Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye, Grumpy Cat

Disclaimer: I'm not much of a cat person.

However, that doesn't explain why I quit following one of America's favorite - and meanest - cats on Twitter.

I love sarcasm, even (especially?) sarcasm that comes with a little (heaping side of) nasty attitude. Hello, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, George Carlin, and I could go on...

But sarcasm that's smart is what separates the greats from the just plain mean. And I'm not saying the snarky feline is a dumb bunny, but after a year or so of following, I certainly haven't learned anything from Grumpy Cat. Let me put it this way: Grumpy Cat is hilarious - but it's much more like Itchy & Scratchy than The Simpsons. I like The Simpsons because sometimes I have to think while I'm laughing (even if it is at someone else's expense).

Grumpy Cat or Itchy & Scratchy fans, I'd be happy to publish your rebuttal.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Google Tips for Freelancers, and a Warning for Journalism Junkies

Google's gorgeous, uber-accessible Tips page is like so many other Google releases - so simple, you simultaneously salivate and say, why didn't I think of that?

Arranged like flashcards on a clean white table, the tips feature screenshots that walk users through the basics of getting and using Google products that are not new - Drive, Keep, Calendar, Maps to name a few. What is new is the uber-organized presentation and boiled-down-to-the-basics instructions.

Why Every Freelancer Should Play with Google's Flashcards

If you're a contract or freelance worker, you've been there: the office where everyone does everything the way they've always done it. While employers usually seek out freelancers to bring specific talent and experience to a project, freelancers also bring fresh perspective and can-do attitude - both of which, I think it can be argued, are worth a couple of hours worth of consulting fees. But I'll leave that to the accounting department.

Next time you walk into a work group that seems to be doing things the hard way, pull up the Google Tips site and you're likely to find a solution, or at least a work-around.

Users are Everywhere, Power Users are Rare 
From A history of Windows,

Many of Google's tips amount to a nudge to learn (slightly) advanced features of familiar tools. Gajillions of people use Google Docs, but how many know how to manage multiple revisions in a single document?

Now, Google's got the heat and light today. But I'm going to point out the same principle holds for plain old MS Word. Spend a couple of hours with your help screens, take an Advanced Word class at your local library, or just for heaven's sake, Google it, and you're going to "discover" some features in that have been available, like, forever. Ever had to make a bibliography and found out after using APA style that the assignment specified MLA? It's not quite accurate to say "there's an app for that," but there IS a feature to fix that (and create the bibliography for you in the first place) and it's been built into Word for ... well, longer than I've been reaching for reading glasses, at least.

And the principle to remember is: knowledge is power.

Speaking of which...

Google News Scares Me

Customizing your news feed sounds like a great idea, but if you understood what's been happening to journalism around the world (ok, nobody completely understands) in the past 20 (or 30) years you're probably scared too. I'll save my lecture on this topic for another day and just suggest that you learn how to use the other Google Tips before that one. Get your news and information from as many different sources as you can. Heck if you learn how to use all the other Google Tips, you'll save so much time you'll be able to read an extra book every week! Then I'm going to ask you to guest blog for me.


Now go on, Google Tips are waiting to help you out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Social Media Advice You Wouldn't Expect from a Writer

Google's Hummingbird is still flying high and it's made a lot of content producers sing, but it hasn't revolutionized content or search yet. And I suspect it never will. 

I've said for years, and written many times, that content rocks sales, content rules, and content matters. Or it should. But it may be more accurate (especially for small businesses) to say that it doesn't have to be good content. 

Bear with me, there are some important caveats to this assertion. 

Small businesses with loyal clients and great customer service can get by with bad content. I think it's safe to say those same small businesses - with loyal clients and great customer service - must have a good online presence to continue to flourish, but their content doesn't really have to be stellar to stay alive. 

To grow, well, that's a different matter. 

But let's say you have a single-location, bricks and mortar location in which you offer hair styling products and services. If your clients are happy, word of mouth is going to be your primary source of new business. A static, even woefully simple website and a reasonable presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram (yes, "or" not "and") will be plenty to keep your business healthy assuming you do everything else right. 

While I love to turn up my nose at the misspellings, bad grammar, poorly considered claims and copyright infringements I see on many small business Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, the fact is, if you have a good handle on your core business and treat your customers well, bad grammar is NBD. If you know firsthand of an example in which a small business lost a customer because of poor posting etiquette, I'd love to hear about it. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Regarding Fair Use: You Still Need a Lawyer

Recently, I found an interesting note on The Ohio State University Press site. Interesting, that is, if you've ever wondered, 'should I use that?' when you're writing. Here's what the press tells its current authors:

