Category: Advice

Writers, Don’t Worry about Creative Theft

(This blog post is part of our occasional series highlighting the websites of CC:PDX‘s members. If you’d like to see the original version of this article, please click here.)

Some writers live in fear of plagiarism. They worry they’ll put heart and soul into developing a book concept, and then some thief will come along and run away with it. For some writers, this fear is so powerful, they won’t even tell you what their book is about, much less let you actually read it.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day (from Seanwes, hosted by creative entrepreneurs Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson). It was titled “Nailing Your Product Launch the First Time,” and they address this very topic. Sean recommends marketing your product (in our case, books) six months to a year ahead of release. Some authors would balk at this, thinking, “But if I tell people what I’m doing BEFORE the book is launched, someone could steal my idea and get the book out ahead of me!”

Yes, this would be terrible. Creative theft is real. Plagiarists are definitely out there.

But as Sean says in his podcast (and I paraphrase here): You shouldn’t worry about people stealing your work. You should worry about getting them to care at all.

I know. It’s harsh.

But the truth is, early on in your career as an author, no one cares about your book as much as you do. No matter how great your idea is, your prospective readers are overwhelmed and overstimulated; it takes consistent effort to be heard above the racket. That’s why your prospective readers need multiple marketing “touches.” It takes time to get people to even notice what you’re doing, and even more time to get them to understand it, be excited about it, and then be willing to lay down money for it. This has nothing to do with the quality of your book. It’s just the natural progression of the sales funnel:

creative theft

[Adorable illustration provided by Ryan M. Weisgerber]

So, the way this plays out in the mind of your prospective reader:

Awareness: “Oh, so-and-so published a book.”

Interest: “Huh, that actually looks kinda interesting.”

Desire: “Man, I really want to read that!”

Action: “Okay, I just bought it.” (And then, of course, they read it cover-to-cover.)

Advocacy: “Oh my God, I need to tell everyone how awesome this book is!”

This funneling can take minutes, or it can take years. Think about yourself—I’m sure you’ve made a spontaneous purchase of something the moment you discovered it; and I’m sure you’ve circled around a purchase for months or even years before you bit the bullet and did it. It has little to do with the quality of the product and more to do with the buyer’s perceptions and decision-making process.

However, if you’re so fearful of having your idea stolen that you refuse to engage in any marketing or audience-building prior to publication, you’ll find yourself in the disappointing position of having your gorgeous book ready to go on publication day—aaaand . . . your prospective readers are totally unaware of it, or are just barely aware. Maybe they’ll eventually be ready to commit to buying and reading it, but . . . just not yet. This creates a disappointing mismatch: you’re excited (and probably exhausted) because it’s FINALLY publication day, and then your announcements are met with the sound of crickets. Nothing sinks an author’s motivation quicker than feeling like nobody cares about their work.

You’re in a Catch-22, my friends. If you keep your ideas close to your chest, they won’t be stolen. But at the same time, by keeping your ideas “safe,” you rob your readers of the opportunity to enjoy them.

Also, while you likely already know this, I think it bears repeating: an idea is not a book. You, me, and ten other people could write a book about the same idea, and yet the results would be wildly different. Your book isn’t just an idea. It’s the execution—the finished product that expresses your wholly unique, un-stealable perspective and voice.

***

[Check out Sean & Ben’s podcast: “Nailing Your Product Launch the First Time”]

Content Strategy and The Force Awakens

The “content is king” debate (as I understand it) pits those who believe quality content should rule against those who believe any content is good as long as it brings in advertising bucks. The debate played out like a battle between the dark and light sides of the Force from the Star Wars saga. It’s appropriate that the deluge of articles about the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, demonstrates this content conflict.

It’s a Star Wars heavy week, with the release of The Force Awakens on home media and the teaser trailer for Rogue One. I think it’s okay to talk about The Force Awakens’ plot points, but if you’ve been waiting to see the film from the comfort of your couch, assume major spoilers below.

If you’re a Star Wars fan like me, you were probably awaiting the seventh installment in the series with a mix of excitement and trepidation. After its release, the film, unsurprisingly, became a phenomenon in a short amount of time (I loved the film, but the reasons why are a topic for another venue). As I noted above, lots of articles speculated on a host of plot points came out at the same time.

Fans really wanted to discuss the parentage of the film’s protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley). The Force Awakens leaves the identity of Rey’s parents ambiguous. That didn’t stop movie news sites like Cinema Blend, Pop Sugar, Movie Pilot, Collider, The Mary Sue, and more, from running stories on every theory (valid and crackpot) from Reddit or YouTube. One video theorized that Rey is Anakin Skywalker reincarnated.

