Three Hard Truths About Promoting Your Writing

I write this blog to tell you about my writing projects, for myself and other people, and also to help you with your writing. And I’m doing it (says she, blushing slightly) to promote myself. As a result, I try to present myself and my work as positively as possible, adding a glossy sheen to my writing. This week, I’m dropping the gloss and I’m going to talk about how hard promotion can be.

People who know me know that I’m honest and frank, possibly a bit too much so for my own good. So I’m not going to hide the fact that like many writerly types, I find it hard to promote myself. It feels like boasting. But there are things I have learned about promoting yourself which are hard, but which give me the motivation I need to start spreading the word.

Here are my hard-won truths about self-promotion. I

You Have to Tell People

First of all, you have to let people know that you exist. Nobody is going to come and pluck your brilliant book out of your bedroom door or your hard-drive. Nobody’s going to ask you to come and speak on a panel. Nobody is going to avail of your business-boosting copywriting service. You need to let people know what you have to offer them. The good news is, that’s all you have to do. You don’t have to trumpet blast them with a showy sales pitch. You’re just telling them the story of what you do. The upside of promotion is that you get a chance to share your passion, and that passion will make people sit up and listen.

trumpet
You don’t need to trumpet blast about your writing.

Nobody Owes You Their Custom

This was a harsh but useful lesson for me to learn. I used to fret about the fact that people weren’t buying my book, weren’t turning up at my writing workshops, weren’t following through on requests for me to do editing or copywriting work for them. Then I realised that they weren’t under any obligation whatsoever to do any of these things. Instead, it’s up to me to show them how I can be useful to them, and to show an interest in their own projects and personal goals. This is what will get them to pick up the phone, to come through the doors, to open up that book.

Keep Telling Them

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that once you’ve announced your latest book/workshop/event, all you now have to do is sit back and watch the sales roll in. But people are being bombarded with information from every corner. To make sure your information cuts through the babble, you need to tell them over and over again about your offer, using various different mediums.

These truths may be obvious to some of you, but I’ve found that reminding myself of them gives me a sense of perspective, and when I follow through on them and do the promotion, I reap the rewards with plenty of interesting work. What are your tough promotional lessons?

Where Writing and Editing Meet

This week, I’ve taken on a job where the lines between writing and editing meet. In other words, it’s a copywriting job which has an element of editing to it. The copy has already been written, but it needs to be rewritten to meet the needs of the audience, so I have the enjoyable task of manipulating the text to make it easier to read. I’ve written before that editing is like clearing the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. That’s what I’m aiming to do in this job.

I’ve been asked to cut the content in a training manual in half so that designs and illustrations can be added to the content. I’ll be doing this by removing academic references and overly wordy language and by breaking up into smaller, manageable chunks. I also need to change the look of the text, so that people can absorb its message more easily.

When you’re doing a multi-stranded job like this, it’s best to concentrate on making one change at a time, rather than trying to do them all at once. So here’s the step-by-step process I’ll be taking.

  1. Cut the Text Down to Size

At this stage, I take a wrecking ball to the text. Cutting text in half can’t be done without making radical changes. I take out everything that doesn’t need to be there and anything that obscures the point the content is trying to make. In this case it’s academic references that won’t make sense to the ordinary reader. Clients find this difficult. They’re attached to their words and think they need to include all of them. My job is to show them that by cutting down the copy, I’m making it easier to read, and that the message they want to convey is still there. It’s just expressed more concisely.

  1. In-Paragraph Cutting

At this stage in the process, I exchange the wrecking ball for a scalpel.

editing-scalpel
Good editors wield a scalpel.

I’ve been asked to make sure that the paragraphs are no longer than 60 words, so I turn my attention to the sentences themselves. I find I can shorten some of them and combine others. I also get rid of excess adjectives and repeated phrases. We all repeat more than we realise when we write, so I find the phrase that makes its point most concisely and get rid of the rest. This approach can get rid of a surprising amount of dead weight.

  1. Making the Text Pretty

Now I’ve fixed the words, I turn my attention to the layout. I come up with headings for each paragraph, summarising what’s contained in that paragraph. Some paragraphs lend themselves to being converted into lists with bullet points. I’ve been asked to include at least two of these per page. I also suggest breakout quotes, interesting quotes which the designer can place alongside the text to entice people to read it.

