Archive Monthly Archives: March 2005

Step 30

The title of this entry, “Step 30” refers to something many, many otherwise smart marketers hate to do.

Finish stuff.

“30” is typesetter short-hand for “The End”. When I worked in the newsroom of my college newspaper, we all wrote “30” on the bottom of the last page of copy. That let the typesetter know we were done. If there was no “30”, that meant a page was missing.

It was just a college rag, but we took this stuff very seriously. Pretended we were at the New York Times.

Well, actually, since I was the staff cartoonist, I didn’t take all of it very seriously, and I sometimes heard reporters grumble about all the column inches my cartoons were taking up each issue. Few writers enjoy being edited due to space, and I caused a boatload of copy to hit the newsroom floor when I went to a four-panel strip.

But that’s another story.

From my catbird seat here, where piles of ads and project ideas cross my desk for critique (or to pitch me on getting involved), I now see that there are two main problems affecting a majority of entrepreneurs:

1. Getting started… and…

2. Finishing the necessary details.

I’ve talked about letting the curtain go up on your project, or your life, many times before in the RANT. There are ingenious ways to fool yourself into thinking you’re moving ahead when, in truth, you’re just dawdling. Stalling, so you don’t have to change your sleep-walking habits and begin the movement required for anything new and scary.

Not being able to get past the inner demons that resist action will keep your life in a holding pattern forever.

And maybe that’s okay with you. The risks and lifestyle of an entrepreneur aren’t for everyone. Some folks just don’t have the juice to crawl so far out on the limb, without a net or guarantee of success… and that’s what you gotta do to make most projects work.

However… just as bad is the resistance to FINISHING a project.

I see a lot of people do everything necessary to launch their baby… right down to having the Web site up and ready for visitors, or stacks of stamped mail ready to be taken to the post office.

And yet, somehow, they just cannot pull the trigger. They do one more edit of the copy, make minute changes in the plan, hire another consultant and ask really picky questions. I often get asked stuff like “What do you think the conversion rate will be?” Or “How many people will like the product, do you think?”

These are questions that can only be answered through action. You need to put your pitch in front of cold prospects and see what happens. Everything else is just theory, idle guesswork and stalling.

Look… I think it’s a mistake to “major in the minors”, as some marketers like to say. When you’re running the show, you need to be focusing on Operation MoneySuck, and bring in the moolah. That requires “majoring in the majors“, or having a large overview of what’s going on. In music, it’s called “having a Big Ear” — because you hear the band as a whole, rather than just your small contribution against the backdrop of the larger sound.

However, to get any project in shape for launch, there are tons of “minor” things that need tending. And somebody’s gotta do them all.

Yes, it’s onerous stuff, and makes your head hurt.

But this is the moment of truth. If your project is going to crawl out into the sun, you need to just buck up and finish all the details.

Decide on the typeface and point size of the copy. Decide on colors, if any. Decide on how the order taking process is going to work, and decide on the way the Order Form is going to look.

Decide on price, on the USP, the guarantee, everything.

Just do it.

You cannot make a perfect decision. So don’t ignite an anxiety attack over these decisions. Just do the best you can, with what you have available.

But really do the best you can. Don’t be lazy at this step, or you’ll pay dearly.

If you have a lot of experience, you have a secret weapon. But it’s not infallible. If you have consultants, or friends in the biz, you can get other opinions. But they can screw up, too.

It’s not their ass on the line. It’s yours.

So YOU make the important decisions, even if your decision is simply to agree with what someone else suggested. If you leave the look of the ad to a graphic artist, that’s fine… but it’s your decision. Make that decision, be conscious of making that decision… and know that consequences will result. Good, bad, indifferent, you’ll soon find out. Just be aware.

There are a vast number of details in even a small ad that can affect response. Some are not of monumental importance. Others can murder results. A typo won’t sink you most of the time. Unless it’s in the phone number. Or the price.

Proof-reading can be nerve-wracking. I have been the last person to see hundreds of ads. And knowing that you have just released something that is about to be seen and acted on by an entire market… or not… can make your brain melt.

You’ll get over it, though. Just take final responsibility for the success of the project. There are things that must be attended to if success is going to happen. Those are all your job, to finish up and finalize.

