Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Event Participation

 

I recently worked, with one of my clients, on an event night. She was one of multiple vendors participating in an evening by a “media group” that promised shopping, drinks, food, and entertainment to those buying tickets.

The event itself would run for three hours in the evening; the setup was four hours in the afternoon immediately prior. The vendor fee got us booth space, and listing in the event’s media, dinner for the two of us working the event, and an additional ad in the organizer’s media conglomerate.  We had to pay an additional fee for an electrical tie-in. We were asked to supply 600 of an item for the swag bags, and one item to raffle off.

As a writer, my usual part in that would have been to amplify the media, using our own channels to spread the word via blog posts, social media, email blasts, etc., which I did. My client asked me to work the event with her, and I agreed, even though it’s not technically part of the writing I do for her.

It puzzled me why people would pay a fee to shop, but, going in to this holiday season, that’s the big trend in my area. I’ve counted more than a dozen similar events coming up.

It’s all material, and I figured that I’d learn something from the experience.

The contract was pretty clear and straightforward. This is what they expect; this is what they provide. Should have been a breeze, right? There’s a contract. It’s all spelled out, in black and white. It’s signed. It’s paid for, in advance.

Even during the prep, there were warning signs. Every time we had a question, we were passed to a different member of this “media group.” They kept changing the parameters of the raffle. We were excluded from one of the entertainment events that was specific to the business, supposedly because my client “showed no interest in the initial conversation.” When my client says it never came up in the initial conversation, I believe my client over this “media group.” She’s sharp, and it was something we would have discussed.

We spent some time deciding what to bring, and we did a dry run of the booth set up at our facility.

We arrived at the facility in the afternoon, only a few minutes past the set-up start time. We were in a shabby, badly lit “ballroom” whose carpet was threadbare and stained. The so-called “booths” were rows of tables set back-to back, with aisles in between. Not that they were even finished setting up, even though event staff had all morning so to do. We were in the back corner, facing away from the rest of the facility and the entertainment, facing the loading dock.

We moved out their table, and set up our own displays, staying within our designated space. We’d also brought our own lighting (thank goodness, because the overhead fluorescents weren’t doing anybody any favors).

No thought had been given to the curation of vendors. It was higgedly-piggedly. An investment firm was the booth backing us; an accountant was beside us. That, too, puzzled me. Why where they at a shopping event? Other than they had mountains of logo swag to give away? There were also several “vendors” who were inappropriate to an event with alcohol and shopping, in my opinion.

In other words, instead of being a curated event, the organizers were happy to take money from anyone who wanted to pay.

I asked about the details of the meal, and the response was, “oh, the food will be set up in a back room during the event. Just go grab a plate however long there’s still food and bring it back to your booth.”

Wait, what?

Since when does only feeding people until you “run out of food” constitute “providing dinner” as specified in the contract? And since when is stuffing one’s face in front of customers professional behavior?

Instead of lanyards or name tags for vendors, they stamped our hands. So now we’re at a middle school dance?

 We took a break (I used it to eat at home, as well as change).

I got back to the venue about a half hour before the doors opened, to get last minute tweaks done and get settled. Only they’d already started letting people in. No security. Nothing. We were lucky our booth hadn’t been stripped.

When the event officially “started,” they dimmed the overhead lights, put on rotating red, green, and yellow disco lights. Also, they’d set up one of the speakers beside our booth space, which meant we had difficulty talking to each other or to customers.

When we asked them to turn down the speaker a bit, they turned it up instead.

When it was time for the raffle, I approached one of the organizers and asked when I should give the information to the DJ to announce it. She said, “Oh, you just have to call back everyone who’s put in a ticket to your booth and announce it in a loud voice there. He’s not doing it. He HAS a script already.”

Say what? 

Granted, the raffle parameters had changed four times in the preceding four weeks. But that was NEVER one of the options.

So I hunted down the DJ myself, explained there had been some confusion about the raffle, and could I impose on him to announce our winner?

He was delighted so to do. In fact, he was the only person at the entire event who was lovely to deal with.

We got plenty of compliments on our set up; we also heard from attendees that it was both better than last year’s event (the thought of that makes me shudder) and that they were frustrated because it had been advertised as drinks being part of the ticket price, but instead it was a cash bar. Not only was it a cash bar, but it only accepted CASH, not credit or debit cards.

