The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

Now when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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Chynna’s Top Ten Writing Tips

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 4 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Chynna Laird’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour.

Chynna Laird headshotAbout Chynna Laird: She’s a psychology major, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their four children. Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs. Laird has authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a young adult novel (Blackbird Flies), an adult suspense (Out Of Sync), and a Young Adult Suspense/Mystery/Paranormal/Sweet Romance (Undertow, to be released 2012). She blogs at The Gift Blog and See the White Elephants.

Chynna’s Top Ten Writing Tips by Chynna Laird

I’ve been writing since I was in my single digits. I guess you could say that writing isn’t just a hobby for me or something I ‘just do’, it’s a huge part of who I am. I need that creative time that’s separate from the other roles I play during the day when I can lose myself in my characters and the places they take me. It’s a wonderful feeling having all of these stories inside of me bursting to get out that I can actually share with other people … and they read it! How cool is that?

I consider myself very blessed to be able to do what I do and I don’t take it for granted in the least. Writing is something we can always do as long as we have a story in our hearts and our wits about us. There’s no age, sex, race, religion, social status, or ability barriers when it comes to being a writer. If you have that creativity inside of you, if that passion is there, nurture it.

A still have a few years to go before I’m plopped in that ‘veteran writer’ category, and my goodness I still have so much to learn. But in the fairly short period of time that I’ve been out in the writing world, there are a few things I’ve learned. And, if you’ll allow me to, I’d love to share them with you.

1. Accept that you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you dabble in it or you work most of your day pounding on the keyboard. You could be a blogger, an article writer, a poet, a short story creator, or a diligent person who writes 200,000-word books. You. Are. A. Writer. You have that creative energy inside of you and you make the effort to channel it. So, even if you haven’t been published yet, just say what I used to before I got my first story published: “I’m a writer. The world just hasn’t found me yet.”

2. Find the time. If all you have time for is a paragraph or two or a single blog post, perfect. There will be days when you just don’t have time to write as much as you’d like to get some out. It keeps the creative juices bubbling. My personal goal is about 1,500 words a day. That could be an article, a blog post, or a section in one of my novels-in-progress. For me, writing gives me the same energy as my yoga or exercise time. I make the time.

3. Have your own space. I realize this isn’t always possible. My “work space” is smack-dab in the middle of my living room where all the action is (I know … my bad … ). But when I have something I really want to work on or an important deadline to meet, I take our tiny laptop or a notebook and a pen and I hide somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you set up a little space in the walk-in closet, put little desk up in the quietest place in your house or shut yourself in the bathroom for a bit, have a space where you can let the words flow.

4. Journal. I’ve been practicing journaling since I was very young. It has many benefits. Aside from being a place to jot down your personal thoughts, feelings, and dreams, it’s also where you can work on ideas, practice finding your writing voice as well as getting into the habit of writing. That’s how my dedication and discipline for ‘finding the time’ came from.

5. Read … a lot. Just like in any profession, in order to succeed it’s a good idea to learn from those who are rocking it out there. Read anything and everything from authors you aspire to be. Trust me, you can learn so much just from that alone.

6. Start in your “safe place” then branch out from there. When I first started, I had absolutely no idea where I fit into the writing world. There are so many genres and sub-genres, it’s hard to know at first where I “fit in.” All I knew was that I was told my style of writing was “emotionally charged.” So I started writing inspirational articles and personal essays. From there, I channeled my emotional energy into intense contemporary young adult shorts, then it blossomed from there. The point is by all means start where you feel safe. But don’t be afraid to venture out past the safe area because you never know what else you’re capable of.

7. Join a writing group. Every province or state has some sort of writing association. Get in touch with them and find a local writing group. If there isn’t one, why not put one together? Writing groups are great because they are often made up of a good mix of individuals in various stages of their writing careers. You can get critique of your work and network with writing peers, which is a major part of being a writer.

