Monday, 31 December 2012

4 Things You Must Do in 2013

This awesome and powerful universe demands we give it our best attention. So for 2013 forget impossible resolutions and boring commitments - put simply:
  • Do the job you want, not the job you're stuck with
  • Take risks, and energise the people around you
  • Don't prevaricate, procrastinate or dither - just do it!
  • And if you've written a book - publish it.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

3 Killer Ways to Improve Your Writing

Improve Your Skills as a Copywriter Imagine

Use your imagination. Whether you are a creative writer or a copywriter (or both), using your imagination is the key to grabbing the attention of your reader.

You see, we all like stories. And stories are an extension of our imagination. They help us to see ourselves in new situations, and convince us to do otherwise improbable things, like running a marathon, or leaving a salaried job and going freelance.

Recent I watched a BBC documentary about the migration of one hominid tribe from Africa 70,000 years ago, a tribe that contained the female ancestor of all European, Asian and Australasian peoples living today. Now, do you think those who set off from their homelands then did so on a whim? It must have been a powerful motive that made them take the first steps to a new and perilous beginning. I like to believe they imagined themselves in a better place, with more food, more water and improved living conditions. True, they didn't yet envisage taking over the whole of Europe and Asia, but that's what eventually happened, and their journey was the start.

Someone in that tribe was also thinking outside the box. What if? Shall we? Let's go! And he or she was a powerful persuader. Conditions must have been bad, or the story so strong, that it made moving and keeping moving a better prospect than staying put.

Well, persuasive writing is like that. You have to convince an inherently conservative person or company that your product is Asia, Europe or Australia in a box. Think you can do it? Of course you can. Just imagine...


Read a lot. You may think that reading will take up a lot of your time, time that could be better spent writing. Or networking. Or designing a landing page for your website. You couldn't be more wrong.

But if you worry about time, then give up other things. The TV should be the first to go. It's a passive medium, and it can be entertaining, but it's generally crap. If you're ill, or tired, or lonely, then fine - a couple of hours gawking at MTV or the Discovery Channel won't do any harm. Won't do any good either, but hey, there's room for indulgence in every day. And at least you can study the ads and see how they get their selling messages across. That could help your copywriting too.

The important thing is to get back to reading as soon as you can. And realise you can learn as much from bad writing as from the masters.

How do others do it? That's easy to find out. Particularly for copywriters - all of the people you need to read are online and easily accessible. I would recommend Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and Brian Clark from Copyblogger for starters. As you read more about these people and the stuff they are producing, you'll notice 3 things:
  • They are passionate
  • They work hard
  • They write a lot
In the words of one of America's master story tellers, William Faulkner: "Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."


    To take Faulkner's analogy of the carpenter further, would you expect to be able to build a cabinet by looking at a pile of planks?

    Of course not; first you would train, learn the basics of carpentry, read manuals, create small bits of furniture and practise joints.Then you'd slowly be able to build bigger pieces of furniture, experiment with techniques, eventually to create furniture in your own style.

    Well it's the same with writing. You get better at it the more you do it. And it doesn't matter what type of writing you do. Writing Tweets helps you be concise. Blog posts are all about talking to one reader and focusing on single topics. While writing a novel imparts discipline and stretches your imagination to it's limits.

    As far as writing goes, it's all good. Period.

    P.S. Why not subscribe to this blog by adding your email to my list to receive immediate notification of new posts on writing copy for web and print?


    Wednesday, 12 September 2012

    How to Sell Yourself as a Writer

    All writers need to sell their work. Whether you're a one-novel-a year-person, prolific spinner of romantic novellas, or a Tolkeinesque world-creator, immersed in maps and spin-off histories,

    To be successful you must SELL yourself

    Put it this way - no one is going to sell anything for you. Once you've sold to friends and family (bless them), and unless you have a dynasty, the main job remains undone - to sell to strangers.

    That's right, previously unknown people will need to know about and then be enthusiastic enough to buy your book. And there will need to be a lot of them; many, many people, who will hopefully give you MONEY in exchange for your efforts.

    Why else are you writing? Not for yourself surely - although that holds its own peculiar attraction - but TO BE READ. So, even if you don't intend to give your stuff away (which is not such a dumb idea, at least while you build your audience), you have to learn to SELL and MARKET.