All the other stuff can be delegated.

There’s a huge moment of relief during “Step 30”. You okay the ad for the last time, and it either gets printed, mailed, or posted… and that’s it for now. You can relax. If there are errors, you will find out soon enough.

Give it some air, see if results start coming in… and then go back and RE-read everything one more time. Look for problems, typos, dropped blocks of copy, everything that may be affecting response.

I’ve had direct mail go out missing 4 entire pages of the letter. Had clients who sent out blank videos for months at a time without noticing. Had newspaper ads run with a phone number that rang in some little old lady’s house two states away.

Had Websites refuse to accept opt-ins or money, due to a tech glitch.

Oh, it goes on and on. You know the drill firsthand, I’m sure.

As humans, we are not wired to naturally want to finish stuff. We enjoy starting things… but find excuses not to do the detail stuff that gets the project up on its own feet.

It’s what separates the winners from the whiners.

So… Step One is to begin something. And Step 30, no matter where it comes, is finishing it.

Finish something from your in-box today. Get in the habit.

John Carlton

P.S. Are there any subjects you’d like to see covered in this blog? Let me know in the comments section. Here’s your chance to get on the soapbox.

P.P.S. I am gone all next week. On a four-day golf trip with my longtime buddy Stan, if you must know. We’re going to golf two world-class courses, twice each… even if we have to do it in the rain. These trips are sacred. If you don’t golf, you will never understand the pure Zen appeal of the game. If you do golf, nothing more needs to be said.

This little trip is going to recharge my entire system.

So, for my Insiders… I won’t be answering email all week long. Don’t panic. But I’ll be back, and full of new piss and vinegar, a week from Monday.

Try not to burn the joint down while I’m gone.

Patience, Dude

I heard a great piece of advice the other day. Again. (Sometimes I need to hear good advice about a dozen times before it “takes”.)

It’s simple: Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want to see repeated tomorrow in the newspaper.

It’s also violated on a regular basis by people who should know better.

Like… uh… me, for example.

I have recently sent email on two occasions — one to a colleague, one to a client — that I wrote while in my “end of the day” winding-down stupor. Not drunk, not feeling crazy or even ‘onery.

Just letting my guard down a bit, getting ready to hit the sack.

And each email — which I wrote quicky, and sent off with a “what the hell” flourish — caused ENORMOUS chaos. I was misunderstood, I caused panic and alarm, I nearly ended a 15-year friendship.

I got calls early the next day each time. I couldn’t even remember what the heck I’d written — I certainly hadn’t wanted to kick any beehives over.

But that’s what I’d done.

I’m sure you have your own embarrassing, humiliating or career-ruining examples. Post them in the comments section, if you’re in a confessional mood. It’s not good to keep these sordid stories hidden.

The problem, of course, is the immediacy of email communication. Humans aren’t designed for this kind of click-and-it’s-gone lightning speed communication.

We really need to let things sit and stew for a while.

When I was a kid, the phone was the most immediate means of communication there was… other than running over to someone’s house and staring them down face-to-face. Being in the presence of another person naturally inhibits your urge to tell him how you REALLY feel (unless you’re a psychopath). The phone is one step removed from that, but since you have to form words and attempt coherency, there is still a pretty decent inhibiting factor.

It may only be a fraction of a second, but you still have time to shut up, or even pretend you were misunderstood. (“Did I say ‘would you go to the Prom with me?’ I didn’t mean to say that. I know you’re already going with Bruno. I meant to say ‘wasn’t the weather nice today?'”)

When all else fails, you could always just deny you said whatever the other person said you said.

“No, I didn’t.” “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t.”

The old advice for letter writers (going back to the ancient Greeks) was to put the missive aside for at least a day before sending it. Let the words cool down a bit, let your emotions subside, give the whole situation some air.

And this was good advice, whether it concerned matters of love, business, or war.

Today, technology has just plain galloped way past common sense. You can now put a period on your thought and hit send — and have your email shoot into the other person’s mailbox — faster than you can blink.

This is not a good thing.

This immediacy of email, text messaging, and cell phones is bleeding over to everything else we do. A very good book, “Blink” by my main man at the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell, seems to support quick action based on immediate intuition… but it doesn’t.

