Last Friday, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as 45th President of the United States of America.

That first sentence either made you smile…or it made you spit. Either way, it’s okay. The purpose of this post isn’t to judge you, regardless of who you voted for. 

There are a few theories about how, with no political experience, Trump came to be President:

  • The Democratic Party insists that the Russians are to blame. 
  • Both liberals and conservatives have cited rising distrust of Hillary Clinton, based on the results of the FBI investigation into her use of non-secure, private server for federal business while she was Secretary of State, as well as Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.
  • Conservatives say it’s because Trump hit the right nerve with the working man—that the government status quo of the past 35 years has enriched itself while neglecting the people it was intended to serve.

I thought that this last point was closest to the truth but it’s still not quite 100 percent. I think there’s an even bigger reason for Trump’s win, which I only fully realized after hearing his inauguration speech this afternoon.

What I feel is largely responsible for Trump’s success was the consistency of his message: from June 16, 2015, when he announced his run, right up through his inauguration, it has been (Do I even need to say it?) “Make American Great Again.”

Now before you start rolling your eyes and condemning me as being “just another simple-minded copywriter” consider a few questions:

·      Why do people choose to shop at Wal-Mart?

·      Why would some people rather have an iPhone?

·      Who do you call for next-day package delivery?

People shop at Wal-Mart because it’s cheaper. For 19 years, the company’s slogan was “Always low prices.” In 2007, they changed it to “Save money. Live better.” They’ve been repeating those messages in every ad for nearly 30 years. So who do you think of when you need to save money?

People line up early for the new iPhone and pay considerably more for it than most Android phones cost because Apple emphasizes innovation and design in all of their marketing: “Think different,” “The only thing that’s changed is everything,” etc. A large group of people strongly identify with those values.

FedEx is the name that jumps off of most peoples’ lips when you mention next-day delivery. It has everything to do with the messages they’ve repeated for decades: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” “The world on time,” and “Relax, it’s FedEx.”

It’s a truism in marketing (first identified by Bob Berg, in his book Endless Referrals) that “People will do business with those people they know, like, and trust.”

And it must occur in that order, starting with “know.”

The way a business gets the public to “know” them is by repeating its message often.

Even if you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, don’t use FedEx and don’t own the iPhone, you’ve seen or heard their message so often, that you know what each of them stands for. You know what they value. 

When you come to know someone, it opens the door for you to like them. Just that little bit of familiarity that you’ve built up by hearing their message regularly gives you a degree of affinity for them.

This is how a company builds a strong brand. It’s also how one candidate built a strong brand.

Trump’s success is due in large part to his marketing: “Make America Great Again” was everywhere. It’s on his website. In his emails. On hats. t-shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs. He stated it every time he spoke in public.

By constant repetition of his message, Trump built a strong brand for himself. People came to know him.

On the other hand, while his main opponent had far more experience in politics, she lacked a message. She lacked repetition. If Hillary Clinton had any brand at all, it was the one the media created with its constant repetition of messages about her involvement in numerous scandals.

Or maybe it was the Russians….

-  -  -

Every business has a message, though not all of them have discovered what their message is.

Your company’s message should express your core value and what differentiates you from your competition (these are often one and the same), in a way that benefits your customers. That’s your brand.

“Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers,” said businesswoman Elizabeth Arden (of make-up fame). So, once you’ve isolated your message, repeat it as often as possible in all of your marketing efforts.

If you need some help working out your brand messaging, I can help you with that. Call 323-646-2469 or email me steve (at) @stevewagnercopy (dot) com 

By now, you’ve probably heard about Meryl Streep’s speech at this past weekend’s Golden Globe awards.

On stage to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, Streep gave a five-plus minute acceptance speech in which she positioned Hollywood against President-elect Donald Trump (and all she feels he stands for) without ever stating his name.

This post isn’t about whether I agree or disagree with her views. Because I’m a copywriter and I deal with marketing matters, this message is about what she did right in terms of marketing. (Okay, literally speaking, she was not promoting a product or service but she was promoting a certain viewpoint.)