There were rays of hope, such as thoughtful long-form articles like Tor.com’s “Hey, Star Wars: Episode VIII—Don’t Make Rey a Skywalker.” (Which I disagree with, by the way, but that’s the beauty of thoughtful long-form content. It engages you.)

It doesn’t take an experienced marketer to know that so many people were hungry to know more, more, more. By the end of the first week, though, I was put off by the clickbait headlines. There were articles with titles like, “This Theory About Rey Confirmed!” but the content was just some kid’s opinion that went viral. Running anything with the words, “Rey,” “Skywalker,” or “Snoke” put eyeballs on sites, generating “forceful” streams of revenue (sorry).

The articles that pretended to be long-form and descriptive articles were just empty calories. As long as people kept searching for news or discussion points, the websites kept churning out content. Did I just describe your company’s content marketing strategy? Dark side adherents like Kylo Ren would applaud such brute force actions, but I think following Maz Kanata’s advice about letting the Force flow through you (which gives Rey the strength to actually defeat the overconfident Ren) is a better strategy.

Here’s some basic content strategy tips to think about … cribbed from the entire Star Wars saga:

Be mindful

Do you have research on your customers? Be like a Jedi Master and center yourself with market research. This is the foundation for your content strategy and should remain your touchstone as you create campaigns.

Use your instincts

What’s the best way to reach your audience? Webinars, infographics, your blog, or social media? A mix? Channel the resourceful Rey as she assembled the perfect tools that allowed her to find hidden treasures on Jakku.

Track and follow up

It goes without saying that you should check your analytics and see what gets the most response. Be a tenacious bounty hunter like Boba Fett and isolate your top content performers. So-called vanity metrics are only useless if you ignore what catches your audience’s attention, and if you keep hammering the clickbait. Your audience wants substance. If your content converts, of course, then you know you have secured your prize. It’s up to you to enshrine it in carbonite.

Be nimble

Don’t be afraid to augment certain aspects of your strategy and ditch other areas that aren’t working. Yoda danced all over Count Dooku’s face when the latter tried to engage him in a “Force contest” in Attack of the Clones. Do the same with your non-starters.

The executives believe that releasing a Star Wars film each year will keep the fan base happy and engaged; will they score a win each time? Probably not. But they understand the most important aspect of a content strategy:  their fans discuss, debate, and serve as unpaid brand ambassadors. And that’s why the Force is with them.

Working Remotely Worked For Me

I always wanted to be the kind of dad who was around for his kids during the day. I always thought, if it worked out, it would be great to work remotely. For me, one of the hardest things about having a full time job away from home was a feeling of missing out, of not being around, especially in those early years when my kids were toddling around. I’d see my kids briefly in the morning and then for a couple of hours through dinner and bedtime, full of reading, stories, and song. I valued the time I did have with them, but I always wanted more. Then, around the time my son was entering kindergarten, we moved to a different city and I took the opportunity to turn my permanent full time position into a work-from-home gig. This turned out to be fortunate, because my son’s undiagnosed autism led to a difficult transition to kindergarten. As hard as it was, I was able to be there for him and support him at school. I used to joke that I was my family’s chauffeur, given how much I drove everyone around.

The predictability of my work-from-home job gave me a solid platform from which to support my wife and children in the way that they most needed at the time. In the morning, I walked my son to school. In the afternoon, I stopped by after school to help him transition to after care. I worked in the in-between times. Because I worked with a team of writers that was also working remotely, this worked pretty well. I didn’t feel like I was the only one calling in to the office.

My colleagues and I experimented with several different tools to manage workflow (Trello and Asana stand out in my mind), but in the end we settled on a Google Sheet to track the work that needed to be written. I found the flexibility of my work to be quite freeing. I didn’t need to clock in for set hours, because it was more important that the work was done. Even though my work sometimes bled into evenings and weekends, I felt like I achieved a solid balance between work and family obligations. Not only that, it allowed my wife much greater flexibility in her job seeking process.

Unfortunately, about a year later my entire team was laid off following an acquisition. With a strong feeling that my son needed me to be around for him, I decided to pursue freelance work so that I could continue working from home. Little did I anticipate how stressful the hustle for work would be, nor how often freelance work would take me outside the home. But that’s a tale for another time.

My job situation is different now. My children are also older and don’t need my attention quite so fiercely. As stressful as it was at times, I’m grateful that I was able to be there, working from home, during some of their earliest years.

No matter what happens, I’ll always be there to read to them at bedtime.

How to Manage Client Feedback

Whether copywriters develop website copy or an advertisement, we use expertise, research, and client feedback to create the best content possible.

However, this can quickly turn into a nightmare if we receive vague feedback like: “Fix this paragraph” or “I want this ad to ‘pop’ more.”