    The Internet can help you

    There's been a revolution in marketing and promotion. And it's being lead by social media. People no longer react to be badgered or interrupted. Instead they want to be engaged, to feel part of your project. So you have to tell them your story and interact with them.

    And you don't have to wait to get involved. Even if you don't yet have a book to promote and sell, you can get started. In fact, it may be better that you haven't got that finished article yet. You can go ahead and create INTEREST. Make mistakes, try things out, different approaches to the same goal.

    Which is to sell books.

    Imagine the ocean is going to be the only place left to live. You'd want to get on it, wouldn't you? As the land recedes and the waves lap on the last beaches. While the cliffs crash into the sea and rivers overrun the land, whether it's on a surf board or a cruiser, you'll need to get on it in order to survive.

    Not waving but drowning

    You don't want to be left on the shore. To paraphrase the words of poet Stevie Smith, you don't want to be 'too far out all your life, and not waving but drowning.' You want to join the party, but you're unsure how to proceed.

    Twitter, blogs and Facebook are your first friends. Then try other stuff, like Pinterest and Stumbleupon. Write an article or too, and put them on Hubpages. But first you may have to get out of thinking 'it's not for me'. What's not for you? The world has opened up. Millions of wide awake eyes. Billions of ears. All looking for a message. Your message.This is exciting. Whatever you're selling, you need to build your online identity.

    And you need to start NOW.

    Saturday, 1 September 2012

    The Question to Ask Before Writing Your Book

    Who am I writing this for – in other words, what is my AUDIENCE?

    The question to answer before writing your book

    ...and 5 Possible Answers:


    This is the easiest to deal with, because posterity doesn't care. In fact, posterity may never happen (although it probably won't end quite this soon).

    So, no pressure, take all your life. And since you have no audience, you can experiment. Be yourself; think weird, allusive and outrageous.

    P.S. Most poetry falls in this category.


    Again, no pressure. Follow the instructions for Posterity above. (This may be something your psychiatrist has told you to do).

    Friends and Family

    Applies to memoirs, family histories and the one book we are told (often erroneously) that we all have buried inside us. There’s a bit more pressure on selling for this one, but once you have ditched 20 at £60 a copy to relatives who hope it will get them a mention in your will, you stop.

    To Impress (a Girl)

    You may want to substitute genders, but this is high up the personal satisfaction list. A long time ago men wrote, then dedicated lives and books to their muse (who was, sometimes, another man). The essential aim was to woo, marry or seduce the woman in question, but many have used the notion as a springboard for the imagination.

    Again, this works best, but not exclusively, for poetry.


    Fame etc., the BIG ONE. This is what most of us aspire to. Whether it's to make a living without having some jackass boss shouting in your ear all day, or to buy that yacht you saw once in Casino Royale, writing for money is the biggest challenge of all.

    And it's the one you need to prepare for if you want to MAXIMISE your sales.

    P.S. Why not subscribe to this blog by email and make sure of getting all my future posts?

    Thanks, George

    Friday, 24 August 2012

    3 Bad Kinds of Thinking

    Brain gears up for over thinking
    For a writer, there are many reasons to put off writing.

    For one, there's your real job, the work you get paid for. Often the last thing you want to do when you get back from the shop or office is to open the laptop and start writing.

    And then there's the small matter of FAMILY, who would love you to succeed but don't want you to stop making lunch or decorating the bedrooms to do it.

    Hot behind these come your HOBBIES - well, a person has to relax sometime, whether it's playing Wii golf, knitting a carpet or landscaping the garden.

    And then there's thinking

    Now there are different types of thinking. I speak from experience because I've done most. And it's not as if it's a bad thing to do - so far it's got the human race right up the evolutionary ladder to its present planet-damaging position.

    But not all thinking is beneficial. As far as writing goes, it's just as much an impediment to action as watching TV or sleeping. So here are 3 types of thinking that are not going to help you get the blog post written, or that brilliant novel published.

    The one most if not ALL writers are prone to is procrastination. I call this thinking about doing. This couldn’t be worse. Instead of writing, promoting, sending those letters off to the publisher, hounding your agent for a new contract (I wish), you are just putting it off by THINKING about it.

    Try doing something instead.

