Do Shorter Sentences Hit Home Harder?

Crafting sentences is an art.

We don’t always think in sentences. Putting thoughts straight to paper usually results in stream-of-consciousness. It’s way easier to loose a reader that way.

Keep your readers. Write shorter sentences.

Let’s look at the contrast. Virginia Woolf is the master of stream-of-consciousness. But her writing exists in a medium drastically different from the business writer’s. As a result, she gets a pass. Everything else about her writing is so enthralling that we award her with artistic license.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air for readers. His prose made it nearly impossible for readers to miss the point. And that’s one reason he’s lauded as one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I drink an entire case in one sitting.”

Consider this slightly-altered quote from The Sun Also Rises:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that because you lose the taste.

This isn’t the original quote. But what if it had been? Worse yet, what if Hemingway wrote the entire book in that style?

Thank the modern literary gods that he didn’t. Here’s the statement as it originally appears:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.

Clearly, this is a cause-and-effect statement. But consider how much more impact the thought has when the concepts are separated by a stop.

For professional writers, long sentences are usually the result of combining multiple thoughts. In good literature, to contrast, we excuse long sentences. Exhaustive description is usually the culprit in lengthy diatribes.

But your audience probably won’t read your writing for fun. They want the point. Short sentences lead to clearer points. The. End.

6 Ways Freelancers Get More Clients

Getting clients is hard work. Just about every other freelance task can be performed from home in your underwear. I mean, I’m wearing pants right now. But not because I have to.

You can do this. It took work to build up a portfolio. Now, it’s time to kick into gear and find some clients.

First thing’s first. No freelancer made a living by quitting a job without a lifeline. My first freelance client was a pain in my ass. I had to work nights and weekends to build a strong relationship. Alas, my first years as a young professional were split between work and drink. There wasn’t time for much else.

Of course, once you quit your job, you’ll have to supplement your current assignments with more. Sometimes, you can tap that current client for more work. But expanding your portfolio for long-term success means you must diversify.

Here are 6 ways to get more freelance clients:

1. Attend meetups and networking events. Old-fashioned face-to-face meetups still deliver for business development. Meetup.com is a great resource to find small businesses and marketers in your area. Become a regular attendee and chat people up. Hint: Approach prospects casually. You’ll get yourself a bad rep for acting too salesy.

2. Build your digital brand. Get yourself found online. Most marketers are focused on brand success in the digital space. If you’re active online, you can prove that you’re steeped in the medium, bolstering your status as a copywriter. Use social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, About.me, Tumblr and your website to get the point across and improve visibility for your services.

3. Ask clients for referrals. I’ve found great success asking happy clients for referrals. If you perform solid work for a client, you have the ability to turn them into an advocate for your writing. Don’t be afraid to ask a client in good standing to spread the word.

4. Check Craigslist and job boards. This one gets a little tricky. Sign up for services like FreelanceWriting.com to have jobs delivered to you. The catch here is that you’re sure to come up against hefty competition. Check the writing section of Craigslist under gigs. But be careful — you’re sure to come across as many crap jobs as legitimate ones.

5. Tap your network. Everyone knows a communications professional. The problem is that they don’t always approach their networks in the right way. Advertising your services via Facebook or LinkedIn status crushes the personal element of networking. Try researching your friends first and contacting relevant people individually.

6. Reach out. Cold emails are a tough way to break through to a business. If you craft a compelling pitch, you may get some traction. Compile a strong list of organizations you’d like to work for. Do your research and create a strong pitch. At least one of those two hundred pitches has the potential to hit the mark.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!

Guest Blog Everywhere You Can

Want to accelerate your content marketing? Add subscribers to your blog? Gain stronger search traction for your website?

Guest blog everywhere you can.

Little known fact: “guest” blogging is named after popular actor/director Christopher Guest.

A lot of content marketing strategies don’t even get this phase off of the ground. “Pish-posh! Humbug!” you say, stroking your luxurious scrivener’s beard. “I’m creating enough content for mine own blog! Why should I write for someone else’s blog? Who doth buy the ink for mine quills?”

It’s the twenty-first century, man. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Are you really going to argue with the Beatles?

You have an opportunity to reach a brand new audience. If you’re targeting the right blogs, chances are they have a larger audience, too. As long as your content is high-quality, the blogs are happy to help you promote your brand. They’ll repay you by linking back to your website, where you can capture leads or open up your content marketing to a wider audience.

A client of mine just began a guest-blogging tear. It’s been a huge help supplementing promotion of the CEO’s new book. By just sending simple emails, we have a 75 percent acceptance rate. Michael’s posts have been featured in SocialMouths, JeffBullas.com and Techipedia. We’re queued up for slots in major blogs like ProBlogger and Social Media Explorer. Each time a post goes live, the Duo Consulting homepage sees a traffic spike.

Have you given it a shot? You’d be surprised at how willing other bloggers are to accept posts. A few tips:

  • Research the blog first. Understand the audience.
  • Then, develop a post concept that you think they’d read.
  • Pitch the blogger or other editorial contact with the post idea.
  • If it’s accepted, you can finally draft the post.