So here it is:

1.    She communicated. First and foremost, you’ve got to put your message out there. I know of plenty of businesses that don’t market. They put an ad in the Yellow Pages and hope for the best…while they starve. The businesses and people who succeed don’t necessarily succeed because they are the best at what they do; it’s because they market consistently and effectively. They continue to communicate.

2.    She directed her message to the correct audience. You can have the highest quality ice cubes in the world but you will go out of business if you market them in Siberia. Wrong audience. Try Miami. The Hollywood movie industry is acknowledged to be largely Liberal and anti-Trump. The Golden Globes audience was mostly actors and other industry people. The perfect audience and an easy “sale” for Streep.

3.    Her speech was logically structured. Some have called it a rant but Streep’s speech was well thought-out and well paced. She started out with a reference to a comment made earlier by actor Hugh Laurie, then wove a speech which upheld the nobility of the acting profession and characterized Trump as its enemy. Streep gets bonus points for the latter because in direct marketing, you strengthen your offer when you identify your audience's enemy (and then position your product as the thing that vanquishes that enemy). A quick example of this is investment marketers, who characterize the economy or inflation as the enemy.

4.    She used emotion. Streep’s speech was dramatic. It was authentic. Before you can sell anything to anyone, you’ve got to elicit an emotion from them. Volvo did it by tapping into peoples’ insecurity and need for safety. Rolex does it by appealing to their audience’s desire for status and a feeling of power. Insurance companies use fear. Certain fashion brands use sex. 

Some of the people in the Globes audience seemed to appreciate Streep’s message while others didn’t show much enthusiasm. But in the world of direct marketing, you never get a 100 percent response. Ten percent is acceptable. Twenty-five percent is killing it. She seemed to be getting about a 40 percent response. Not too shabby.

So, whether or not you agree with her politics, from a direct marketing standpoint, she did a lot of things right. 

If you need some help doing things right with your own direct marketing efforts, I can help. Call me at 323-646-2469 or email me at steve (at) stevewagnercopy (dot) com.

Thanks for reading.

I got the strangest Christmas card this year. 

It was from my landlord. 

The envelope was correctly addressed and it arrived on December 24th. 

Inside was a pleasant, traditional Christmas card showing a painting of an outdoor scene of a cabin in the snow. Smoke curled from the chimney. An orangey glow in the front window told of comfort and relief from the cold. 

I opened it and read the message: “Have a Merry Christmas,” it said, in plain type. 

My landlord hadn’t written anything. He hadn’t even signed it.  

As I dropped in into the recycling bin, I wondered why he’d bothered to even mail it.  

What’s this got to do with you and your marketing? 

You, You, You…

My landlord evidently had very little (or maybe no) interest in delivering a genuine holiday greeting to me. He seems to have only been trying to fulfill a holiday-time obligation as quickly and effortlessly as possible. 

It was unmistakably all about him—his time and his convenience. A Christmas card should be sent for the other person (or should at least give that impression).

And it’s not different with a marketing message.

Now, I am not implying that you would ever be as indifferent as my landlord was, but sometimes, as business owners or marketers, we may send out marketing communications—emails, sales letters, etc.—that, in one way or another, are about us and our products or services. When we do that, it creates various effects:

  • The recipient thinks “spam” or “junk mail.” 
  • They throw it away/delete it without reading all of it.
  • They feel disregarded.
  • They resent having their time wasted.

If what I am saying seems confusing, I understand. Obviously, you market and promote for the purpose of selling your products or services. So why wouldn’t your marketing pieces be about your products or services?

Of course you have to talk about what you’re selling but the most successful direct marketing starts out paying a good deal of attention to the customer—their needs, problems, and concerns (often referred to as “pain points”).

This is not news. It’s a fundamental of direct marketing: Customers/prospects don’t care about you or your product; they care about solving their problems and fulfilling their dreams.

Yet I see this fundamental being violated all the time.

