Rogue Ink

April 30, 2008

In Which I Piggyback on Someone Else’s Words

Filed under: Quotes — Tei @ 3:12 am
Tags: , , ,

I have a confession. I frickin’ love The Prophet. It is the best holy book ever, and yes, I say this fully aware that it is, in fact, a book of poetry. I say this knowing that an entire community of hippies, my parents included, thought it was totally righteous because it had a lot of advocacy of nudity and free love in there. Yes: I endorse a book my parents loved when they were hippies. I don’t care. It’s great.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell this has to do with anything, The Prophet is a long story that has to do with a single wise guy (that would be the Prophet) telling everyone in his village the essentials about the important stuff in life. So some villager will say, “Hey, tell us wise stuff about marriage,” and he says, “You betcha,” and begins to spout.

I’ve been listening to it while doing the laundry, if you must know, and there’s a whole section “On Labor.” Which I shall now proceed to quote at length, because I am still deeply plague-ridden, and I have to go to bed early, and all of me hurts. Also, because it is really quite beautiful, and I’ve been snarky all week, and I could use some beauty.

On Labor:

Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”
And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Rogue Take

Love what you do, that simply, that absolutely. If you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing, stop it. I mean, really, stop it right now. That’s a poor way to spend a third of your life, without knowing what you are doing, or why, or for whom.

One of the reasons I do what I do, one of the deepest reasons I decided to write for a living and to write only for heroic people, people who did good work, people who dreamed of doing something they loved and went out and started the business, started the life.

The reason I started my own business was that I couldn’t bear working for heroes who seized their own lives and did work imbued with love without joining them. What kind of sad little existence would that have been, admiring people and never doing that admirable thing?

Love. Love is a good one to remember. Work for people who love what they do, and work hard for them. I’ve got a woman for whom I may be taking on a project who sounds terribly hurt, because the last company who wrote for her didn’t write for her, didn’t write in a way that reflected what she did and how she loved it. And that’s a strange kind of blasphemy, working counter to someone else’s love. I’ll probably work harder in my life than a lot of people, but all my work will be good work, and I’ll be glad of that.

Tomorrow, prepare yourselves for some bitter, bitter thoughts. All this contemplation is getting to me. Don’t worry, it’s the NyQuil talking. This will not be the normal state of affairs.

What is the normal state of affairs, you ask? Subscribe. Find out. Tell me when you do.

April 29, 2008

Writing for Non-Profits or Why Cheese is Awesome

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:25 am
Tags: , , ,

I was going to write a post on freelancing ethics, but I’m not feeling particularly ethical today (you have to sort of be in the mood to get on your moralistic high horse) so I’m going to talk about why writing for non-profits is different than writing for other kinds of companies.

As with all things, the key is in the words (oh, English language, how I heart you). A non-profit does not work for profit. A for-profit, as in all other companies, works for profit. I know. It’s all so clear and magical. Wait a sec, though, because I’m going to change it up: this means that when you are writing for a for-profit, you are generally selling something. This is, in fact, a good thing to tell people about yourself if you write sales copy for a living: I can help you generate more profits. The granddaddy of sales copy is Bob Bly, and this is exactly what he tells people, over and over again. I can make you more money, says he, and he is evidently correct on that point. And that’s awesome for Bob, but it doesn’t work for non-profits.

This is not because non-profits do not need money. They actually always need money. Throw a stone into a roomful of non-profit people, and you will give some non-profit guy a head wound, and that guy will not have health insurance, because non-profits always need money. So money is still a factor here.

The difference is you are no longer getting people to buy something. You are getting people to invest.

We HATE investing.

When we buy things, we know exactly what we’re getting, and what it’s going to do for us. I buy cheese because I really like cheese. It is delicious, it smells good, it is frequently studded with nuts or rosemary or apricots, it goes great with a glass of wine, it keeps me from getting too skinny (a thing I worry about constantly, let me tell you) and it featured very prominently in the wonderful Redwall books of my youth. These are great reasons to buy cheese.

When we invest in things, we do not usually know what we’re getting. Very few people actually own stocks and bonds, few people have CDs or savings of any kind, because they don’t understand the investment. So someone has to explain it to us.

Here’s the clincher: nobody likes to have stuff explained to them.

We get bored. We tune out. We start counting the freckles on the bank guy’s face, and deciding that maybe he should have been a little friendlier with the sunscreen in his youth, because some of those freckles are big and strangely-shaped and look decidedly precancerous. We start wondering what we’re going to have for dinner. We start hating the term ‘CDs’. Not really, because music CDs are great, but we mostly use mp3s now and why would they call investment-CDs CDs when there were already CDs in the world and those CDs had music on them? Investment CDs are never going to compete with music CDs, we think. We are wondering if this guy is still talking about the CDs. We kind of have to pee. We wish he’d finish up.

When we get bored, we never find out what the awesome investment is going to do for us, and so we never invest. We take our money and we go buy cheese, because we know all the delights of cheese, and they are numerously delicious.

Back to the Non-Profits

Non-profits get their money from donations. There is a huge list of things that fall under the category of ‘donations’ – grants, government and state monies, privately wealthy folk who for some reason don’t see the immediate necessity of funding my personal lifestyle and choose to write checks to other causes instead – but for the sake of discussion, ‘donations’ about covers it.