I have been to other events at this facility. They insist on events only using their kitchen and their liquor. Which is why none of the local craft breweries or food specialists could participate in this event. But they have always set up payment by card.

When the shopping part of the evening was done, we broke down and were done in 10 minutes. We made maybe a third of what we needed to in order to break even. And to say it offered us “exposure” is laughable.

As I always say when I’m offered “exposure” instead of payment for my work, “People die of exposure. Show me the cash.”

I’ve followed up on the timeline for the ad that was part of the package, so we’ll see if that’s of any use.

Other vendors with whom we spoke were unhappy, too. I don’t know of anyone who even made close to what it cost them to participate. Not to mention that vendors were treated like an inconvenience instead of as the engine driving the event.

I don’t feel the organizers lived up to the contract terms. My current client is certainly not going to participate next year. And, as a consultant, when asked by other clients about the value of participating, I will say, “None.”

I’ve participated in huge events, such as ABA (what is now Book Expo) and other Javits Center events in New York, and the Frankfurt Book Festival. I’ve attended holiday craft festivals and fairs all over the world, including locally.

Never have I participated in  or attended anything so poorly run where both vendors and attendees were treated as though they were an inconvenience. 

Every event with multiple moveable pieces is a challenge. But well-run events share the following:

—They value the vendors who participate;

—They value the attendees;

—Without both of the above, there is no event, and they know it.

—Communication is clear and channels are kept open;

—The vendor works with the same person or a limited number of people during the process;

—If changes are necessary in the parameters of the event, they are brought up as soon as the decision is made, with the option for the vendor to exit with a refund, not declared as a given only when questioned on the change as it becomes an impediment to the vendor or attendee’s participation;

—The organizers provide what is agreed in the contract;

—The organizers create a secure environment on multiple levels, without safety issues.

—The organizers actually solve problems on the floor during the event, rather than shrugging and basically telling everyone too bad for you.

I was right. It was a learning experience. And some of that experience is being fictionalized into an upcoming novel.

But it’s certainly an experience I do not intend to repeat in my actual life.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Translating Nano Advice into Work Practicalities

 

Yes, this is another National Novel Writing Month Prep Post.

Because techniques I learned and advice I heeded in my Nano years translated well into my freelance work life.

Yes, Nano is fun and a great playground to stretch into types of writing you don’t usually try.

But can build skills.

Here are the best techniques that transfer well from Nano into professional work.

Write (Almost) Every Day
Nano’s goal is 50K in 30 days, which breaks down to 1667 words/day.

Generally, I wrote a full chapter a day, of about 10 pages or 2500 words. Unlike many people, who find it useful to end in the middle of a thought, I like to work in completed chapters.

But Nano got me into the habit of working on what I now call my “primary project” (whatever I’m drafting), first thing in the morning, when I am at my most creative.

“Morning pages” don’t work for me. But working on the creative project in draft first thing does.

This has translated well into the rest of my writing life. As Carolyn See advised in her book, MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: “1000 words a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life.”

As a professional writer, I now have to write a great deal more than that on most days, but the 1K/day on my primary project works well.

Choose the Days You’re Not Going To Write
People huff and puff that “write every day” is not realistic.

It is if you’re a pro.

But that doesn’t mean you never take a break, a day off, a vacation, a sabbatical.

The difference is that you plan them. You choose to take however many days off per week or per month.

Then you do it.

I created a handout/download called “30 Tips for 30 Days” from the motivational emails I used to send out to the writers I mentored every morning. I’ll probably post it again this November. Within that, I built days off.

The second part of that means you adjust your daily word count to cover the days off. If it’s 1K/day for 5 days a week, but then you take a week’s vacation, you up your word count for THE MONTH before your vacation to absorb the words you won’t write (or will write on something else) on your time off.

Do it BEFORE you leave, because you won’t catch up if you just let it slide.

If you choose time off and then enjoy it, rather than just letting the writing slide and “not getting around to it” you will be more productive at the desk AND more productive the rest of your day, because you don’t have the “I should be writing” guilt hanging over you.

What if life gets in the way? Unexpected illness or an accident or whatever?

Deal with your life. Adjust the writing.

I find that sticking to the writing during a crisis helps me survive and cope with it better. It gives me a break from the stress and allows me to drop into my fictional world, even if only for a couple of hours here and there.

When, for whatever reason, I can’t do that, I decide how many days I can afford (on both financial and emotional levels) to be away from the writing, and I adjust the word counts around it.