Here’s one small example: I received a connection request recently on LinkedIn from someone I did not know. Within an hour of accepting their invitation, I got a message from them. They thanked me for the connect but the majority of the message was all about them and their business:

  • “I am looking to connect with…”
  • “I am really into…”
  • “I specialize in…”
  • “My idea client is…”

Granted, her message wasn’t overtly trying to sell me anything but it did have a call to action. (“I’d love to talk. Here is the link to my calendar to set up a time that is convenient for you.”) So, it could be considered a small bit of direct marketing.

I was a bit put off by it, simply and only because it didn’t seem to take much of an interest in me.

Now before anyone (particularly the person who sent me the message) protests, let me just say that any marketing is better than no marketing. So, if you’re promoting your business—in any way—you have a certain degree of my respect.

However, effective marketing is the best kind. And the most effective is about the customer and their pain points.

How Do I Do That With My Marketing?

You have to be the audience you’re writing to.

I spent 20 years of my life working in the industrial and automotive industries. Now, I write a lot for industrial and service businesses, tool makers, and similar clients. My experience has given me a good understanding of that audience.

When I am hired to write for an audience I am less familiar with, I do research:

  • Customer demographic and other info from the client
  • Online forums about the product or topic
  • Amazon reviews about similar products
  • Online reviews of competing products/services (Yelp can be handy this way) to see what people complain about

A mediocre writer with a good understanding of his audience will always have better success than a “rock star” writer who is less familiar with the audience.

Do enough research, and you can start to take on that audience’s viewpoint. You can understand their attitudes, their biases, and their emotions about their problem and its solution. We all have the capacity to do this.

When you “get into their head” this way, you get a better understanding of how to talk to your audience about their pain points. You know better how to position the benefits of your product or service in relation to those pain points.

All of this falls under “about your audience.” Only after you’ve spent a decent amount of time (or paragraphs) talking about them would you begin to talk about you or your product or service.

Final Thought

People are as cynical as ever about advertising but a well-done direct marketing piece quickly gets past the reader’s cynicism because it talks about their primary interest: self-interest.

As consumers, that’s what we all run on.

So if you’re going to market directly to prospects or customers, always write or speak to them about what matters to them—their concerns, problems, dreams, or fears. Then show how your product/service solves their problem or fulfills their desire.  

Need help reaching your audience? I can help you with that. Call me: 323-646-2469 or email steve (at) stevewagnercopy (dot) com

(or, what's copy got to do with it?)

The "wish list" of many a direct marketer probably looks something like this:

1. More sales. 

2. More customers. 

3. Umm... more conversions, sales and customers. 

Makes sense, right?

But while some direct marketers regularly have high sales and attract new customers, other marketers struggle and even fail. 

Why? Ask Bly.

In his white paper, "The 12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes... And How To Avoid Them," renowned direct marketer Bob Bly isolates 12 factors. Not surprisingly, seven of them are related to the copy itself. 

So, all other things (product/service, mailing list and number of mailings) being equal, the greatest difference is the copy they use in their direct marketing efforts: 

•   High-quality copy gets read. A  percentage of readers take action (make a purchase or take another desired action such as "click here" or "call now"). Life is good!

•   Poor-quality copy does not get read. Less or no action occurs. Life ain't so good.

High-quality direct response copy is effective. It grabs readers' attention right from the headline or subject line and holds it. It fires their imaginations and increases desire for the marketer's solution to their pain point or deep desire. It presents an offer that's magnetic, irresistible--so high in value and low in risk, that the reader can't not buy it. 

Hence, high-quality copy makes you more money. 

Get Better Results

If your sales or lead generation aren't as healthy as they should be, the copy is often the first place to look, especially if it was written by someone without a lot of direct response experience or training. 

If you're going to tackle it yourself, I would highly recommend studying Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook or any of Dan Kennedy's "No B.S." books on the subject. 

Or contact me and let's discuss your copy and your marketing aims and see how I might be able to help.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn.)

If you’re re-inventing the wheel with each new marketing effort, you may never achieve the desired reputation. Here’s how to invent it once so that your marketing efforts really roll
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a series of marketing pieces for a financial services company. Let’s call them “The Company.”