When someone is being asked to donate to a non-profit, they are being asked to invest. They personally are not going to get the return on their investment, but they want to know that their money is going to accomplish something good. I know, these are selfish evil people, but they want to be able to have the warm fuzzies that come with sending your money off to save starving children. They want the fuzzies. They are complete addicts for the fuzzies. They want to know why your brand of fuzzies is better than the other guy’s fuzzies, and in order to do that, you’re going to have explain, and as I’ve already said, nobody likes shit explained to them, so you’re going to have to be entertaining. You’re going to have to tell them a story.

Writing for businesses is selling. Writing for non-profits is storytelling.

When writing for a non-profit, you have to craft a story that makes the potential donor’s heart grow three sizes in one day and cracks the Grinch’s face and sends him sledding down to Whoville with Max. That’s your job. It is a little easier than the Grinch, because your potential donors are good-hearted folk already and they aren’t green and they don’t have weird evil-shaped eyes, but you have competitors out there, competitors who will try to make their warm fuzzies seem warmer and fuzzier than that damned Snuggle bear, so you better craft a good story.

Good storytellers get the investments, because they can explain things without the listener being aware of the explanation. If the guy at the bank could craft a really compelling story about the CDs, I would sit there all rapt and attentive and he would probably get my money. They do this occasionally. They tell this wonderful story about a woman who started a twenty-dollar CD when she was fifteen and then retired at the age of thirty and went off to live in the Bahamas with an actor. A cool actor, not a creepy Hollywood type. A Johnny Depp type actor.

Although, I have to say, even then, I go: that sounds great, but do I HAVE to invest now? If I don’t invest now, I could use that money to buy cheese instead. And the immediate satisfaction of cheese is so much more real than the eventual satisfaction of financial stability. I don’t believe in financial stability anyway. I think financial stability hangs out with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and none of them are ever coming to my house again, because I’m a grown-up now.

I don’t feel this way about non-profits though. If you tell me I can save a small child from AIDS with my quarter, you have got my quarter, no problem. I’ll buy cheese some other time.

The Small Matter of Hero Creation

The donor is making an investment in someone else’s life. That is good and noble, but he needs to know why he is doing that. Tell him a story. Tell him a story about illiteracy if you’re writing for a library, tell him a story about poverty if you’re writing for a non-profit business loans company, tell him a story about disease if you’re writing for a health-care facility.

Then make the donor the hero of the story. Give him the power to rectify the situation, right the wrong, save the world. No one can resist being a hero.

Here’s what’s really fun: it’s true. You just told a true story, and you made a real hero. Which makes you the guy who makes heroes. It makes you Zeus. Zeus got all the lightning bolts and women and those cool arm-band things. Zeus is a good guy to be.

Yeah, yeah, real heroes make themselves, I know. I just want to be Zeus.

If I were Zeus, someone would bring me some cheese right now. I’ll bet you Zeus never had to buy his own cheese.

More cheese obsessions later. Subscribe so’s you don’t miss them.

April 28, 2008

Barter. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 4:04 am
Tags: , , ,

I don’t know if you’re one of those happy shiny people who just loves beginning a new business, but if you are, I think you should know that no one likes you very much.

I’ve been working myself into the ground this weekend trying to get a few things together for the launch on the 1st (scary scary scary scary scary scary scary). Note: the word ‘scary’ looks scary. Well played, whoever finangled that one. In the process of business-starting, I’ve encountered quite a few other people who are also just beginning their own business. A graphic designer, two masseuses, a website developer. We’ve been commiserating about how much all of this sucks, and we’ve all been offering what help we can summon, because when you’re stuck on a desert island with a bunch of equally frustrated and scared people, you want to be the guy nobody can bear to think of eating first.

Seriously. Think about it.

So I’ve been offering to revamp the masseuse’s promotional brochures and write the website developer’s web copy on his sample work, and the graphic designer is making me a logo and the website developer is making one of the masseuse’s website, and the masseuses have become everyone’s slaves. And it occurred to me that what we are doing is an informal form of barter. We’re trading one service for another, with no money in between. That is pretty cool, if slightly communistic, and useful in a few other ways besides business-starting.

No samples, no jobs. No jobs, no samples. Don’t you HATE that?

Barter is awesome for beginners in any field. If you’re a graphic designer just starting out, you can probably design a sample brochure or two without anyone ever hiring you, and build your portfolio that way. However, if you’re like most graphic designers I know, you talk as though you’re always on your instant messenger (I’m very, very sorry to all functionally typing graphic designers out there, but seriously, your brethren always spell ‘you’ as ‘u’ and it’s driving me mad) so it’s very difficult for that brochure to look like a professional sample when the design is great but the words are half-assed. Enter your buddy, budding copywriter.

The copywriter writes the copy, the graphic designer does the design. Neither of you has ever been hired by an actual company, but you both now have this very professional sample in your portfolio. Do this a half a dozen times, and you have a whole portfolio to show to your very first client.

Note: this is not cheating. This is a real demonstration of your skills, and that of your friend. DO NOT pretend you have been hired by some awesome company if you have not. But it’s fine to do a mock-up of a company that doesn’t exist, or to write for a company that does exist, just so long as you never claim to have been paid for the labor. That is a slippery slope of deception, and even rogues do not condone it.