8. Find a writing mentor. I love my writing mentors. They inspire me, keep me focus and grounded and never let me give up. It’s very important to have someone who has “been there, done that” who can give you guidance, answer your questions and be that strong support when you need it. If you don’t know someone who can mentor you, check with your local university or college’s English department or the writing association nearest to you. Both often have mentoring programs you could sign up for.

9. Get out once in awhile. This is something I have to remind myself of once in awhile. If you’re a full-time writer, you’ll be spending a lot of time in front of your computer. Alone. (No, social media chats do not count as getting out or connecting with others!) I’m lucky because I have my four kids around me and have to get out there and be around others through their school, activities and my charity work.

10. Rejection is a part of writing. It sucks, but it’s true. If it makes you feel better, even though I’ve written countless articles, blog posts, and books, I still get rejections. It’s a part of the whole process. The only advice I can give you is to feel the sting, then move on. Consider it a learning curve. Analyze why you were rejected and work on it. There are other editors waiting to hear your pitch. Trust me, each time it happens your skin gets a little thicker until you can finally say, “Ah. Their loss. NEXT!”

The only other piece of advice I can give you is this: Do not give up. I consider everything I go through in life a lesson, good or bad. You just can’t think of it any other way or things will just get to you. If you truly believe in yourself and what you’re doing, others will too. Never give someone the power to squash your dreams. They are what inspire us, give us hope and keep us moving forward.

Happy writing!

What writing tips do you have?

White Elephants coverAbout White Elephants: Elephant in the middle of the living room — that is one way of explaining how a family walks around the invisible presence of huge problems. Hindsight is what brings the elephant into focus.

Somehow at the innocent age of five Tami began to see the bulky creature crowding her family and took on a sense of responsibility far beyond expectation for her age. Her mother was different than other mothers. Family life in their household was not pretty. No one noticed. No one did anything about it, and Tami wanted someone to do just that. As an adult Tami took on her first name, Chynna, and took up the challenge to find out what might have helped her mother fight her battle of self-destruction. She couldn’t help her mother, but she would consider it worth everything if her family’s story helped another.

This candid memoir is a story of one girl’s struggle to deal with her mother’s alcoholic/bipolar condition–the white elephant no one else would see. With a conversational tone, Laird shares her remarkable story of abuse, survival, and her triumphant recovery into becoming a healthy, well adjusted wife and mother. Tastefully written, this book will touch your heart. It offers hope that, no matter where you come from, life is what you make it.

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Thank Clients

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

Image from user Ambrozjo

After arriving at my mom’s house on Thanksgiving, my seventeen-year-old daughter hands me an envelope. Perplexed, I opened it to find a  incredible and moving handwritten note of thanks from her. Let’s just say it was enough to bring tears. She wrote one for my mom, my siblings, close friends and — the most amazing of all — her two little brothers.

She said she is about to graduate and leave home. She felt she needed to do it.

I write notes to my clients every year … by hand. Yes, it cramps, but it’s worth it. (I even keep a journal, but I guess that’s not enough to keep the handwriting muscles warm.) You can get more ideas from 33 Ways to Reward Your Customers. These have a lot of retailer-related suggestions. However, every business can pick up something from this list.

It isn’t necessary to wait until the holidays to thank your clients. I do that, but I try to send the notes and gifts earlier. (Sent last week.) I’ve sent them pecan pralines (Texas food), books and Boy Scout Popcorn (delicious treat that also helps the organization).

You could also buy stamped postcards and write a thank you anytime you find the opportunity. They’re small and light, so you can carry them with you ready to write on.

How do you thank people?

Weekly Links

Brain food …

Fun …

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Guest Post: Required – The Crappy First Draft

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 10:50 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 6 comments
sloppy .COM over HYPER
Image by otherthings via Flickr

Many professors and writers I spoke with on this subject, and their numbers are too great to list here, all recommend the same thing: Write a draft, correct it, consider correcting it again, turn it in.

Did you see those action items in the middle? Write a draft first. Know that it is a draft, feel that it is a draft.

Be the draft.

Draft means the work is not finished, it is not ready for turn in. It is crummy. A draft is fine piece of writing that is not ready for its close up. A draft gives you job security; you now have something to correct, review and read out loud.

