for an extension. You do not reveal details of your emergency. You’re not looking for sympathy. You’re a professional who is admitting that you cannot meet the current deadline…

… and something else needs to be arranged.

If they refuse your request for an extension, then: (a) return whatever fee you’ve already been paid, and deal with the professional shame of missing a deadline…

… or (b) hand in whatever you’ve completed up to this moment (if it’s even close to being what the client needs)…

… or (c) combine (a) and (b).

You may lose the client if what you give them isn’t something they can use… but then, who needs clients who don’t respect the fact that — once in a while — life hands you a bummer? (And, to be fair, what client needs a writer who misses deadlines?)

This is assuming you haven’t made a habit of missing deadlines. You may have earned some slack, IF your rep is clean up to now.

If missing the deadline causes a huge problem for the client, then your reputation has taken a massive hit…

… and your job, for the next few years, will be to try to repair your reputation. It will be hard. And dependent on you never missing another deadline.

If you take the hit, face up to it. It’s a setback. You’ll have to work to fix it.

It is what is. (Good Zen advice for living imperfectly in a rough world.)

Getting an extension is the best possible option.

But it only works if it works for your client, too. 

If you must face the reality that you will not meet the deadline…

then own up to it as soon as possible. Do not try to keep a fee you haven’t earned.

And — most important — do not vanish on the client.

The WORST thing you can do is go radio silent, leaving your client in the dark… just because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’re missing a deadline.

This compounds the error, essentially tossing your reputation into the toilet.

Own up to the situation. Again, you do not need to share details — what’s important to the client is not what’s happening to you, but what’s to become of his campaign. He paid you to do a job, and you’re not doing it. There are no “good” excuses for missing a deadline…

… but there are missed deadlines, even the most perfect of worlds.

Option #2: Gear up, do the best job possible in the time you can give to the gig, working overnight if you must, and meet the deadline with something resembling a complete ad. Meet the deadline despite the crises. 

Schedule time to get at least some sleep, and to deal with the interfering emergency…

… but give the rest of your available time to the job. Make it happen.

I’ve even resorted to jamming out an ad in a couple of hours, to meet a deadline. Normally, I want weeks to carefully craft an ad… to research it, edit it, come up with multiple headlines, carefully craft the whole thing. However, I’m also capable of writing quickly, without the days of obsession and editing.

I prefer to have time to do it right.

But when time is not available, I do the best job I can inside of the small block of time I do have.

When you jam stuff out… what you end up with is what it is.

Just know that a top writer working at 70% is worth a lesser writer at peak output — which means, if you’re a veteran writer, this rushing to meet the deadline at the last minute can still produce “good enough” copy.

If you’re not a veteran writer… then you’ve got to make the call: Can you craft a complete ad — even an inferior one — in the time you do have available?

If you can’t, then this isn’t a good option for you.

Side note: The great Gary Halbert used to routinely finish ads, writing by hand on a legal pad, in the passenger seat of a car speeding to the client’s office. I’ve written speeches in the airplane, flying to the event I’d be speaking at. I know writers who’ve recorded themselves talking out copy while in the shower, and editing the transcription in the lobby of the client’s biz.

And I’ve written ads (and made major biz decisions on the phone) in hospitals, taking a break from attending to the loved one I was there to see. I never neglected my duties as part of the support team. But there was always time to break away for 20 minutes or an hour (when they were sleeping).

You do NOT need your usual “safe space” to create good copy, once you become a true professional. You use what you have.

Especially today, with modern technology. I’ve written ads on my iPhone, typing with thumbs.

No excuses.

Option #3: If you have even a day to spare, hire a ghost writer, and meet the deadline.

If the emergency forcing you to miss the deadline is also taking you away from your ability to do ANY work at all…

… but there is still time for SOMEONE to do it…

… then this is the best option.