I live on deadline. If I expect to keep and grow my career, I have to meet those deadlines, even while life is happening.

Bank Ahead
Instead of procrastinating, work ahead of your daily goal, especially at the top of the month.

That translates well to so doing at the top of any project.

The first flush of enthusiasm on a new project is great. Get as much down as fast as you can early on. That way, if and when obstacles come up, you’re both ahead of the game, and you don’t forget what you meant to say but didn’t write down anywhere.

Translate that to getting ahead on any project you do, and you’ll find less scrambling near deadline, unless your client is the one dragging his feet and creating obstacles (and you’ve planned contingencies in your contract. Right? RIGHT????).

Finish What You Start
This is one of the most important things I learned during Nano, although so many people lose heart and motivation during Nano and give up.

Unfinished projects drain creative energy.

The more unfinished projects you have hanging around, the harder it is to creatively breathe. The harder it is to see ANY project through.

When you rely on creative work to keep a roof over your head, you have to be ruthless about cutting out obstacles to that creative work.

Finish what you start. Then put it away for a few days, a few weeks, a few months (if it’s on someone else’s deadline, that timeline may need adjustment).

Once you can look at it objectively, decide if you want to retire it, put it in stasis, or continue work on it. Then set a schedule and deadlines and get to work.

I teach an entire course on this, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, and the workbook is available here.

I developed these techniques by finding out what worked for me within the Nano structure, then applying it to my other creative work, and making the necessary adjustments to streamline and strengthen the process.

This year, the traditional Nano structure and schedule does not work for me, which is why I created the Women Write Change forum. I may go back to Nano at some point in the future. But even if I don’t, I am grateful for what I learned there, for the camaraderie, and for the chance to focus intensely on a project for a month.

What are your experiences? If you’ve participated in Nano, what has or has not worked for you? Have you been able to translate any of it to the rest of your writing life? If you’ve never done it, have you been tempted? Why did you choose not to?

I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Should Business Writers Do National Novel Writing Month?

 

It’s mid-October, which means thousands of writers and aspiring writers are getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

Is it worth it for a business writer?

I write many things: business writing, novels, short stories, plays, radio drama, etc. Maybe my experiences will help you decide.

I have had some great times with National Novel Writing Month. And some frustrating ones. I’ve been a mentor to new members, sending them a daily morning encouragement. I’ve hit the 50K goal and more every time (although the year my grandmother was dying during November was more challenging than some of the other years.

I’ve gone to write-ins and meet-ups and participated in forums. Met a lot of great people. Connected in new ways with writers I already knew.

I’ve participated in Nano five times (four successive years, then a break, than a few years ago). I’ve completed four novels, and have two novels partially done (last time I did Nano, I did a “tandem Nano” where I worked on one project I’d already started, and one I started on Nov. 1). One of those partials has been retired; it will never amount to anything. One novel was torn apart and reworked over a period of years. It was published under a title that sunk it; I got the rights back, switched publishers, and it became PLAYING THE ANGLES, which launched the Coventina Circle series. One novel was put aside for several years, and has been torn apart and revised over the last couple of years; it will go out on submission to agents in spring. One novel needs another revision and then, it, too, will go out on submission. One has been put aside until I can get it into the revision queue; it has a decent premise, but needs more craft. One novel needs to find its way back into the writing queue to be finished, then revised, then go out on submission.

When I was making the transition from working on Broadway to writing full-time, Nano helped me get into the habit of writing, first thing in the morning, around 2K/day (and then I’d settle back into at least 1K).

I have discovered the work written during Nano needs more revision than other work.

50K in a month is not a stretch for me anymore. 1667 words a day is pretty normal for my first writing session on my primary project – many more words have to be written each day in order to keep a roof over my head. This is my business, not my hobby.

So, for those of us, especially in business, does it make sense to write on our own time at that pace during Nano?

Do you want to try something new? I find Nano useful as a playground, to stretch into directions I don’t normally write. In that regard, I find it useful no matter what other kind of writing I do.

Are you willing to make the commitment to do 50K on a particular project on that month? Because just writing along with Nano at your own pace, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of Nano, which is “lots of words on paper really fast without editing.”

Because of my contract schedule, Traditional Nano does not work right now. I have a book coming out in late October; another one coming out in December; another in January; I’m working on the next books in those series for next year. I’m also prepping another series for re-release and am in talks about other releases.