Copyright and Permissions

Questions often arise whether an author needs permission to use certain material in his or her manuscript. The following links are offered to help make that determination, but none of this information is intended as specific legal advice. Note that in your contract, you have guaranteed us that you have taken care of all necessary permissions and forwarded copies of those permissions to us. Nevertheless, just because something is not your own does NOT automatically mean that you need permission to use it. A tremendous amount of material is in public domain and needs no permission. Your use of works still under copyright protection may fall under the fair use exception—especially when it is for scholarly work or research—and may therefore need no permission.. This schema is designed to help you ask the right questions.
In order to answer the first question, whether a work is under copyright protection or is in the public domain, this site (not an OSU Press site) offers reliable information on when works are protected by copyright and when they are not.
If you get to the second question and need to determine whether your use of the material falls under the fair use exception or not, you may consult this document, prepared by the University of Chicago Press, or consult the paragraph in the copyright law itself that explains the fair use exception. Text for the entire U.S. Copyright Act can be found here.
If you are still unsure, we recommend that you consult an attorney.
Illustrations are often the source of significant confusion, so we offer two additional observations to help you determine your legal obligations in using them.
1. It is tempting to confuse copyright of an original image with the potential copyright of a modern reproduction. For instance, an image from the 15th century is clearly in the public domain. But if a museum takes a photo of the original for you to use in your book, is this new photo covered by its own copyright? An influential law article argues that a simple reproduction that “merely repackages or republishes the original” does not meet the criteria for a copyrightable work. In other words, a photo made in the 21st century of a work in the public domain does not carry any copyright in and of itself, and its use is governed by the copyright status of the original. See “Toward a Fair Use Standard,” by Pierre N. Leval (103 Harv. L. Rev. 1105 [1990]).
2. Please note that the question of whether permission is needed is entirely separate from the necessity of providing us with images of suitable quality that we can reproduce adequately in print. Your use of an image may be fair use or the work may be in the public domain, but you may still have to pay the owner of the image for the reproduction that we need. In these cases, you are purchasing access (see point 1 above) not paying a copyright permission fee. There may be a variety of sources for a copy of the image that meets our requirements, and you may be able to shop around for the best price or find a free source. Or there may be only a single source, and you will then be subject to whatever terms the owner may want to impose on your purchase.

~Diane Stresing

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons from 2 Blogger Bloggers

I thoroughly enjoyed an article about two bloggers - a preteen and an octogenarian - and probably would've shared it regardless, but am especially happy to share and say, they're both Blogger bloggers.

Blogger, the former Blogspot picked up by Google a couple of years ago, doesn't get the love that Wordpress does, but I've always liked it.

Now, if you came to my Blogger blog to learn something about writing, click The Hoffman Agency's interview with a couple of pros, a self-described geek and a storyteller with about 80 years of experience.

Remember, happy reading leads to happy writing.                

Not so happy writing, but want to give your customers blog posts worth reading? Don't have time to write a customer newsletter, but want to market your business to increase sales? I can do that! 
Ghostwriting, corporate blogging, I don't care what you call it - it's good for business. Contact me; I'll help you get the word out. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

7 AP Style Slips, 7 copywriting tips & other things I've ripped off

Of these seven common AP style slip-ups shared by, I think I'm guilty of #7 most often.

Social Media Today offers some very good tips here, but I'd like to pause at #1 to add another reason to keep ONE reader in mind as you write. It's voice, tone, agreement. I know, it sounds like three reasons, but it's not. When you're writing copy, your mind is spilling out all the features and what-fors and how-tos and your tendency is to want to cover all of them. Of course, that's a sure way to lose focus. (Yours, and your reader's.) So, focus - on ONE reader. Your results (and your clients) will thank you.

Still reading? Good! Here's a heads-up for J-school students looking for PAID summer internships:
Thank you SPJ! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grandma Gets Rerun Over in This Blog

This is a rerun of a feature on "Grandma" Gatewood, whom I wrote about roughly a hundred years ago. <recalculating> Actually, it was 2003. It appeared on a (now defunct) content site for which I was the Ohio Guide. I see that look of awe on your face. Yes! And now you get to read it, right here! But wait, there's more...

I've been reviewing a lot of things I wrote back in the day, and decided (are you sitting down?) to compile some of them in a book. I'll publish using Amazon's CreateSpace, because if there's one thing the world needs more of, besides self-published books, it's a collection of snarky essays, right?

You're welcome.

But back to essays and writing them, since this is supposed to be a "writing blog" and all. As you're sure to notice, this ditty on Grandma Gatewood isn't an essay; it's an article. Factual is nice (I loves me my research) but there's no personal insight or thought-provocation going on here. I really need to fix that, but this post is a bit long already. So I'll add some enduring wisdom to the piece when I get a round tuit, and put it in the book, which will be available from Amazon sometime in December. In time for Christmas shopping, even!


In the meantime, the original post appears below. This one is for Maureen, who rightly noted "We really need to bring 'pantywaist' back to the insult table."

Good Ohio Grandma

When we sing, “over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…” most of us conjure up visions of a stereotypical grandmotherly figure, all round edges and special recipes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – that describes my grandma pretty well, and I’m not interested in amending my memories, thank you.

But let’s remember that grandmas come in all shapes and boot sizes. Grandma Gatewood, for example, raised 11 children in southern Ohio in the early 1900. She also worked as a practical nurse and trained Peace Corps volunteers. And when she read that no woman had hiked the whole Appalachian Trail in a single season, she decided to be the first. She was 68.

She hiked the AT twice more before taking on the Oregon Trail in 1959, when she was 72. At age 75, she was still building trails in Ohio, some of which would become part of the Buckeye Trail.