Early in my career, I worked for copywriting legends like Jim Rutz (inventor of the magalog), Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert in these exact situations. Sometimes, even for my very first jobs with them…

… so we had no history, and they had no idea of I could deliver quality or not. But they hired me, because I was willing to throw myself into the fire, work all night (for several nights, if needed), and move heaven and earth to help them meet their sacred deadline. And they’d heard from other marketers that I met my deadlines…

… even when they were unreasonably short.

It was a great way to kickstart my reputation as a writer you could count on. And it got me inside their operations, where I soon held high-status positions.

If you need to hire a ghost writer, hit up your network and pay what you need to pay to meet the deadline. It might be all of your fee…

… which is acceptable, because this is an emergency situation.

Oh, wait. You don’t have a network yet?

Well, why not?

One of your priorities in life should be to cultivate and nurture a network of colleagues who are in your biz. If you’re a writer, then that network should be full of your writing peers — the sort of professionals you can hit up when you’re forced to hire a ghost writer.

And those are your options.

Bottom line: Do not be bullied or guilt-tripped by the client — for your own peace of mind. Rest on your laurels if you have to — if your reputation is clean (because you’ve made meeting deadlines a professional habit), then this one time missing a deadline or returning the fee won’t harm you much.

Recite: “It is what it is. Under normal conditions, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be an issue. It is an issue, however, this time.”

Then make your decision on the best option, and engage the client in conversation if you’re backing out of the gig. The sooner he knows, the more he can mitigate the problems you’ve caused.

Seek the least damage to the client.

Side note: The best way to AVOID this travesty, of course, is to avoid agreeing to hard deadlines in the first place. Smart clients pad their deadlines, so they’re not actually “hard”, in the sense that missing it creates a disaster.

A “soft” deadline means there is still time after you turn in your manuscript before the ad runs, or gets printed, or the project starts. You’re not turning in your copy the day before the launch or the print date.

That doesn’t mean you can miss soft deadlines with impunity, though. The extra time is usually reserved for your copy being reviewed, fact-checked, and proofed. All very necessary stuff.

Top pro’s who’ve had experiences with deadlines prefer this arrangement. If there’s a problem — especially one in miscommunication between client and writer (including bad info, incorrect facts, and totally misunderstanding some essential part) — it can be caught early, during one of the multiple soft deadlines in the funnel.

It gets complicated, when writers don’t want early drafts of their work seen by the client. I certainly do not want this.

However, it’s very smart to insert soft deadlines where the client must get all info to you (so you can start writing)… where all facts (from phone numbers to links to research info) are double-checked… and where you float your hook (especially if it’s outrageous) or sale-closing angles (including guarantees).

This saves everyone a lot of problems.

It also forces the writer not to wait until the last minute to start writing (which is why sudden emergencies cause such havoc). If you’ve got all the info double-checked, and you’re sure of the facts you’re working with, AND you’ve cleared your hook with the client…

… then having to finish up in a hurry (when unexpected shit hits your fan) becomes much, much easier.

Top writers know how to navigate life and business at a level far above how regular civilians operate.

Because people are counting on you.

Hope this helps.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Want more good advice like this, specifically for copywriters and consultants?

The “Freelance Course” is crammed with it.

Go here to check it out.

Many top working writers used this course to break away from the pack, and start earning the Big Bucks as their reputation grew by leaps and bounds.

Take your career seriously. This is a great place to start.

Bad John, Good John

Amazon Best Sellers - Marketing - Direct copy 2

Sunday, 11:59am
Reno, NV
You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)

Howdy…

I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.

Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)

Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.

However…

I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.

Plus…

… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.

This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)

No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…

… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.

This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it. 

I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.

If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)

Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.

I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…

… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.

I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.

So…

… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.

THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…

… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.

So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.

Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…

… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.

The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.

I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.

In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.

I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).

There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…

… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.

I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.

So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.

And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.

Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.

Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.

If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.

Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.

Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.

Stay frosty, my friend.

John

P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.

 

 

 

 

 

.