The last time I participated, I was disappointed in the forums, which had always been fun before. I found too much whining; not enough writing. And moderators accusing professionals of “self-promotion” every time they answered a question by an unpublished writer. It felt like professionalism was discouraged.

But I like riding the wave. And I’m tired of feeling exhausted and furious about the current state of the nation (and the world).

So this year, instead of “Traditional Nano” I started a closed forum called Women Write Change. It started as not-quite-a-joke during the Kavanaugh hearings that we need a women’s rage forum during Nano. I re-read a manuscript I’d put aside a few years ago. The writing was universally praised, but I was told to “tone down the rage, because women’s rage makes readers uncomfortable.”

This book’s time has come.

This forum is for progressive artists in all disciplines who identify as women. It’s something different than Nano, although hooking into that enormous wave of energy that happens when tens of thousands of people write during the same time. It’s a place to develop work inspired by current situations.

It’s what I need, artistically and personally, right now.

But is it worth it for a business writer, tired from writing for others all day, to do Nano?

I’d say try it once, if you want to try something different and are willing to make a commitment. You’ll learn valuable information about how you work, and where inspiration comes from.

The most important thing it teaches, if you stick with it, is to put your own work FIRST.

I have found that techniques with which I experimented during Nano have helped me in other writing. I’ve found it exhilarating and frustrating. I think it’s worth doing at least once in your life – and then deciding what you can take from the experience and apply to other types of writing.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Artists Are Expected To Settle For Less — And Shouldn’t

As a published author, I’m getting a little tired of getting pitched to by marketing organizations that want me to hand over a bunch of moolah, but refuse to commit to results.

I understand the value of getting one’s name out in front of as many people as possible for name recognition and business growth. That’s part of how I earn my living.

I work with other businesses to communicate their message effectively and grow their business. They expect me to grow their name recognition. To get their name and their product in front of those who will actually open their wallets and buy it. They expect – and demand – that the work I do – the work for which they PAY me — results in more sales.

If it doesn’t, within a reasonable amount of time, that client will end our business relationship and hire someone else who gets him a better return.

Why are authors and other artists told they must expect any different?

Almost every author/artist promotional service has a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee sales. Why not? Other businesses expect a return on their investment. Why shouldn’t artists?

They should. We should. We need to stop settling for less.

When I hire someone else to promote my book, I expect it to result in sales. Otherwise, there is no point in hiring that firm. I can do it myself.

If it does NOT result in sales, then I’ve put my money in the wrong place, and it’s time to try something else.

The way any reputable business owner does.

Because, as an artist, I AM a small business.

We need to stop settling for a lower return than any other business because we’re artists. We need to stop ALLOWING others to treat us as second-class individuals. We need to start acting like smart business people, so that we will be treated as such.

Part of that is expecting a reasonable return on the investment.

So what is a reasonable return? At the very least, I want to make back what I spent on the promotion, plus 20%. Which is a low, but that’s my personal threshold for feeling like a campaign was worth the money spent. When it goes above that, I’m delighted.

Then I see how I can build on that for the next campaign.

Plenty of people will wail that one “can’t” expect a return on art/novels/etc. The demand I’m making here will anger a lot of marketing people.

Why can’t we expect a result for money spent? Movie studios do. Television content providers do. Fine artists do. Commercial theatre productions do or they have short runs. Traditional publishing houses do, too.

Because the artist is dropped from the contract if the artist’s work does not sell.

Now, more and more artists are forced to hire their own marketing for their work. If my publisher tells me I have to get X amount of sales or I won’t get future contracts, and I’m required to hire my own marketing firm, then, yes, I expect that firm to be savvy enough in the kind of marketing I need in order to deliver the results FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID. If my publisher paid them directly, or had an in-house marketing team do the work, the same expectations would hold. Lack of results means the business relationship ends.

So we need to stop thinking that we don’t “deserve” results simply because we are not a corporation. We are a small business, and we deserve the same results when we hire in a service as any other business does.

I’m done settling for less.

(Note: This has been a tough time, especially for progressive women. I joked on social media that this year’s Nano needs to have a “Women’s Rage” forum. Instead of that, I’m starting a private virtual group to develop creative work in multiple disciplines called Women Write Change. Stay tuned here, on Ink in My Coffee  and the main Devon Ellington site  for more information. It’ll take me a few days to set up, and then I’ll have an address where interested parties can request invitation).