The great thing is that if you do a good job on your sample, no one will ask if you were hired to do it. They’ll just think it’s a great sample and hire you to do a real one. Rogues totally condone that.

By your powers combined, you ARE Captain Planet.

Think about it. Who do you know whose profession compliments yours? If you’re already past the ‘needing samples for your portfolio’ stage, and thank the powers that be, I already am, snuggling up to people in peripheral professions (ooh, alliteration) can get both of you more business. Do I do design and copy? No, but I can recommend my buddy, Mister Awesome McDrawyPants. It’s a scratch-my-back-I’ll-clean-out-your-gutters situation, and it can mean more business for both of you.

If you can develop a good rapport or, hey, just to get crazy, a friendship with your complimentary colleague (I did it AGAIN! Alliteration meter is ON today!) then you can do favors for each other without needing an immediate tit-for-tat. You might do three writing jobs in a row for your designer friend, and it’ll be a few months later that you need a professionally designed webpage. Don’t freak out about it. To go all Californian on you for a second, karma comes back around. You know that at some point, you will probably need that friend’s services, and even if you don’t, they can help in other ways. Which brings me to . . .

We all have unnecessaries.

Stuff that you want, that you don’t need, that you occasionally spend money on because you really, really want it. This is stuff like dining out, someone to paint your bathroom, someone to do your laundry. Barter with people who can do those things for you. The masseuse? AMAZING find. Do I need a massage? No, but I really, really want one. And she needs a promotional placard written, and she’s willing to trade two hours of her labor for two hours of mine. That is two hours worth of massage, for something that takes me very little time.

Theoretically, I could work for my standard two-hour fee, and hand her the money, and then she could hand me the money right back and ask me to write the copy for her. The problem with that scenario is that it necessitates some outside party giving one of us money to begin this whole cycle. Barter is great because no one has to be rich first.

Or you could do all your trade in wampum. Just because it sounds awesome. I think the dollar should be traded out for the wampum. How much more psyched would you be to get your change if you knew it was going to be five wampum and thirty-two cowrie shells?

Now then, to business. Anyone out there a really awesome kung-fu master wants to trade some classes for some web copy? I’m also in the market for an electrician, someone who can mount a print on wood, a mask-maker, a pastry chef, a bee keeper, a blacksmith, and a belly dancer.

None of your business why.

Subscribe or the monkeys will get you.

April 27, 2008

In Which I Continue to Be Off-Topic: More Dandelions

Filed under: Off Topic — Tei @ 5:14 pm

Dandelions on the Bookcase Since I don’t really have anything else to write about and I was up until four in the morning last night, this post is late and I’m going to share with all you dandelion-lovers some of the pictures of the dandelion goings-on. This was my bookcase, all covered with ’em. Everyone should note that I’ve only just moved into my house and I do not actually condone this color for bookcases or furniture in general. Also, that I do know to hang pictures. I just fail at it so far.

This was the hallway. And by ‘hallway,’ we mean, ‘dining room that has yet to have dining room furniture in it.’ That path goes all the way to the front door, you just can’t tell. Because I’m standing on it. Random fact: the gods of weather in Boulder are fickle and mischievous. This is a beautiful day today, warm and sunny. Perfect for flower-picking. Yesterday? SNOWED. I kid you not. Not in a big crazy way, but in a ‘what the hell are you doing outside picking dandelions’ way. Some guy asked me if I was picking them for dandelion wine, and I have to tell you, that sounded like a mighty fine idea at that point.

SNOW. I ask you.

This is the whole kitchen nook, all dandelion-ified. There’s also dandelions on the fridge and the water heater and in glasses of water on the counter. There’s also a crown, hanging on the wall, up in the right-hand corner, there. I found out that Disney LIED to me as a child. LIED, I say. Alice of Wonderland fame, when she was making her daisy chain? She BRAIDED the daisies. I used to try to do that as a kid and get so frustrated, because mine never looked like hers. And I found out yesterday that apparently a daisy chain is made by splitting the stem and sliding another daisy through it (this also applies to dandelions). Disney, you have robbed me of a satisfying childhood full of daisy chains. We shall be having words about this.

Anyway. And then we had dinner, which I did not take pictures of, because it wasn’t that exciting. Do you really need to see pictures of salad and pasta? I thought not.

That was the magic of dandelion-ville, and why I’m taking the weekend off useful blogging. Thanks for bearing with. I’ll be up and running again tomorrow. Well, tonight, actually. Since all you people evidently go to bed in different time zones.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sweep up a couple thousand dandelions before they turn to chaff and suffocate me in my sleep.

April 26, 2008

Dandelion Hunting

Filed under: Out of Context — Tei @ 4:18 am

This is completely unrelated to anything, but I figure it’s a weekend, so we could all use a break. Also, I can PRETEND it’s related, at the very end, but you’ll have to stick around. That’s what I’ll do. This is all a business analogy. Are we ready? Go.

I have a dear friend. The one who brought me sausage. He’s currently in Florida, teaching gym class to small children (I have no idea, please don’t ask, or I will be forced to admit my ignorance). His girlfriend is here, in Boulder. And it’s her birthday this weekend.