Proper feedback, in my opinion, is descriptive (not prescriptive). That means clients describe what they don’t like about the copy and tell us why they feel that way in relation to their end goal. This leaves it up to us (the hired experts) to come up with a solution.

Copywriters should take responsibility for managing client feedback. After all, this might be the first time your client has ever worked with a copywriter. Taking responsibility not only gives us some dignity for our work, but it also helps our clients’ projects succeed.

Educating Clients

An easy way to educate clients is by showing them the difference between good and bad feedback. I do this by sending clients a one-page PDF called “How to Provide Effective Feedback on My Work” a day or two before I submit my work. (I originally got this idea from an article written by Paul Jarvis, a freelance web designer.)

Since I may not get everything perfectly right on the first try, it’s important for me to know what’s not working for my clients. And with feedback, it is my job (as the hired expert) to come up with appropriate solutions to fix these issues.

This is how my PDF starts:

To ensure a project’s success, here are the effective ways my clients can provide the best feedback for me to do my best work:

  • Be honest. If you don’t like something, I need to know right away. (Not three weeks down the road!)

 

  • Be specific. Point out what, exactly, is not working for you, and why it’s not working.

 

  • Ask why. If you were not sure what I was thinking, I’d love to explain my reasoning. Everything I’ve done for the project has a purpose.

 

  • Refer to your goals. Relate every piece of feedback and criticism back to the goals we set at the start of the project.

 

  • Relate to your audience. Your audience should be on the top of your mind for every critique you give. What do they need? What will they love? What won’t they like?

That’s it! All it takes is a simple e-mail asking them to read this over before reviewing your work. Feel free to use this as an example to educate your own clients.

It’s little things like these that will keep our clients happy!

5 Reasons to Hire Freelance Copywriters

Digital content consumption has now reached a speed that could give Elon Musk’s SpaceX craft a run for its money. In 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt declared that people were then exchanging five exabytes of data every two days. That’s about the equivalent of around half a million replicas of the Library of Congress being exchanged every two days. So, is it better for your company to hire freelance copywriters whose only intent is to make your information consumable to the world? Probably, yeah.

Hiring outside professionals has many hidden benefits that, when broken down, far outweigh the perceived costs. Let’s look at that in more detail with a list of five reasons to hire freelance copywriters for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

  1. Freelancers are Efficient
  2. In the spirit of getting paid, freelance copywriters must work as efficiently and professionally as possible. Time is their bread and butter and they have no choice but to use it wisely. As speed and quality can only exist together in the hands of an experienced professional, it’s in the best interest of freelancers to continuously hone both their trade and time management skills. This efficiency transfers to your business.

  3. Your Own Productivity
  4. An ancient Chinese proverb states: “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither.” For the sake of this comparison, let’s just say that one of those rabbits is the smooth-running operations of your core business functions, and the other is your online marketing communications. For most companies, trying to keep your business running, while learning to attract new customers with beautifully crafted prose, has a tendency of becoming rather counterproductive.

    With the concentrated skills that freelancers provide, companies are able to streamline their focus on core procedures, while their copywriter(s) assist in maintaining a strong presence in growing digital marketplaces with blogging, e-mails, social media, and SEO-driven web content.

  5. Hard to Find Expertise
  6. It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on anything. Whether that theory is entirely true or not, it does stand to reason that the more time spent focused on learning one thing, the more knowledge and experience a person gains in that one thing.

    Some of the best copywriters freelance for a living. Most have been in the business long enough to be able to successfully write from home. They have also usually taken all of the wrong paths enough times to be able to quickly identify the right route to a successful outcome.

  7. Saving Money
  8. Outsourcing your content creation eliminates the time (and budget) consuming process of finding and hiring copywriters to handle your content. With full-time employees, your bank account has to contend with downtime, Facebook surfing time, illnesses, and emergencies.

    With freelancers, you don’t have to pay for their health insurance or time off. So, you won’t find yourself the recipient of some lame excuse – fashioned to obtain paid sick leave – like an employee having to stay home because they have been bitten by their goldfish, who had contracted some unheard disease, while it was somehow traveling in the Himalayas.

  9. Fresh Brains
  10. Over time people can become so ingrained in their company that it is difficult for them to make impartial decisions about brand messaging. Outsiders can provide different perspectives, creating new ideas that expand on your business’ capabilities and allow it to fulfill its true potential in an ever-changing digital marketing environment.

    With the Internet available at all times, across many different devices, any change of attitude towards advertising spreads like wildfire. This makes it imperative for organizations to not only build a strong brand voice, but also to keep their messaging fresh and relevant across many different formats, devices, and social media platforms.

And there you have it. You’ll receive many other benefits when you hire freelance copywriters (like the qualified professionals at the Copywriter Conclave of Portland). We just picked a small collection of the some of the best reasons.