Thanks to the vision and toil of Grandma and others, today we can go over the river and through the woods, indeed, on more than 1,280 miles of the Buckeye Trail, on foot. If you haven’t logged at least a few miles over the river and through the woods on foot, Grandma had a name for you: Pantywaist.

Fittingly, one of the most frequently-used portions of the trail, from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave in Hocking County, is dedicated to Grandma Gatewood.


This article first appeared on the long-defunct Suite 101 Ohio: People and Places page in 2003. Although I’ve logged a lot of miles on Ohio’s trails, including those between Old Man's Cave and Ash Cave. I’ve never built a trail, though, or trained a Peace Corps volunteer, so I suppose I could be labeled a “pantywaist.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Another Dream Writing Job: MachinePorn

Last week, as I was killing time (trolling for a job and procrastinating on a content-farm article deadline) I stumbled on to MachinePorn, which I promptly added to my growing list of Dream Writing Jobs.

Why it is a dream job? If only to have the chance to write phrases like, "Humans for scale." 

Friday, November 15, 2013

How Writers Procrastinate, part 1

How do writers procrastinate on deadline? Here's one: Spending hours ensuring they get the just-right message across in their Facebook posts.

Thanks, Scube! But frankly, I don't think Facebook honors this one © and I like this ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ ♭but my audio isn't working!  Let me try to turn it up.
♪ ♫ ♬
Nope, still can't hear it.
Also, I really think this one needs an update:  ✆ 

Well, I think I've illustrated my point rather well, providing an excellent example re: how writers


Whew. Good thing I'm not a gamer. If I wasted time on Candy Crush or Minecraft, I'd never get important stuff like this done. 

Do you find you're most creative when you procrastinate, and is that good for productivity? Discuss

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Journalism Lives!

I dare you to read John Kroll's post about the five 5 Ws and H and tell me you don't agree.

He's right about the fact that expecting professional writers to apply this Journalism 101 principle to the concept of fact-checking should NOT require a half-day seminar, too. But damn. I got all goose-pimply reading this, and remembered why I wanted to be a journalist in the first place.

Sigh. So much for righteous dreams; I ended up as a freelance copywriter and taxicab driver. But hey, at least I can still get all goose-pimply.

Side note from copywriter me: I wonder how this page will rank for "goose-pimply."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Truth Will Out

I've been opening up old file cabinets, going through clips that (until here, now) were only on paper. Seems somehow fitting I found this one so close to election day. If you enjoy this, you might want to look at my new book, Dumb Things We Say to Dogs. It's a collection of essays, including this one. Enjoy.

Truth in Akron:

Ain’t I a woman? 

In 1797, near the Hudson River in New York, a slave girl was born. She was named Isabella. Thirty years later, she was free – free to move, free to chose a name of her own. She chose Sojourner Truth.

She could not read or write, but she knew the bible well. She spoke out publicly against slavery and social injustice. Unimaginable for a black woman at the time, she filed two lawsuits. The first suit was to get her son, Peter, back after had had been illegally sold across state lines. She filed a second suit, against a newspaper, for slandering her name. She won both times.

Truth crossed paths several times with anti-slavery spokesman Frederick Douglass. He encouraged her to continue to oppose slavery. I don't think she needed much encouragement. Ever outspoken, Truth challenged Douglass in public speeches. When he proclaimed that only bloodshed would end slavery, Truth yelled out, “Frederick, is God dead?”

Douglass described Truth as a “strange compound of wit and wisdom, of wild enthusiasm, and flint-like common sense.” I’d describe her as smart enough to know when righteous indignation is called for.

In 1864, Truth traveled to Washington DC to meet with Abraham Lincoln, to thank him for his efforts on behalf of blacks. She reportedly said to him, “I heard of you before you ran for President.” Lincoln supposedly replied, “I heard of you long before I thought about running for President.” With such a reputation, it’s not surprising that Truth left a mark on Ohio.

It was in Akron, on May 29, 1851, at the second Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, held at the Old Stone Church on North High Street, where  Truth delivered her hallmark “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. She was listening, the story goes, to several male ministers explain why women should not have the right to vote.

One minister suggested that women were weaker, and less intelligent, than men. He said that God had intended for men to have more power than women, offering as evidence the fact that Christ was a man. At that point, Truth stood up. She was six feet tall, and likely made quite an impression on everyone in the room. Texts of the speech vary, but the lines below are included in all of the accounts I’ve read. She reportedly walked to the stage and said:

Ain’t I a woman?
I have ploughed and planted, and worked as hard as any man, and eat as much too. And Ain’t I a woman? My mother bore ten children and saw them sold off to slavery, and when I cried with my mother’s grief, nobody but Jesus heard me.
And Ain’t I a woman?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from?
Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

The Sojourner Truth Coalition commemorated the 150th anniversary of Truth’s speech at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron on May 19, 2001.