Some writers want their product to be perfect the first time out. We get impatient, even with our own thoughts, certainly with our creative process. Getting it right takes so much time! The best advice, is to get comfortable with writing drafts, bad drafts, crappy drafts and you’ll discover how your writing will actually improve. Why? Because when you give yourself permission to write a really crappy first draft, you simultaneously discard perfectionism and brain cramping and give yourself permission to explore and improve.

When you consider everything else involved with dragging a manuscript to the publishing finish line, the draft is the best part. Drafts are fun, divergent, exciting, pointless and filled with authentic writing. Enjoy the process of bringing a novel, report or idea to life. This is the fun of writing, as you suspected, everything else is revision, not so much fun.

All papers for school, business, grants, even the family holiday newsletter should, at the very least, have two versions. (If you want to succeed in business without really trying, review emails at least once before sending.) A paper should have three phases of evolution, draft, corrected, final.

That draft? It will be the most fun you’ll have.

About the Guest Author: Catharine Bramkamp holds two degrees in English, published hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles, a handful of novels and two essays in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. She is an adjunct professor of writing for two colleges and is a successful writing coach. Visit her at

Meryl’s Young’un and the Sloppy Copy Experience

Meryl here. This article is perfect timing for my almost seven-year-old son. His school has a PTA-run program called “Bronco Press.” It gives children the chance to write and illustrate a story. I asked him if he wanted to do it. He did and wanted to get right to work. So he dictates his story while I type it. Here’s the first part:

I am a bird. I am black, white and a little tan in the middle. I can fly real high. I can swoop with my tail. And I can fly down and go up really fast like whooooooosh! I can fly really fast and slow, too.

My landings are real good. I can peck really good.

He says he can’t think of anything else. So I tell him to tell me a story involving this bird he described. Take the bird on an adventure. He continues:

Then one day when I went flying I crashed into a jungle because I saw a lion. I didn’t get hurt. The lion was coming towards me and said, “Roar.” He wanted to make friends with me. Then we heard a big roar from a tiger that scared them.

I tried to whoosh by to get the tiger confused. Then the tiger was about to eat me. But lion came by and pushed me out of the way. The lion saved me. Lion pushed away the tiger and we never saw the tiger again.

Again, he tells me he’s done with the story. I explain to him that it’s a good first draft. (I found out from his teacher they call it “Sloppy copy” — I love that!) And we will review it again another day. He wants to be done, finished, wash his hands of it. (My older son does this, too — works on a project for five minutes and declares finito.)

I asked him, “You know I’m a writer?”

He nods.

“Remember what I taught your class (career day)? That we need to brainstorm and keep editing our stories. The first one is never the final story.” I said.

The stubborn little guy pushes back. We’ll see if I can get him to revise it. But hey, he’s only in first grade. Still, they teach them to do a draft before a final at this age. Next time we discuss the story, I’ll remind him that this is a “sloppy copy.” I just hope he doesn’t take offense to that or think I expect perfection (of course not!).

Don’t you think writing is rewriting? How do you handle the first draft? What happens after the first draft?

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Self-Respect and the Writer

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 at 9:41 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 10 comments

Image credit: Cecile Graat

In her latest issue of The Prosperous Writer, Christina Katz asks, “On a scale of one to ten, how’s your self-respect? Can you say no? Do you say yes to yield to social pressure and supposed-tos and then suffer for it? Are you catering to too many other people’s needs but burning out in the process? Do you listen to and trust your instincts about what is and isn’t the best way to proceed?”

I aim for balance when it comes to my writing business and personal life. I love the flexibility that comes with my business. Spending time with my family, taking care of my health and contributing to my community are all priorities in my life.

  • Family: I chose to have a family and that involves spending time with them. It doesn’t mean spending hundreds of dollars on vacation or expensive activities. It can be as simple as reading a book together, playing a board game or sitting at the dining table.
  • Health: If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t perform my best for clients, family and others. I believe in “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” When I don’t get seven to eight hours of sleep, I function at 50 percent the next day, if that. Staying up a couple of hours late isn’t worth the effects it would have on the following day.
  • Community: Contributing to my community matters because it takes a village to take care of our world. Without programs and people, many things would never happen to make a difference in people’s lives.