Now, this friend, along with his awesome sausage-bringing tendencies, is also a pretty rockin’ boyfriend and would be here celebrating with said girlfriend if he had anything to say about it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. He has nothing to say about it. For purposes of being able to dictate his whereabouts, he is a deaf-mute with no hands. He tried to plan a whole surprise for her in advance, asking me if I’d take her to dinner on him and, because this girlfriend loves dandelions, picking a couple thousand dandelions. 7,300 dandelions, to be precise. One for each day of her life.

Because he couldn’t have done years, or months, or something. That would have been too easy. Our boy knows that if you really want to show you love a girl, you have to near kill yourself. And a couple thousand plants.

Seven thousand, three hundred dandelions rotted in his fridge about four days ago, just after he left. He was heartbroken. And he was in Florida.

So tomorrow, instead of working, I’m going out to pick dandelions.

Here’s where we pretend this is related.

If you do over-the-top shit for your clients the same way my friend does for his gal, they will love you forever. Or at least, that’s what she swears happens.

She better love him forever. That’s a ton of dandelions.

See you tomorrow. May you, too, skip work and gather flowers.

I was going to try to put an image up, but I can’t figure out how to wrap text in WordPress and it’s been damn near an hour. Save me, Men with Pens!

April 25, 2008

Finding Your Client’s Voice. Hint: It is Not In the Fridge.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:25 am
Tags: , ,

It has come to my attention that in my zest and fervor (this came out zert and fesvor the first time. I don’t know what it means, but I’m pretty sure it’s dirty) to start taking some pride and confidence in my work, I have completely overdone it. I have started to brag about stuff that I know to be true, but that you people have no way of verifying. It is, in short, put up or shut up time over here at Rogue Ink.

And so we hereby commence with the practical advice on copywriting.

I’ve been talking a lot about my ability to listen to a client, to understand what they want to say and how they want it to come across so I can produce that in my writing. “Great,” say you, “I suppose you just flap your wings and fart and that magically happens.” Now, this is only true if we have a fairly flexible definition of what ‘that’ indicates, so let’s move on.

When a client hires me, often they’ve had another copywriter in the past. (No consolation prize jokes here. I am very young and my clients tend to be older. They’ve been around, okay? I am a breath of fresh air for them, goddamnit.) The thing they complain about most often with their previous copywriters, and this is very important, is NOT that the writing was bad. Often, the writing was actually quite good.

The problem was that the writing SOUNDED wrong.

Clients, especially small clients, want the writing to sound like them. Or at least their company. Most writers’ writing winds up sounding like the writer, not the client. Having a distinctive writing voice is great if you’re Raymond Carver. It is horrible if you intend to make a living writing business copy. And I have news for everyone. Raymond Carver never wrote business copy. He worked as a night custodian once, but that is as close as he ever got to an equivalent payscale. If you’re going to work as a copywriter, you have to learn to write in the client’s voice. And to do that, you have to listen to your client.

Learn the Vernacular.

There’ll be a guy who hires you (or a gal, whichever). This guy has probably been with the company for awhile. If it’s a small company, he may own it. Either way, the voice of the company has permeated into his language. He’s going to use terms and phrases you’ve never heard before. He’s going to refer to his company’s clients in a certain way and his colleagues in a certain way and his cat in a certain way. Listen to all of that. Write it down if you have to. (You’re taking notes, right? For the love of all that is holy, take notes when you are talking to a prospective client.) He will never know that you are writing down the fact that they refer to their employees as ‘scrubs’ and their clients as ‘pains in the ass.’ You may never quote him directly on this, but the voice is what’s important, and the vocabulary is a huge part of that.

Example: when I was writing for the library, I assumed when I began that they would refer to the people who used the library as ‘patrons.’ Why? Because ‘library patrons’ is a phrase I’m used to. It’s how my library used to refer to me, when I was a wee tot. Get this, though: I was wrong. Brooklyn Public Library was busy marketing themselves as hip and cool and altogether dopesauce. They were modern, they were technology-savvy. And they called their patrons ‘customers.’

The only reason I didn’t completely screw that up in the first round of copy was because I was listening when the marketing department head was talking. And I thought, “Weird. They don’t call them patrons.” And I never mentioned this, but it was one of those little subtle edits that the client never had to make, because I was listening. Because I ‘got’ them. I got that they were hip and cool and savvy and that they had customers.

One word. That’s all. The vocabulary is half of the voice.

Listen Between the Lines.

The frustrating part of being commissioned to write (or design, I have it on good authority) for another person is that they often know exactly what they want. They cannot explain what they want, but they will know it when they see it. That’s all well and good, but given the infinite possibilities of tone and style, hitting the nail on the head first round is going to be damned difficult if you can’t use some intuition.

Yes, I’m a woman, and yes, my intuition works great. I am very sorry if any menfolk out there take umbrage. Suck it up. I can’t pee without dropping trou. We make trade-offs.