Check out services like MyBlogGuest and GuestBlogIt to save a little time researching blogs.

How to Stop Rambling About Yourself

Attention, aspiring writers and bloggers! How do I put this gently? Eh, screw gentility. Shut the hell up already!

You’re rambling about yourself again. I get it. It’s a subject you’re excited about.

Look deep into the…wait, what the hell? Where’s your reflection? Begone, undead beast!

Part of the problem is you just aren’t that interesting. But before you get down on yourself, you should understand that your perspective is.

The only times it’s okay to write about yourself are:

  • To establish credibility with a fresh audience
  • To frame your experience in the context of the bigger picture
  • To empathize or connect with your audience
  • To keep an embarrassing dream journal that only you will read
  • To make a hilarious joke

People read your writing for your perspective. That’s why the majority of the web’s blogs are followed by about seven people. Those people use blogs as their personal diaries. That’s totally fine, but they shouldn’t expect a gigantic readership.

Whenever you start writing, ask yourself how your reader stands to benefit by spending five minutes glued to the screen.

You’re a big kid now. Start writing like one.

How to Make Your Shitty Headlines Pretty

I think most savvy web users are becoming familiar with effective headlines, even if that familiarity is occurring in your subconscious.

For bloggers, headlines are critical. They’re first impressions. They’re a means for search optimization. They summarize, intrigue and captivate.

Forget the papes, I’m startin’ my own blog.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your headlines are shitty, there’s plenty you can do to ground yourself. Take a look at some of the tips below.

1. “How to” headlines are a-okay. Kind of an introspective reference there, yes? People love “how to” posts because they’re straightforward. They lead with the purpose (practical advice) and follow with the subject matter. There’s no question about what the content should present.

2. Ask a question. Questions leave an air of mystery to your post. If presented well, they evoke the desired response from the reader: they read on to learn more. Make sure that questions are provocative, accurate to the content and are answered by your post.

3. Tie in trends. You can draw in fresh hits when you keep content timely. Reflect posts that cover trending topics in your headlines. That’ll help your search presence, drawing in readers researching those news topics.

4. Kill the buzzword. Every time you write a buzzword, a copywriter has a seizure. Don’t be that guy. Stay away from buzzwords like “industry-leading,” “innovative,” etc. They can be big turn-offs.

5. Stay positive. When you’ve developed an audience, you can tie in a negative post headline every so often. Until then, try to stay positive. Believe it or not, people aren’t searching for more negativity to add to their lives. They can visit their Facebook news feeds for that.

For a crash-course in writing headlines, check out this post over at Copyblogger. And add that shit to your blog roll! They’re pretty neat.

Corporate Blogging Guidelines: Working with a Writer

This guy started working on this blog post at age 15.

Hey marketers. Here’s a little something for your constant headache.

Businesses new to corporate blogging may think its a brilliant idea to leverage their staff for content. Great! You have an army of people with useful information. It takes the burden off of the marketing coordinator. You’ll just get in there and edit the draft and BOOM. Successful blog. Score one for the marketer.

Then, the sobering reality: you’ll spend more time chasing down staff for things they promised than you’ll spend actually editing & posting content.

Believe me, they’ll be enthralled to take part. It’s happened at every business ever. Especially for high-level members of the staff. They’ll be incredibly enthusiastic about the topic.

But writing takes time. And the deflation of creative enthusiasm happens in mere seconds if you don’t know where to start. That’s why your CTO will never get you his 10,000-word treatise on service-oriented architecture that you’d planned to spread over 20 posts. He’ll get bored, he’ll get busy, and he’ll never return to the page, no matter how much you nag.

May I suggest an alternative? Make use of an internal (or freelance…wink wink) writer to spend 15 minutes interviewing staff with brilliant ideas. Capture the content and let someone who is assuredly undaunted by the creative process take on the burden of its completion.

Relying on your staff for content is a gigantic headache. Do it more efficiently and you’ll have a steady flow of useful insights for your audience.

Why PR Is Broken

Everyone’s a critic. No, seriously.

By now, it’s clear that the editorial landscape has changed, for better or worse. Small newspapers are dying, magazines are going under and a swath of online publications have replaced the old guard.

In the midst of the content revolution, PR firms slowly came to a conclusion: adapt or die. Some have successfully adapted. Others have adapted in ways that mislead their clients.

If you’re considering working with a PR firm, consider this: twenty years experience in public relations doesn’t translate to jack-squat in social media management. It means something for content development and SEO — but chances are firms are working with on-staff or freelance writers to develop the bulk of that content.

Today, PR prowess really comes down to contacts. Like any line of business, it’s all about who you know. That’s part of why PR is a dying industry.

Then he asked me if our PR firm was “full-service.” Bahahahaha!

You have hundreds of channels in your space where you can grab a little exposure. Are you really planning to pay $10k per month for a mention in the New York Times? How do you expect that to affect your bottom line? Even if it does, how can you measure it effectively?

I recently had the accidental pleasure of attending a PR roundtable with some heavy-hitters in the space. It was mainly an opportunity for the sponsor firm to schmooze some potential new clients. I attended with one of my clients and was completely ignored by our hosts. The roundtable eventually spiralled into an orgiastic discussion of self-preservation. The takeaway? “Our communications experience makes us well suited for social media management.”