What do you do to rejuvenate your content and make it easier to read? How do you make sure it retains its original message?

Why Copywriting Is Worth Investing In

It’s hard to quantify the value of copywriting to a business. You could tell a business owner that you could deliver a magical formula of words that would boost their bottom line by 20%, but you would be lying and that wouldn’t be fair. What businesses fail to realise, in their rush to reach that bottom line, is that before you can sell, you need to know what to say, and that’s the value of copywriting.

Investing in Copywriting

If you’re willing to take the time to figure out what you’re about a business, then you will stand out above other companies who did not invest that time. When I do copywriting for a business, my goal is to help them figure out what they want to say, and how they operate either differently or better than their competitors. The content that the copywriter creates gives them a foundation that they can then build into a sales strategy.

copywriting image
Copywriters – their words have the power to sell.

 

In the coming weeks, I will be helping a company go through the process of figuring out what to say and how to say it. I will be creating a service manual, which lays out the fundamentals of the company, so the staff can refer to it in their communications with customers. It will essentially help them figure out what to say, and they can use it to create content. I will also be compiling a style guide, with guidelines on the types of words they can use to describe their company. This guide will tell them how to say it.

Defining Your Message

The goal of the service manual will be to define the company’s core message, and how it delivers on this message. Every company has a goal, a mission behind all the activities it does. Successful companies recognise that behind every business, there is passion and purpose, and the core message crystallises that passion and purpose. The manual then elaborates on how that message influences the company’s activities, how they go the extra mile to deliver customer service, and how they enhance their customers’ lives.

Saying It With Style

In general, a style guide aims to ensure that an organisation uses language consistently, so that their content looks professional. This short style guide will help the staff decide what wording to use when they’re writing their content, the tone they want to adopt and how they will refer to their company. Will they say “we” or will they use the company name? It will also ensure that they are consistent in how they lay out that content and how they use grammar and punctuation.

Copywriters, how do you convince businesses of the power of words to sell? Business owners, have you found copywriting services to be worth the investment?

My Writerly Year

When you’re going through the daily grind, you can feel as if you’re not achieving very much, as you wade through the treacle of emails, social media posts, bills and deadlines. This is a good time of year to lift your gaze up from the ground and take a birds-eye view of what you’ve done throughout the year.

That is what I’m going to do in this post, so that if, God forbid, things go a bit pear shaped in 2015, I can look back at this post and remind myself that the pendulum always swings back in the right direction. I also want to encourage all of you readers to look back on your achievements and be proud.

So here goes.

Workshops

This was a bumper year for workshops. As well as the ones I run myself, I was approached to run workshops by different organisations. In January, I gave a half-day workshop to people with intellectual disabilities at Waterford Institute of Technology. The participants were full of stories were fun and it was a delight from start to finish.

I ran an eight-week creative writing course and two intensive one-day workshops for more advanced writers, which all went well, but one of my highlights was the series of workshops I gave for Waterford Libraries. I did half-day workshops in three libraries throughout Waterford and they were well-attended, with lots of enthusiastic writers.

I also gave plenty of children’s workshops this year. In March, I worked with a group of teenagers who were part of the Waterford Young Arts Critics scheme. Over the course of two two-hour workshops, I imparted the delicate art of critiquing writing. I also gave an Easter camp and two summer camps for 8-12 year olds, and have just finished a highly successful run of Christmas workshops for the Winterval Festival, when budding writers got a chance to create their own Christmas story

Editing

I got the chance to work on some meaty editorial projects this year, such as theses, novel extracts and marketing material. Particular highlights included:

Tuesday Miscellany. This was an anthology of writing by Tramore Writers’ Group, filled with poems and stories about nature, family, dieting and much more. I proofread each entry twice, gave critiques to help the authors polish their work and had input into the final choices of work to be included in the anthology.

Goodbye Frying Pan, Hello Fire. This was a memoir by Jennylynd James, which chronicled the trials and triumphs of her relocation to Canada. I copy-edited each chapter, checking for spelling, grammar, sentence structure and coherence. I also gave suggestions on the order the chapters should appear in.