Tribute To The Ink-Stained Wretch

Flag

Saturday, 12:42pm
Reno, NV
I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)

Howdy…

For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country. Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments, we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.

For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.

Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace. For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes. We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception. Yet, the opposite is true.

Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet. Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries. I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.

It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.

Much deeper than that. The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship. All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.

It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges. The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it. Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions. I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art. But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all banned or censored at some point in our history). And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.

We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.

So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today. This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal. The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box. Dangerous stuff.

I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.

For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks. Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.

Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm). But the restrictions should remain rare. Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it. Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology. And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.

I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life. It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.

For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory. Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being. Free.

Fuckin’ A. Play ball.

Stay frosty,

John

K.I.S.S.

Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”

Howdy.

Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

R.I.P. Elvis Sightings & Exploding Preachers

 

Thursday, 2:52pm
Reno, NV
He was a one-eyed, one horn, flying purple people eater…” (Sheb Wooley)

Howdy.

In the spirit of screwing off as much as possible this fine July, I’m replenishing the blog with another oldie-but-goodie post from the archives.

So you’ve got something good to chew on, while I wander off to the beach to get pounded by merciless surf and fried by an uncaring sun. You know: Good times.

Anyway, I love meandering through the archives here… especially when I find a post that still packs some mojo.

Here’s a nice short one from ’07, on the non-scientific process of finding great hooks for your headlines. At the time, I was bummed that a favorite newsstand shock-rag was ending its run… however, the good news is that WWN is still alive and kicking (just like Elvis) online. (Today’s headline: “Saturn Ready To Explode!” Um… okay.)

The ability to find a way to hook readers (and drag them into your story) is what separates the Big Dog writers from the wannabe’s. And creating hooks (especially from otherwise boring raw material) is an art form that needs to be developed. It’s not a skill that comes with your standard brain equipment.

Here’s some insight to how the best veteran copywriters do it, slightly edited, via the Archive Time Machine, from July ’07: Continue Reading

How To Murder Stress, Part 1

Tuesday, 3:29pm
Reno, NV
I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)

Howdy…

What’s the matter, Bunky?

The news got you down?  The economy keeping you up at night?  Are sales in the toilet, creditors stalking you, clients not returning calls, the sheer angst of living in a modern tech-drenched world chewing holes in your gut?

Would you like to hear how grizzled veterans handle the evils of stress?

It’s good stuff… because, as everyone should realize, you don’t get to BE a grizzled veteran if you can’t handle stress.  Cuz that shit will eat your ass alive and send you to an early grave.

In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Bidness Never-Ending Cage Fight.  I noticed, in the first years of my freelance career (when I was searching semi-desperately for clues on how to become successful), that there were biz owners who were having fun… and there were other owners not having any fun at all.

Age had nothing to do with it.  Nor health (though the fun-havers consistently were in better shape).  Nor gender, nor — and this is important — how successful they were.

The difference was simply how they handled stress. Continue Reading

Sex, Fun, Money… and More Sex

Monday, 9:27pm
Reno, NV
Oops, I did it again…”  (Britney, God love her…)

Howdy…

I’m on a roll here, grabbing criminally-ignored posts from the blog archives…

… and re-posting them prominently, so you criminally ignore them no longer.  With a few minor edits, of course, tailoring the prose to fit today’s quirky needs for advice.  (Hey, you don’t fit into your old high school jeans anymore, either, you know.)

Here, we have another dangerously-tasty post from not too long ago… which, I believe, requires no explanation other than to say it’s some serious insight into the writer’s brain.

You do NOT want to venture into this quagmire without a guide.  Which is what I’ve written here — a short “guide to the writer’s mind”.

Not exactly a hot Disneyland ride, but if you’re in business it’s some wicked-valuable info.

So, indulge, and enjoy (if you dare):

I’m gonna need your feedback on this.

See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because this outsider status forces me to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).

This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.