I did not work directly for The Company but for a marketing specialist The Company had hired to help them revamp their website and improve their marketing results. Let’s call them “The Agency.” 

In all, The Agency hired me to write on six separate occasions: four landing pages, a home page and an “About Us” page

I came up with some very strong messages for each landing page, each of which was for a different service The Company is marketing. The Agency must have thought so too, since they kept re-hiring me.

The home page was the fifth item they hired me to write. It was to include information about some of the services I’d already written about for the landing pages. As I worked on it, I began to feel a bit scattered.

There were messages I’d written for some of the landing pages which I thought would have been ideal for the home page—headlines and other copy that would have been excellent descriptions of The Company’s “Unique Value Proposition” (UVP, that quality or qualities that make them better or more desirable than their competition).

It was a bit like having Joe manufacture “some doors” and having Fred build “some walls” and having Ron construct “a roof” and then trying to jam all the parts together to make a house.

Build Your Marketing From the Top Down

It seemed to me that The Agency should have had me write the home page first. It’s an ideal place for a company to communicate its UVP. The company could then incorporate the UVP and related ideas into all of their marketing copy, thus creating a strong and consistent overall message.

But there is an even better way to achieve this consistency—before you ever write a home page or brochure or whatever you will use to introduce your product or service. This better way, which I am going to get to in a moment, strengthens your marketing impact and makes effective copywriting a no-effort affair.

Repetition of a Message

So The Agency ended up with several marketing pieces, each of which contained strong marketing copy (if I must say so myself) but all of which functioned more or less independently—each with its own messages but no consistent Company message.

That’s not the ideal scene.

So what is? Before I answer that, consider this:

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Coca-Cola”? You probably think “Coke Adds Life” or “Things Go Better with Coke.” Perhaps even Coke’s red and white “wave” logo. Though they have used other tag lines and images in their long history, these are some of their more enduring ones for me (and I don’t even drink the stuff).

This kind of brand identity is what any company wants if they wish to be successful. In other words, you want the public to identify your product or service with a certain concept: your UVP, the thing you do best, which the customer benefits from.

You can only achieve that through repetition of a particular message or messages. As copywriter Casey Demchak has so succinctly put it:

Repetition builds reputation.

The Chaos of Random Messaging

It is an acknowledged phenomenon in marketing circles that inconsistent messaging reduces conversions. For instance, if a shoe company’s pay-per-click add says “Shoes that massage your feet” but their landing page header is “Shapes and tones while you walk,” a significant number of people who encounter it will search elsewhere for shoes. That’s what inconsistent/mixed/conflicting messaging can be counted on to do.

Can you imagine if some new cola company did that? The lack of repetition of a single or carefully-crafted group of messages would result in no impression on the public. They would never gain any reputation. Mostly likely, they would fade away.

On the other hand, consider the following brands. Large segments of the public immediately know what these companies are about—an effect achieved through repetition of a message:

  • Chevy trucks are dependable (“Like a Rock,” “…the most dependable, longest-lasting pickups on the road”)
  • Apple Computers are innovative yet simple life-style products (“The Computer for the Rest of Us,” “Think Different,” “It just works”)
  • WalMart saves you money (“Save Money, Live Better,” “Always Low Prices”)  

Each of these companies’ messages may have been repeated in their ads for years or decades.

This is true for companies and is true for their new product offerings, each of which needs its own messages.

Use This for Consistent Messaging

So how can you ensure that messaging is consistent? How can you get on the road to building a strong reputation?

It’s called a Key Message Copy Platform.

The Platform contains the guiding concepts and messaging about your product/service.

These concepts and messaging are worked out by you, with or without the help of a copywriter (though a copywriter will know all the questions to ask).

It is the master document for all copy you will produce for your product or service. Among other things, the Platform contains:

  • Headlines and taglines
  • Description of voice and tone of marketing copy
  • Descriptive key words that apply to various aspects of the product or business
  • Descriptions of how the product or company provides value
  • Messages for overcoming objections
  • a whole lot more…

The Platform contains the Key Messages about your product and service that must be in every marketing piece in order to bring about the repetition that establishes your reputation.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

So, when you need to write a landing page, an email sequence, brochure or whatever, you don’t have create it from scratch.