The truth is that it doesn’t. One of the greatest moments of the discussion was when the firm’s president admitted, “We’re recruiting strong, young talent to help us move deeper into this space.” Because they aren’t native social media users, and they’re simply following the blanket trends. The company was in the process of enacting systemic change across their giant international organization. Without cleaning house, you’re basically positioning your company as experts in something related to but distinct from your actual expertise.

I’m not arguing that all PR firms are doing a poor job. What I am saying is that the value of true PR is lower than you think, especially for start-ups. And if you need a person or company to manage your social media or content marketing strategy, why not work with a more specialized firm?

So, again, if you’re evaluating your need for a public relations firm, think it out carefully. What exactly are you hoping to gain from the experience? Take a hard look at the value of public relations, and evaluate other options like SEO experts, writers and content strategists against it.

In Writers We Trust…Right Guys? Right?

Trust does not necessarily imply segregation.

It’s clear we writers are an egocentric bunch. Get a little experience under your belt and suddenly you have the world by its balls.

Then again, a crew of writers out there cater to their clients’ every whim. Many of those writers come from an agency background, where the client’s happiness is of the utmost importance.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting the client’s happiness at the forefront of your business. But your client may not know what makes them happy. The truth of the matter is that you’re hiring a professional writer to do the job correctly. In the end, would you rather have a mediocre or strong product?

Trust your writer.

Writing is a medium where egos constantly come into conflict. That’s what happens in a creative field. A good copywriter lets go of his creation and subjects it to the whims of the person paying for it.

On the other hand, taking pride in your work is another animal entirely. As the client, you’ll get your hands dirty. Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. But work with the writer and trust them instead of deciding they aren’t living up to your expectations.

Of course, you can always try to take the project on yourself. After all, you know exactly what you want, right?

To become a writer, you start with talent and interest. Next is training. Finally, it requires experience. Even if you have the talent, you don’t have the training or the experience. Trust your writer.

If you’re feeling disillusioned and misled by your writer’s strong resume/portfolio, ask yourself these questions before you give ‘em the boot.

  • Have you clearly outlined your expectations?
  • Do you understand the purpose of the piece?
  • Have you written all this information down, perhaps in the form of a creative brief?
  • Have you given the writer all the information he/she needs about the piece’s topic?
  • Are you holding on to an assumption of strong copy that the writer doesn’t agree with?
  • Have you pointed out exactly what makes you unhappy about a prior draft?
  • Have you clearly explained whether you want the writer to work from the draft or start from scratch?

Yes, there are bad writers out there. But if you’re working on recommendations or a strong portfolio, chances are you’re working with a good writer. Remember that your expectations may not always align with reality.

You Get What You Pay For

Fat Joe and Lil Wayne: voicing the plight of the freelance writer since 2006.

Hey, you. Yeah you. Why you gotta be so tight with your pocketbook?

I’m talking to the business owners out there. We writers understand you’re careful with your money. We understand that you’ve set aside a strict budget for marketing.

Next time you plan your marketing budget, remember: you get what you pay for.

I’m not just trying to pad my own wallet here. (Okay, maybe a little.) But right now, with the state of the web the way it is, you need content. That content should be high-quality. It should take SEO and digital marketing know-how into account.

If a writer doesn’t understand his or her value, he or she probably hasn’t been writing very long. And if they haven’t been writing very long, they probably won’t produce high-quality content. If you want to give your cousin’s nephew’s boss’ illegitimate son his start in writing, that’s great! Thanks for supporting young writers. But if you’re skimping on quality writing to save a couple bucks, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

And writers: stop undervaluing yourselves. Writing is absolutely crucial to start-ups and enterprises alike. If they aren’t willing to pay you a fair market price, walk away. You have projects in your portfolio, and you live to write another day.

Whenever you writers start considering lower pricing, read the great anecdote at the top of the page here. Reprinted below for convenience.

A well-known freelance ad writer stopped in at the shoot for a commercial he scripted, just to press the flesh. It was a big-time film production, with a huge crew and the requisite bevy of agency and client hangers-on.

He watched as the on-camera talent endlessly repeated a fairly pedestrian line she was having an uncommonly hard time interpreting.  As costly shoot time dragged on, the agency account executive and the client pulled the copywriter aside. ‘This is costing us a fortune,’ they said. ‘Could you come up with something that would work better?’  The writer nodded, grabbed a pad of paper and walked over to a dark corner of the studio. A few minutes later he returned and handed the account exec a sheet from the pad. The AEs face immediately brightened. The client read it and pronounced it brilliant. The talent delivered it flawlessly, thus saving the shoot.
Later at the wrap party, the client spoke to the writer. ‘Of course, I expect you to bill me for your work. How much will you charge?’
‘That’ll be $1200,’ said the writer.
‘$1200?’ the client exclaimed, ‘Why, it took you only three minutes to write!’
The writer fixed him with a firm, confident stare. ‘Buddy,’ he said, ‘that took me twenty five years to write.’