Every year, I gain a couple of new assignments, which often take me out of my comfort zone because they’re new.  Already, I have a new gig that is different that pushes my boundaries while I have fun. I maintain a variety of clients because I enjoy the diversity of the work. Plus, if one should go out of business (knock on wood), my business won’t fall apart because I still have other gigs. I’ve been fortunate that I bring in new clients on a consistent basis.

I thought about creating a course that I’d teach by email. After long deliberations, I opted not to do it. Developing a course not only requires pulling together strong, interactive content, but also promoting it and keeping it fresh. As much as I love the subject, I didn’t have enough confidence that I’d have enough enrollment on a regular basis. Furthermore, I’ve noticed those who do well in offering such classes tend to speak a few times a year and have at least one known published book.

I’m comfortable with giving presentations, but uncomfortable with the answering questions part — a very critical part of the two-way interaction. So that’s not a priority in my business, but I wouldn’t turn down free travel and the opportunity. If it happens, I bring index cards so people can write their questions down or send it  to me on Twitter. Sure, I’ve written two books, but they’re not focused on my expertise.

Because I’m not a high energy person, every opportunity that comes my way receives careful consideration. I do what I can to avoid overwhelming myself and keeping my work streamlined.

How’s your self-respect?

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10 Commandments for Writers Using Social Media

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 at 9:01 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 19 comments
Image Credit: Alex Bruda

Image Credit: Alex Bruda

No rule book exists to tell us how to behave ourselves in social media. With no eyes peeking into ours, we forget real people are out there reading our stuff and we  make an impression with every sentence we write online. A colleague told me about an agent who posted in public that his or her writers were undergoing plastic surgery and a vasectomy. Joke or not? Who knows. But even if it was a joke, not everyone read it that way.

Social media gives writers a place to find and connect with writers, editors, agents, readers, publishers and others in the publishing and media industry. Keeping your name out there not only leads to gigs and opportunities, but also shows future clients and publishers that you already know how to market your work.

So, here are 10 commandments to do right on social media, build up a following and mind your manners.

1. Thou shalt listen

This helps you get a feel for how people use the social media site or blog. It also encourages you to respond to others after you’ve heard them. Chris Brogan offers tips on listening.

2. Thou shalt do unto others to help without any expectations in return

One word: Karma. Even if karma isn’t real, helping others makes you feel good about yourself and drive you to do more. Plus, people will remember you for it and it’ll strengthen your relationships. Sarah Evans asks, “What have you done for your community today?”

3. Thou shalt read a diversity of resources and people

Spread your eWings and visit blogs, Twitter IDs and other accounts you haven’t read  (check blogrolls, Twitter followers, etc. to find new ones) and check your friends’ connections. Sticking with same people limits your ability to meet others.

4. Thou shalt respond

If people ask you a question or take the time to leave a comment in your blog, you can take a moment to reply. Notice this says, “Respond,” not “Respond to every single message directed to you.” It’s overkill to thank every single person for mentioning you, retweeting you, linking to you. Instead, return the favor by pointing to their stuff, responding in private or commenting on something else they wrote.

Also, write more than “I agree,” “Great post” and “Thank you.” We have so much content online, a lot of it wasteful. Compliments are always nice, but not in a public response that adds clutter. Email the person, if you can’t think of anything else to say.

5. Thou shalt be genuine

Be genuine about mentioning and promoting others. Be genuine about the things you say. Be real. Be you. Some mentioning other people come across as phony looking to ride the wave of someone else’s popularity or kiss up to that person. You love it when someone mentions you, right? And you tend to remember them better, right? Well?

When you write a blog, article or tweet — look for genuine opportunities to link to other people’s stuff, quote them or credit them. Notice this post has a few links to other people’s high quality content that explores a topic further for those interested. Bonus points if you mention a competitor.