    That's right, sit down and get it out of the way now! I guarantee you'll feel a lot better about things.

    The second sort of brain work to avoid is over thinking. Wondering about the world, its origin, meaning of life etc. Don't do it. Marvel if you will at the complexity of the world, the universe, the advances in scientific understanding. But don’t try to understand it. Or even wonder where you fit in. That's almost impossible to comprehend.

    Anyway, I'm doing plenty of that thinking for all of us.

    Lastly comes thinking about fame - delusional thinking. This is what drives countless ordinary folk to attend auditions for celebrity talent shows. It's a good idea to have an idea where you want to get to, but you need to travel the wooded path across the wasteland before you get to the Golden City.

    Focus on small goals

    You want to write a novel? First join a local writers' group. Take your work along and get some feedback on it. You'll realise you're nowhere near as good as you thought. Not even close. The reality is not one successful author got there by chance. All of them dedicated minutes, hours and years to the act of writing. Not thinking about writing, but getting the words on paper or into a computer. And they never stopped learning.

    Instead, break your path to fame into manageable chunks. Focus on the first step ahead. You think you should do a course on creative writing? Book one up. Or perhaps spend a week researching characters and location. Place to write? Build an insulated shed at the bottom of the garden. Philip Pullman, Dylan Thomas and who knows how many others have done the same thing.

    By ticking off the obstacles and targets you set the Golden City will get nearer. Eventually.

    It just won't be as soon as you hoped.

    Monday, 13 August 2012

    Thinking is BAD for you

    man in chair

    Like me, you’re a writer. You write books, aphorisms, novels, poems – you’re probably working on something at the moment: memoirs, lyrics, blogs, in short:


    There. It’s out in the open; you were born to write. And now, while you’re on my metaphorical couch, you need to also acknowledge that you crave success. Whether it’s financial security, the Nobel prize, or the adoration of women (or men) - 99% of us want to be successful. That’s what we work toward, why we sit for hours scribbling notes or plotting unlikely scenes in fantastic novellas, or erasing unwieldy adverbs from tightly woven stanzas.

    The good news is…

    You've already been successful. If you’re reading this you are one of those wealthy enough to have a computer and a place to work. Dry, warm, free from distractions of starvation and thirst. It’s not enough, I know. That’s biological. You want to carry on evolving, getting better, working toward that success. And, as you live your comfortable life, you also find you have:


    About your status, your position in life, the plight of the billions who haven’t yet achieved what you have. But I’m here to tell you – THINKING IS NO GOOD TO YOU. That’s right,

    Thinking is bad for you

    Wait – how can that be? Surely it’s thinking that has got me to this good place?

    Well, no. Actually It was DOING that got you here. THINKING only stopped you DOING, and getting here quicker. Believe me I know. As someone who has spent years THINKING instead of DOING, I’m in a prime position to tell you. And I believe that:

    Education is the problem

    For all of our formative years we are taught that thinking is good. Thinking will get you out of a hole. Thinking will get you a better job, more money, qualifications etc.

    Wrong. It won’t. Only DOING will get you all these things.

    OK, I know, it’s good to have a plan. And working things out, setting goals, learning ways and methods to get where you want to get both practical and necessary. As a writer that’s part of your makeup. But to be successful you need to promote your writing, and that means ACTION. And here we come to an unwavering TRUTH:

    THINKING is great, but only if it leads to a solid dose of DOING.

    (In the next post we’ll look at the 3 worst barriers to productivity as a writer. Please SUBSCRIBE to this blog by email if you want to keep up with the discussion, and also for some free stuff that will be issued from time to time. Oh and thanks, as always, for your interest.)

    Thursday, 19 July 2012

    If Your Web Page Sucks, SEO Won't Save It

    Get your web page right before you concntrate on SEO
    Photo by John Morgan

     Can't See the Web for the Trees?

    Seth Godin makes a valid point in his FREE ebook on web marketing and copy - No amount of SEO will make your customer buy if the web page isn't properly set up to offer him/her anything.

    In other words, sometimes we become obsessed with little details, or the next big thing, overlooking the fundamental precepts required, in web design, ad writing, or even life itself...