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Networking Practices

 

It’s been a busy time for me lately, and in a good way. But I’ve had some positive results of the various networking I’ve done.

When I meet people at events and exchange cards, I try to send them a note or an email within a few days of the meeting, just to say I enjoyed meeting them and to continue whatever conversation we began at the event.

Most places I’ve lived and worked — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, Australia, Western Mass, Vermont, Washington DC, etc. — this is standard. You exchange cards, you exchange messages post-event and build from there, or have the initial post-event pleasant exchange and put the information aside in case it’s needed down the pike. And then use the information when and where appropriate.

Here, it’s quite different. Most of the time, I do the follow-up, and it’s crickets. If it’s a visiting artist/instructor/agent/editor from somewhere else, there’s response, but local? Rare.

If I mention, the next time we run into each other, “Hey, I sent an email after we met last time; did I get the address wrong? I want to make sure I have your correct contact information”  — the answer is usually, “Oh, I don’t have time to respond to emails” or “I didn’t answer, because I figured I’d run into you again.” In my book, those are not solid practices that grow one’s business.

I try to reconnect with those I’ve met about once a quarter. Just a quick “Hey, how are you, thinking of you, how’s it going?”  When I have an address, I often send a postcard rather than an email. Whereas email response to quarterly follow-up is about 3% locally and 15% beyond the bridge, response to postcards (by email, since I add my email address) is usually 25% or more.

I attended an event a few months ago, a lovely networking event, with about forty or fifty people. I exchanged twenty or so cards. Followed up within two business days (standard) with all twenty. Heard back from four (which, around here, is a huge response).  From those four, one was a person with skills that was useful to one of my clients, and I got them in touch and he was hired; the other opened the door to an arts group with whom I hadn’t had previous contact, and we’re talking. So that was pretty decent.

Wearing my playwright/novelist hat, I was a reader at the Provincetown Book Festival a few weeks ago (which was one of the best festivals I’ve attended in years). After the festival, I thanked the organizers and the sponsors (I’m still tracking down contact information for the fellow readers in my event, to say what a pleasure it was to read with them). I heard back almost immediately from festival personnel (not at all a surprise, since it was one of the best-run events I attended). 

I also heard back from several sponsors, absolutely thrilled that I contacted them and told them how wonderful the experience was.

One sponsor stated that they support so many local events and hardly ever hear back from anyone. So they were delighted that the event went well, and that I took the time to contact them. On my part, “taking the time” took probably less than five minutes.

And now that sponsor knows the event was money well spent.

I attended two events last week. Followed up on both. From the first, I heard back from two out of the two dozen or so people contacted. From the second, there were thirteen of us at the event. I followed up with all thirteen. I’ve heard back from and made plans with six of those thirteen so far, which is positive.

Will any of those above contacts end in cont-RACTs?

Who knows? But these are interesting people who love what they do. Interacting with them improves my quality of life, even if it doesn’t end in a contract. I hope they feel the same way. And even if they don’t hire me, there’s a good chance they’ll recommend me if they feel it’s the right match. As I will do, in the same situation.

What’s the moral of this little tale?

Follow up and follow through when you meet people. Don’t just collect cards and stick them in the drawer. Think beyond being hired on the spot. Think about getting to know some really interesting people who enrich your life.

Even if I don’t get hired by any of these people — there are some of them in fields relevant to upcoming books. You can be darned sure I’m going to consult them on their areas of expertise and thank them in the acknowledgements.

Connections are about people. As much of an introvert as I am, I find other people interesting. So I make myself get out of the house and interact, and I am almost always glad I do. Because their stories are interesting, and fuel my work.

Remember, as a writer: Nothing is EVER wasted.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Ballad of the Necessary Contract

I relate an anecdote so you can learn from a mistake I made about ten years ago, about too much off-the-cuff brainstorming before there was a contract in place. I will not reveal the name, the company, or the location. But learn from my mistake.

I met an extrovert at a networking event. We hit it off. This individual had a big project coming up and was unsure how to proceed; thought I might be a good fit. I explained my general fee structure, and how it would work for a project of this scope. We had a long conversation, basically outlined a project this individual needed done on a tight time frame. I sent the notes the next day, along with a quote, and the written schedule we’d discussed.

Nothing.

For months.

No response to any type of contact.