6. Thou shalt play nice

It’s incredible how many arguments turn nasty online and how many people say things in a mean way. We all have different opinions. (That’s a good thing — it’d be a dull, dull world otherwise.) We just need to remember to play nice and show respect. It goes a long way.

7. Thou shalt remember that everyone can read your content

Mom, kids, editor, publisher and people who might hire you. You’ve probably heard a few of the stories about people landing jobs only to lose it because of something they said online.

It’s also wise not to cuss in public. Granted, some popular folks cuss. But not everyone can get away with this. You wouldn’t cuss in a job interview, would you? Think of the Internet as one big job interview. After all, writers don’t always do one gig forever.

8. Thou shalt not obsesseth with thy numbers

Email newsletters … Twitter followers … Blog comments … Blog readers. People email me asking how I got so many Twitter followers. Well, it didn’t happen in one night, one month or even six months. But who cares how long it took? The point is to have high quality conversations. Spammers have figured out how to gain high numbers in Twitter — so obviously, quantity means nothing.

Listen and deliver valuable stuff. They will come.

9. Thou shalt not gossipth

The kind of talk of someone else’s private business makes a person look like a gossip and future clients might fear you’ll gossip about them. Yes, skip sharing private details even if the subject is open about it.

10. Thou shalt forgo the hard sell

Social media helps you gain trust and credibility, which will build your relationships. People WILL connect with you and ask about your content. When you do, at least add value by telling people what they get out of it. How much should you self-promote? I believe it should be closer to 70/30. That’s between Pareto’s 80/20 and Maria’s suggestion.

Not convinced that writers need social media? Maybe Joanna Penn can convince you.

Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts in comments or create a blog post of your own and let us know about it.

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The $75,000 Writer: Follow the Dollars to Freelance Commercial Writing

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 8:47 AM | Category: Books, Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 1 comment

Winners of Are You Ready to Hire a Virtual Assistant? entry prizes: April wins Five ebooks on writing from Anne Wayman and Tracy Fitzpatrick wins one full copy of Astraware Classic Collection, which includes Astraware Sudoku, Astraware Solitaire, and Astraware Board games. Congratulations!

This entry’s prizes: One copy of Business Daffynitions: Humor from the Workplace from Joe Heuer, the Rock and Roll Guru, one full copy of Orchidia PC game from Joyboost, (See Meryl’s Orchidia review.) and one copy of Andy King’s Website Optimization. As usual, just post a valuable 30+ word comment by July 6.

Either Peter Bowerman‘s name or books came up in the newsletters on writing that I regularly read. Eventually, we exchanged a few emails and I enjoy his knowledge, honesty, and writing. He produces a valuable newsletter and of course, his books are worth every dollar. I’m honored to have him as a guest blogger.

The $75,000 Writer: Follow the Dollars to Freelance Commercial Writing

Imagine This: The editor of a magazine you’ve written several pieces for says yes to a recent query. You outline the parameters of the piece and the conversation turns to money. He says, “Let’s try something a little different this time. Figure out how many hours you think it’ll take to do the piece. Factor in time for research, background reading, travel to and from appointments, brainstorming, interviewing, writing, and editing. Then multiply the hours by $75 and give me a figure.” You return with a number, he says “fine” and you get to work.

Has he lost his mind? Is this a freelancer’s wistful fantasy? In some writing arenas, maybe. But in freelance commercial (corporate) writing, the above-described scenario is pretty much right on the money. And speaking of money, instead of flat fees with potentially vast and open-ended investments of time, here’s a field where fees are based on hourly rates of $50-125 or more, and all time counts.

A Lucrative and Growing Opportunity
In the few decades, prolific downsizing in Corporate America has resulted in the outsourcing of an enormous amount of writing projects to well-paid freelancers. How can you get your share? Who do you contact? Well, for starters, there are two main groups of prospects: End Users (EU) and Middlemen (MM).

End Users (EUs)
EUs are the corporations, large and small (as well as non-profits, universities, and more), that will be the end-users of the writing. With large companies, approach Corporate Communications, also known as “MarCom” (marketing communications). With smaller ones, try marketing, sales, or finally, HR.