This article appeared in the May 2001 issue of Focus magazine, with an announcement regarding the commemoration. A building in Akron is named for Truth, and monuments to the woman can be found in New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts, and other places throughout the US. I think it’s really cool that this speech was heard first in Akron. Although in a quick search, I did not find a current listing for the coalition in Akron, I was happy to see that her message continues to inspire changes in Ohio. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Five Questions to Ask Before You Write

Every writing project should start with these 5 questions: 

1. Who is this directed to? 

This determines your audience. Who should read it? Who else might read it? 
What do you know/what can we assume about them?

2. Why are you talking to them? 

Why might they listen? Why might they care? 

3. What do you want them to do?

Be specific. This is the reason you're writing, after all.

4. When do you need it, and...

5. How do you want it? 

Will a Word document suffice? Can it be emailed in the body of a message, 
or should it formatted for your blog or website? 
Do you need photos or illustrations?

Save time, get the words you need 

Answering these five questions usually takes less than 30 minutes, and on the average project, having the answers will save both of us about a gazillion hours. Roughly.

Want help getting your writing project started? Let's get together, and make the words work for you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Funny, Words are Important

It's Friday, so it's a great day to use words to elicit a chuckle or two from a co-worker, spouse, or stranger, even.

Thanks to Twitter's crankiest kitty,  and a website about signs, somewhere in the ether...

Friday, October 25, 2013

What to Blog About Next, part 4

Look, you can't just jump into part 4 of something without at least a cursory click on parts 1, 2, and 3. (I'll wait.) OK. Thanks, and welcome back. Now, part 4 beckons...

And then, there are those magical moments -  the blog posts that write themselves. Two things to you have to do when that happens: 1- grin from ear to ear and 2- hit 'publish.'

This one's a content creator's dream: Nieman Storyboard's roundup of 150 - Iknowright?!! I nearly hyperventilated, ONEHUNDREDANDFIFTY!! -awesome tips and storytelling techniques. Blow off your next meeting, I'm telling you, reading this is gonna be way more productive. 

Ahem. Look I'm not usually one to recommend blowing off a meeting but if you do, it'll be your turn to grin (an evil grin), 'cus your fellow writers will be all, "Where'd you'd get all these great ideas?" and you'll be all, "I dunno, sometimes they just write themselves."

Happy blogging.

~Diane Stresing

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Press Releases Had Value Before SEO Existed (and they still do)

Let's say you want to get the word out about your product, invite the world to your website, give current customers a reason to talk about your business, and generate a little buzz in the media. Are press releases worth the time? Twenty years ago, the answer was YES. A total no-brainer.  

Because, of course, the fundamental purpose of a press release was to generate awareness among potential prospects.

Today, the Fundamental Purpose of a Press Release Is... 

Then web 1.0 arrived and we started stuffing keywords into places we'd rather not talk about now. A few (bajillion) revisions of SEO rules and Google updates later, it's worth asking again: Are press releases worth your time? 

The answer might be, IT DEPENDS. On your marketing strategy and the success of your other lead-generation tools. IT DEPENDS on the news you have, the audience you've identified as most receptive to your release, and other means you have to reach them. 

However, my answer, generally, is still YES. It's a no-brainer.  

Primarily because, of course, the fundamental purpose of a press release (still) is to generate awareness among potential prospects. 

What PR Experts Say about Press Releases and SEO in 2013

"Press releases are more than simple SEO tools. Press releases [still] reach journalists, influencers and consumers.  ... Press releases drive social interaction.  They meet financial disclosure.   In short, they drive broad discovery of your message.  None of this has anything to do with linkbuilding and SEO. This is all about building awareness."
-- Sarah Skerik, writing in Beyond PR

In spite of Google's latest changes to link weighting and algorithms, press releases (still) can include inbound-link-building, but Google will penalize you for trying to pre-build the inbound links. Instead, the link-building will have to develop organically. 
In other words: In fact, the only true potential SEO benefit of press releases is if a journalist or blogger thinks the content of the release is compelling enough to write about and links back to you naturally. This also means that, as I said, the content of the release needs to actually be compelling." 
-- Pamela Vaughan, writing for Hubspot

All of which brings me back to my initial assertion - the point of a press release, really, is to generating interest among qualified leads or at least well-identified prospects. 

If you've got news to share, by all means, a press release is in order. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

What to Blog About Next, 3

 A picture really is worth a thousand words. 

With apologies to Pinterest and Tumblr, personally, I think the photo-blog thing is a bit over-done and less effective (in most cases) than most photo-bloggers would like to think. Darren Rowse's outstanding site DPS runs hundreds of obvious exceptions, but let's remember that DPS stands for digital-photography-school, OK? 
By the way, Rowse welcomes guest bloggers, so if you've got a post in mind that's built around some awesome images, by all means, click on over and create one of those exceptions. Brag about it and send me a link, and I'll probably blog about you.

Blog with Wrong Image = Bad Blog? 

When blogging, the right picture is worth more than a thousand words. Note the qualifier. The right picture adds so much to your (related) blog post, you can probably keep the post down to 100-200 words - regardless of topic!

The wrong picture isn't really much of a problem - if your blog is strong. That said, don't be that guy.
You know, the guy who sets up his blog template to have an image of a certain size in a certain spot and it's pretty obvious he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the image improves the message. Worse, it's so obvious that the image detracts from the message. Do that a few times and your credibility and readership will start to suffer. 