    Tuesday, 17 July 2012

    5 Powerful Steps to Persuasive Writing


    Get used to writing good headings. No, not just good headings - brilliant, witty, eye-catching headlines. Funny, poignant, memorable headings. Use the tabloids for inspiration. Or a carefully managed swipe file.

    Swipe file (see above) 

    It's not STEALING, it's a legitimate process - learning from what has been successful in the past. If that means ads from the 1940's then that's fine. If it's modifying web copy you saw a few weeks ago that's fine too. But there's a thin line between adapting working designs or copy to your own ends and PLAGIARISM. People don't take kindly to being mugged.

    Short, pithy sentences

    Cut out the long sentences. Anything over 15 words is like going up Everest. Nice view, but it's cold up there. You want people to be warmed by your sentences, not falling off the end of them. Single word sentences are OK. Throw in a longer one to change the rhythm. Don't let the reader switch off - KEEP their attention.

    Few adverbs and adjectives

    Adjectives are good in small measure, like seasoning. Adverbs are the same, but are often unnecessary. It makes copy look flowery. It keeps the message hidden. So, where possible, pare down your prose to eliminate (most) adjectives and especially(!) adverbs. Use strong nouns and verbs of motion and excitement instead. And if you're not sure what ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS are, then it's time to find out. Now.

    Learn to edit

    You need to love editing. Get to love pruning, paring, rewriting. This is the process during which the DIAMOND hidden in your lump of stone is revealed. No one writes great copy first go. Get the ideas down. then EDIT.

    Monday, 16 July 2012

    L plates for a new Mozart

    We're always learning

    That's the truth of it, the unwritten law of life. Stumbling, blathering, making mistakes as we go along. Stopping, getting STUCK. Taking a wrong turn, taking a U-turn. Going round in circles.

    No one starts with a great plan. Even Mozart had to learn things. Obviously he picked them up quicker than most of us, but then he was dead at 35.

    Some of us are slow learners. But that shouldn't stop you from changing tack, improving or reinventing yourself AT ANY TIME. Life is like that - full of opportunities.
    I'm learning copywriting. I'm further along the road than Mozart was. And I, like lots of people am less than focussed. I've got distractions, in the shape of a loving family and a job working for someone who doesn't really care about my ambitions. 
    But all that doesn't matter. I'm learning and I don't intend to stop.

    Sunday, 1 July 2012

    The Customer is Queen

    We haven't had a King for a while, so it seems appropriate to modernise the adage I've used for the heading. And you don't need to be a Royalist to appreciate the sentiment - your customer should always come first.

    It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many firms neglect their customers. Of course the MDs and directors of these places would be horrified at the suggestion. 'We love our customers,' they will tell you. 'We pride ourselves (etc., etc.) on customer support.' But do they really?

    In over 20 years working in the print industry I've seen plenty of evidence to the contrary. One firm in particular, let's call them Puffin Print, has been in business for 30 years. In the beginning the owners were sharp, young and hungry. They hadn't achieved anything yet. Customers were giving them work and paying well for it. Profit margins were high, and the Internet hadn't come along. Print was the medium of choice for advertisers and promotions. They appreciated their customers, and they looked after them. Lunches, nights out, visits, extended customer support - all strategies that helped the firm grow, and grow rapidly.

    Slowly things began to change. Margins got tighter, customers shrewder. Despite increased pressure on prices Puffin was growing and needed new business to feed the increased levels of staff and overheads. They kept supporting their existing customers, the 20% which, accurately adhering to Pareto's principle, contributed 80% of the firm's turnover, but the love was slowly fading to familiarity.

    Customers need to feel loved. They are human beings after all. They want to know that you appreciate their custom. They also want you to concentrate on them. And your support should come in many forms. Listen to them, answer their fears. Let them know they are important to you. It is after all easier (and cheaper) to look after customers you've got than to go off searching for new ones.

    Something else happened at Puffin. The MD and the directors got comfortable. They had made money, been successful and slowly lost their hunger. Then the Internet arrived and the print industry changed. Print runs got shorter. Email and direct mail began to target niche markets with greater effectiveness. So Puffin lost their focus, and the loyal customers that had been with them from the beginning started to fade away.