Upon Your Agony. This was a book of poetry by Matty Tamen, a collection of eloquent, thoughtful poems with a strong political theme. I was the final pair of eyes on this collection, making minor changes and checking for inconsistencies.

Copywriting

I scaled down my copywriting activity this year, but hope to do more of it in 2015. I did have a chance to work on some very creative copywriting projects this year. I did a lot of work for a printing company which is launching a service that offers people the chance to create personalised prints using their own photos. As well as writing content for a large website, I got an opportunity to write scripts for two how-to videos which would appear on the site. This was a new challenge, but I was able to draw on the skills I learned when I used to write scripts for radio.

I also worked on a unique marketing pitch. I was asked to write a pitch for a big exhibit for children and families in the style of a modern day fairytale. This was also a challenge because I had to balance a whimsical, highly creative writing style with hard facts which would appeal to potential advertisers and reconnect them with their inner child. It’s good to work with people who understand the creativity that a copywriter can bring to the marketing of their company’s products and services.

Other Achievements

Funding Application

I decided to take the plunge and make my first-ever application for arts funding. It was through a scheme called Arts and Disability Connect, to fund an anthology of writing by visually impaired people. While I wasn’t successful, I did a course with Artlinks on funding applications which helped me to redefine what success means. An unsuccessful funding application does not mean the idea isn’t viable. I can satisfy myself that I did my utmost at the time and that I will be more ready for it next year. I’ve already made a start. I gave a workshop at the National Council for the Blind in Dublin to a group of creative and very well read visually impaired people, and I realised that there’s a huge demand for creative writing among visually impaired people.

A Book in the Making

Another service I hope to develop more in 2015 is my writing consultancy service. It aims to give people who want to write a book a framework that helps them get started and then over the finishing line. I did a session with a man who has an idea for a self help book. We discussed his goal for the book, his potential audience and what message he wanted to get across. Based on what we did in our session, I sent him a report summarising what we discussed and outlining a structure for him to follow, which will make writing the book more manageable.

So that’s it. Let’s hope that 2015 will bring more of the same for all of us. I want to thank all of those who read my blog this year, all the people who commented on my blogs and social media posts and all the people who took a leap of faith and hired me as a copywriter, editor and workshop facilitator. I also want to thank all the adults and children who came to my workshops, for their enthusiasm, dedication and inspiration. None of this success would have happened without all of you.

What achievements from 2014 are you most proud of? I’d love to hear from you.

Writing A Video Script

Over the past few weeks, my copywriting work has taken an interesting direction. I’ve produced two scripts for how-to videos. The company wants to use videos to show their customers how to use their products. I’d always fancied writing video scripts, because I used to work in radio and figured that the writing style would be similar, snappy and informal.

The project was a challenge for me because the company wanted me to select the images as well as write the words, and I had to make sure the script matched the images and made sense to people using the video. Writing video scripts is similar to other forms of copywriting. You get your message across and you give a call to action at the end.

But there are three elements that are particular to video scripts, which may be useful if you’re planning a video of your own, for your business or for a book you want to promote.

 1. Write As You Speak

When you write for video, someone is going to read out what you’ve written, so make sure the language you use is easy for them to read. You can do this by writing in a chatty style, using less formal words and short sentences. When you’ve finished the script, read it out loud. Then you can weed out awkward wording and clunky sentences.

 2. Write Around the Images

In a video, the images tell the story and your script is intended to complement those images. People will grasp the main message from the image, so rather than describing exactly what happens in the image, write a general description that ties in with what’s happening on the screen and enhances it. I had to mention in my script that people could delete their work if they weren’t happy with it. I didn’t tell them how to delete it. I told them it was easy to get rid of their work and start again. People could see what to do from the image, showing a mouse clicking on a rubbish-bin symbol, and my words offered further reassurance that getting rid of their work would be hassle free.

 3. Road Test the Merchandise

This is particularly useful if you’re writing a script for an instructional videos.. You won’t always have a chance to try the products, but if you can, it’ll make your script more accurate. When you’re using the product or service, write down what you did. Then your script will show people how to use it, step by step.

This video script will give you a chance to see these three elements in action. Please share other examples of instructional or promotional videos that you think are effective.