Intuition is only a wee bit genuine intuition, actually. Mostly it’s a multiple choice test. Like this:

What sort of tone do you want for your copy?

a) professional
b) friendly
c) hip and savvy
d) stick-up-the-butt

The client is not going to volunteer any of those options. But you can listen to what they’re saying, and circle the correct box. I was talking to a woman who was one of the first clinical health psychologists in the world. She’s a very smart, matter-of-fact, wry-witted sort of lady, and you might have gone with d) at first blush. When I asked her about her work, though, while she was being smart and matter-of-fact, she was also being intensely caring, somewhere underneath. I asked her if she wanted to have a more medically technical tone or a more personal approach, and she instantly said she wanted a more personal approach.

This was a woman who had no idea what she wanted when I first met her. She did variations on the theme of “I really don’t know. You’re the professional. What do you think would work?” for about an hour. You have to pry a little bit. Get it down to options b) and c) just by listening, feeling the situation out. Then ask her which of those two she wants. She’ll be able to tell you. She’ll know it when she hears it.

If she doesn’t want either, start over. You’ve eliminated two options. You only have infinitely more to go.

Do Not Cheat

I can’t believe how often I say ‘don’t cheat’ on this blog, but apparently it’s what all those other guys do all the time. And I’m the rogue. I should be a cheating fool.

Here’s what I mean. Do not, under any circumstances, assume that you already know what the client wants before you meet them and assess the voice and the content they’re looking for. I got my first big job because they had first hired a huge marketing firm to write their copy. This was New York, so the marketing firm in question banged out some perfectly serviceable copy, professional, eloquent.

Boring as fuck-all.

I mean, really. I can’t even give you an example of how boring it was. My mind simply refused to coalesce to it. It ran through the channels of my brainpan like water off a duck’s back and then sat there, in a stagnant little pool on the ground, and a squirrel came by and peed in it.

When they hired me, they explained what they wanted. And I heard the word ‘inspire’ over and over again. We want to inspire our donors, we want to show that we inspire our clients, inspire would be an awesome name for a building that actually had a giant spire. Over and over. You cannot inspire with generic, normal copy. It is not possible.

Do not cheat. Do not write serviceable copy. Either you wrote it for your client, or you didn’t do your job. End of story.

Adjectives Lie.

Really, they do. This is going to be the shortest piece of advice I have, but when a client says, “I want it to sound edgy,” or “young,” or “fresh,” or even something fairly banal like, “professional,” they may very well want that thing, but that is not the only thing they want. And that adjective may, in fact, be the complete opposite of what they actually want. They think the word means something else. They are hoping like mad this cool, amazing, saucy word applies to them. And you are a writer, so you KNOW what the adjective means, and I am sure you can produce it, but it will not be what the client was looking for, because the client thought the adjective meant something else. It had such cool syllables! How could it NOT mean what they wanted it to mean?

Do not listen to the adjective. The adjective lies. The voice never lies.


This trick may only work for me, but it works great. I personify my clients’ companies in my head. There was one client who ran an online learning community for teachers, and she needed her website to have a nurturing sort of overtone, while still being professional and capable. I gave her company the voice of Mrs. Potts, from Beauty and the Beast. Would Mrs. Potts have ever described an online learning community? Nah. But her voice was the important thing. Her voice in my head, reciting the copy I was putting down, softened the edges on things that were coming out a little too corporate. Mrs. Potts wouldn’t say ‘exemplary.’ It comes out of her teapot all wrong. She’s say ‘excellent.’ That sounds warmer. Chip would be all pleased.

Again, this may only work for me. I’ve discovered it works very, very well with one-man shops (just give the company the voice of the person in question) and it is an extraordinary detriment when trying to write one’s own copy. When I try to write my own copy, I automatically start talking in my own voice, and I am not easy to work with. Goes like this:

“Well, what would you say about your work?”

“I would probably cuss. I think I did, actually. Yesterday. Didn’t I cuss when I was describing what I did for a living yesterday? For that thing Naomi has us all doing? I did cuss, didn’t I. Fuck.”

“You just did it again.”

“Shut up.”

“You know, your voice really isn’t all that professional.”

“I hate you. I have to finish this website copy by Monday and you are not helping.”

“I’m just saying, maybe you should have been a WWF wrestler or something. They get to cuss all the time.”

“I’m not talking to you anymore.”

“Then how will you know what you sound like?”

You see the problem.

Want you should get more bipolarity? Subscribe. I’ll try to talk more about copywriting tomorrow.

April 24, 2008

Good Ink. It’s What I Do.

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 4:27 am
Tags: , , ,

I’d like it known that I wasn’t going to do this, because I have fawned over Naomi quite enough this week, thank you, and pretty soon I am going to be less her nemesis and more her bitch, if you know what I mean, and I think we all do. She put a thing up on her blog yesterday that challenged all of us who blog to answer a couple of simple questions about what it is we do, exactly, for a living. Now, I’m not sure I want anyone but my priest knowing that information, but then I got to this line:

This also could be for people who don’t have a damn clue what they’re going to write about tomorrow.

And I thought, well, she’s got me there.

For future reference: I never know what I’m going to write about tomorrow. I never know what I’m going to eat tomorrow either, nor where I will go running, nor, for that matter, where I will have put my keys (answer: nowhere a sane person would put them). So if you ever want to tell me what to write about tomorrow, feel free.

Here are the questions, and their respective answers:

What’s your game? What do you do?

I write.

