Every writer must also be a businessman. Here’s a simple trick to sharpen your savvy.
Seasoned ghostwriters know a secret: Writing is the easy part. It’s everything else — from researching to revising — which consumes most of our time.
And yet, the one thing that would dramatically reduce our labor is the one thing we’re often reluctant to do. Lest we be perceived as overly inquisitive or insufficiently independent, we hesitate to ask a critical question upfront: “How many people will need to approve this text”?
These nine simple words matter for one simple reason: The more people you need to please, the more your writing will become a game of Whac-a-Mole.
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
Visual aids make writing easier and reading more enjoyable.
Smart writers know a secret. They know that what you write — your choice of words — is only half of any project. The other half is how those words look — everything from your font size to your margin widths. Packaging and presentation matter more than most people appreciate.
This is one reason stores like Gucci and Whole Foods can charge a premium: The layout of their bricks and mortar gives rise to a certain appearance and ambiance. By contrast, while I have nothing against Marshalls or Giant Food, when it comes to aesthetics, their displays just can’t compete.
Many thanks to Sloane Shearman, who attended my writing workshop yesterday at the Institute for Humane Studies, for drawing this nifty cartoon:
In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well-compensated).
Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”
News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.
Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.
This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity.
Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.
This is what happens when you let an engineer write your website copy:
“Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”
Gee, thanks, Facebook. Couldn’t you at least have displayed a list of similar pages? Maybe linked to some frequently asked questions? At the least, you could have conveyed a witty apology or summoned a brand-appropriate quote. And, if all else fails, bring forth a kitten pic!
Sadly, Google is no better than its neighbor to the north. Here’s what the minds of Mountain View deign to tell the poor soul who gets lost on google.com:
“404. That’s an error. The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.”
Really—that’s all? That’s the best message a company known for its NSA-like amount of data, along with its whimsical and beloved doodles, can conjure up?
Surely, you jest.
“Let’s put it on our website.” The refrain is increasingly common, but, as always, there’s a right way and a wrong way.
An amateur will do what’s easiest: copy and paste. But a pro knows that to copy and paste is to deprive readers of the Web’s richness. Shifting copy from dead trees to Web browsers is both art and science.
The art: to write for the web, you need to be not only a writer, but also a marketer, a designer, and a publicist. The science: to write for the web, you need to understand how people read on the web.
To this end, we’ll review the differences between reading something designed for a monitor and something designed for print. We’ll walk through the best practices of web writing, and review a variety of good and bad examples. We’ll also intersperse exercises throughout, so you learn by doing.
Why do search engines always rank certain websites so highly? Obviously, their content is kingly, but so is their search engine optimization (SEO). Indeed, for many sites, the search-engine spiders that crawl the Web deliver a third or more of their traffic. Perhaps the most famous example comes from the Huffington Post, which in February reeled in readers with the ingenious bait: “What Time Is the Super Bowl?”
In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”
In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!
These laments ring true in a big way: it is one of the definitive 21st century truisms that in addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google. Yet, as always, the devil’s in the metadata. The secret of stellar SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too; that is, you can pen pun-based headlines all day long and maintain your journalistic integrity. You just need to draft a second headline that’s straightforward and keywordy.
This past summer, I delivered a presentation on how to write better. My intent wasn’t to rehash the rules of grammar but to leave people with handy, memorable tips they could recognize and immediately apply to their own copy.