The key messaging—those ideas you want the public to identify with your product/service—has already been worked out. Refer to the Platform before creating your next marketing piece. Incorporate the key messages.

This ensures consistent marketing messages, so your prospects and customers get a consistent understanding of your product/service.

With repetition of a consistent message, you arrive at a reputation. People know who you are, what you do, what you’re good at and how it benefits them.

Do It First

I now try to guide my clients to create a Platform, particularly when it’s evident that they don’t have anything guiding their marketing. Hiring a copywriter to create a Platform is not a budget-buster and is often be the best use of your marketing dollars, for the effect it will have on all future marketing efforts and the establishment of your reputation. 

Sounds good, doesn't it? Call me 323-646-2469 or email me and let's discuss your marketing goals. 
I have traveled and lived in several places in the U.S. over the last year. In talking to the various people I've met, they've invariably asked what kind of work I did for a living.

"I'm a copywriter," I told them. 

Their responses ranged from a furrowed-browed nod to a change of subject.

Many people have no idea what "copywriting" or "copy" is or what a copywriter does.

Here is a short, easy-to-remember definition: A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to act. No, I don't mean getting them to do community theater or pack up and move to Hollywood. By "act" I mean to "take an action."

If you've ever been looking around online and decided to give your email address to some website in exchange for a free e-book, newsletter subscription  or similar item, you've experienced copywriting. If you've ever ordered something on TV after watching an infomercial or QVC, you've experienced it.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain what 'copy' is," you're saying right now.

Definition of "Copy"

"Copy" is another word for "text," particularly text that is used to sell something (or get a person to take an action which may lead to a sale). It is not something that the writer "copied" from somewhere else, but something he/she wrote which is to be copied--printed in a magazine or newspaper or used in a TV/radio commercial, which gets broadcasted over and over.

The terms "copy," "copywriter" and "copywriting," traditionally relate to advertising, marketing and promotion but these terms sometimes get applied to other kinds of writing and writers. For instance, news writers and editors deal with their own kind of "copy."

Copywriters (the capable ones, that is) are trained in a specific and somewhat complex technology that they use to produce writing that engages the reader. It holds and increases their interest because it appeals to some fundamental desire or need for a solution to a problem. Ultimately, if it's written well, it gets them to take action.

To some this may seem sneaky or unethical but there's this one fact: people's desires and needs for solutions to their problems existed long before there were copywriters or the field of marketing. The only thing that marketing does is channel that existing desire or need in the direction of a particular product or service.

A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to take action.
Take for instance the "mid-life crisis." For some men who've reach their forties or fifties, an insecurity may have set in about their looks, physical condition or ability with the opposite sex. They may long to recapture some of their youthful vitality. This phenomenon exists. You've observed it. And it's this phenomenon--not the copy--that enables companies to sell convertible sports cars, hair replacement surgery and Viagra. If one company doesn't make the sale, another will. And truly, all other things being equal, the winner will be the company with the most effective copy. 

Who Uses Copywriters? 

You might be surprised by the number and variety of businesses that use copywriters:
  • companies that advertise by mail (banks, book publishers, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.)
  • companies that advertise via infomercials (fitness equipment, greatest hits music collections, etc.)
  • companies that sell online (too many to list), by way of landing pages, sales pages, long-form video sales letters, pay-per-click ads, etc.
  • non-profit organizations, who use copywriters to help in their fundraising efforts

(Though regular TV or radio commercials may be written by copywriters, much of that kind of this kind of advertising, which is usually short and clever or cute [and sometimes, confusing], doesn't follow the tenets of actual copywriting.)

Copywriters can also use this writing technology to help companies and individuals define who they are, how they are unique or what they do best, so as to differentiate themselves from their competition. This action is a part of what is broadly known as "branding." 