What? My English teachers always said simple sentences were best. Okay, fine, you greedy bastards. If we’re going to get all specific here, I write marketing and promotional copy for businesses, which usually consists of brochures, white papers, newsletters, annual reports, budget requests, case studies, and website copy. I try to write for cool people, people who save babies from malaria, people whose companies save the Amazon rainforest, people making cool stuff that I personally would like to own. Previously, I’ve written for a major public library (Brooklyn, y’all), marketing companies, PR firms, technology companies, non-profits, medical institutions, and a lone clinical health psychologist.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

I love writing, in a big way. If it were possible for me to make a living writing fiction, I’d do that, but it’s really not, even for the great ones. Stephen King is about the sum of writers-who-live-on-their-writing. I like words and the way they go together, and I really fucking LOVE writing for people who love what they do. I like that time in the office where they’re trying to explain to me what they want their website to say, and I’m taking notes and they’re getting frustrated because they don’t know exactly what they want to say. If they knew exactly what they wanted to say, they’d write the damn thing themselves.

But I know. I totally get what they want to say. I know that a few days later, when I hand them their first draft, they’re going to recognize it as a solid form of all the little ephemeral disconnected thoughts they were floating by me before. I love that rush. It’s like crack for writers.

It happens right after the initial moment of panic that they will HATE EVERYTHING. Secretly, though, I know it’s perfect. And usually I’m right. Yeah, I’ve got a bit of knack. For listening, mostly, for translating emotion into words. If I could ever get that into a functioning short story, I’d be famous.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

My customers at the moment are varied. Who I want to write for includes people in education, the environment, non-profits, health, the arts, small businesses, local businesses. Coca-Cola needs my services too, but screw them. Frankly, everyone with a business needs what I offer, because good writing equals good communication, and good communication means the people who need your services will find your business. Then, instead of spending time finding customers, they can keep saving baby seals or making local butter or whatever it is they do.

There are actually two categories here: non-profits and other businesses. Philanthropic institutions tend to need a copywriter to help them get donations, so they can keep doing the good stuff they do. Business in general tend to need a copywriter to get them get customers, so they can keep doing the good stuff that they do. Subtle difference. Big one, though, if you’re the writer. Which I am. And see? I know the difference.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

I care. I really do. I want to know all about what your business does and I want it to succeed. I want to get its soul down, even if it’s for your company newsletter. I care what you do, I listen to make sure I’ve got it right, and I turn out writing that you recognize as a part of your business. I want to make you happy, in a real way. If you’re practically squirming with delight at the way the writing came out, I get off on that. I will work my ass off to make that happy moment happen. I secretly want to be Superman or Robin Hood, one of those guys who swoops in at the right moment and gives you just what you needed to save the day. That’s my USP, Naomi. I’m a goddamn superhero.

Also, I’m never late. I hate late people.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

Starting a copywriting business that focuses on the niche groups I just mentioned. Do-gooders, basically. I want to write for good people doing good stuff. I don’t really care about huge corporations – they’re not that interesting. I want to work for people who care about their business and what their business does, because those are the ones that I can actually make happy with my writing. Nike’s marketing director doesn’t give a good goddamn if I write copy that reflects Nike’s soul, even if I actually reach in, find the soul, and put it on paper in a way that makes it pulse like a creepy horror movie beastie. Nike only cares if it’s going to sell.

I want to work for the shoe guy down the street who frickin’ loves his shoes, who makes them so they’re beautiful, who buys his leather from a guy he’s known for years, who spent some time figuring out what shoelaces were best. Where’s that guy? I’ll write his website for free.

I actually am planning, when the thing gets off the ground and I have a reliable amount of work coming in, to do one giveaway project a month to a worthy cause. I’ll probably have a place on the site where you can propose a business for that giveaway. I’ll also be offering a hefty discount to non-profits. Because they don’t have any money, and I hear that.

It’s officially going up May 1st, (I hope I hope I hope). The company’s called Good Ink, and if I can’t wrangle that URL away from this guy I’m in negotiations with, it’ll be I’ll let you people know when it’s up.

Right. Bit of a tangent there. This was fun, Naomi.

Now then. What am I going to write about tomorrow? Suggestions from the peanut gallery?

Want to find out whose suggestion got written? Subscribe. Because knowledge is power.

April 23, 2008

Milestones in Blogging

Filed under: Blogging — Tei @ 5:24 am
Tags: , ,

I have my first mean comment today!

I am secretly sort of delighted. It wasn’t even a misspelled, ignorant sort of mean comment. It was a numbered, listed, analytical mean comment, and it touched several times on my insecurities, my ineptitude, and my mental health. (Note to hate commenter: that’s what I do, dude. Quit stealing my material.) You can check it out here, at the tail end of yesterday’s post. You can’t miss it. It’s the long, unkind one.

According to Mr. Oscar Nardini:

  1. I have a disturbed personal life. (Everyone who is actually in my personal life concurs.)
  2. I resent babies. (TRUE. I want someone to spoon feed ME. I am taking applications.)
  3. Nobody really breakdances anymore. (I know a couple of dudes in the Grand Central Station subway who will give Oscar the lie on this one. And these guys in Boston. They’re pretty awesome.)
  4. Ugly babies are ugly; talking on the phone is no substitute for real contact. (I am not sure how those two subjects relate. Though I agree heartily with both statements.)
  5. I am no good at being a phony, and yet I am wildly untrustworthy. (I somehow objected to both of these. I’m not sure why.)
  6. My missives are narcissistic. (Probably.)
  7. I am shallow. (Then why is my cat ugly?)
  8. I am successful at my job. (Oh, Oscar. I wish.)

