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!