What Gladwell says is that your first instinct is often correct, even if we don’t understand the logic or computations that went into that first impression.

But he never says to act on it before the thought is through computing.

Listen: I am very fast writer. Sometimes, my first drafts resemble my final drafts… even when I do twelve edits in between. Most of my edit time is on finishing touches. The main thought is often caught in the first draft.

But I never send that first draft off as finished product.

No way.

I let most of my copy sit for a day or so. Let it simmer. I want to give it a “cold” read before launch. You’d be astonished at the crap that will scoot by your inner editor while you’re still “too close” to the copy.

It’s scary.

We all need to nurture our “Zen” default more. That’s the state you need to relax into, say, when your flight’s delayed and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or when your Significant Other is trying to find something to wear for the big party. Or when you walk outside and — just as you’re about to jump in the car to rush to the post office to beat the Fed Ex truck and get that package sent — you notice that you’re witnessing one of the most glorious sunsets in the history of the world.

Screw the Fed Ex truck.

Sometimes, you just gotta Zen-out. It’s good for you.

I discovered long, long ago that any woman I hooked up with long-term would have to understand that sometimes, I just sit and stare at the wall.

I’ve had women run screaming out of my life, convinced I was a zombie. Or stupid. Or acting.

Most people do not understand, or value, contemplation.

Too bad for them. Their loss.

It’s what we do, writers. We take in massive payloads of info, let it stew, stare at the wall… and allow our experience and skills to mold that info into a killer piece of copy.

Patience rocks.

If you’ve lost the skill, re-install it in your hard drive.

And stop sending ill-though-out emails.

Side note: My update of the Freelance Course — with everything you need to start your own freelance career immediately — is nearly done. My geek is working on the Web site as I write this.

This is some VERY exciting stuff, too. Did you know I had TWO students earn over $300,000 last year… in their FIRST year of freelancing, after reading my material?

One of them knew NOTHING about copy, or freelancing, or dealing with clients at all. Steep learning curve, but what he did is completely doable by anyone with the piss and vinegar to go neck-deep into the opportunity.

Included in the update is everything you need to know about finding a mob of desperate, cash-rich clients online… so you don’t have to live anywhere near big businesses, don’t have to deal with agencies anymore, don’t even have to ever shave or bathe.

I figure ten days to two weeks, and this puppy will finally be available. You’ll be the first to hear about this blazing new package, through this blog.

Stay tuned.

John Carlton

Your Own Private Chemical Dump

Sunday, 9:07pm
Reno, NV
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”  (Mae West)


A friend, who is briliant at marketing, asked me a question today about writing that has implications for most people.

This guy is a decent writer… but it takes him forever to get copy down on paper. It’s just agonizingly slow, and he hates me because I do it so fast.

Everytime we talk, he sneaks in a question about my writing “habits”, hoping to find the hidden magic secret to getting copy knocked out in record time. This time, he asked about my notoriety as a night owl, and whether I wrote best late at night.

I am a night owl. Even as a kid, the late evening hours held special allure for me. I suffered in the “real” corporate world, because arriving to work by 8 am was just an ordeal. I nearly flunked several courses in high school and college, because they began at 9 am.

Night owls get no slack from anyone.

There have been numerous studies proving that “night people” do exist — our body temperature, alertness and problem-solving abilities actually increase after dinner. A few savvy schools have even identified kids who were like me, and by moving thier classes to the afternoon, reversed their academic decline.

When I first went out on my own as a freelancer, one the of HUGE benefits was being able to work all night, and not worry about having to show up at anyone’s office looking bright and spiffy the following morning. I would frequently work until dawn.

The guy asking me about working at night is also an admitted night owl. He’s also a married man with kids, and a nocturnal work habit wouldn’t go over so well with the family.

So I told him to forget about trying to find the magic of writing fast and good by staying up later.

Because, early in my career, I made a discovery that I didn’t want to be true: I could write juust as good, and just as fast, just as easily, in the morning… as I could in my so-called “peak” hours late at night.

This discovery ruined my best excuse for not writing during the day. Turns out, once you become a craftsman at a skill, you can crank it up whenever it’s needed.