And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, Continue Reading

Operation MoneySuck 2.0

Tuesday, 2:32pm
Reno, NV
And you may ask yourself, where does that highway go?” (Talking Heads)

Howdy.

Quickie post today…

… on a very important topic.

You hear me nattering about “Operation MoneySuck” all the time.  And some folks are confused about what it means.

So let’s do a refresher.

Here’s the story: Early in my career, I was hired by advertising legend Gary Halbert to help him write ads for clients.  The first day I arrived at his offices on Sunset Blvd (in West Hollywood), we were scheduled to slam out copy and plot “next moves” with some current clients.

However, just as my butt hit the chair across from his desk, two (count ’em, two) secretaries AND his red-headed girlfriend (notorious for getting her way) burst in with bad news.

Lots of bad news, in fact.  The printer had just broken down, and shit needed to get copied NOW.  Some guy was ranting and raving on Line 2, threatening legal action over something.  The landlord was on the way up in the elevator, because there was a problem with the lease.  The bank was on Line 1, and so on.

These women were shaking with panic and consternation, freaked out by the urgent crisis-level emergencies that…

HAD

… to be dealt with…

NOW!

I sighed, and started to gather my stuff, ready to split until Gary had attended to all of this mayhem.

Instead, he held up his hand… shushed everyone… and gently ushered the secretaries AND his red-headed girlfriend (notorious for getting her way) out the door… Continue Reading

Lessons From Amateur Drunk Night

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Thursday, 11:30am
Reno, NV
You’re young, you’re drunk, you’re in bed, you have knives… shit happens.” (Angelina Jolie)

Howdy…

Did you go out and do any damage on New Year’s Eve?

Hope you got home safe, if you did.

The world turns into Crazy Town every 12/31, and you can’t projectile-puke in any direction without hitting people who seldom (or should never) drink pounding down Jagermeister and double-bourbons like they’re channeling Hunter S. Thompson in his prime.

It’s been years since I’ve ventured away from home for New Year’s…

… and even then, I only went out because I was sitting in with a band in some bar or club.

There’s a small bit of safety being on a stage while the rookies party below. Even in the sleaziest biker bar I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing in… the bad-asses never assaulted the band.

They might bust a tweaker’s head against the bar just to see what the dude looked like sprawled on the floor… Continue Reading

DIY vs. Mentoring

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Thursday, 12:15pm
Reno, NV
It’s too hard.  You’ll never figure it out.” (What the first copywriter I ever met told me about writing ads.)

Howdy…

I’m going to tell you about two promises here.

The stories behind them may help you chart out the rest of your life… as they did mine.

Harken:

Promise #1:

The above quote (“It’s too hard.  You’ll never figure it out.”) are the exact words that a professional copywriter said to me when I innocently asked for advice.

They are burned into my cerebral cortex, because it was one of the first times I had ever nurtured a small ember of actual hope about my future in business…

… and she crushed it like a bug.

All I’d wanted from her was a smidgen of advice. Maybe point me in the right direction.  Or offer a small word of encouragement.

I was lost at the time.  Trapped in the drudgery of a dead-end J.O.B. that sucked big-time.

And I was genuinely clueless about the process of writing anything for business.  I’d never met a real copywriter before, and was very interested in finding out more.

I didn’t even know what the word “mentor” meant at the time… but I suppose I would have squirmed with joy if she had said, instead, something like “Let me help you learn how to do this.”

Still, she did me a HUGE favor by being such a miserable, hateful bitch.

As I stood at her desk, burning with shame for having asked for something and been so brutally refused…

… I promised myself that I would prove her wrong.

And I used that promise as motivation whenever I needed some extra oomph in the next year or so, as I figured out — on my own, without help from anyone — how to write killer sales messages.

So I owe her one.  She did me a proper by igniting my until-then-dormant ability to Do It Myself.  Literally with a vengeance.

I launched my solo career as a freelance writer entirely on my own.  I took the Do It Yourself ethic and ran with it… Continue Reading


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