    Of course business is complicated, and Puffin's story reflects that. There is no one reason why this (imaginary) firm is now in a difficult place. The workforce is shrinking and the company has failed to adapt to new technologies. The website is static - a gesture to the new order rather than a showpiece for vibrant copy and a strategic vision. The original MD is close to retirement. The once hungry directors have either taken redundancy or moved on.

    We'll revisit Puffin later as they attempt to revitalise their business by adopting a more integrated approach to marketing. Their main problem will be developing a strategy and sticking with it. That will mean finding out who their customers are and what they really want from a modern printing business. It's a cornerstone of modern business and management strategy. Yet ironically, if they'd paid more attention to customer support for longer than those heady, developing years, they would already know.

    Saturday, 16 June 2012

    Life As Fiction: Telling Your Story

    There's no way to get round it: life is a fiction.

    Language is one of the tools we use to tell it. And life stories are a means of explanation.

    The only useful attribute to life - once all the others such as food, warmth, shelter and reproduction are taken care of - is imagination.

    Writing can be sterile, wordy, informative rather than creative. Look at the great ads. The best way to get that emotional link with the reader is through a fiction - Compare the 'meerkats'. Soap operas. Film. Books. All our entertainment is in stories.

    Your life is a narrative. That's why genealogy is so popular. Life is a story. People will confuse you with words, but reality doesn't exist. Science can't nail it. You're making it up as you go along.

    Or should be.

    Thursday, 7 June 2012

    5 Steps to Website Heaven

    Here's a list of five points to consider when designing and writing copy for the home page of a web site:
    • Contrast
    • Tone of Voice
    • Stress BENEFITS not features
    • Have a great Headline or Slogan
    • Simple and Meaningful Navigation
    Your potential customer will alight from his or her travels across the Internet onto your page, looking for your product or wisdom. If they don't find what they want in about 3 seconds they'll step off onto a competitor's site.

    You don't want that do you? Your competitor, whose services, prices, products or information you know to be inferior to yours, taking your potential customer just because they have a more pertinent landing page?

    Of course not. So here are five things you need to have, or put right on your home page. They are, in no particular order (which means they are all as important as each other):


    Don't make your text or headings so grey they can't be read properly. if your reader has 20/20 vision, are young or have been blessed with great eyesight, it won't be a problem. But that's not most of us. Most people have been staring at screens too long. Their eyes are tired, it's late at night, or they are on a laptop with a fading display. Light grey text, coupled with a too-small font size is bad news.

    And contrast applies to the site design in general. Use simple colour schemes. Have plenty of space between elements. Try to incorporate one or two relevant pictures. Employ consistency across the site. Make the visit a comfortable one for the visitor and they are likely to stay.

    Tone of Voice

    This will be dictated in part by the corporate image or the style of the business. A solicitor will want a different tone to a hair stylist. But there is no excuse for flat, dull content. Make it lively and interesting. And don't write for search engines, write for PEOPLE.

    The copy on your website must speak to one reader. Use a good copywriter rather than the boss's son, or worse, the boss himself. Copywriters are trained to write personally. You must address the one person who is on your site at any particular time. Make them feel wanted. Invite them in. Share some information with them. Encourage them, bond with them. Do anything you can to make them feel wanted. Connect them emotionally with your service or product or company.

    Stress Benefits not Features

    This is the thing that's often overlooked. Stress the benefits of your service or product rather than its features.

    First you have to understand what the benefits are. Take time to work it out for your product or service. In a sit-on lawnmower for example, an 18 horse-power engine is not a benefit, it's a feature. The fact that the lawn will take less time to cut is the benefit. Time-saving, cost reduction, longer life, cleaner teeth are all benefits. Stress the benefits first and add the features later.


    Get a memorable slogan. Put it on all your communication - website, letterheads, e-newsletters. Think of all the great adverts past and present. Beanz Meanz Heinz. Shake and Vac and put the Freshness Back. Think rhyme and rhythm. Think memorable, humorous, snappy. Get that copywriter to do it for you. One day that slogan may be worth millions. Make it shine.


    Navigation. It's how people get around. We're talking menus, buttons, even arrows if you need them. Make sure your visitor can find his or her way around your site.

    That means you have to think of the whole site when you start planning it. Use meaningful tabs for the menu headings. Don't forget the contrast either - white text on light blue is not readable. Put the menu in a prominent place on every page of the site. Maybe in one or two places.