The Copywriter and the Brand

Branding is not entirely a matter of copywriting but of building an image and emphasizing a particular and desirable value, skill or strength. You've seen and felt it with with many companies. Some that come to mind are Chevrolet (long-lasting, "Like a rock"), Apple Computers (innovation, "Think Different") and Netflix (selection and convenience). 

Once the brand "message" is established, copywriters may write copy that conforms to the brand, to be used on everything from business cards to websites to television. 

And that, friends, is what copywriting is.

If you have questions about your current copy, need a review, or have a future copy project you'd like help in planning, call me at 323-646-2469 or
email me.
"What's in it for me?" In this world of overfilled email in-boxes and extra helpings of spam, this question is the silent-but-constant standard for the decision to read it or delete it (or, in the case of articles/blogs, to read it or look elsewhere).

Interesting case: I was hired by a client last week to create new headlines for several articles and blog posts he'd written for his web design & development business.

One for one, the articles were super-informative for a small businessperson.

But one for one, the headlines were ... flat. Ineffective. No way anyone would bother clicking on one to read the article.

And, again, one for one, the problem with each was exactly the same: There wasn't so much as a hint of benefit to the reader in any of them. ("You want me to give some precious time to your article? Well, how will I benefit?") So, no benefit = delete.

Example: For an article about website security, my client's headline was "Do you have control of your website?" That might pique one's interest as to why they might want to have control of their site. But there's no benefit implied.

I offered 16 alternatives, including:

  • "How Taking Control of Your Website Can Prevent Loss"
  • "Avoid Frustration: Take Control of Your Website"
  • "How Taking Control of Your Website Reduces Risk"
  • "Don’t Get Screwed: Take Control of Your Website"
  • "Safeguard Your Business: Take Control of Your Website"

See the difference?

Sure, we're not talking Shakespeare here but each one gives the business owner the idea that there is something he/she could benefit from knowing. Each signals a benefit.

If you don't write a blog, you can still use this idea to strengthen your email subject lines so more people will read your messages. I am sure you can figure out other ways to use this advice.

Or, if you want, call me 323-646-2469 or email me and let's discuss your marketing goals. 

(Originally published on LinkedIn 3/17/15)
In 1979, Robin Williams won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording for his album, Reality... What a Concept.

Robin Williams was an expert at bending and shaping reality on stage, changing his voice and mannerisms with remarkable speed. Though this short article isn't really about Robin Williams, I just have to give the man his due: he was a genius in his field.
Creating effective, winning direct marketing copy has everything to do with reality and concepts. 

What does that mean? It means knowing the product or service completely (i.e., the more you know about it, the more real it is to you, thus "reality").
It also means knowing the prospect as well as you can, through whatever sort of research necessary. What are their attitudes or emotions about the problem that your product or service solves?

With this product and prospect knowledge, you can you easily generate concepts to describe the benefits of the product/service in ways that get the reader engaged, interested ... wanting the product or service. If you don't have a firm reality on the product/service and the prospect, your concepts are likely to be off-target—not "real" to the reader.

If that still doesn't quite make sense, look at it this way: Think about a movie you have not seen, a book you have not read or a kind of food you've never eaten. How real are these things to you? Without that reality, how can you possibly succeed in getting someone else interested in the product or service?

You would have to rely on hype and empty promises. It wouldn't work.

The Most Reality Possible

I recently wrote a marketing video script for a company that makes a line of soft-sided coolers. They provided me some info about the product and their prospect base but they also wisely sent me one of the coolers to use. This made all the difference: to have the actual item, see how it's constructed, to use it and abuse it a bit. I found things about the actual product that I liked. I got interested and excited about it myself.

I went online to where I could find out more about people who use these kinds of products. What do they say about them? What do they use them for? What do they love about them? Hate about them? 

Though I was not initially a prospect for such a product, after a while researching it, I was thinking and writing just like a die-hard soft-sided cooler devotee. 

The company loved the script I wrote for them and hired me to write several more.

When I write a marketing piece about a book or information product, I read it through several times until I know the contents as well as the person who wrote it. I get excited about it. I collect information from my client or elsewhere about their customer avatar, so I know the right emotion to emphasize.