Now You've Got the Picture

Unless your blog format requires an image, it's better to not include one if the only one you can think to include is a distraction rather than an addition. 

Case in point? You get the picture - I couldn't think of one. 

Blog on, my friends.

Update 10/22/13-- hey, do you think Social Media Examiner is riffing off my stuff? Yeah, well, I don't really think so, either. But it's a sweet coincidence

~Diane Stresing

Did you miss part 1 or part 2? Well, click and read already ;]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beyond the Keyword Stuffing Discussion

When drafting copy for a client's site as it was in the wireframe stage* I asked what's the 'ideal' length & style for ALT image tags. Nobody seemed to have "the" answer,* so I read a few articles on the subject, many of which contradicted each other. A couple rang true, notably one by Chris Rand and another from the University of Washington 

Alt Tags and Animal Mix-ups

While both articles were written before Google released its Pandas and Penguins (but after Apple released its Lion, oh my) I suspect (ok, guess) the advice is still pretty sound. Here's what I gleaned:

  • The ALT image tag should describe the image AND what it means to site navigation (e.g., would you like to design a bookcase like this? something taller? click to use our free bookcase designer.)
  • KW stuffing is bad. Very bad. 
  • Accessibility readers generally agree the focus is on the first 125 characters (not counting spaces). For humans (who never agree) the tag should be a max of 7 words long, not more than 12 words long, 16 words of 7-8 characters each, and as long as it needs to be. Don't worry, there won't be a quiz later. There will, however, be infinite changes to the rules. 

Definitive Word on ALT Tags? 

Anybody want to offer the definitive word on the subject? Wanna guest blog about it? I'd love to hear from you! Twitter is one of the best places to reach me. 
*In case you're looking for a good exercise in frustration and general confusion, writing copy while a website is in the wireframe stage is a great place to start. Creativity is running high, the possibilities seem endless, and it's almost impossible for anyone to make a decision and stick to it for more than 10 minutes. At that point in the process, I find it's best to keep a "leftovers" document, full of good ideas bound to fall during the editing process. Later, that "leftovers" document is a gold mine, where you can dig up oodles of blog posts, fodder for landing pages, and other content that didn't quite fit on the site - at first. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

What to Blog About Next? How 'bout Now? part 2

I heart evergreen posts. Now and always.
Blogging got off to a suspicious start. Even auspicious, maybe. But I'm not blogging about run-of-the-mill, run-off-the-mouth blogging. I'm blogging about corporate/business/ghost/marketing content blogging.

Which means your blogging efforts will probably require meetings. Schedules. A plan. 

Yeah, I know. Borrrrr-ing. But do it right and you'll be hearing ca-ching!

Here's the good news about planning your blog posts: it doesn't have to be hard, they don't have to be long, and variety is the spice of blogging.

In other words, sometimes you can blog about what you're doing right now.

We're having a sale! is a great way to start a blog post.
Hurry to renew your contract before the price increase! works too. 

Seasonal tips make for great blog content. Got a landscaping business? Why not blog about liability as it relates to snow plowing contracts?

But wait, it's not exactly snowplow season, you're thinking. And we're not having a sale this week. So what do you mean, blog about "now?"

I mean, time is of the essence. You will have to spend some time planning and writing and scheduling your posts to make sure they're always timely. Get it? Blog about now means now, AKA your publish date. You want your content to be very timely ... or very evergreen. And sometimes, in-between.

I'll address evergreen posts (I love evergreen posts!) later, and tweeners too. Meanwhile, if you're wondering what to blog about now, I suggest you plan now to blog about something that will feel like you wrote it just now when the reader reads it... later.

~Diane Stresing

Monday, October 7, 2013

What to Blog About? What to Blog About Next? And After That? Part 1

What to Blog About is a three- or four- or five- or 50-part series about - well, duh - what to blog about. Not sure what to blog about? or if you should blog? Please, read on

This series was inspired by and has grown out of a series of a-ha! moments I've had recently about content. See, I've been writing about writing and blogging about blogging for longer than I'm willing to admit. And of course, it's all content. So is copywriting. As are catalog listings, white papers, spec sheets, sell sheets, and tip sheets. But not satin sheets. That's slippery stuff. Anyway, downloadable games, quizzes, reviews, and surveys, heck, it's all content. The whole blogosphere brouhaha about the importance of content, frankly, is very old news to moi. 
Hello! Moi knows content is king
Moi? Why Moi always knew content was king!

Now. I will not entertain any comments about how very old it might be, smartypants. Let's just say I knew Miss Piggy before she kissed her first frog, and leave it at that.

The most recent a-ha! moment bringing this to my attention was a conversation with an old friend, now the owner, founder, and a C-level bigshot at a pretty cool company that sells a very nifty bunch of software tools any design engineer would be happy to have. (Hi, Frank!) The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, I think I've got a blogging opp for you. (Yes, I really talk like that.) I've been working with a tech firm that's open to guest bloggers. Want me to introduce you?
Him: Thanks for the offer, but I don't know a lot about Blogging so I really don't see the value.


