Friday, August 31, 2012

It's All About Hype

In today’s media-centered—and some might say media-crazy world—the word “hype” has become a household word. According to various dictionaries, hype means an excessive amount of publicity, followed by a commotion caused by it. It can also mean an advertising or promotional ploy. And lastly, it can be information that’s deliberately misleading.

Public relations is all about hype. The more it touts a product, service, or destination, the better it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, the public is gullible. They generally believe what they hear. To be noticed in today’s markets, you’ve got to hype yourself somewhat.

I used to do a lot of travel writing. In the research process, I often traveled with other writers. During the first two to three days of a trip, everyone bragged about themselves. However, after two or three days, this wore thin and the real writers began to appear. Some made fantastic claims about where they had been published or about a book they’ve written, but when it came down to it, the “real” writers in the group outshown the wannabees or those just starting out.

Another person I met a while back at a social gathering said he was a writer. When I asked what he had written, he spouted off some topics having to do with the environment. It seemed he had everyone’s ear. I listened intently and the more he went on about his writing, the more I realized that while he had a few short articles published, he really was only dabbling in it. He may have impressed the folks in the crowd, but I doubt he could the same with editors.

Here’s where the term “ bamboozle” might be appropriate.  One explanation says it originated with an ancient Chinese custom of punishing swindlers by whacking them on their hands and backs with bamboo poles. Ouch! But, seriously, too much hype is just like that.

While you can fool some of the people some of the time, you can’t fool a professional writer—one with lots of experience. He or she will see through you every time. Editors are the same way. Most have been in the business for a good while and know the ropes. They can smell the hype a mile away.

So how do you hype yourself without going overboard. First, be honest. Promote the best work you’ve done and promote it to the right people. If you’re trying to break into a new market and have never written anything for that market, editors we’ll know. Get to know as much as you can about a new market before trying to break in. That means not only what’s being published in that market but also knowledge about the subject. Also, know who to promote yourself to and when.

The bottom line is that your writing will speak for itself. But at times it will need a little help from you. Know why you’re the best person to write a particular article or book. Convince editors using the facts. Avoid too much hype.

One thing you may want to consider is creating a slogan for yourself on which to build a promotional campaign. Advertising campaigns from "Ask a man who owns one"to "Does she or doesn't she?" all relied on slogans. The word slogan came from war cries. The Gaelic sluagh, meaning army, and gairm (a shout) evolved into slogan. For my company, Bob Brooke Communicaitons, my slogan is “Communications for the new century.” This implies that my writing has a contemporary style and gets its point across in fewer rather than more words.

You’ll need a certain amount of hype to make your voice heard in the ever more crowded marketplace, plus you’ll need a "battle cry" to hang your writing efforts on. And remember,  don't go so far as to bamboozle anyone because eventually they’ll see right through you.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ten Things to Do to Achieve Freelance Success

Anyone who plays the ponies knows that in order to boost your odds you need to know and do all you can. Guessing won’t get you the big money. And neither will closing your eyes and pointing to just any horse in the race. So it is with freelancing. To become a success, you have to make it happen. To do so requires you to honestly look at yourself and your business operation for weak areas that need to be improved upon or eliminated.

To get started on the right track, ask yourself the following 10 questions:

    1. Have you learned all you need to know to present yourself in the most professional manner? Look at related areas that might help. Tap any and all sources, including this blog, to learn all you can about the writing business.

    2. Have you kept current with the changes in your industry? What problems do other independent business owners—commercial artists, printers, bookstore owners, consultants, etc.—face every day?

    3. Have you studied your competition as much as possible? By noticing how other writers accomplish what they do, you may be able to pick up some of their techniques to improve  your business practices.

    4. Have you paid attention to current legislation that's bound to affect future business decisions in the industry? To do so you must read online news from Web sites in the industry and subscribe to their E-mail newsletters to be kept up to date, as well as  maintain open lines to important contacts who know about or may be able to influence that legislation (editors, elected officials, influential business persons, etc.).

    5. Have you joined any writing and/or business associations that may offer connections with fellow writers and markets? Have you participated in seminars given by experts in your field?

    6. Have you observed outstanding people in other fields and attempted to discover by what means they leaped forward in their careers?  Did they make bold changes of direction, timely innovations, or conceive creative promotional campaigns? Take time to lunch with friends in other businesses or fellow writers and quiz them intelligently.

    7. Have you set performance goals for yourself and stayed with them? Goals are a great way to motivate yourself.

    8. Have you honestly evaluated the work you've done? Take a hard look at what you’re producing and perhaps seek the opinions of others in the writing field.

    9. Have you trained yourself to troubleshoot problems? Solve problems as they arise rather than put them off until later.

    10: Have you learned to delegate and practiced motivating others to cooperate with you? You can’t do it all by yourself. Try outsourcing some smaller tasks of your business to allow yourself more time to write. When your business reaches a point where you can afford to hire help, and you need it, do so.