A manager with a huge telecommunications firm in Atlanta noted, “Most people would assume that a company of our size would do the bulk of our writing in-house, and they’d be wrong. It’s amazing how much writing we outsource. My writing needs these days are pretty steady, and I pay anywhere from $65-85/hour, depending on the writer’s experience.”

Middlemen (MMs)
MMs – companies often hired by EUs to execute these projects – include advertising agencies, graphic design firms, marketing companies, PR firms, and event production companies – to name the key ones. Few of these entities staff writing talent, preferring instead to hire the right talent for a specific job, and only when needed.

  • Ad Agencies/PR Firms: These entities, which can be huge, do staff copywriters for high-profile ad campaigns but will often bring in freelancers to handle “collateral” (marketing brochures, newsletters, sales sheets, etc.). Small agencies offer better opportunities for freelancers.
  • Graphic Design Firms: This group tends toward the smaller end and rarely have on-staff writers. They include many “lone rangers” (one-person shops), several of whom have put many thousands of dollars in my pocket over time. Cultivate relationships with the most talented designers at the larger firms. The good ones all eventually go freelance and if they like you and your work, you’ll be on their “A-list.”
  • Event Production Companies: These firms handle all aspects of huge corporate conventions, conferences, product launches, etc. That may include show literature, videos, speeches, web content, signage, and more. Contact major convention facilities to get the names of the big players.

Who to Contact?
For all the above MM clients, contact CDs (Creative Directors: often hard to reach), ACDs (Assistant CDs: easier), AEs (Account Executives), PMs (Project Managers). Find them through the actual category listing in the Yellow Pages or through an annual business listing publication.

Beyond the Yellow Pages…
Where else can you find your prospects? Most good-sized metropolitan areas have a weekly business publication ending in “… Business Journal (i.e. Los Angeles Business Journal, Philadelphia Business Journal, etc.) Check for the full nationwide listing. Get their Book of Lists, an invaluable annual resource listing of the top businesses in dozens of categories.

Whatever your goals or circumstances, the commercial writing field offers a lucrative and growing opportunity for those with good writing skills. Isn’t it time for a raise?

About the author: Peter Bowerman, a freelance copywriter, speaker and business coach, is the author of the award winning Well-Fed Writer titles – how-to “standards” on lucrative freelancing for businesses ( In 2007, leveraging the successful self-publishing of his first two books (52,000 copies in print, and a full-time living for five-plus years), he released The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. (

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The Power of Story in the Digital Age

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 at 7:51 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 7 comments

Prizes: Lifetime subscription for RedButton software — TiVO for radio where you can pause and record live radio. Business Daffynitions: Humor from the Workplace from Joe Heuer, the Rock and Roll Guru. Just leave a 30-word comment on this post by June 29 to get an entry for a drawing.

It’s Poewar’s John Hewitt‘s fault again (I promise I am not brown nosing him or nuthin’). He introduced me to Yvonne Russell through his March Madness thing, which you should what it is by now as I’ve mentioned it too many times during this birthday celebration. Now you can see why I credit John with renewing my interest in blogging. A gal gets tired after eight years, y’know?

Enough about him! This should be about Yvonne. Her blog entries always spark wonderful discussions. Writers can’t complain about loneliness when they have blogs like hers for their water cooler visits. I know I do.

The Power of Story in the Digital Age

What is your story? Your personal story? Your business story?

Now that we have push button publishing, our personal and business stories are no longer confined to oral storytelling, wonderful though that medium is – or to faded photos in a box. We have the means to gather and share those stories – the stories of our families, our hopes, our businesses and our everyday lives. They can be captured like time capsules… a web of ever changing snapshots preserved forever.

They spin around the ethernet, ready to be plucked off the virtual shelf by an interested passerby or a friend. It’s a pretty empowering thought that our stories and the stories of others in this digital age are ready and waiting like a virtual treasure chest of event markers, memories and perspectives for our children or grandchildren and beyond.