Whether you heard nails on a chalkboard or somebody slamming the breaks on the possibility of reaching a whole lotta new customers, you're right.

So. I let Frank off easy - hey, I like to think that's why we're still friends - and decided to blog about it.

Part one in the bag. Stay tuned to find out What to Blog About Next.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

You & Your Source: Different Interview Perspectives

PR Daily is good at asking questions, and How far should you stretch in an interview? is a good question.

In the case of this particular question, author Brad Phillips concludes that there's no right or wrong answer. I beg to differ.

As a writer, I've been on the deadline end of the wrong answer, and it stinks (to put it politely).

On Being a Good Source 

My answer to would-be sources is this: don't stretch for an interview unless you're really, r e a l l y going to stretch and actually become a good source.

Trust me, a prompt, professional response that you're not able to authoritatively address the specific aspects of the assigned topic will be appreciated.

Do you worry because you "hate to turn down a media opportunity?" Don't. Generally, a prompt, professional response of any kind will be enough to get you on the list of "people to call" for future assignments on any related topic.

As a source, the second-worst thing you can do is stretch a little. If you stretch enough to talk around the topic, but are unable to offer any real insight into the topic, you've wasted not only the writer's time but the readers' time as well.

The Worst Source

In my opinion - as a writer and a reader - the worst thing a source can do has nothing to do with stretching. It has to do with bending.

Sources who bend, twist, or turn their responses, or who stray so far from the topic that their comments are useful only to themselves and/or their brand, are the worst... when you're prepared, that is.

Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - a "bad" source can, like a lost sheep, be worth following. The trick is knowing when.

Don't Get Lost, Get Lucky

Following a wayward source is worthwhile when you have enough time to appreciate the detour as part of the education process. Managing your work so that you can have "enough time" is a challenge every writer knows too well - and most know it depends on having a lot of discipline and even more luck.

To increase your chances (I'm talking to writers now, you source-types are free to leave) I've found it helps to identify potential sources as early as possible in your research phase. I've lucked out a few times by contacting those potential sources before I understood the topic well. In those cases, I suspect my totally honest approach improved my luck.

Contacting Sources Too Early Can Work

When contacting potential sources before I've had a chance to develop good questions, I say something like, "I'm researching X topic and would like 10-15 minutes of your time while I begin to understand how Y and Z are affecting X. Before you agree I should tell you this interview would be considered background only - in other words, no attributable quotes at this time. If you're willing to speak to me, please call..."

Obviously, when using this approach it helps to cast a wide net (or look for a lot of sheep). And it helps to have a long lead time - something almost always out of your control as a writer.

What is under your control as a writer, and what you must remember during the interview and writing process, is that you and your sources approach the interview from completely different perspectives. Put another way: as long as you understand that the question How far should you stretch in an interview? is one sources must routinely consider, it's probably unlikely that you'll be led too far astray.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dear Writers: Don't Fall for a Line Like That

"This position is really meant for people who know how to bring in real traffic. We pay a $2.50 CPM (That's $2.50 per 1,000 pageviews your article attracts) with a cap set at $25 per article."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If the line above - from a real, recent post on a quite-respected job board - had you going at first, I hope you did the math at the end and got the same answer I did.  Sorry, but "$25 cap" isn't appropriate or respectable, even for a "small but respected social media reporting site."


Thursday, September 19, 2013

We're all writers so read this before sharing on Facebook (or anywhere else)

This is something of a public service announcement. If you use Facebook, please invest a little bit of time into understanding the basic functionality of its privacy settings. Also set aside a few minutes every couple of weeks to review them, as they change frequently and frankly, you may not fully understand that by clicking on something, you can change your own settings quite unintentionally.

For example, I have changed my own posting/privacy settings multiple times and for various reasons (some I understand, others not so much) they have changed back, or changed again.

Here's an example: it's extremely easy to set your status-posting setting to "private" - which means, of course, it's not private at all, but shared with all your friends.  It's also very easy to change your status setting to "public," which means it's really public, out there for anyone to see, like, forever, or until you delete it.

Ok. Those of you who are Facebook gurus know exactly how these things work. And you can still make mistakes.

What's worse, a disturbing lot of you are thinking, well, I don't use Facebook enough to worry about all that or I don't have time to mess around with all those settings and to you I say, yes you do.

If you use Facebook at all then you should learn how to use the privacy settings to your advantage, and be vigilant about understanding the changes. And there are always changes!

It doesn't take that long to learn the ropes, and Facebook has helpful "help" pages that explain things well. Use them. Don't take the advice of post-of-a-repost on one of your friend's friends' walls. Go directly to the current Facebook help page and learn how to do it.

I manage Facebook pages for nearly a dozen businesses and organizations (and my own book!! < that's a plug) and I assure you that if I can screw up a "simple" privacy setting, you can too. Shame on all of us who don't take the time to learn how to use them properly.

Lecture over! Class dismissed! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

OH, that's why I hate to cook...