Being new to the blogosphere, and this most certainly being the first time I’ve had an audience large enough to merit dissenting voices, I don’t know how often other bloggers deal with unkind commentary, nor if there is some communally accepted way of handling the situation. Do you ignore it? Do you have a private little chuckle with your friends? Are you supposed to take it personally?

Now, with material like that, you will not be surprised that my first impulse was to make fun of it. But first, I did what any reasonable person would do:

I Googled the sucker.

And found this blog, in which an author of the same name (and I am assuming, here, that there is only one Oscar Nardini in the world, and if not I most humbly beg the pardon of the wronged party). In this blog, Mr. Nardini speaks of his clinical depression, including medications for Paxil and Celexa. His description of himself on his blog is “By a lot of people’s standards, I live a rather dull existence.”

I can’t be MAD at a clinically depressed guy.

This is a man suffering from depression. I do not suffer from depression. I am, in fact, happier than I have ever been in my life. I just moved to the first place that’s ever felt like home. I live in a house that has roses just beginning to climb up the front porch. I’m starting my own writing business, an endeavor in which all my friends and family avidly support me. My work satisfies me emotionally and ethically. I have good friends and a love life that suits me down to the ground. My town brews good beer. I have nothing to complain about but one guy, who doesn’t know me, pretending he does.

And a lousy cold. The cold really sucks, actually. Anyone out there working on a cure for the common cold: I salute you. But other than that, I’m good. I don’t need to make fun of sad folk. I feel that probably sinks me into a deeper circle of hell. And mine is plenty deep already. I once mocked a midget. No, it’s cool, he was a friend. But I’ve done other stuff. Unspeakable stuff. Stuff Oscar would disapprove of.

So I’m going to ask a favor of the couple hundred people who wander through here on a regular basis. Go on over to Oscar’s blog, and say something nice to him. Don’t offer judgments. Give him a bit of poetry you liked, or an inspiring quote, or just a friendly hey-it’s-okay kind of exchange. He seems like a sad guy. Give him something to not be sad about.

Hope that’s what you were looking for, Oscar.

For all you other nasty commenters out there

I am not usually this benevolent. I will strike you from above if you come around here saying mean things just to be douchebags. I will most certainly not link to your blog and indicate that others should go be kind to you. This is a special event, in celebration of my mean-aversary (named by GirlPie, who is studiously awesome and also referred to this event as my ‘deflowering’), and for Oscar only.

Because I have secretly always liked the name Oscar, ever since Sesame Street.

NEW DEVELOPMENT: Oscar has evidently removed his blog from the net. I don’t quite know what to make of that. Um . . . vengeance is mine?

Stick around. I’m funny when I’m not saddened. Better yet, subscribe, and I’ll be funny at you from your inbox.

April 22, 2008

Bragging Rights: I Am the Greatest

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 4:46 am
Tags: , , ,

I admit it. I am completely and utterly addicted to Naomi’s blog. I know, deep in my heart, that after reading every single blog post she’s ever written, I will still wind up emailing her and hiring her for her two-hour doppio espresso marketing shot, because it is quite possibly the best deal I have seen, anywhere, and yet I cannot help myself. I read this whole series. And it was fucking amazing. Every single post got me thinking about something I do or do not do (note: when I don’t do it, it is usually because I am being an idiot) for my business. Let us discuss one of these idiotic things.

For those of you who are interested, this is the blog post that got me thinking about this particular idiotic thing that I do. It will not help you, because it only makes sense in the associative game that is my head. (If you play The Game and continually lose, go here. It will make everything better. If you have never heard of The Game, I am very, very sorry. Go to the link, it’ll fix it.)

The big thing that I should do, that I do not do:


I should brag WAY more often. Not in an annoying way, not in a ‘check out these big guns’ kind of way. I find, however, that when I discuss what I do for a living, very infrequently do I append “and I’m AWESOME at it” to the end of my explanation.

Why is that?

I AM awesome at it. I have customers who tell me so. In fact, I have never once had a customer who was less than excited about working with me again, nor have I ever had one who was remotely unhappy with my writing. By and large, they actually thank me for going above and beyond their expectations.

Now, this is great. But already, I feel like kind of a jackass, telling you people this (hi, you people). Already I feel like some dip at a party who can’t be quiet about whatever thing it is that they do (you make widgets? I don’t care. Actually, if you make WordPress widgets and you can fix whatever’s wrong with my RSS feed, I want to know all about it). Why is this? Why do we feel like jerks for stating the facts about our skills? I’m certainly not claiming anything that isn’t true. I don’t pretend that I generate more sales than Bob Bly, because I don’t. In fact, I don’t do sales copy very well at all.

I’m great at telling people what I suck at.