You may pay a price — such as getting exhausted faster, or screwing up your sleeping habits… but you CAN do it. You are NOT a slave to preconceived working hours.

However… I do recommend that you find a time in your day, every day, where you can arrange the space, peace and equipment to write. A two-to-four hour slot of uninteruptable time.

It can be first thing in the morning (as many famous writers insist on), or at the end of the day, after everyone else has turned in (as many other writers end up doing). Get the social implications of your choice in order, so that time becomes sacred. Phone off the hook, locked door, drapes pulled, whatever it takes.

It’s using the power of ROUTINE. There are two reasons why routine works for writers:

1. It becomes an addiction. At whatever-o’clock, you will quickly feel like you need to be at your desk, writing. Anything else that comes up, short of the house burning down or a visit to the ER, gets second billing. You’ll be back to the “real” world right after your writing session. But for now, you’ve got an appointment with a blank page.

2. You actually train your body to dump the internal stew of hormones and chemicals that aid in the kind of focused concentration and mind-play required to write.

It’s the same reason you should exercise at the same time every day — your body will actually do a little preparation as you head to the gym, gearing up the broth needed for lifting and sweating and grunting.

Sleep experts say the best way to get more deep sleep, while sleeping less total hours, and feeling more energy while awake… is to simply have the same bedtime and rising time, every day of your life. So your body isn’t freaked out — like a dog anxiously wondering if we’re ever gonna go to bed tonight — by changing patterns, and so doesn’t overdose or underdose on REM and dreams.

Same with diet. Bill Phillips, author of “Eating For Life” and a guy you do NOT want to argue with about diet, eats six meals a day, at regular times. So his body doesn’t gobble up each opportunity to store fat, thinking he’s starving. And it learns to function at optimum capacity on smaller portions.

So… the key to pumping out reams of great writing, is to set up routines. For some reason, the last few generations (startng with mine) have scoffed at routine, like it’s some cute relic of our grandfather’s time.

It’s not. You can spend the rest of your day being unpredictable and spontaneous and wonderfully whacky… but when it comes to your designated writing time, no one and no thing interferes.

This is a primary element of Operation MoneySuck: Do what you need to do to get the important stuff done, efficiently and regularly.

Side note: You won’t find your groove immediately. You may have to try finding your solid two-to-four hours at different times in your day, through trial and error.

The key is to find a time where you won’t be interupted. My assistant, for example, sometimes arrives while I’m still in writing mode. She knows not to disturb me, doesn’t take it personally, and even takes steps to make sure nothing else disturbs me either.

People will cooperate, once they understand what you’re trying to do.

Sort of. There will also be people in your life who cannot abide the idea that someone (like you) might actually be doing something proactive with your life. And they will find ways to screw with your routine.

It will become important for them to find a way to make you NOT establish a routine. Trust me on this. Mostly, they’re doing this unconsciously… but sometimes they’re well aware of what they’re doing.

When you start establishing radical routines like this, you’ll start producing stuff at an alarming rate. Your life will begin to move faster, and things will begin happening to you. Goals will start getting met, money will start pouring in, your status and position will grow.

This frightens those people in your life who fear change. Watch for this trap. Don’t fall for it.

Side note #2: It will take a while for you to realize when you’ve found your groove, too. People tend to forget that it takes time to get over being the new kid on the block… no matter what you apply that metaphor to.

The first few times I went to my new gym, I felt like the New Guy. Because I WAS the new guy. There was some awkwardness, everyone was a stranger, I got lost trying to find the men’s room.

Then, one fine day a few weeks later, I realized I was totally comfortable at this place. I had a routine. I waltzed in, and said hello to the attendant, who had my towel and bottle of water already waiting for me. All the regular staff nodded hello to me as I passed them. I breezily established my position at my usual warm-up bike, nodded at the other regulars (all on their favorite machine), and drifted easily into “I’m exercising here” mode.

Don’t sweat being the New Guy. It’s just a transition period you must go through. It’s the way it works.

Same with your writing routine. It won’t feel exactly right at first. May take you months to get settled in the right time, with the right routine. So what?

Once you do find your groove, you are off to the races.

Go get ’em…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Gonzo, We Hardly Knew Ya…

I stopped reading Hunter S. Thompson’s missives from the edge around twenty years ago.