    Lastly, have a tab to complete the sale. This means that whatever you want the visitor to buy, make sure you know where they can do that. After you have sold them the benefits, engaged them in your product, got the snappy slogan ringing in their head and detailed all the features of your wonderful gizmo or offer, SHOW THEM WHERE THEY CAN GET IT!

    And don't be shy.

    Tuesday, 22 May 2012

    Things to Focus on

    Bragging writes

    If you want to be successful in any venture it's important to lose your inhibitions. I don't mean you have to run down the street naked, in full view of the neighbours, but simply this - stand up for yourself, and have more confidence. Which is another way of saying - believe in your skills.

    There, believe in your self, your skills and experience. You are good at what you do. You can write. And you can write persuasively. There are lots of successful freelancers, entrepreneurs and businesses out there doing what you want to do. They started in the same way, with hard work and application.

    Oh yes, you need to work hard and apply yourself. Don't think success (whatever that means to you) is just going to come knocking at your door. It doesn't know where you live yet. So the first thing you have to do is tell it. Compose a letter. Get some business cards. Set up a website. Do what you need to do to tell success you are waiting for a call. Then it will come looking for you.

    I live and work in England. The English are naturally guarded (and I don't just mean by the sea). We err on the side of caution. Reserved is a word commonly applied to us. We generally don't like to brag, but sometimes we need to get our message out there in forceful terms, which can look like bragging. But it's not. If it's done persuasively, honestly and to the right people.

    Sunday, 13 May 2012

    What you're worth

    The chief mistake I made when I was running my own print business was not to charge enough for work. I had the basic estimating costs right, and I built in overheads and everything else. My mistake was not to allow for expansion. And holidays. The prospect of employing someone else to do the printing. Or moving into larger premises. Consideration of all these things means you should charge more than the basics for your work. Whatever that is.

    The print industry is often driven by price however, and there are always others willing to undercut yours. That makes life difficult, especially when you are starting out and don't have the goodwill or a portfolio of quality work behind you.

    After the experience of self-employment, when I became an employee in a print company, funnily enough as an estimator, I could see that I had been doing all the right things. The difference was that I was now working in a specialist market - the continuous stationery business - at a time when that was taking off. Everyone was buying dot matrix printers and running off invoices and statements. The shipping industry was churning out six part Waybills by the 1000's. And no-one knew what the right price was. We were a trade printer dealing with brokers. They were putting 50 or 100% on the job. We were putting 20 - 50% on the prices to them. And we were still getting lots of work!

    My other problem when self-employed was not aiming high enough. I concentrated on small companies: estate agents, other local start-ups who didn't really have a lot of cash. With hindsight now I would do a mailshot to bigger businesses, get larger contracts. Charge more. Value myself, my work and experience more highly.

    Postscript: The print industry is a strange thing, in what other industry can you do a job and not expect to get paid for 30, 60 or in some cases 90 days? That's madness. Would you go into Sainsbury, take out a trolley full of shopping and tell them you'll pay for it in a month or two?

    Thursday, 10 May 2012

    Self Assessment

    I'm busy assessing my goals and expectations as a training copywriter. What am I doing it for? Is it a natural progression from a life spent writing? It's true to say that I don't subscribe anymore to the theory that fate or some divine meaning controls or guides our lives. We are just a species of animal that has evolved over millions of years to become well adapted to its environment, To the extent that we can now control aspects of that life by delegation and division of labour within the group.

    So it's not a divine providence that says I must do this or that with my life. The years I have had so far are an evolution in themselves, derived from a series of personal decisions or chance occurrences. I do what I feel comfortable with, bearing in mind I have responsibilities (which I do or do not have to accept) as a result of having children and being part of a family. I weigh pros and cons. I balance skills I have learnt with what I enjoy. And all the time keep the perspective of 'society' and the bigger picture of moral and social responsibility in mind. Some might argue that in the absence of a faith or dogmatic belief in the supernatural such moral or social considerations are superfluous. I don't subscribe to that view, and I steer a path through the obstacles thrown up by life while considering them.

    This, at the moment, is what energises me, and that is what I am doing. Some say follow your head, others say heart. Reason or emotion is what it comes down to. I call it making a living. By whatever means you can.