I took other gigs. At a completely different event, over a year later, I ran into this person again. We were introduced by a third party; the original individual looked puzzled. I reminded this person we’d met over a year earlier and talked about a project that had a tight deadline, that I’d sent requested materials, and never heard back. The person shrugged and said, “Oh, I didn’t feel like putting in the time. But let’s set a schedule and do it soon.”

I said words that were both true and necessary. “Sorry. I’m booked. For the next eighteen months.”

“Oh, my, one would think you were in demand.”

“I am.”

Of course, this meant the individual HAD to have the project done BY ME. AT ONCE.

I was booked. Plus the whole not trusting this person. The person kept bugging me. I gave a high quote (and, yes, if it was met, I’d have worked it into the schedule).

Response: “Oh, I wouldn’t PAY you. You’d be doing this for EXPOSURE.”

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Honey, people die of exposure. Give me the cash.

I reminded the person of the fees we’d discussed. 

“Oh, I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed to PAY you for any of that.”

My response: “I wouldn’t have brainstormed the outline for nothing.”

Huff, puff, walk away. (On the other party’s part).

Two weeks later, this person asks me to re-send the outline, because the person lost it.

I said I would be happy to, upon receiving a consulting fee. I named the price.

Never heard from this individual again.

Hope I never do.

And no, the project has never shown up. The person truly lost the notes and couldn’t remember what we’d discussed — which means the project would have likely been a nightmare anyway.

I ate the nonpayment for the brainstorming session. It happens sometimes, especially when you’re talking on the fly at a networking event. That’s why, in interviews, I’m now circumspect when the question is, “What specifics would you change/develop/grow if you worked with us?”

Until I’ve spent time in the trenches of the company, there’s no way to know.

What they’re looking for, here, is ideas they can do on their own without paying.

So I formulate marketspeak answers that are full of buzz words and don’t hold actual information. If they are serious about me, they will re-formulate questions into something that is suitable for the interview. If they are trying to get ideas for which they have no intention of paying, they keep going down the same road. The real information comes when the contract is in place, the upfront fee clears, and I’m actually in the environment.

Because if they are actually interested in you doing what you do best for them, as a marketing writer, it’s not “what would you change” it’s “how do you see what you do as enlarging our communication and getting our message out to a broader audience?” They will say things like, “We’re having trouble in the social media aspect of our business. What are your ideas on enlarging our growth there?” Not “what would you change in the company” — it’s a trap question. I’m not here to CHANGE your company. I’m here to effectively communicate your message to a broader audience. It’s YOUR company. I’m expanding your reach.

So learn from my mistakes and don’t over-brainstorm without a contract. 

Ink-Dipped Advice: How To Lose A Customer

A few months back, a start-up that claimed to be dedicated to health and wellness offered me an invitation to an invitation to be one of the first subscribers to their new monthly box.

They sounded interesting, so I said yes, I’d like an invitation to the invitation.

I got on the mailing list, I got emails.

Then, the invitation came through. The same week that I had two deaths in 24 hours close to me, and was overwhelmed on many fronts. There was a flurry of emails, every day. The products were good, but not what I wanted at the time. I had questions about the pricing structure – the way the initial invite was worded, it looked like it would fluctuate, month-to-month.

Honestly, I couldn’t deal with it at the time. I put it aside and MADE THE CHOICE not to subscribe.

As a POTENTIAL customer, that was my right.

It was an INVITATION to an INVITATION. It was not a commitment.

About two weeks ago, I got an email from the company ATTACKING me for not subscribing, with language such as “did you not understand what we’re offering?” and further phrasing berating me for not subscribing. As though I was too stupid to understand the product.

As though they were supposed to be my priority, and as though I’d let them down.

No.

I understood the product. I CHOSE not to buy it. As is my right, in any such transaction.

I sent back a strongly worded email that not everything was about THEM, I was dealing with two deaths, and I’d never committed to purchase. I said I was interested in the invitation. I had the OPTION to buy or not buy, and I chose not to.

I unsubscribed from their mailing list.

I wanted an apology, although I knew I wouldn’t get one. I also realized that it wouldn’t matter. I wasn’t looking for anything free or a discount coupon. There was NOTHING they could say or do that would make me trust them with personal and/or financial information.

I also felt, that, as a supposed heath & wellness company, they were hypocrites.

Hmm — wellness meant THEIR well-being, not that of their customers. Got it. Moving on.