I didn’t want to stop reading him… but, like Picasso, he had moved on to a place I could no longer understand. So, I sated my jones for good, hilarious political writing through P.J. O’Rourke (who, conincidentally, replaced Gonzo as Rolling Stone’s first-choice political reporter).

It wasn’t a matter of politcal slant, either. O’Rourke is a moderate Republican reptile, who lately has found himself to the left of the rest of the GOP. Kinda lost. Thompson defied being nailed down — the left wanted him, because he wrote about drugs, but he was at heart pure “go screw yourself” libertarian. He belonged to no one.

O’Rourke was once claimed by the left — in his youth, he was a star at the National Lampoon magazine, where he contributed heavily to the barely-fictious stories that (channeled through the brilliant Doug Kenney) became the movie “Animal House”.

He stopped doing drugs (so he says) after college, and settled on being a good, drunk Irish writer. And, once the fog of the sixties drifted away, he rediscovered his conservative roots.

No matter what your own politics are, you gotta love the guy.

Because O’Rourke — no matter how blotto he got — never lost his deft touch as a writer. His stuff is crisp, clean and has a point. It’s also damn funny. I have half a dozen of his books on my shelf right now, all dog-eared. You want good, savvy, funny political writing, he’s your man right now. (Molly Ivins comes close at times… but I think she’s too sober.) (What is it about Irish writers, anyway? It’s like some unfair advantage.)

But Thompson deserves his due. Picasso, most people forget, started out as a world-class “real life” painter. He knew anatomy cold, and probably would have attained fame anyway. But, for whatever reason, he turned his back on representative painting, and led the way into abstract art. His modern stuff is okay, to my eyes… but, like I said last blog, I think the real heroes of art are the illustrators who mastered their craft and went after that “moment of truth”. Their canvases are lush and deep. The abstract stuff is thin.

It’s okay, but it’s thin.

I’ve never quite understood why art that needs to be explained to the viewer (“he took the concept of white space in a totally different direction here, splashing color like angry emotions…”) gets such high marks from critics. It’s like modern attempts to “remake” music — John Cage gave whole concerts where his group just sat there in silence. Get it? Silence, the pure absence of music, becomes music.

Or whatever.

I’ll take Jimmy Smith, or the Smiths, or even the local bar band, thank you very much.

Now, before you think I’m an art hater, you should know that I collect the work of local artists, and much of it is very abstract stuff. But I really go nuts over the guys who show real craft, who have obviously paid their dues learning to master their medium, whether it’s ceramics or paint or masks. And, last night I went to the Laurie Anderson performance art thing (“The End Of The Moon”) and loved it. Well, most of it, anyway. There was a twenty-minute segment in there that lost me entirely, and I’m pretty sure she lost 90% of the audience, too.

But she won most of us back in the final fifteen minutes.

When her monologue again became something coherent you could follow.

For me, it’s all about clarity.

Not simplicity. It’s not the same thing. I love to get lost in difficult intellectual shit, and I don’t mind admitting I can be a snob about certain “insider” subjects… such as knowing the real story behind events happening now, so I can demolish anyone who tries to bludgeon me with the simplistic black-and-white nonsense they just heard on the radio.

No. Clarity is just the most fundamental method of high-end communication. You can say what you mean, because you’ve done the hard work — before sitting down to write — of discovering the essence of what you want to say.

So much of modern communication is like a Lassie episode: “What is it, girl? Did Timmy fall down the well again?”

I don’t have the time to figure out what someone wants to say. Or the energy.

Just lay it out, man. Tell the truth.

Hunter Thompson, believe it or not, was once a model of clarity. His most famous book is “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, and it’s a wild ride of a read. But it’s not his best work.

He wrote the grandfather of modern political books while immersed in the Nixon-McGovern presidential race in the early 1970s. “Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72” is necessary reading for anyone interested in the amazing year that set in motion our current political environment.

I believe it will still be read a century from now.

But my favorite Thompson book… is his first big one. He went undercover with the Hell’s Angels in the mid-sixties, and did such a shocking expose that they later beat him within an inch of his life for writing it.

The book is “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”. Studs Terkel called it “superb and terrifying”… and anything Studs likes is good stuff indeed.