You’ll want to return to these pump-priming techniques repeatedly throughout your hopefully long and happy freelance career. You can't afford not to.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Doing the Lecture Circuit

As you get more into freelance writing, you’ll probably discover that you’ll need to support your writing efforts by going out on the road. You’ll have to brave audiences, interviewers, and television cameras to push your wares. This isn’t such a bad idea when you figure that the more visible you are, the more your writing will sell, especially if you’re doing books. The opposite is also true---you don't have to write a bestseller to find yourself in demand for speaking engagements.

And even if you don't have a book to promote, speaking engagements are a good way to promote yourself and your specialty, as well as to make some extra money. Begin locally at first. Start with small audiences and once you’ve gained the needed confidence in your abilities and in the value of your efforts, you'll be ready to speak before larger audiences and receive higher fees.

And speaking of fees: Organizations love to call the money they give you to speak an honorarium. Just as the word “literary” implies that you’re writing on a higher plane, so the word “honorarium” implies that it’s an honor to speak to a particular group, and since it’s an honor, the organization doesn’t have to pay you as much. Take the word “honorarium” out of your vocabulary. In order to give a good presentation, you have to spend time putting it together, so you need to be paid a fair amount. This might be as low as $25 for a short speech to several hundred for a one to two-hour lecture, to well over $1,000 for a six-hour seminar.

The best approach to being sought out as a speaker is by creating a good programs to start with, letting program chairmen know about them, and then letting your reputation spread. Charity groups, schools, businesses, clubs, retirement villages,in fact, all sorts of organizations might be interested in your presentations. Program chairmen are always looking for something new and interesting. Let them know what you have.

Your programs can be anything you make them, from a concise speech to a well-integrated Powerpoint  presentation. You’ve got a lot of material in your files just waiting to be used. Think about the work you've published and the amount of information you gathered that you didn’t use. What is there in it that would make a good program? Take a topic from your main subject, or look back into the files of your research material to see if there are other angles that, developed a bit further, might be of interest to your audiences. Use your own illustrations or find some that will illustrate your material. Remember, it’s important to develop an inventory, but certain programs may really catch on, so you’ll be able to do them a number of times. It’s much like selling reprints of your writing, only live.

How do you go about getting your name around to the right people? There are two schools of thought here. One is that you should be subtle about making arrangements and the other is the direct approach. 
Whatever method you use to line up speaking engagements, make sure you’re as professional as possible. Some believe you should never ask to be a speaker—always be in the position of being asked. They’re the ones who use the term “honorarium”—this attitude comes from the academic side of the lecture fence. But you’re not an academic. You’re a writer. Therefore, promote yourself as such. Eventually, people and organizations will come to you asking if you’d speak for them.

To seek a broader audience for your lecturing, produce a simple flyer announcing your subjects for either  seminars or speeches. Post it where influential people might see it. Hand out a few to your business friends asking them to pass them on to appropriate people. Create a special speaking page on your Web site where you can list some of your most successful programs.

As a spinoff of lecture engagements, you can also teach continuing education courses, either in-depth on the same subjects or on other related to the kind of writing you do. For instance, let’s say you write about genealogy. You could develop a short course to teach the basics. You can even develop courses based on the type of writing you do—article writing, short-story writing, novel writing, for example.

If you’ve written a book, you may want to alert the local press, so they can send a reporter to cover your talk. And don’t forget local radio and T.V. stations that may want to schedule you for an interview.  For radio, you can even do this from your home via phone. Create a press kit and email it to local media outlets along with a good digital photo of yourself. Have a professional photo taken or take it yourself, but make it as professional as you can.  And be sure to prepare a short bio to send to the organization for which you’ll be speaking so that whoever is in charge will be able to introduce you properly.

And when you’re doing a lecture or seminar, be sure to bring along copies of your articles and place them strategically around the room. Keep a couple in reserve in your briefcase to hand to special people you meet. If you have a book coming out, bring along a sample copy and order blanks for it. Call attention to the existence of all this material before you leave the podium if the person who introduced you failed to do so.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gallant Giveaways

As a freelance writer, promotion can come in variety of forms. Sometimes traditional advertising works, depending on what sort of writing you’re doing. But often, you’ll need to think creatively about promoting yourself and your work.

First, think about your specific qualities as a writer. What would best project your image in some silent, ever-present reminder to your readers or clients? The obvious answer is some form of writing—a visual example of your work, but with a twist.

Make a list of places where you can place an example of your work—Web sites, blogs, newsletters, etc. Do a search for Web sites that deal with the type of subject matter you write about. Check them out individually and see if they accept articles on their sites. Pick a half dozen and either prepare short, 500-words-or-less articles on topics that would appeal to them or customize and update pieces you’ve written previously. Send your sample articles off to the webmasters of the sites you’ve chosen. Do this for each separate subject area you write about. You may not see instant results, but eventually you’ll notice Email messages from people looking to know more about you and your subject. You may be asked to write for other sites or give permission to use one of the pieces you’ve already posted.

In today’s world of social media, you should have no problem getting some attention from your sample promotional pieces. People will tweet about them on Twitter, post links to them on Facebook, and in general talk about them. But most of all, you’ll have gotten the word out about you and your work. Remember to include a short bio with your pieces with links to your Web site and Facebook fan page. This is how you get people to notice you.