This? This blog? This is largely me, discussing what I suck at. I am very comfortable talking about what I suck at. I could tell you all day long how I can’t get my website up and running, and why I was an idiot to think I could design it myself, how much time and money I wasted, and how I don’t know anything about running a business. Why IS that? Why am I so at ease telling people about the things I cannot do, and completely uncomfortable telling them what I’m good at?

A reference guide, for those of you who do not know me in person:

Things I am good at:

  1. Writing
  2. Stealthy displays of affection
  3. Pretending to be calm while secretly panicking
  4. Making chocolate cake
  5. Sex. (What? Like you wouldn’t put that down on your list.)

Things I suck at:

  1. Drawing
  2. Introducing myself to strangers over the phone
  3. Following a budget
  4. Breakdancing
  5. Pretending to find ugly babies adorable

The stuff on my list of things I’m good at? A lot of those things are relevant to my clients (not the last one, no. I don’t have THOSE kinds of clients. I would make a lot more money if I did). I have clients who love working with me simply because they know that when they call up, freaking out because they need five pages of web copy in the next twelve hours, that I will put my soothing voice on, tell them everything is going to be just fine, and panic quietly to myself while I pull an all-nighter to get the thing done.

I never tell new clients that I’m willing to pull an all-nighter for their benefit. WHY?

Assignment for everyone: think of something completely awesome that you do in your business that you never tell anyone about, and think of a non-assholish way to communicate it all the time. It can be silly. “I am not shy about cursing.” It can be relevant. “I am a grammar Nazi.” It can be a little freakish. “I get so paranoid that my clients won’t like me that I will go through a real-life version of level 7 of Super Mario Bros., with the spiked turtles and all, to get their copy to them on time.”

That last one? TRUE. Also the second and first. But seriously, if anyone knows where I can go through a real life version of Super Mario Bros, I will give you my firstborn.

Go forth. Brag. Hell, brag in the comments. Tell me what you’re good at. It feels pretty good, after the initial self-asshole check.

Want to hear me brag some more? Subscribe. I’ll be back tomorrow.

April 21, 2008

Strange Beast: The Networker

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 7:50 am
Tags: , , ,

I don’t network. I consider the word ‘network’ to be sort of weird, in a spidery kind of way, implying people who work in a net, which pretty much limits the field to trapeze artists and arachnids. I don’t own a Rolodex, or a Palm Pilot, or a functioning long-term memory. I am a sociable person, but I forget names so easily I’ve taken to calling everyone ‘honey’ or ‘darling,’ like a fifty-year-old Southern waitress. If asked to name a person I know in the economics field, it would take me a minute, and I say this knowing I dated two economists, and went to a school that specializes in the field. I don’t network.

However, I love networkers.

This was not always the case.

Networkers always struck me as overenthusiastic people, the sort of people who want to be your friend right away. They want to know everything about you, where you were born, what your first boyfriend’s name was, what color your childhood blankie was and whatever happened to it. They come off a little creepy, and remind you vaguely of your mother at the dinner table the first time you brought a boyfriend home. This is because, for some reason, networkers seem to have an entire compartment of their brain devoted to Six Degrees of Separation.

If you’re not familiar with Six Degrees of Separation, it’s a play in which the theory is put forth that every person is related to every other person with six or less connecting people in between. So if I meet some guy on the street, his father may have gone to Kent State two years later than my father, and met a girl who once dated my dad. That’s guy-his father-girl-my father-me. I forget if that’s three degrees or four, but you get the idea.

If you’ve ever played the movie game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, you can connect actors on the principle of which movies they were in. Networkers can do this with everything. “Oh, you like to play bocce ball? I knew a guy in Guatemala who liked to play bocce ball. I should hook you two up.” Networkers play the game of Six Degrees in their heads, all the time.

“You’re a writer and you’re interested in writing for non-profits? I know fifteen people who head or are authorities in non-profits. You’d love this one guy, made a pill for cows.”

I don’t know about you, but I get all giddy when this happens to me.

Things to remember about networkers and the special game they play:

They think getting involved in the relationship is cheating. Most networkers I know are interested in how it worked out, but they refuse to be directly involved after the initial meet-and-greet. They’re not there to babysit, just to introduce. I think all networkers secretly want to be lab scientists, recording on little clipboards the interactions between Person X and Person Y, and scribbling down little theories about why it should be. If they could strap little GPS systems to our ankles and send us out into the world to interact freely, most networkers would practically faint with excitement.

They know when you’re faking it. Unlike your last boyfriend, networkers don’t want you to fake it. If the relationship didn’t work out, they want to know why, and they want to hook you up with someone better. They are constantly honing this skill, and they cannot get better at the game if you are rigging it. This goes double for pretending you like the networker himself more than you do. If this is the sort of person with whom you enjoy an occasional dinner, do not pretend he is your long-lost soul mate. He will know. He is savvy. This is what he does.

I just had dinner with one of these special creatures. She spent most of dinner telling me about all the people she thinks I’d hit it off with, who own businesses who need me, who know other people who own businesses who need me. She was thrilled sideways, playing her game with the skill of a pool shark, lining up her shots in order, ready to take them all down. She wants me to get my website up and running tomorrow, so she can send scads of people around and convince them to hire me.

That’s the other thing about networkers. They’re freaks. Lovable, wonderful, indispensable. Freaks.

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