Gonzo, like Picasso, started out doing what everyone else was doing… but doing it just a little bit better.

And both of them decided that wasn’t good enough. To please some inner Muse, they went off in search of their own versions of clarity.

And left many people in the dust.

As a professional writer with, oh, a quarter-century experience under my belt, I know how hard it is to be clear. You can spend your entire career honing those chops, and still have room for improvement after your masterpiece.

For me, that is a pure, wonderful goal to head for — to be understood, in a clear and riveting way that demands readership.

You can have the best damn story in the universe to relate… but if you lose your reader, that story gets tossed on the dust bin of history.

But if you can attain total lucidity… you transcend the mere act of being clear… and become a permanent voice in your reader’s head.

I can dig that brilliant artists, having conquered the “normal” way of communicating, want to stretch out in new directions. Let the voyager go. Dude, I hope you enjoy the ride.

But I ain’t going with you. Right now, I’m reading a compilation of Mark Twain’s non-fiction work, and his wicked-sharp pen still resonates a century later. He understood politics, and he communicates that understanding crystal-clear.

God, it’s good reading. Like O’Rourke, it’s crisp, clean, and has a point.

Thompson was like that, once. There have been a ton of eulogies written about him in the two weeks since he cashed in his ticket, and the world doesn’t need another one.

But hear this: He deserved the accolades. He really had the goods.

If you want to know why he made such a fuss coming on the journalistic scene, read the Hell’s Angel book and the ’72 Campaign Trail tome.

For your own writing… reread Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”, and strive to effortlessly become a voice inside your reader’s head.

A clear, crisp, vibrant voice.

This new generation hasn’t got it’s own Gonzo yet. And it needs one.

John Carlton

Lest You Think I’m Whacked…

The first artist to catch my eye, as a kid, was Wally Woods. His best work was in the “great” years of Mad magazine (before the asshole publisher fired Kurtzman and Elder and turned the rag into a creative blob)… mostly the decade between the Congressional hearings on the dangers of comic books in the early fifties through the election of JFK.

I liked Woods because he snuck “dirty” stuff into each scene, yes… but even more because he was able to infuse his panels with real movement and a sense of organic life. No one else came close, in the world of cartooning, until Robert Crumb.

I started my own mini-career as a cartoonist before I knew how to write. Pencil and pad of paper, and I was a happy little feller. My career peaked when I was given a weekly cartoon strip in my high school paper (for which I won a Quill & Scroll pin), and later another weekly strip in my college paper (which I kept up for a full year after I graduated).

What does cartooning have to do with marketing?

Not much. But give me a second.

I want to scare the living bejesus out of you.

The best cartoonists in the short history of publishing have actually been fine artists. (A famous critic once called R. Crumb “the Breugel of our time”, referring to the breakthrough Flemish painter who used real life village scenes, in action, as his subject matter. His work remains a rare glimpse into early Renaissance life among peasants.) The best work is mesmerizing, and you can stare at it for hours, or come back to it years later, and still find new stuff in it.

I sucked as a cartoonist, because I was self-taught and insisted on struggling to discover the “secret” of great graphic art all on my lonesome. No classes, no tutoring, no help at all from anyone.

What an idiot. But that’s the way my mind worked. I had to learn, the hard way, how to ask, to seek, to knock.

And though I’ve long since given up drawing for writing, I still like to check in on the whacky world of comic art every now and then.

My love of Mad, and then Zap, was augmented with an adolescent love of horror comics. Creepy and Vampirella were the quality publications back then. And the guy who did the ground-breaking covers (plus a few panels inside now and then) was Frank Frazetta.

Even if you have no idea who Frazetta is, you know his work. Because he is the most copied artist in commercial art today. (As the most ripped-off copywriter on the Web today, I feel a kindred spirit.) He established himself doing cover art for the Conan the Barbarian novels, which spawned just about every sword and sorcery fantasy movie made in the last half-century.

Schwartzenegger owes his career to Frazetta’s work, because of Frank’s faithful rendering of super-muscled heroes battling dragons and demons, while stunning maidens with impossibly lush physical charms screamed warnings.