I understand that starting a small business is stressful. But this is not the way to woo potential customers.

I moved on and did other things. I have a subscription box already, with the wonderful, amazing, stunning Goddess Provisions, who always seems to know what I need and time the monthly box to arrive at the right time. For instance, the day after those two deaths, the Heart Chakra box arrived. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Plus, they are kind and responsive and quick to answer questions or concerns.

I finally received a sort-of apology last week. The company stated they “didn’t mean” it to feel like an attack, and they understood it was an emotional time for me. If they didn’t mean for it to feel like an attack, then they shouldn’t have used phrasing that made it so.

I didn’t bother to respond.

While I know we all make mistakes and believe in second chances, I found the exchange revealing. Instead of actually supporting a potential customer going through a rough time, first they attacked, then they did nothing, then, weeks later, they sent a half-baked whatever it was.

Would a response within the standard 48-hour business protocol response time have changed anything? I don’t know. But a sincere response, instead of further defense, would have smoothed things over. Taking two weeks to respond, and then sending something mealy-mouthed didn’t cut it. Take responsibility. Work to fix it (which doesn’t necessarily mean offering something free )– just work on phrasing. As in maybe hire qualified writing/marketing people for your product and pay them fairly, instead of going off half-cocked and turning off your customers.

Not a way to run a business in my opinion.

Not a company I plan to spend my money with.

Does it make me more careful in my own interactions? I should hope I already am, but it also makes me remember not to send out a mass email in a moment of anger. The person who wrote/sent the email to non-subscribers felt angry and betrayed. Feelings are feelings, and valid. How you use them on other people is something to consider. Because there are consequences.

And perhaps, instead of sending something in a flash of emotion, you should have written it, taken a step back, a breath, and thought it through. Thought if, perhaps, there was a better way to entice those who had passed on the first opportunity you sent them. Where did it fall short for them? Was it only timing? Money? Content? Presentation? Ask for feedback. Don’t attack.

Frankly, that email should have remained in the “unsent letter” file that I learned when studying journals and their writers, and when I taught journal and diary writing. You write the letter to figure out your feelings. You use it as a tool to figure out positive ways to deal with the situation.

But it remains unsent, unless you are willing to burn that bridge.

As far as I’m concerned, the bridge is burned.

I wish them well, but I will not be one of their customers.

My conscious consumerism takes me elsewhere.

Thoughts? Comments? Anecdotes to share?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Pieces of Teachers

“Everyone wants a piece of the teacher, but you don’t get that piece until years later.”

That quote is attributed to author Kate Green by Natalie Goldberg in her book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, which I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time.

That quote reverberates with me. I remember many teachers from my life. Far too often, I didn’t realize the gifts they gave me until years after.

My fifth grade teacher, who bought me a set of Rudyard Kipling at a yard sale because she knew I loved to read the classics; My sixth grade teacher, who let me read and write far off the reservation, and encouraged me to write stories during class time, even during lectures. Who taught me I could spit out a first draft any way I wanted, but then I had to shape it in order to present it to the world. My band teacher in high school, who knew I loved to write, and suggested I write articles about the high school band, orchestra, and chorus for the local newspapers (my first professional published byline).

In college, I was lucky to have a fantastic teacher who was also my advisor. At a competitive school like NYU Film School, that was vital. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years, and even got together with him when I visited NYC a few years back. I’ve also kept in touch with one of my screenwriting professors from NYU. The two of them helped me get back on track when I got unfocused, especially when I put other people’s work ahead of my own.

I think they were both surprised when I went into theatre instead of film as my career, but were interested in how I looped what I learned in their classes to the rest of my theatre and writing life.

When I teach, students come away with handouts and workbooks (I am the Queen of Handouts – the bins I haul into a conference workshop cause eyes to widen and backs to groan).

I’m a strict teacher and don’t put up with excuses or not writing. I make it clear that during the scope of the class, things are strict, and then, AFTER the class is over, they get to keep what works and toss the rest. I see many of my students toss quite a bit initially, and then slowly work their way back to what we did, in their own time.

Either way is great. You find your process by trying many different things, not staying in a rut, taking chances, and building your skills with every piece you write.

I am deeply grateful to my teachers. Even the ones I didn’t agree with gave me something important. And I’m still realizing the pieces, and will continue, my entire life, as long as I pay attention.

Who are your most memorable teachers? Is there anyone with whom you kept in touch?