In TheKitchn blog, poet, Zen master, and masterful chef Jane Hirshfield very artfully explains why I don't like (borderline-hate) to cook:
The only way to answer the question "what else" is to imagine a range of possibilities, and then, before adding one in, taste them first in your mind and then with your nose (the miraculous kitchen organ of first-draft preview, since, unlike words on a page, ingredients added can't then be removed). It’s the same with a poem, of course—you may have some starting direction of thought or feeling, but the actual poem will be made by its "what elses"—the details of world and word that make it the only possible way to say what it says.
Yep. It's that whole ingredients-added-can't-then-be-removed thing that disturbs me so.

In writing, there's editing.

In gardening, there's weeding, pruning, uprooting, replanting...

But in cooking, there's toss it in, and then like it or lump it.

I think I'll go out for lunch now. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Copywriter Crib Notes - this week's roundup

I have a habit of writing things on scraps of paper.

Notice I didn't say "bad" habit. The tendency can make me appear a little scatterbrained/disorganized at times, but it has some redeeming traits.

Like, having notes nearly covering my desk, I rarely have to dust it.  <BaDaDUM> Ironically, the majority of those little scraps of paper contain notes I've taken from some website or other. Yes, I know all about bookmarks and my (computer) desktop is littered with links to things to read later (or again) and I even have and use an electronic "notes" program. On my computer and my phone.

It's not that I'm a hopeless luddite. I'm not addicted to paper. I'm just an old-fashioned note-taker. I've found, when I write something down, with a real pen or pencil, on a piece of real paper, I process it better and retain it longer than when I try to absorb something from the screen.

But enough about me.

Below, some of the best writing tips I picked up - and promptly scrawled on scraps of paper - this week. I hope they're helpful to you. If they are, tweet about it, share this post or ... scribble it on a piece of note paper.

Who knows? Maybe when you clean up your desk you'll find a blog post amongst those scraps of paper.

> Use your Twitter background image to promote products!  (Thank you, ! and hello, Whydidn'tIthinkofthat Hall of Fame.)

> The first one of these 8 tips I wrote down was #3. The other 7 are pretty good too! 

> OK I didn't exactly write any of this down - I enjoyed the article so much I printed it. And that's serious. As in, that's how you create good content serious. Kudos to Kuno. 

Hm. That's about it for writing tips on my desk this week. As I cleaned up my desk I realized that a lot of those scraps of paper are recipes and grocery lists. Food for thought, as they say. :D

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Content Marketing that Doesn't Inspire Confidence

Anyone besides me lack confidence in a content marketing firm that misuses "it's" and a comma in the first page of copy in an article designed to show its competency in ... content marketing?


~Diane Stresing

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to Write About Anything (Even a Sticky Subject)

 Ha! I have a friend who has written about duct tape (yep, duct tape) for years. She could write a book on this topic: How to Write Intereting Content (on a boring topic).

How do you do it?

~Diane Stresing

PS: I find some topics interesting that others might not, so I rarely consider my subjects "boring." But then, I like to look for ways around the obvious

Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't Write Like That Guy

I think good writing should communicate, not call attention to the ultra-stiff and serious way it communicates. Apparently, that's not how everyone thinks.

Want an example? Here:
Collaborate closely with multiple cross-functional leaders to establish and ensure new communication campaigns and programs are aimed at reaching defined metrics and Key Performance Indicators.  
^ This is from a job description. Can I do that? Yes - I can, I have, and I will - if you pay me enough.  

Sorry; I don't make this stuff up. It's real and it's everywhere. While I highly recommend that you don't write like this, I also suggest pretending that someone did make it up, just to make you laugh. And then, laugh. It's good for you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Glamorous Freelance Life by My Evil Twin

"It must be nice to work at home."

Said with a mixture of envy, doubt (you don't work much, do you?) and sarcasm (OH IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE DOING on Facebook and Twitter all day?) if you're a fulltime freelancer, or even a fulltime freelancer with a part-time "real" job, you've probably heard it six hundred times.

Yep. It's nice to work at home.[term]=bang%20head%20on%20keyboard&filters[primary]=images&filters[secondary]=videos&sort=1&o=4
Courtesy of eaziecheeze,
And sometimes it's nice to fight snark with snark. I try to refrain, really I do, but... not today. Have you met my evil twin?

For what it's worth, she offers a few thoughts on the cushy freelance writing life, below. By the way, if you ever hear me pop off something along these lines to an unsuspecting person who gives me that look and a syrupy, "Oh, it must be nice to work at home," it wasn't me. It was her.

1. Yeah, being my own collections department is awesome. Whining so totally suits me.
2. Ditto for handling my own procurement, office equipment maintenance and repair.
3. Nothin' like those "business lunches." (A.K.A. eating from the bag of shredded cheese over my keyboard at 3pm, again.)
4. Those constant endorsements from community groups really rock. Especially ones that begin, "We thought you'd be the perfect person for this because of your schedule, you know, since you're available all the time."
5. What happens in my office...stays in my office. Well OK I'll dish.  Just last night I got all hot and bothered... wrestling with a printer jam at 11pm.
6. Convenient? I'll say. It's like I never leave the office!
7. You know how it's fun to have Superbowl office pools, donuts at the office or a laugh with a coworker? I don't.