We can add color, nuances and an extra dimension of connectivity through words – spoken and written. We can add photos, video, audio and lifestreams. In an inspiring video, Jonathan Harris talks of looking up at the night sky and remembering the ancient Greek stories of the constellations. He ponders what the constellations would look like if we could remake our own modern day versions today. And what would their stories be?

Harris is working on two exciting projects. We Feel Fine maps the world’s emotions. Every day computers scan up to 20 000 sentences using the word “feel”. Never mind six degrees of separation. This is a sense of one to one connectivity. Universe maps world events and people – again a very powerful demonstration of the interactivity and essence of story. Everyone has a story and everyone’s story impacts on the world’s storyweb.

I’m excited to see what the future holds in providing new ways to share our personal and business stories. Recently, while travelling in outback Australia, I met a bookseller who had clients all around the world thanks to the wonders of the internet. She not only had clients, but these clients had become friends. She remarked “Aren’t we lucky to be living at a time like this?” I readily agreed.

About the Author: Yvonne Russell is a freelance writer, editor and professional blogger.

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Telling the Hard Truths of the Writing Life

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 8:06 AM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 15 comments

The winner of one full copy of Spinword PC game from Joyboost from the How to Become a Freelance Writer entry is Karen Swim! Congratulations again, Karen. It’s possible to win more than once in the blog entry prizes.

This entry’s prizes are a book by Tara Calishain and AWAI’s Accelerated Six Figure Copywriting program (excellent — I have it… but never had time to finish it). Just leave a 30-word comment on this post by June 21 to get an entry for a drawing.

I was going to call this “Telling the Violent Truths of the Writing Life,” but Freelance Folder already has dibs on “violent.” Just joking — that’s the name of guest blogger Bob Younce’s excellent series over there.

I met Bob through Poewar. Obviously, John Hewitt of Poewar connected me with a lot of new writer friends. Thank you, John. It only took me a second to consider him a friend. His articles on writing and freelancing — whether on his site or elsewhere — provide a lot of value.

Telling the Hard Truths of the Writing Life

It’s easy, if you listen to one element of the Internet writing community, to think that freelance writing consists entirely of days on the beach sipping margaritas and writing for half an hour on your laptop. For anyone who’s been writing for more than a few weeks, though, you know it just isn’t true. Anyone who tells you that it’s possible to make a living in minutes a day is selling something.

Not that selling is bad, mind you; in fact, writers have to do it in order to be successful. But these folks are selling a false idea. In this life, you reap what you sow, plain and simple.

These folks prey on unsuspecting new moms, for example, that want to work from home. They prey on guys tired of their cubicle careers who are looking for a way out. They look for a felt need and offer a fake solution.

At the same time, there are folks on the opposite end of the spectrum. There’s me, for example. If you’ve read much of my writing at all, you know I constantly promote the idea of hard work and, sometimes, long hours. I have probably turned more people away from a writing career than I have recruited, in my time.

I like to think that the realist approach is a good thing, and that it helps folks considering the writing life to count the cost before they get into something they’re not willing to follow through on.

Maybe I’m just trying to keep away the competition. I don’t think that’s it, though.

Here’s the danger that I constantly find myself in, though. I want to be able to encourage writers. I want to cheer them on. I want them to see the same kind of success I’ve had, and the same kind of success Meryl has had right here.

So, those of us honest folk in the Internet writing community wind up saying something like this:

“Freelance writing is hard work. You can make an honest living doing it, and there’s no better life. But you’ve got to work hard and you’ve got to have your wits about you.”

On occasion, I think it’s worth talking about all of the good things in the writing life. I think it’s worth celebrating a success or two, both our own and others’ successes.

Like Meryl, here. She’s been plugging away at this site for the better part of a decade. My goofy little blog has been on the map since February; Meryl’s been here for 8 Februarys.

That says something, folks. It says something about character. It says something about tenacity. It says something about dedication. It’s these characteristics that you’ve got to have to make it as a writer.