A second easy way to promote yourself and your writing is by writing something special to include with your holiday greeting. While many people have stopped sending Christmas cards as such, there are lots of other ways to get a greeting out there. For instance, you can prepare an ecard. Write a holiday article or story and find or create an illustration for it. Put the illustration and the story in the body of an Email or lay it out in your word processing program and save it as a PDF file. Just about everyone can open a PDF file. And those with ebook readers can read your story on them. If your story or article is memorable, you’ll be surprised how many people will send an Email to let you know that they’ve shared it with their family and friends. You can send the same story or an even more professional version to your editors for both periodicals and books. You’ll be amazed what a little viral marketing can do.

Along the same lines, check out blogs that may invite you to be a guest blogger. Like Facebook, not only will all your followers read it, but so will all the followers of the person for whom you’re guest blogging. To begin, check with fellow writers and see if you can exchange blogs with any of them. Not matter how you do it, the results will benefit you.

Of course, if you do more corporate writing, you may want to consider small gifts from time to time, but especially during the holidays. What would you like to be representative of your work through the year—a desk calendar, a bookmark, a pen with your name on it? You can have your contact information imprinted on a variety of objects, from pens to penlights. It pays to be creative here. Choose an object that stands out from the crowd. One writer/photographer saw an ad in a national coin magazine—a reproduction of a Viking ship on an old coin. He had some of these inexpensive but handsome items attached to a paperweight with his name and phone number on it and sent them to his favorite editors.

A travel writer knew a craftsman who could inexpensively reproduce various items from her world travels into almost anything. From time to time she commissions felt bookmarks, picture frames, desk boxes, etc., and sees that the editors and publishers she knows get a unique reminder of her work each year. If you’re going to go this route, make sure your gifts are well made and not tacky. A shoddy gift will hurt you more than help you. Try to give gifts that are useful as well as tasteful, so the person receiving it will see your name frequently.

Just as there are ideas all around for articles and books, there are obviously all manner of ideas for publicity about your freelancing business. Watch for them everywhere. Allocate some of your time to develop them in your special way. Make notes on possible angles, amusing tactics, or catchy jingles and slogans. You can interpret many of these ideas, so they won't require expensive chunks of your budget.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Developing a PR Plan

It used to be if you were an author, your publishing house would promote you and your books. Today, with tight budgets and the competition from ebooks, many publishing houses leave the promotion of books up to you, the writer. And if you’re going the ebook route, then promotion is all up to you. Whether you’re a book author or another type of freelance writer, you’ll have to come up with a public relations plan if you want to make your books and such a success.

Developing your own public relations (PR) plan is an important ingredient in your total marketing mix. It helps expand your reach into other areas, reinforcing any advertising you may have done or are planning to do. Your PR plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should lay out some basic directions for you to follow.

A PR plan should be a well-developed part of your ongoing work as a freelancer. Good public relations requires organization, discovering who your target market is—in other words, the public in your public relations—, and how you can be of benefit your target, and how you can best tell them about what you have to offer. Your target will shift depending on what you’re trying to promote. If you’re promoting your work as a magazine writer, then your target will be magazine editors. However, if you’re promoting a new ebook, then your target will be your readers since you’re offering your book direct to them.

Use your own enthusiasm and energy to not only create your plan but keep it together.  The first step is brainstorming. Think of all the usual groups that you might approach—college students and teachers, teenagers, religious groups, art groups, service clubs, social service agencies, etc. You’ll no doubt come up with many others, such as government officials, Chambers of Commerce, social groups, study clubs, senior citizens, ethnic groups, professional organizations, even friends of your local library. After you've made a list of targets, combine them with your objectives to develop your own unique strategy.

Basically, any thoughtful campaign you use to make your abilities known to a new market or to remind an editor of your talents, will have three objectives: promoting good will, supporting ongoing  publicity about yourself and your skills, and obtaining new and better assignments.

Examine the situation as you would any writing project. First, analyze what you think would best suit your objectives. Once you know that, research your markets for overlooked areas and contacts. Thoroughly check details and statistics involved before you make your pitch. And finally, consider your resources and how best to apply them. Naturally, your objectives must be geared to the results you wish to obtain and how much you can afford to spend in time and money to get them.

If you’re promoting yourself to magazine editors, for example, create a schedule for reminding them that you're still available. You know the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Occasionally, send a copy of  an article you've published to other editors simply for their enjoyment. You never know when one of them may ask for permission to reprint it. Create a “What’s New” page on your Web site and send out E-mail announcements with a link to it.

If you’re writing and publishing books, try to get your book reviewed—hopefully, a positive one—and send the review to editors or other interested parties. Stories about you in newspapers and in online blogs are a great form of free PR. The same goes for speaking engagements. Keep copies of letters or emails thanking you for your good work at conferences or other speaking venues. Also post them on your Web site, so visitors can read what others are saying about you.

Keep up-to-date background material about your work circulating everywhere. Never assume information about you gets to the right or helpful source without your guidance.

And finally, a PR plan is only as good as its effectiveness.  Note what works and what doesn’t, then adjust your plan accordingly.