Then I apply time-tested direct response copywriting techniques to create copy that will connect with the reader and create want for the product.

But enough about me. What are your marketing challenges? And could you inject more reality into your campaign? Let me know if I can assist you: 323-646-2469 or email me.

(Originally published on LinkedIn 3/2/15)
Just a short post this time: 

Content editing (also called "structural editing" or "developmental editing") takes into account the entire text, whether it's a book, sales brochure, website or other content. When editing for content, the editor seeks to ensure the logical flow or correct sequencing of ideas; consistency of the writer's voice; consistency of character (such as in a novel) and other broad areas.

The editor won't always take it upon him/herself to write the changes (unless it has been agreed up with the client ahead of time) but will make notes, either directly into the text (in a contrasting color) or by use of margin notes, such as the "Comments" function in Microsoft Word.

Content editing is not always a matter of removing content or re-arranging it; it can also be a matter of what I call "the canyon effect." The person who wrote the copy leaped from one idea to another without a proper transition. So the reader, missing the transitional material, does not make a smooth transition; they fall into the canyon. I note this in particular with technology-related material, written by people who are tech-savvy but who are not writers by trade.  

While it probably goes without saying, content editing isn't just for novels or other books: I have had clients request it for two-page articles and tri-fold business brochures and other "smaller" jobs. 

Have you ever walked out of a movie before it was over? If you answered “yes,” can you recall why you got up and left? What was the reason?

Back in my early 20s, I took a girl on a date to see a movie called The Perils of Gwendoline, which looked okay in the coming attractions. “Gwendoline” was played by the young and attractive Tawny Kitaen and the film looked like a lightweight Raiders of the Lost Ark with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show…if you can imagine that. Okay, Perils of Gwendoline, here we go!

And we went alright: We were outta that theater 20 minutes after it started and we were not the only ones.

Was there something particularly offensive about the movie? No.

Did its production values look as if it had been shot on Super-8 film and edited with a butter knife? Not at all.

The problem was that it was uninteresting. Boring. Gwendoline failed to “hook” a significant part of the audience, who went streaming for the exits. (My apologies to the cult following that the film has since developed. Perhaps I would view the film differently today than I did back then.)

On the other hand, I was transfixed by a movie released the same year called Repo Man--a quirky indie film with a largely then-unknown cast (save for a barely-known Emilio Estevez and perhaps Harry Dean Stanton—if you were an aficionado of character actors). The plot (“Find the Chevrolet with the aliens in the trunk!”) was on the thin side. However, what it lacked in star power and plot line, it made up for with a significant quantity of interesting things that grabbed your interest and kept you interested.

(Interesting, isn’t it?)

In my last blog entry, I talked about redundancy and overwriting—using seven words to say what could be said with three or using the same sentence structures over and over. In pointing out these kinds of shortcomings in your own or another’s writing, it’s sometimes very easy to overlook what's really good about a piece of writing. 

I took those redundancy examples from a manuscript that became a book called Across the Hall: Real Love the Right Way by author Monique Francisco. But far more important than being a source of such examples, Real Love is a great example of how a good story trumps any technical flaws. Francisco weaves three plot lines and takes the reader up and down the emotional roller coaster: I hissed at the “bad guy” and fell in love with the good guy(s). 

Francisco might have had a few things to learn about tightening up a sentence or a paragraph (we all did at one time or another) but there was little I could tell her about how to improve her storytelling. It held my interest, without effort, and it’s not even a genre (romance) I commonly read.

Q: What can you do with a manuscript containing a perfectly-punctuated yet dull story? 

A: Use it to start a fire.

The story is the most important factor.

You can always find an experienced freelance editor to correct your grammar, punctuation, etc. You can even find one to work with you on the overall flow of your story. (That’s called “content editing” or “substantive editing.”)

But the bottom line is: tell a good story and make it interesting--in your emails, your website, your blogs--all your marketing. 

And if you need help achieving that, give me a call 323-646-2469 or email me