It can also be argued that heavy metal music owes its lasting appeal to Frazetta… and the first piece of evidence is that about half of all the thunk and shred albums since Molly Hatchet have featured rip-offs of Frazetta’s work.

Now… it’s taken me all these years to even begin to understand what it was about Frazetta’s and Wally Woods’ art that grabbed me so effectively. Out of all the hundreds and hundreds of other artists I was exposed to.

The answer became clear after watching a documentary on Frazetta.

And the key was this: He always painted scenes that were about two seconds from some climatic action.

This was important. Lesser fantasy artists always paint scenes that are already IN the action — the fight is already on, blows are already being delivered, the action is engaged.

Not Frank. The pure, raw, and undiluted tension in his paintings capture that moment of lull, when every participant realizes that the clash is about to begin. Eyes are wide, muscles tensed, the incredible force of motion is held up just for one last intake of breath.

Imagine stopping a huge ocean wave inches before it crashes on the sand. Imagine a little crab looking up, way too late to escape, tensed for the chaos. Imagine a surfer, having misjudged the undertow, realizing he’s about to wipe out on hard-pack beach… but not just yet.

Not just yet.

Boring artists simply have their subject stand there. Impatient artists depict action in full swing.

But the guy who transcends mere representation and creates art that leaves an impression knows how to find that exquisite moment of truth.

To my mind, the great artists of the twentieth century aren’t Picasso or Warhol or Johns.

The greats are the craftmen, the illustrators and cartoonists who obsessed on finding that “moment” in life that rocked your soul. And they did with comic books.

Now… the reason I bring this up has nothing whatsoever to do with art.

Nope. The point I’m trying to make is all about that moment of tension before things happen.

Most people live their lives waiting for big noises. They plod through their days until something wrenches them out of their routine… and then they grind their teeth until they can settle into the next waking dream.

The big noise can be a world war. Or another deep recession. Or some new plague.

What was before, is now history. What is now, is new and scary.

If you aren’t hip to those exquisite moments of held tension, you’ll forever be taken by surprise.

And guess what?

We’re in one of those moments right now.

Last blog, I tossed out my intuition that the Gold Rush days of the Web are nearing an end. Amazingly, I got zero comments on that.

Not a peep from anyone.

So, let’s twist the knife in a little more.

Last Fall, Intel Corp., Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and AT&T all got together for a super-secret technical brainstorm session.

The ONE subject they discussed: The complete structural collapse of the World Wide Web.

They all agree that we’re running up on some serious architectural limitations. The main problem is that millions of new users are signing on every day. Putting wicked stress on the network.

And entire developing nations, like China, have billions eagerly waiting to get online. Each time computer technology gets a dollar cheaper, the Web groans under another load of new users.

The big companies are trying to get another network launched. I believe the working name is “PlanetLab”, but what’s interesting for marketers is that this new network will have built-in traffic monitering and security gates.

That’s code for “no more Gold Rush”. That’s code for “controlled by The Man.”

The Great Depression really got going when farmers ignored the warnings of overharvesting in the mid-west and drained the soil of nutrients. It was preventable, but it happened.

Today, we pride ourselves on being able to better predict and counter most threats to our economy. But we aren’t perfect by any stretch.

Again, don’t panic or sell the house and move into the hills.

But don’t doze through the coming shakeouts, either.

We live in the most prosperous and strange times in the history of the world. No one knows what the place will look like even five years from now. It could all be just fine forever. Or, it could be a roller coaster ride. Or… something else.

We’re in a lull. The tension is palpable, if you can feel it.

Stay frosty.

And keep honing your old-school chops.

John Carlton

Can You Feel It Coming?

I am not psychic, can’t see into the future, and haven’t got any special insider info that isn’t available to anyone else willing to dig a little bit.

What I do have, however, is some wicked-long experience in marketing… and I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends.

I’m talking about the free-for-all climate on the Web right now. My instincts, for a couple of years now, have been saying we’re deep into the “Gold Rush” stage of online business… sort of a Wild, Wild West, where anything goes and restrictions are minimal.

This lawlessness is what makes the Web dangerous, charming, and a license to print money… if you know how to break the code on reaching customers.