I think my evil twin's point is, the grass is almost always greener. I guess my point is, while freelancing or contracting from home may look like a cushy job, it's a job. So if I seem a little snarly when you drop by my house your day off, it's because I'm at the office.

Design Taxi recently ran an article offering solutions to many of my complaints. Maybe I'll get around to reading it when the boss gets off my back.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Write, please, for the Sound-Sex of It

Thank you Stephen Fry (via @rolliewillams ) for loving words enough to make (and share) a 6-plus minute video even a videophobe like me can love.

While Fry and many others have built a reputation on the stern-English-teacher sort of language admonitions it's not because we/they hate the errant use of words. It's because we/they love language. Because it communicates, punctuates, invigorates, and to do so sometimes it must innovate. Itself.

So there.

Write on, modern language-screwups, write on.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Newspapers ARE Content, Stupid

I actually lose sleep over the "death of newspapers" trend, and admit my perspective is skewed by that.

I find it ironic that NYT, Washington Post, and some other distinguished dinosaurs are apparently leading the way in developing a new media industry called "content marketing."

Weren't newspapers the original "content" industry? and can this new iteration of "content" save the news?

God I hope so.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Handwriting on the Wall

Ever wonder where that phrase originated? It's an oldie - a very old oldie - from the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament.

Oh come on. I'm not the only one who takes notes during sermons, am I?

# #

Friday, June 21, 2013

Content Rules, She Says, But Content isn't King Anymore

The crown has moved over one seat. And Roxanne Divol says it's good to be queen.

I think she's write. Er, I mean, right. But creating good content isn't all marketers need to do. (Ha! "All Marketers Need to Do" would be a pretty long list!) One thing most seem to agree on: they need to understand, be successful, in the publishing business.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Excellent Examples: blogging and interviewing

In this case, I really think the headline says it all - but what the heck, I'll say some more:

If you're interviewing, blogging, or interviewing for the sake of blogging, do consider the excellent examples of Copyblogger. And if you're looking for a writer with loads of creativity (and marketability)  I highly recommend looking at Austin Kleon.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Honoring Dads (through better marketing)

It's not quite Father's Day but it IS high time we (copywriters) started showing Dads a little more respect. Ashley Silverman of Playground Dad offers a well-crafted post on marketing to the "other" parent and gives us a few reasons to pay attention.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Research Before Writing: Essential to do, then stop

Would you spend a year learning to quilt or paint before writing a book about a character who quilted or painted? If you did, you might find your name on best-seller lists, like author Tracy Chevalier.

Or not. 

The trick is not just falling so hard for your story that you're willing to do the research - it's knowing when to quit researching and then having the discipline to write. (And revise, and rewrite, and revise, and rewrite...)

The History Girls' excellent blog asked Chevalier when was the right time to stop researching and her short answer was, "Never." The long answer was a bit more illuminating, particularly for fiction writers. 

But what about copywriters? How much research is enough? Unfortunately, the answer is usually determined by deadlines and budgets - neither of which, in the commercial world, have much respect for the writing process. 

Which means the writer must be a quick study, of both subject matter and of the personalities in play - who are you really writing for? The customers, about whom you have reams of data (of questionable significance) or the CEO, the sales manager, or the marketing director (who hired you)? 

While it's a conundrum and not one a blog can answer, I'll go back to Chevalier's answer, because she's right: as a writer, you'll probably never do enough research.  And I can safely say you'll never quiet all the critics - book reviewers, editors, clients or the CEO's sister, for that matter. 

It's frustrating, but the tremendous reward in this messy ball of wax is that writers are truly always learning. 

Tracy Chevalier's latest book is set in northern Ohio. She spoke at commencement to Oberlin's class of 2013 - 29 years after her own class graduated from the school - and she gave the grads a lot of advice. Five of her points were supposed to be all about writing - but they can be interpreted broadly. Most of the advice was good, for fiction writers, copywriters, and everyone. My favorite bit was this:

Go on, now. Stop researching - and see what you can do. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Twitter in Good Form (a SM Tip for Writers) (and another excellent example!)

Writers wanting a good example of how to use Twitter effectively need look no further than the online home of The Associated Press Stylebook.

The venerable reference Tweets as @APStylebook uses #APStyleChat to manage online discussions and to alert followers to upcoming chats.

Clean, simple, useful. Social media as it always oughta be!

Tweeting: A Modern History

But if the internet allowed for a new (twisted?) meaning of both "social" and "media," there are many who remind us that the very-pithy phrase was worth sharing long before we tweeted. One of the more astute pre-'net observations: There is no There there. And there you are.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing for Money and Fame in May

Dear scribbling, scrabbling scribes,
 Here are a few of the writing contests in process this fine month of May:

The Writers' Circle contests are ongoing, judged monthly, and free to enter.

The Writer Mag lists a bunch of contests - some are free, some aren't.

New Pages will surely generate many new pages, thanks to its list of contests with May and June deadlines.

Have you entered the 2013 Writer's Digest competition? Well, too bad - you just missed the Early Bird deadline. But there's still time.

Goi Peace hosts an essay contest for writers under 25 years of age - so it's a little late for me - but if you're  still a spring chicken, you're in luck:  your deadline is June 30