So, I celebrate with Meryl. I thank her for her inspiring example. I take a moment away from telling the hard truths of the writing life to tell a pleasant one:

Writing success is possible. Look at Meryl, and at others who have done it. Dream your dream, and dream it big. You can get there, no matter what challenges you face. Stick with it. Be dedicated. And remember: you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.

Thanks, Meryl. Enjoy your vacation, and come back soon.

About the author: Bob Younce is a full-time Internet writer and writing mentor living in Linwood, Michigan. He is dedicated to helping Internet writers to achieve their dreams. Visit Bob at The Writing Journey or follow him on Twitter.

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How to Become a Freelance Writer

Thursday, June 12th, 2008 at 9:50 AM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 7 comments

The winners of two full copies of Big Kahuna Reef 2: one for Macs (!) and one for PCs from the Do You Own Your Web Site post as selected by are…

{eDrum roll}

Travis Vocino for the Mac copy

Paige Eissinger for the Win copy

Congratulations! On with the celebration!

This entry’s prize is one full copy of Spinword PC game from Joyboost. Just leave a 30-word comment on this post by June 16 to get an entry for a drawing

I’ve been reading Anne Wayman’s stuff for a long time beginning with her page for writers. Then, I followed her to The Golden Pencil and About Freelance Writing. I don’t know how she finds energy to manage two sites, do her regular writing work, post at least 40 writing gigs every couple of days, and provide sage advice about writing. Whatever she does, I thank her for helping writers.

How to Become a Freelance Writer

People seem fascinated that I earn my living as a freelance writer. They are surprised I don’t write fiction, and often confused when I tell them most of my income comes from ghostwriting. I suspect the picture most people have of freelance writers is someone huddled in a garret (do we have garrets any more?) struggling all night to get some deep fiction down on paper in hopes of a great (name your country) novel.

It’s a lovely fantasy, and so far from my own reality it’s almost laughable. Maybe my story will give you some hints about how to carve out a freelance writing career for yourself.

The family story is I started talking about writing way back in the 6th grade. I don’t remember that, but I do remember the 7th grade typing (yes, typewriters, manual typewriters) class that allowed me to write for the high school newspaper. It was also in high school that I started sneaking off to buy the magazine, Writer’s Market.

It wasn’t until my early thirties that I dared submit something – two articles, one each to Family Circle and Woman’s Day. Both were rejected, as they should have been, but I learned that I could survive rejection. In fact, I posted those two slips to my bedroom wall with pride.

I’d also discovered that while I’m a darn good worker, I’m a lousy employee. I hate the structure and the interruptions and all the office politics. I want to get my work done and go home. So I kept writing and submitting and trying different jobs. I finally landed a freelance job as a tech writer. I hadn’t done any tech writing, but by this time I did have a computer (an Apple II+ with a CP/M card, WordStar, and two single-sided drives!) and convinced someone I could explain how to hook up and use a computer. I did, and parlayed that into a staff tech writing job.

During the tech writing gig, I gathered together three others and we began to write third party software manuals. I also submitted my first piece to Hazelden, the drug and alcohol recovery publisher, and it was accepted! I can remember sitting at my desk hardly breathing.

I’d love to tell you my freelancing was profitable from then on. It wasn’t. A lot of that had to do with personal issues of self-worth, which is why I’m always telling my readers to consider charging more. But even though my view of myself was shaky at best, I kept writing and I kept telling people I was a writer. I stumbled into my first ghostwriting job — I said “yes,” rather than the truth which might have been something like, “I don’t know how, but let’s try it,” and it worked. I was referred to my second ghostwriting job.

I began to write for what’s now and eventually figured out how much to charge for ghostwriting. (A lot!) I blog because it helps me find clients. I qualify my clients carefully and generally now make a pretty fine living.

There are three secrets to a successful writing career:

1. Write
2. Rewrite
3. Market

It really is that simple – not easy, but simple. Go for it if it’s something you want. I give away a free booklet that goes into a few more details at and talk about freelance writing almost every day at

About the author: Anne Wayman is a freelance writer, grandmother, cat lover and gardener. Her websites and blogs are at:,,, and

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