Very savvy marketers are making the rules up as they go, based on rigorous testing. This is why you see so many entrepreneurial sites that look the same — similar typefaces, similar layouts, similar graphics, similar closes and methods of collecting money.

These guys talk to each other.

Testing is the same tactic used by all marketers in the past, but the Web has made everything immediate. Faster than immediate, sometimes. If you’ve got heavy traffic coming to your site, you can change headlines or prices as often as you like, and count up real-time hits and purchases to judge what appeal or offer works best and what sucks.

The result is the ability to craft an appeal targeted at the unconscious heart of your market literally as fast as you can put up alternative copy. You can even automate this testing, so you can go to bed while your program counts up the results of Ad Number One versus Ad Number Two versus Ad Number Three, ad nauseum, and wake up with a clear, proven control waiting for you.

Gosh, that’s exciting for marketers.

This Web-based marketing just rocks.

However, there is something very important that you online guys need to keep in mind: All gold rushes end.

Right now, you’re strolling through a virtual Garden of Eden, plucking low-hanging fruit and wondering why anyone ever thought business was hard.

Us geezers have seen this before. With infomercials in the late 1980s, just to name one example. When the technology first appeared, it was wide open — no rules, almost no costs, and you could shoot a sloppy half-hour infomerical in the afternoon, have it run for free on after-hours cable that night, and count up the orders before the show was over.

If it was a winner, you ran it again the next night (or even the next hour). If it was a loser, you tossed the film can over your shoulder into the trash and ran the other informercial you shot that afternoon instead. No editing. Not a lot of thought about quality or anything other than getting your sales message on the air.

For the few marketers who got hip to the amazing — and unexpected — profit being ignored in late, late night cable television, it was (like now) a license to print money. The Gold Rush was on, big time.

Things changed fast, though, once other marketers caught on to the game.

The cable networks stopped giving away late night slots. Started demanding production values in the ads. The feds arbitrarily wrote up new rules to follow. Expenses shot up.

Nowadays, you need over a hundred grand just to get an infomercial shot and tested. That’s a lot of money out the door, before knowing if you even have a winner or not.

And you can’t get good times to run it anyway on your own — a few savvy moguls bought it all up years ago, and dole it out for huge smackers.

It’s been “game over” for entrepreneurs for a long time now.

You think the Web can’t suffer the same fate?

Let me tell you — it may seem like magic when you log on, and there are all these people out there in cyber-ville hungry for what you’re selling. But it’s not magic. There is a lot of hardware that goes into making the Web come alive, and that means the entire thing is vulnerable.

To attack, and to regulation. The weak point, I believe, are the servers. Maybe you can remain anonymous, more or less… but your server can’t. Spammers are finding that out.

If the government and Big Business ever gets their collective ass together and decides to regulate the Web, the Web will be regulated. Postage for email, individual state taxes on all sales, obedience to a new alphabet agency that loves bureaucracy, overseer spyware on all computers sold in the U.S., draconian laws against avoiding that spyware…

We’re in a fresh sci-fi game, folks.

The Gold Rush ain’t over, not just yet. But it’s coming. I can sense it.

I haven’t gone off on this before much, because what the hell do I know, really? As my younger colleagues love to say, I’m “old school offline.”

However, at a recent brainstorm session down in Los Angeles, I cornered half a dozen VERY savvy “new school onliners”, and asked them if they thought my instincts had even a twinge of possibility.

They all agreed with me. To a man.

But let’s not panic. Stay calm, tend to your herds, compile your lists, keep testing your offers and appeals. There’s nothing you can do to change what’s in the works. You gotta roll with whatever punch comes your way.

More important, you need to keep honing your “old school” chops. It’s the one “X” factor that will survive any change in the cyber economy. Wicked, nasty, confident salesmanship.

Just a friendly heads-up to my friends.

John Carlton

P.S. On another, less deranged matter: I’m sorry for not getting back to everyone who emailed me about the Freelance Course. I’m updating it, right now, and expect to have the new version ready in about two weeks. This update is critical, and involves everything I’ve learned about getting clients and getting paid the big bucks… including everything that has changed in the last year or so online.

It’s hot stuff. The potential incomes are just jaw-dropping.

So please be patient. I will alert you all to the new site when it’s up. Thanks for your interest in freelancing.